The Liquid Curriculum
February 21, 2020
You’ve got a lesson you want to teach but you’re looking for a great resource. Something thought-provoking, but conceptually accessible. There’s a zone between being so challenging that the task becomes frustrating, and so simple that there is no challenge and no growth. It’s a problem teachers think about often. But what they don’t think about nearly as often is the way that the resource affects THEM, the teacher.
With teachers, the relevant variable usually isn’t challenge level—it’s freedom. Some curricula, curricular resources, or educational systems are too rigid. They demand the teacher comply 100% with the script. Others provide too much freedom; there’s so little support that teachers flounder. The Goldilocks zone is right in between: enough freedom to permit teachers to adapt it to the needs of their classrooms and their students, and enough structure and scaffolding to save them time and provide helpful support.
The States of Learning
It’s a lot like the three states of matter. When matter is solid—when ice becomes water—the molecules arrange themselves in tightly structured patterns. There isn’t flexibility to mold to the shape of the container. Direct instruction curricula are like ice. They demand strict scriptural adherence. They say it’s the only way to ensure student success.
When matter is gaseous—when water evaporates, for instance—the molecules go every which way. They diffuse throughout the entire container and have almost no discernible structure, connection, or pattern. This reminds me of a lot of professional development: teach a theory and then leave teachers to their own devices.
There are millions of different ways to be a great teacher. Some teachers can take absolute freedom and run with it; in fact, they thrive. Some teachers change lives making every instructional resource themselves, creating out of whole cloth a dynamic pathway customized to the learning needs of individual students in their classes. Other teachers love ice. They love that structure, and they can change lives even with direct instruction.
But the vast majority of teachers love liquid curricula, and their students benefit. They need resources that provide them with freedom, but support. Adaptability, but scaffolding. And this makes perfect sense. Every classroom is unique, and providing adaptability can allow teachers to respond to those unique needs. But every teacher is finite; there is not an unlimited amount of time in the day, and it’s the resource that teachers often find stretched the thinnest. Strong support and scaffolding helps save teachers time.
Education That’s Just Right
So how can you tell if a support is right for you? How can you evaluate an educational product to see if it enters the Goldilocks zone?
- First, beware fidelity. The teaching profession requires some liquidity, and so a curriculum that demands strict compliance runs the risk of freezing classroom dynamism. A good, liquid curriculum allows teachers to mold the resource to fit the needs of their classrooms. That’s why when we build Blue Apple, we built a ton of it in Google Drive; teachers can take the resources as adapt them and make them their own.
- Second, see the world from a teacher’s eyes. Does this product respect the teacher’s time and energy? Does it provide creative and well-considered ideas without demanding blind compliance? If it provides solid lesson plans that can easily be digested in a matter of minutes, great! If it provides physical resources that can be used creatively in a wide variety of situations, even better. Again, when we build Blue Apple we developed five-minute lesson plans: quick step-by-step suggestions that a teacher can process in five minutes or less and that provide a creative, well-considered skeleton to their day. We also made the decision to provide project resources, because teachers spend enough time and money tracking down supplies at the Dollar Store.
Again, there are a million ways to teach well and there are a million ways to help teachers. There are other curricula that provide excellent support and flexibility; leave your favorite in the comments section. And there are those teachers who are a little, well, icier or more gaseous. But for the vast majority of teachers, they thrive with liquid curricula: when we give them the balance of freedom and support that allows them and their students to flourish.