Teacher-Created Digital Lessons Will Replace Some Textbooks in an Illinois School District

Teachers will try out the resources in a civics class since the state requirements recently changed for that subject.

by Valerie Wells, Herald & Review, Decatur, Ill. / September 12, 2016

(TNS)  — DECATUR, Ill. — Decatur schools typically buy new textbooks on a five-year cycle for most subjects.

It's expensive, and in some subject areas, by the time a book is published and into the hands of teachers and students, it's already a bit out of date.

Ed Moyer, the district's chief instructional officer, offered an alternative to that at the Aug. 23 board meeting: giving teachers the time and the power to design their own curriculum.

"What's possible is an amazing level of collaboration, an incredible level of accountability, but also a generation of excitement among teachers who are now given some opportunities to say, 'What should be happening in my classroom?' " he said.

Phase I is to look at student characteristics; Phase II, the intended results; Phase III, evidence that the students understand; and Phase IV, the learning experience.

Teachers make concept maps with a central question, and concepts that grow from that question to build the understanding and mastery of the subject at each level. Every subject includes writing and reading, experience and hands-on learning, and rigor and relevance, Moyer said, all based on the Illinois Learning Standards.

Starting with social studies, led by Megan Flanigan, social science curriculum coordinator, and including Eisenhower High School social science department head Sam Mills and MacArthur High School's instructional technology coach Callie Stanley, the process was labor-intensive, but Flanigan called it "professionally satisfying."

The team began with the new state requirement for a class in civics, she said.

"We got through it, and on the other side of it was a product that we're very proud of," she said.

She showed the school board the plan for the one-semester course, with the central question, "Why should I care about citizenship?" The five main topics are principles of government, electoral process, government policy, influences to opinion and civil liberties, and are broken down into timelines, the students' role and the assessment to determine whether they understand the material. The final product at the end is a mock Supreme Court opinion brief.

"I went into this about halfway into the process, and I had my concerns," Mills said. "I was unsure about what it was going to be like or what the outcomes were going to be, and I was questioning did I want to take this time? And it was a significant amount of time we spent, during the school year and in the summer. We were given a lot of freedom, freedom I haven't seen as a teacher before."

Interim co-Superintendent Michael Dugan said it will be especially helpful to new teachers.

"This allows us to walk away from textbooks," he said. "We can get any resources we want and store it in this digital warehouse. When we lose a teacher in this district, we start off, basically, at the first step and we've lost all of the history and all of the lessons that teacher has learned.

"Our guaranteed viable curriculum will be housed in this forum, and the work that they're doing is not going to be on a five-year rotation like we've had before."

©2016 the Herald & Review (Decatur, Ill.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.