Editor’s note: This article is the second in a two-part series written by the expert review team from Fordham’s recent study, The Supplemental Curriculum Bazaar: Is What’s Online any Good?
In our last post, we highlighted some major pros and cons unearthed during our analysis of over 300 of the most-downloaded resources on three popular supplemental curriculum sites, Teachers Pay Teachers, ReadWriteThink, and Share My Lesson. Here we discuss the best and worst ways teachers might use them, as well as the role district and school leaders might play in adjudicating their use.
How should teachers not be using these resources? First, they should never just assume they are aligned to purported standards and are high-quality without thorough analysis and as much adaptation as needed. Second, the materials cannot take the place of a thoughtfully designed year-long curriculum. With rare exceptions, the materials aren’t designed to be integrated as is into a curriculum that already provides a holistic progression.
Instead, we recommend that teachers work with colleagues to choose one promising unit and refine it together before using it—analyzing its strengths and patching its weaknesses. Using this approach, teachers can efficiently build an effective unit without having to start from scratch, using the materials as jumping off points to generate ideas.
Online materials can also be used to glean lessons and activities for students who need instruction at more basic levels or at lower levels of cognitive complexity. However, this approach requires thoughtful evaluation, and again, modification.
If teachers were to consistently use the three above approaches when selecting supplemental resources, students would be much better off. But given the time constraints all teachers face, we strongly feel that district and school leaders could help teachers choose supplemental materials more efficiently and wisely.
Although the best entity to evaluate and curate supplemental materials likely comprises not only teachers but district and school leaders, it’s unlikely they will have the time and resources to police the materials in this way—nor, in fact, should “policing” be their primary charge.
Still, there is a crucial role for administrators in developing a review process for all materials so that teachers can readily evaluate online lessons for alignment and quality and thereby choose high-quality resources. The review process could take the form of an evaluation tool or rubric that teachers could use fairly easily, and would ideally be something that could be completed in fifteen minutes or less. Districts could then provide professional development and guided practice on the use of the evaluation rubric.
States could also provide a model rubric to be adapted by local districts to their own needs, similar to other state tools, such as the Louisiana Department of Education’s “Assessment Evaluation Tool for Alignment in ELA/Literacy.”
In addition to or in place of an evaluation tool, districts could, as indicated, implement and support collaboration among teachers to download or purchase promising units and modify and develop them into excellent instructional units that meet student needs.
All of this said, if districts invest in or develop their own extensive, high-quality, standards-based curriculum, teachers may be less likely to feel that they have to go looking for add-on lessons online. The reality is that, when the core curriculum is lacking or nonexistent and teachers’ time is highly limited, many teachers will continue to fall back on the websites that are springing up and growing day by day. Our hope is that districts will increase their focus on coherent curricular materials—first, by providing more good curriculum, and second, by helping teachers learn how to choose quality add-on resources as needed.