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Curriculum Mapping: The Right Tools and Strategies Are More Important Than Ever

In this interview, Jennifer Mitchell, Coordinator of K-12 Curriculum and Professional Development for the Mifflin County School District in Pennsylvania, sits down to discuss the complexities of curriculum mapping and best practices to succeed. She expands on the insights she offered in a recent SmartBrief op-ed, Why curriculum mapping matters and how to pull it off, bringing forth her present strategies while dispelling common misconceptions surrounding curriculum mapping.

With uncertainty around school schedules this spring, caused by the spread of the coronavirus, having a solid year-to-year curriculum plan in districts is perhaps more important than ever. Distance learning is becoming the norm for many districts and students’ progress throughout this semester will be measured differently than in years past. When schools reopen, whether later this spring, over the summer, or in the fall, teachers will need to feel confident in the cohesiveness of the curriculum map in place so they can identify students’ current level of advancement, begin instruction at the right point in the curriculum, and deliver lessons that will keep each student moving forward. Although this interview was recorded prior to the widespread school closings now taking place, Mitchell’s description of the curriculum mapping process provides a clear depiction of exactly how this should all work in action.

Effective curriculum mapping records what teachers are doing while considering the alignment of standards to help improve student achievement. When Mitchell took on the role of curriculum coordinator at the Mifflin County School District, she realized, after doing a curriculum audit, that there were differences in how courses were taught in a variety of written formats.

As she started down the road to improvement, Mitchell stressed consistency. “I wanted to make sure that we had a consistent way to do our curriculum work. For me, that was curriculum mapping. The reading I’ve done around Heidi Hayes Jacobs and some of the experts in the field of curriculum work pointed to mapping. The curriculum shouldn’t be written, put on the shelf, saved in the file, and never relooked at until you [go] through the review cycle again,” she says. “Curriculum mapping is about capturing what we’re doing and teaching and having that be live for teachers in a sense that we can change it if we feel there’s a need. We can also match up what is actually going on in the classroom with what we have written down.”

To some, there is a misconception that curriculum mapping is a static approach, a process where instructors come in, do their work, check the box, and go back to their classrooms having “approved” the curriculum. Effective curriculum mapping is a living, breathing process that allows for fluid input and improvement. “I have a system,” explains Mitchell. “We draft one year. We instruct the next on the draft. Then, I will meet with them periodically during the year [to make sure] they’re teaching the draft to say, ‘Are we doing what we said? Is there anything we need to change? Do we have all the resources in here that we’re using?'”

Once curriculum mapping is accepted, finding the right software can ensure it is implemented effectively and efficiently. Mitchell approached her technology director and asked what could allow for easy teacher access across a variety of school buildings and personnel. They had been using Google Docs previously but found that the sharing of documents and drives was cumbersome. “Luckily, [the technology director] came upon Chalk and brought it back to me, and I began the discussions with the company. We started the design process of creating the maps that I wanted [for] all K-12 teachers in the district,” she says.

Mitchell found that Chalk enabled resources to be shared more easily across the system. As she explains, “The other big piece that I like about this product, in particular, is they have a section for resources. We are able to upload anything we have in a Word document. We can link things to the internet. We can put all [types] of things in [to be] shared. New teachers coming in can see this document and know how they can use it as a toolbox [and] pick and choose.”

The resource aspect of the Chalk platform is a welcome bonus that allows participants to improve the flow of information that normally might not be readily available. Mitchell offers an example, “For one particular group of students, you might be looking for a way to scaffold instruction differently, and maybe a colleague has put in one of their ideas that could assist you this year. Or maybe you have an idea that they didn’t think about using. The resource area, as they log in, is live, and they can pull information right from there.”

About Jennifer Mitchell

Jennifer Mitchell is an experienced educational leader who has served in the role of teacher, instructional coach, principal, and central office administrator. As a teacher leader, she assisted her district in the implementation of full-day kindergarten and an Rtii system. While in the role of instructional coach, she modeled and aided teachers in developing best practices at tier I instruction.

During her role as principal, she led two different high poverty elementary programs to develop a multi-tiered system of support from the ground up with a focus on behavior and literacy. Currently, as the Coordinator of K-12 Curriculum and Professional Development for the Mifflin County School District, she has embarked on further developing multi-tiered systems of support in elementary mathematics and begun building the foundations for secondary MTSS.

Jennifer Mitchell knows firsthand the challenges schools face in providing high-quality instruction for all learners but embraces finding the solutions through collaboration with others utilizing the MTTS framework for school improvement.

Follow Jennifer Mitchell on Twitter @JennMCSD

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