Asking the Experts: Teachers Reflect on the CURATE Project
Through the CURATE (CUrriculum RAtings by TEachers), project, the Rennie Center partners with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to convene panels of local educators, who review the evidence on various curricula and use a rubric to evaluate whether it meets expectations around standards alignment and classroom application. To get a better idea of the value of the CURATE experience for participating teachers—and for teachers and schools across the state—we asked three current CURATE panelists to answer a series of questions about their experience. Read their full responses below or a summary of their reflections.
Lorie Banks (Math Teacher at the Morgan Full Service Community School in Holyoke):
Why did you decide to apply to become part of CURATE?
I applied to be a part of CURATE for a couple of reasons. First and foremost I wanted to be a process of decision making at the macro level. I enjoy taking part of activities that allow teachers' voices to be heard, especially at the state level. I was a member of the state Teacher Advisory Group and this is my second time doing the CURATE panel. The other reason I wanted to participate, especially this time around, was to expand my knowledge of K-5 math content. As a 8th grade math teacher I am very comfortable with those standards and curricula, but I wanted to familiarize myself with what happens in the elementary math grades.
What has been the most eye-opening part of your involvement in CURATE?
I love(d) learning about the process about how to examine the materials. Prior to CURATE I didn't know about EdReports or the other available resources to look at curricula. I have been on curricula review teams at my district level and we never used these materials.
What have been your main takeaways from the experience, and how have these impacted how you approach your day-to-day work?
I have a much better understanding of the elementary math standards and how they connect to the work that I do as an 8th grade teacher. It has also made it easier for me to pinpoint areas of weakness with my students. If they struggle with a particular concept I can now see where they lack the foundation in an earlier grade.
What do you wish Massachusetts educators knew about CURATE?
I wish that educators knew that teachers do have a voice, especially when it comes to decision making at the state level. I would encourage teachers to participate in these panels. I also don't think teachers understand how districts choose curriculum, or if districts use these reports.
Kevin Cormier (Math Teacher at Nissitissit Middle School in Pepperell):
It has been one of the great professional development experiences of my career to be a part of the CURATE panel for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I applied for the first cohort because decisions made with regards to curriculum intrigue me, and in my district we were not fond of what we had. So, the selfish motive was to learn about different curricula for personal use.
However, when I began to work with some of the most amazing and thoughtful middle school math teachers in the state, I learned a whole lot more. Not just about the ways I can improve my own practice, but also how a great set of curricular materials can provide access to quality education across different learning environments.
I had such a great experience being a part of two middle school panels, I have stayed on to take part in a high school panel and, this semester, an elementary panel. This has provided an even better experience for me to see the whole journey of a student from K-12. This is the kind of professional development I think all math teachers (and, by extension, all content teachers) should have access to.
I have been fortunate enough to work with amazing teachers from all grade levels, while also tapping into the insight of other educators and leaders in the non-profit space. I was even fortunate enough to be asked to talk about the benefits of CURATE at a monthly meeting at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. And right now, as my district is looking to pilot new curricula for next year, I am able to share my knowledge and experience and have a direct impact on all of the students in my district who will step into a math class next year in grades K-8. As a professional, you would be crazy to not want to have that kind of impact on the district in which you teach.
Sarah Little (Literacy Coach and Interventionist at the Lee Academy Pilot School in Boston):
Teaching is hard work. The day of a teacher is filled with multiple demands. These varied and often competing demands frequently keep us zoomed into the day-to-day operations of a classroom. We rarely have the luxury to zoom out and think big picture or have time for reflection. I am grateful for my work as a CURATE panelist this year for allowing me to do just that—zoom out and reflect. As a panelist, I get the chance to think deeply about materials and instruction so that I can be better for my students when I zoom back in.
My participation on the CURATE panel has developed me as an educator in several ways. First, it has provided me the opportunity to build and enact a reflective and critical stance toward teaching and learning. It has set up teaching, learning, and materials selection as something to be interrogated. These are not just things we do or use every day—they are things that can improve. By helping put language to the criteria we should be measuring our instruction and materials against, CURATE has helped me slow down my own planning and instruction and ask critical questions that matter. Questions like, “Are the texts I’m selecting varied in cultural representation and perspective?” “Are the questions and tasks I’m designing directly connected to the most important ideas of the texts we are reading?” “Am I addressing foundational reading, language, and speaking/listening standards in a balanced way?” All of these questions stem from indicators on the CURATE ELA rubric. Getting the chance to dive deeply into the rubric and understand the indicators has made me not only a better consumer of instructional materials, but also a better teacher. Because this opportunity has provided me with a bar of excellence, I have a much clearer vision of what strong instructional materials—and strong instruction—should look like. I feel so lucky to have had the time to both develop this vision of excellence and also reflect on my own teaching.
Finally, this experience would not have been nearly as effective if I had not gotten to share it with other educators. As educators, time is our most precious resource. And, often, what makes us better is getting the time to talk with and learn from and with other educators. We rarely get that time in our day-to-day work. However, as a CURATE panelist, I get that time at least once a month. And because our conversations are based in something as deep and rich as the CURATE rubric, the conversations are productive. Having this tool to ground us in our discussions about instructional materials helps us to be objective about something that can often be so subjective because teaching is such a personal profession. As a literacy coach, my goal is to have similar discussions with teachers at my school that are grounded in elements of the CURATE rubric. Participating on this panel has strengthened my belief in the power of a shared language and how that language can propel people forward. This shared language, this bar of excellence, is a powerful tool to support educators to reflect and improve through productive, collaborative conversations that can push teaching and learning in the right direction.
Applications are now open for next year’s CURATE panelists! If you are a Massachusetts educator interested in participating in CURATE, find more information about the project and apply now. Do you have a colleague who would make a great CURATE Fellow? Nominate a colleague for the CURATE Fellowship! Feel free to reach out to Annelise Eaton at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.