The American educator Robert Hutchins once said, “The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.” But how do we do that best? How do we create a fulfilling educational experience that will inspire, challenge, and engage students across all grade levels—as well as give teachers and educators the necessary tools to accomplish the same for their students? It really starts with curriculum alignment, content, and the role technology will inevitably play in curriculum alignment.
Before we dive in, let’s take a minute to define what we mean by curriculum alignment, as it can mean different things to different people. For the purpose of this article, curriculum alignment will be defined as correlating content (assessments, activities, etc.) with the current standards or learning objectives for which educators and schools will be held accountable. Typically, the standards referred to are state standards or, more recently at a national level, Common Core standards.
There are some key trends and drivers we can expect to see in regard to curriculum alignment through the rest of this year and into the coming years. Technology will play a key role in curriculum alignment as these trends unfold because there will simply be no other way to implement and manage the comprehensive changes we are seeing and will continue to see.
• Rigorous Alignment Expectations: One of the main trends is around far more rigorous alignment expectations. There is an expectation that all assets—work sheets, quiz items, summative and formative assessment—need to be fully aligned.
• Cognitive Levels: This is a developing trend that will gain more and more traction in the future. There was a time when educators, students, and parents cared about whether the material was covered regardless of the method. Recall and recognition was the standard approach. The world is different now. Strategic and extended thinking are expected and require a deeper understanding. There’s as much emphasis on how a topic is covered as on whether the topic is covered.
• Accountability: This is a big one. Accountability is on the rise for everyone—the teachers, the students, the schools and districts, as well as the vendors that provide education tools and products to the schools and teachers. As accountability levels rise, all involved parties are much more sensitive to ensuring the right instruction is in place for the right students at the right time. There is much greater concern around the type of content that is being provided to students and how much it aligns to the learning style of the student as well as the standards (state and Common Core).
• Progress Monitoring: This one goes hand in hand with accountability, but basically there is a greater degree of transparency in the way students are monitored for progress (and by extension the way teachers are evaluated). Via ongoing assessments, teachers can always know in real time where their students stand, what they need to work on, etc.
• Differentiation: Classrooms are far more diverse than they ever have been. Teachers are expected to meet the needs of each and every student in the classroom (this includes special education students and limited-English-proficiency students all in one classroom)—an unenviable task. To adequately meet the needs of the diverse student population in a single classroom, teachers need to know about all the resources available and what assignment will work best for each student.
• Exponential Growth in Resources: Add all of the above to the amount of resources available—basically, in the old days we had a media center, textbooks, and field trips—and it becomes a herculean task to even consider managing all the moving parts. This is where the right technologies really begin to shine.
Technology Is Key
Technology is key to curriculum/content alignment with standards (both state and Common Core) to ensure that students get what they need in the way they need it to be successful. Not only is there a vast array of resources that can be tapped, but each one of those resources needs to be digested and understood if it is to be properly aligned with standards. But challenges exist that need to be overcome as well.
We have, without a doubt, made a tremendous amount of progress in aligning content as well as developing tools to align all the resources at our disposal. However, a gap exists that needs to be resolved to make teachers even more efficient and effective in their classrooms. And it’s a gap that can really only be bridged by a technology solution.
We have made significant strides assessing students and gathering information about students—understanding learning styles, expression preferences, etc. Where the gap exists is getting all the vital assessment information about the student talking to the alignment itself. Right now, this is often a manual process and, for the most part, emphasizes only competencies. The teacher gathers the student data, looks at the alignment, and manually adjusts the necessary variables to ensure cohesion between student and standards. Essentially, teachers are playing the role of a data manager instead of the more aptly suited role of mentor. Once the process becomes more automated and sophisticated so the mapping between student data and alignment occurs as a process of the technology infrastructure, teachers will become mentors to monitor information and pull levers to get the most out of students.
The move to Common Core standards will greatly facilitate the automation process and help standardize curriculum across the country. There is still work to be done with these standards, as the current set is fairly broad, but there is activity to create a more discrete set of instructional standards. The beauty of Common Core from a technology standpoint is that an agreed-upon set of standards will spur the development of interchangeable tools and technologies that will be used to align curriculum across the board.
One of the biggest positive changes we will see as technology continues to play a more prominent role in the education sector is that of tagging, which ultimately leads to the Holy Grail of predictive analytics (and personalized instruction). Until recently, alignment activities have leaned toward some kind of learning objective. Can the student add fractions? Can the student identify the main idea? Now we’re getting access to such great information about the student. What is the student’s learning style? What is he or she interested in? How does he or she like to express mastery of a concept? Demographic information? These are all important factors that we can use to fine-tune the right resource for the right student.
But how do we match the right resource with the right student? Tagging. For example, if a student happens to be an auditory learner, appropriate resources need to be tagged (or identified) as auditory in order to ensure the student has access to the best possible resources to ensure his or her success. At the end of the day, the vast amount of resources students have access to are only as good as the tags that support a certain learning style. But when they do correlate and match up, watch out. It’s incredibly powerful.
From Predictive Analytics to Personalized Learning
All of these trends—the evolution of Common Core standards, the increasing role of technology in content development and curriculum alignment, as well as tagging efforts to connect the right resource to the right student—are leading down a very exciting path toward predictive analytics. The predictive analytics path ultimately leads to a truly personalized learning experience for our children.
We are starting to see the power of predictive analytics in the world outside of education on a more regular basis. For example, when we order a book from Amazon (or any item for that matter), upon future visits we are provided with product suggestions based on our purchasing history. The same holds true for Netflix. We see movie suggestions based upon our rental history. All the suggestions we see as individuals are personalized just for us. Well, imagine that in a classroom setting. We can take all the information we have about each student and start one of two processes: 1) automatically delivering personalized content to a student or 2) providing recommendations for a teacher to use when making instructional decisions about a student or class.
The more we personalize instruction—which is definitely the way education is going—the more curriculum alignment becomes critical. Technology will play a key role. And while technology is certainly a key component in delivery of instruction, it’s also a key tool in keeping all the content aligned. In essence, it is really helping our students be fully engaged in a lifelong pursuit of learning, and it is providing our teachers with the tools and time to be the mentors they always dreamed they could be.
Ann Henson oversees the development of curriculum and instruction materials for all Compass Learning courseware and assessment solutions. She offers a wealth of curriculum and instruction knowledge developed throughout her 23-year tenure at Compass Learning and her prior experience in public education. Contact her at Ahenson@compasslearning.com.