588. Curriculum and Territory

Teachers sometimes get quite attached to what they teach. They work hard to develop or find curriculum and use it with children, and if they use ideas that work, they tend to want to be able to keep using those ideas. That’s pretty normal; why mess with success? If something turns out to be effective and reliable, why not keep using it?
The problem is, sometimes two teachers who teach different grades want to teach the same thing, and if they’re in the same school or school system, that can be a no-no. Some parents complain if their children appear to be doing the same thing in third grade that they did in second grade. The similarities they see may or may not be superficial; third graders can deepen their understanding of a subject they studied in second grade, but pure repetition sometimes does happen, and it can be awfully boring. It can be insulting, too, to children who are proud of what they’ve learned.
And teachers can have trouble if children already know what is being taught. Sometimes teachers can be spontaneously creative – they can go with whatever flow happens as they teach. But sometimes they really have to work hard to plan lessons, and they need to know that their work will work. When faced with children who already know what’s being taught, teachers may see that as an exciting challenge. But on the other hand, they may see it as the pulling out of a rug from underneath them: how dare a child already know what a teacher is so ready to teach?
I remember a meeting at which one teacher provided good insight into this issue. We were talking about our ocean life unit, and discussing the idea of making it a two-year unit for second and third grade. Second grade teachers had had squatters’ rights to the unit for years, and our school was about to have a combined second and third grade. Were the second graders in that class supposed to be deprived of this unit? Were the third graders “condemned” to repeat it? Then this teacher reminded us of the work of Jacques Cousteau. If Cousteau could spend his whole life studying ocean life, was it really so terrible for children to study it for two years? We don’t get upset that children get reading lessons several years in a row. No one says, “Didn’t these kids study reading last year? Why don’t they go on to something new?” It’s generally understood that there are lots of skills that go into reading, and there are plenty of things to read. And most teachers don’t get upset if a child is reading more fluently than other children. Later, even seniors in high school study English – a language many of them already know pretty well. And yet, it’s not seen
as repetition.
As difficult as it may sometimes be, teachers will probably always have to be ready to rethink what they plan. No subject, unit, or lesson plan belongs to just one teacher or just one grade level. Curriculum is not territory, and teachers should try not be territorial about it.

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