Watching Your Curriculum
© 7 Feb 2012 Luther Tychonievich
Licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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Curricula writers ought watch others use their curricula.


My second year at BYU I was privileged to join a book club that rapidly turned into a writing club. One of the mantras of that club was “‍we do not believe in original intent;‍” each story was discussed on its own content and not in terms of its environment or author. As an author, this was one of the best things that happened to me. There is nothing quite so revealing as watching while brilliant people discuss your own writing without your input.

My second year at UVa I was privileged to join an experimental CS1 course in which I was allowed to make significant changes to the curriculum but was then left to watch as the instructor implemented my suggestions. Again I found myself watching passively as my ideas were received, interpreted, and echoed back by another.

As a consequence of these experiences, I have become convinced that curriculum writers should be required to sit passively as an observer in a classroom where another teacher presents their material. I believe every textbook writer ought to be exposed to students asking questions about what the things they wrote mean. These processes ought to be mandatory for any form of instructional writing.

I restrict this mandate to instructional writing because at some level it doesn’t matter if entertaining writing “‍succeeds‍” in the objectives of the writer as long as the resulting text entertains the readers. But for instructional writing there is no such excuse for failure to communicate. It is highly improbable that a misread passage will teach any truth.

The practice, however, seems to be quite the opposite. Textbooks are often edited only for grammar and layout, not for content. Curricula are often not edited at all, just some combination of notes from someone’s own awareness of one’s own practice fleshed out without a test run. Neither of these observations are made on very solid evidence, so I hope they are wrong, but they are the impressions I have received.

I wonder how mass-market state-mandated curricula are written? Are they by an author or by committee? Does anyone with the power to re-write them watch the modules being taught? And how do you convince an author to re-write the module instead of “‍correcting‍” the instructor?

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