Bowling Is Like Curriculum Development
Recently, I went to the bowling alley with my family and observed several similarities between the game of bowling and the work educators are involved with when they develop curriculum and provide instruction. The following similarities offer a humorous comparison between a sport and the important work that takes place with teachers and teacher teams.
Selecting The Right Ball:
When you arrive at the bowling alley, each person selects a ball based on their size and strength. Some people select the orange ball, while others select the black ball. Most bowlers do not choose a ball because of its color; they are looking for the right weight and appropriate fit.
Personalized learning should allow students to have choices and to select tools that will make them feel comfortable while searching for answers and participating in the assigned tasks.
In the lane next to me, a seven year old child requested to have the bumpers raised (in the gutters) when it was her turn to bowl. There was a small fee to have the bumpers raised, but it was worth the extra money.
When students need modifications, it is worth the time, money, and effort. Modifications allow students to gain confidence and eventually some students will be ready for the next level of learning without the modifications. Scaffolding is another term that came to mind when I saw the child bowl with bumpers. Scaffolding is a skill that teachers learn over time and it provides students with instructional supports which facilitate learning when students are first introduced to a new subject.
1st Attempt and 2nd Attempt:
Each time a bowler approaches the lane, they have two opportunities to knock down all ten pins.
Frequently, teachers create assessments which only provide students with a single opportunity to reach a proficient score. Bowlers gain confidence when they knock down seven pins, because it means that they only have to hit three pins with their second attempt. Even a young bowler understands that it can be easier to hit three pins than seven or ten.
Rick Stiggins (2008) said, “The simple fact is that if we want all students to meet standards (and we already have established that such success is essential) then they must all believe that success is within reach for them if they try. The critical new insight about assessment is, what students think about and do with assessment results is every bit as important as what the adults think about and do with those results.” As we look at the example from bowling, we must remember that the goal is for all students to succeed, even if they do not get a strike on their first attempt.
A split occurs when various combinations of pins are standing after a first throw where one or more pins has been knocked down, creating a space between standing pins and thus a harder spare. Examples: 4-5, 5-6, 6-7-10. When a bowler misses some of the pins the machine automatically clears the pins that were knocked down and resets the remaining pins.
How often do our students experience a split in their understanding? Students may demonstrate proficiency in some areas, but they still lack true understanding of a key concept. When educators are developing curriculum and instruction, they must anticipate a split in student understanding. There are several ‘misunderstandings’ that teachers can predict will occur at each grade level. Wiggins and McTighe (2007) suggest that educators should identify student misunderstandings in curriculum documents. If educators predict that students will need a second or third attempt, then they will be prepared to reteach or offer different approaches for students to gain a clear understanding and meet the learning goals established by the teacher. Most of our students will not score a strike on their first attempt, and we should be prepared to reset the pins and offer additional opportunities to learn.
Each member of our family tried to get a strike. We gave high fives and cheered when someone got a strike. It is fun to celebrate success! The main reason for our celebration was that someone in our group had met the goal (10-out-of-10).
Students need a goal to aim for. It is easier to reach a learning goal if you understand the rules and are supported in your learning. Educators can create small wins when they develop curriculum and instruction. Teams of educators should meet on a regular basis to share strategies which support diverse learning styles and result in student success. I am not trying to advocate for a script for all teachers, but it makes sense to have a learning target and to provide support for each student.
The game of bowling consists of several boundaries and there are penalties for going across or outside the boundaries. Bowlers are not allowed to cross the line when they release the ball or it is called a foul. There are arrows which help the bowler align their ball with the pins they are aiming for. Finally, the gutters provide each bowler with a barrier that should be avoided.
When educators design curriculum and instruction they should take precaution and make certain that students understand the boundaries. Some teachers prefer inquiry learning or experimental learning and this style of teaching discourages boundaries to a certain extent. Some adults view boundaries as expectations or societal norms. Quality curriculum and instruction can lead students to understand boundaries which exist in life (i.e., citizenship, communication, technology, collaborative work, and research ethics). Students may decide to push the boundaries in some areas, while staying within the boundaries in other classes. The key is that our curriculum and instruction create opportunities for students to learn the boundaries that they will need to understand in order to be successful as adults.
Personalized learning, opportunity to learn, identifying learning targets, providing scaffolding, identifying barriers to learning, and celebrating student success have been in existence for over one hundred years. Teachers and administrators understand what good teaching looks like and they strive to meet the needs of each student. However, wishing to succeed and having an intentional strategy are two different approaches. Recently, Squires (2009) wrote, "It is of paramount importance to make sure students have the opportunity to learn more important content aligned with standards and assessments.....Further, school districts, through their curricula, have the tools at their disposal to control and ensure what students learn" (p. 133).
Curriculum development is critical if we are going to meet the needs of each student. Some teachers spend evenings and weekends developing curriculum and planning instructional strategies which will meet the learning needs of each student. Other teachers fail to plan and struggle to identify the learning goal of their activities and group assignments. We don’t need students to get a strike on the first attempt, but we should be prepared to help each student get a spare by the end of the unit or end of the semester. Students will strive for a spare when teachers plan curriculum which supports student learning needs and when teachers provide differentiated instruction and additional support.
Stiggins, R. (2008). Assessment for learning, the achievement gap, and truly effective schools. A presentation at the Educational Testing Service and College Board conference, Educational Testing in America: State Assessments, Achievement Gaps, National Policy and Innovations. Washington DC, September 8, 2008. Retrieved from http://www.ets.org/Media/Conferences_and_Events/pdf/stiggins.pdf on July 16, 2010.
Squires, D.A. (2009). Curriculum alignment: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin
Wiggins, G. & McTighe, G., (2007). Schooling by design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.