Washington Post: We Need Curric In A Box

From Jay Mathews at WaPo

Maybe Bruce Friedrich raised the lesson plan issue because he was so out of sync with the recent college graduates who were the other Teach for America instructors at his Baltimore high school. He was 40. He had switched to education after first running a homeless shelter and then working for animal rights.

He thought it was odd that despite the forward-looking reputation of the Baltimore district and Teach for America, beginning teachers still had to construct their lessons from scratch, as teachers have done for centuries. They were shown samples of the state tests their students would have to take. They were told where they might find good material. But as rookies, they had little idea which of a million possible options would work.

“There were no exemplary lesson plans, no recommended class activities, nothing,” he said.

Friedrich asked about this at every faculty meeting and every conference with his Teach for America adviser. He learned that many teachers, and the organizations that represent them, don’t want ready-made lesson plans. They feel it limits their creativity and turns them into robots doing whatever their department head or the district curriculum chief wants.

Friedrich began teaching in 2009 and had a splendid two years inTeach for America. His second year he was named the school’s outstanding teacher. But he still doesn’t understand why the district didn’t try to save him and other novices from many beginner’s mistakes by offering the best lesson plan possible for each subject.

Of course we at MATCH Teacher Residency have long been advocating for Curric In A Box. Since all the way back in 2010. Who can argue with this logic:

Like anything in a box, it’s supposed to be easier than stuff not in a box. Examples includeTree In a Box, NGO in a Box, and Bed In A Box.

Ross, while searching for a job, wrote:

Lots of MTT's are motivated. We're receptive to feedback. We're ready to keep working 70+ hours/week to be good first-year teachers. But what should I be looking for from a school? Mike G. says a prepackaged curriculum* of ANY description would free up tons of hours so I'm not reinventing the wheel every week. What from the school is going to make this realfrigginbusy teacher a balanced and happier teacher?

And then this exchange in his comments section:


Prepackaged curriculum = my hell. yes, it frees up tons of hours a week, planning wise. no, it does not move my students. i'd rather put in the hours to create standards-aligned, kick-ass lesson plans that will actually HELP my students


I echo the above. Planning (from scratch) helps you to internalize the material and wrestle with the thought processes that *your* students will have. "Curric in a box" does not encourage (and sometimes does not ALLOW for) responsiveness to how your students perform.

Total misunderstanding of what Ross and I mean by Curric In A Box. Ross explains:


Anon says curric-in-a-box will reduce my 'making shit' hours but make me more inflexible about differentiation and unable to enact pointed reflection. What if I took the 10? 20? hours per week of *making* lesson plans and cut that in half and dedicated that time to *changing* lesson plans?


So yes - i totally agree that u need to balance your life as a first year teacher (and you know i do). and if your school lets u "change" the curric in a box to make it work for you, by all means do it. first year (and 30 year) teacher motto is beg, borrow, steal - don't reinvent the wheel. but if they don't, and they want you to use the curriculum directly as its written...well then i say that curriculum isn't going to help your students as much as your lesson plans would.


Okay, sure - a "curric in the box" that gives you no flexibility is no good. But as a first-year-teacher who received a well-thought-out, high-quality set of lesson plans, homeworks, vocab lists, etc from a 5-year+ "master teacher," I can say that it is one of the greatest gifts I have ever received!

Obviously, being given a curriculum that is not standards-aligned or differentiated does absolutely nothing. But if you're stepping into a "no-excuses" charter or similar, chances are there are quality lesson plans available from the former teacher. Even if you don't take everything, think of the hour it would take to create a brand new vocabulary list, or a new set of comprehension questions for each night's reading. Imagine if those were on a flash drive for your use at any time. Of COURSE you need to be allowed to alter and adapt your lessons to each year's student body, and you can do that more and more as you become a more comfortable, confident, experienced teacher throughout the year.

But before that? If you have the option, find a job where you'll be given a well-designed curriculum, and use it. Why pretend you're going to re-invent the wheel better than someone who's been perfecting the wheel for several years?

Out of college in 1991, I went to work for a couple of Broadway theater producers. In that world, Curric In A Box is not scoffed at. It's celebrated. It's called: a script. And few directors (teachers, of actors) find themselves inhibited. The artistry is in bringing a script to life.

Here is an awesome resource: great middle school math courses in a box compiled by BetterLesson.

Sadly, Jay did not link to the MTR music video on this topic. But it's below and fantastic.