Adapting Your Curriculum to Student Progress


Students learn in bursts of understanding and plateaus of information processing, and adapting your curriculum to their progress, whether slow or fast, can shorten the plateaus and increase the frequency with which they grasp new principles.

Adapt to the Actual Progress of Your Students

Creating a flexible curriculum is a great idea in theory. It involves planning ahead, examining probabilities, and taking what you know of the average students and working around it.

But what happens when you've prepared as best you can, you're on the clock and your class just isn't getting it?

That's when you need to take the curriculum you've created, and start adapting it to the actual progress your students are making now.

Your students don

You know that students don't usually learn the subject matter of your lessons in a stable, perfectly steady way. They learn in bursts when a principle or practice session resonates with them, and then they plateau while their brain processes the latest things you've tried to teach them.

The point of adapting your curriculum to student progress is to shorten those plateaus, increasing the frequency of the bursts of understanding your students will naturally have by spending the right amount of time on the subjects they're learning. This can be accomplished in several ways. Let's start exploring them.

Adapting to Difficult Subjects

This is the most common problem for new teachers to encounter with their curriculum, but we'll explore some ways to balance your time later.

Some topics are just difficult for students to understand. They may be particularly abstract, or perhaps they bring together many smaller topics in a complicated way. Whatever the cause, you have to adapt, and you probably already have the tools available to do so.

There are four main tools that already exist in your curriculum which you can use to break difficult subjects down into manageable chunks. These are:

  • Lesson Content - The actual principles and ideas taught in your lessons, and the teaching techniques used to present them.
  • In-class Activities - Out-of-lecture structure and teacher-led exercises, often during class or office time, such as grouping students together or giving them set amounts of time to master a subject and present it.
  • Projects- Out-of-class assignments to an individual student or group that allow students a chance to apply the principles they are trying to learn and present their work publicly.
  • Classroom Atmosphere - Your classroom's structure, layout, general attitude, and level of participation, all of which contribute to the way your students receive your teaching.

Adapting to difficult subjects is probably going to require you to allot more time to those subjects, but make sure that you don't just end up talking more. This is not likely to give you the results you're looking for in your students.

Use the tools already in your curriculum to fit your students

Instead, if you see that your students are not understanding the content of your lessons and you opt for spending more time on a subject, try modifying your approach using one of these four tools that are not already being used. An in-class activity can help some students learn from others that may feel more confident in the material. A project, in which students may use practical skills to produce something significant to show off, can build confidence with kinesthetic or practical learners. There may even be some element of your classroom or an attitude about the topic of your lesson that's turning your students off.

The point is this: if you're going to spend more time on something, fill that time with variety rather than simply giving your class more of the same treatment. Using a variety of teaching methods can help subjects to ''click' for your students, getting them past their next plateau.

Adapting for Easily-understood Subjects

Despite sounding simple, this kind of curriculum-adapting is not necessarily the opposite of adapting for difficult subject matter.

It may come as a relief that some things you teach will take less time than planned. Perhaps your students have studied the subject before, or some insightful activities earlier in the semester allowed them to be well-prepared to digest some new topic quickly.

The key here is to always be verifying understanding with your students. You can do this through active listening, in-class quizzes, or group discussion. If you can see that a huge majority of your class understands a topic acceptably well, and you're willing to work one-on-one with the few that don't, you can move the class along faster than anticipated.

Balancing Your Curriculum Adaptation

Keep in mind that you will have instances of both faster and slower progress every semester and that sometimes these instances will occur in different, unexpected segments of the curriculum. For every portion of your lessons that you lengthen, you'll have to cut back somewhere else.

This inherent limit in classroom and homework time means that you're basically playing a balancing act. The best teachers I've ever met did this naturally. It was as if they could inherently sense when they needed to spend more time on a subject, and sometimes even dedicated entire extra class periods to it. That meant, alternately, that they sometimes had to skip superfluous lessons or even modify their tests to omit subject matter that they didn't have time to cover.

Your Curriculum Is Yours

That heading might sound obvious, but remember that while regulations are important, your students' actual learning is even more important. The amount of time you spend on portions of your curriculum is ultimately up to you. Discerning whether or not your students need you to be flexible is your responsibility. Adapting your curriculum to your students' needs is the key to proper time management in your classroom, so pay attention, and make every second count.

By Stuart Mayo
November 2016
teachers differentiating learning

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