This post is the second in the series, “Three Critical Trends in Instructional Materials.”

An increasing number of districts are forgoing comprehensive textbooks in favor of building their own resources. In fact, a California superintendent told us that he had put aside $7 million to pay his teachers to develop their own materials. Administrators in favor of building their own resources say the exercise will engender greater buy-in among teachers and produce better resources for students.  Others question whether the skills that make a person a great teacher are the same skills necessary to design instructional materials. As one person suggested, “I’m a good driver, but I couldn’t build a car.”

Having reviewed almost 2500 resources, Learning List staff have seen and learned much about instructional materials. If your district is considering or developing instructional resources, we share the following observations to help inform your methodology:
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  • Focus – Materials should focus on the major work of the grade.  Distracting content should be limited and the materials should include multiple citations (e.g., pages, lessons, videos) aligned to each priority standard. For example, if you’re in a Common Core state, do you have multiple citations for teachers to use to teach each Major, Supporting, and Additional standard or each of the Critical Areas of Focus? If you are in Texas, do you have at least a few citations addressing each Readiness, Supporting and Process standard?
  • Coherence – Citations should build and reinforce (within and across grades and subjects) a deeper understanding of concepts and skills articulated in the standards and their application in the real world. Does your material contain real world examples and activities to engage your students and show the relevance of the content and skills they are learning?
  • Rigor – The citations should be grade-level appropriate and rigorous, as opposed to difficult.
  • Horizontal and Vertical Alignment – Citations should be verified to be aligned to the standards. Alignment is a unique skill set.  Very accomplished teachers are not necessarily adept at doing alignment work.  Moreover, alignment is an inherently subjective endeavor. In order to ensure that the material your district is developing is aligned to the standards: (1) have at least two teachers, who are good at aligning material to standards, review the alignment of each citation incorporated in the material, and (2) have a method of reconciling differences of opinion among those teachers.
  • Adaptions/Instructional Resources – The material your teachers develop must be “accessible” to all students and teachers.  Consider whether/how the material will help teachers differentiate instruction for students with differing abilities. Consider also whether all teachers have the skills and knowledge to use the materials you are creating effectively.  For example, will professional development be necessary? Does the material have content supports and notes to help all teachers present the content in a similar way?
  • Maintenance –Teachers will quickly get frustrated if links in the material do not work and will lose faith in the material. It is imperative to the success of your Build Your Own initiative to have a regular maintenance schedule to ensure that the embedded links are working.

Building your own materials will be a time consuming and painstaking process. But, if done well, it is likely to produce resources that your teachers will use and that will prepare your students with the knowledge and skills the standards require them to learn.  Hopefully, the observations provided above will help you build an efficient and effective “Build Your Own” methodology.