When involved in a long journey, most people find it helpful to have a map that shows where they've been and where they're going. Education is certainly a journey, and officials at the River Forest elementary school system want to map it out as concisely as possible.
It's called "curriculum mapping," and Monday night the District 90 school board spent much of their meeting discussing the subject in detail.
According to Dist. 90 Supt. Marlene Kamm, curriculum mapping allows teachers the opportunity to reflect on what's being taught, how they are teaching it, and to assess areas of the curriculum that may need to be changed.
"It's a personal road map for how we deliver instruction and content," Kamm said.
There are three primary elements in curriculum mapping: content, the skills or processes being taught, and the results, or products that are assessed.
It is, said Kamm, a "highly collaborative process," in which teachers first work to map their own course work. The result is basically a set of monthly lesson plans for the entire year.
"Teachers have to sit down and map out their [lesson plans]," Kamm said. "They really go through some real examination."
Those teachers then confer with other teachers at the same grade level to ascertain whether everyone is, literally and figuratively, on the same page. That enables individual teachers to get feedback from colleagues, and to make sure that everyone at a certain grade level is giving instruction on the same educational essentials.
Learning gaps, both at specific grade levels and from grade to grade, can then be more easily identified. In addition, redundant instruction can be avoided.
Such specific planning helps when a substitute takes over a class temporarily, assuring that the teacher knows what the class has covered, and what's to be taught next.
It also helps parents better understand just what their child is studying.
"If I'm a parent of a third-grader, regardless of whose third-grade class my child is in, I know what they're learning," said Kamm. Parents, she said, can be assured that no matter what teacher their child has, they're learning specific, basic skills.
Under the system, skill sets can also be tracked from year to year, or vertically, said Kamm. Fourth-grade teachers are better able to know exactly what content and skills were covered in third grade, and to pick up where they left off.
With national norms testing an increasingly important part of education, curriculum mapping can also help spotlight areas of instruction that are not in sync with either state or national testing standards.
Kamm stressed that the system is not intended to either script classroom lessons, evaluate teachers, or attempt to make all teachers teach alike. Rather, it is "informed autonomy," in which all teachers are instructing students based on a commonly shared set of educational expectations and desired skills.
"Be accurate about what you teach," reads a page in the Dist. 90 manual on curriculum mapping. "This is not an evaluation of you, it is a look at what our children experience on a daily basis."