This week, I’m still thinking about curriculum materials and how they could be made more flexible and useful. I had two disparate experiences this week that ended up tying together to advance my thinking a bit from last week.
First, I read a study that traced the effects of a highly scripted curriculum resource on a preschool teacher’s instructional practices (Parks & Bridges-Rhoads, 2012). Despite the resource in question being a literacy curriculum, the highly scripted nature of the teacher’s interactions with students trickled into her math instruction. The article details the ways in which the scripting led to some missed opportunities to explore students’ mathematical thinking.
None of this was surprising to me, really. I had become convinced before that scripted curriculum can reduce a teacher’s opportunities for responsive teaching. (I want to emphasize the opportunities part here — neither the authors of the article nor I saw this research result as reflecting poorly on the teacher. If anything, it reflected poorly on the curriculum materials.) The problems with scripted curriculum don’t just live in early childhood, either. Developers of curriculum materials for students in middle school have recommended a shift from scripting to steering (Hoyles, Noss, Vahey, & Roschelle, 2013), especially in materials that are digitally based.
Dr. Amy Parks, the lead author of the preschool article, is now a faculty member at MSU. I had a chance to talk to her about this article, and we brainstormed some metaphors for navigating through a lesson that might be more conducive to responsive teaching than reading a script. One metaphor she had heard recently from a colleague was wayfinding, a kind of navigation that doesn’t involve use of a map, but rather reference to visible markers as you go. (It’s a cultural practice of Polynesians that recently got some attention via Disney’s Moana.) I really latched onto this. It made sense to me to think of the process of teaching as knowing where you want to go, and trusting that there will be markers along the way that give clues about how to get there.
This brought me back to the importance, and difficulty, of the number of in-the-moment decisions required in teaching. But it didn’t really get me any farther in thinking about how curriculum materials could be re-envisioned to better support teachers in their wayfinding. I understand that teachers don’t have the luxury of stopping to consult materials each time the classroom conversation takes an unexpected turn. Still, if we know that scripted materials are associated with less flexible teaching (Parks & Bridges-Rhoads, 2012), doesn’t it seem that there must be a different format for curriculum materials that could associate with wayfinding in teaching?
Enter my second relevant experience this week: delving into the history of research on educational technology. In his defense of research studying the effects of media on learning, Kozma (1991) highlighted research on nonlinear, hyperlinked text as an example of a then-emerging field of research of multimedia. He points to other research suggesting that use of hypertext supports cognitive flexibility, as navigation through the text supports making connections among concepts and themes: “[H]ypertext facilitates this cognitive flexibility because it allows a topic to be explored in multiple ways using a number of different concepts or themes” (Kozma, 1991, p. 202).
Exploring a topic in multiple ways feels similar to navigating through a lesson in multiple ways, don’t you think? Perhaps creating hyperlinked versions of curriculum materials, wherein teachers make decisions about what to read and in what order, is a way to move away from scripting and toward wayfinding.
There is a lot of exploration to be done on what links would be productive and useful for teachers, as well as how to deconstruct a curriculum into parts that can effectively be linked. Still, I think the idea could be a powerful one for giving teachers agency over curriculum decisions while still providing useful information via curriculum materials. I’m looking forward to delving into more hypermedia research to discover if anyone’s applied it to curriculum.
Hoyles, C., Noss, R., Vahey, P., & Roschelle, J. (2013). Cornerstone Mathematics: Designing digital technology for teacher adaptation and scaling. ZDM – International Journal on Mathematics Education, 45(7), 1057–1070.
Kozma, R. B. (1991). Learning with Media. Review of Educational Research, 61(2), 179–211.
Parks, A. N., & Bridges-Rhoads, S. (2012). Overly scripted: Exploring the impact of a scripted literacy curriculum on a preschool teacher’s instructional practices in mathematics. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 26(3), 308–324.
Sherin, M. G., & Drake, C. (2009). Curriculum strategy framework: Investigating patterns in teachers’ use of a reform‐based elementary mathematics curriculum. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 41(4), 467-500.