Based on the reactions for the other teachers, and some of my own observations, this is only getting more difficult. The new curriculum map asks for a number of different categories which have previously been off our radars. While there's some new rules (add lots of diverse learning activities) and some odd suggestions (don't name your units after novels), the biggest issue for me as the inclusion of "Big Ideas", "Essential Questions", Core Standards", and "Essential skills". In the creation of each unit, teachers are expected to include all of these elements as separate and individual items.
While I can understand the logic behind this move (it's important to know WHY you're teaching something beyond "it's in the curriculum"), there's almost a level of comedy in this bureaucracy. Big Ideas are statements, beget Essential Questions, which beget Essential Skills and all are tied back to standards. Each level seems as if it were added a separate time by a separate governing body in order to get the definitions and manifestations of the learning just so. Each level would be fine on its own, but in concert with the other three, it seems silly and redundant. If a baseball player swings at a pitch, he doesn't need four "goals" to guide his practice...though that might be funny to witness:
Standard: Players will connect bat with ball in a concussive manner. Players will synthesize pitches into outs and hits
Big Idea: Getting on base to produce runs. Defeating the pitcher in a duel over control of possession
Essential Questions: What is the best way to get on base while avoiding outs?
Essential Skills: Making contact between the bat and ball. Analyzing incoming pitches for validity. Examining the path to first base in a concise and robust manner.
What's the goal we're all forgetting? To hit the ball and win the game.
Based on everything I've seen over my summer conferences, and over the past few years doing research on asynchronous learning and Gamification, I can't help but feel like we're doubling down on the quantification of education. School is a human institution with a complex set of students who need different things on a daily basis. While all good teachers and administrators acknowledge this, we all dedicate hours of time trying to essentially trick our students into doing well on the test. This problem isn't unique to my building, district, or state, but a universal concern in public schools. Maybe if we show them the wording of the assessment, or maybe if we align our lesson just a bit more, or maybe if we use the word "analyze" instead of "understand, our students will gain greater skills and score higher. I doubt any of these things will harm the students, but should they really be our goals? It's really all just fighting artificial constructs with more constructs. It's like trying to win a video game by memorizing which buttons to press...but keeping our eyes closed.
There's value in high standards (why would you lower them?), there's value in common goals and big ideas, but it's important to avoid getting trapped in the minutia of categories. At the beginning of in-service today, I was excited about the new year. By the end of the meeting, I was double checking all my unit to ensure that standard alignment was intact. If there's truly to be real growth and change in education, there needs to be grand vision in there as well. Going back the video game analogy, you need precise movements, strategies, and skills to beat a game, but if you don't have an intrinsic desire to win, you're just mashing buttons. You have to look up and adapt to the game as it plays.