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The Four Ts

Curriculum Design

EL Education's Director of Curriculum Design, Suzanne Plaut, explains how the curriculum design team uses the Four Ts as a framework to create Common Core-aligned curriculum focusing on the topic, task, target, and text for each lesson.


- So Expeditionary Learning is really excited to share some of what we’ve been learning about curriculum design.

- Now we’re teaching them how to be literate people and I feel like that’s always at the heart of what we’re doing with this curriculum. I know that it’s making a huge difference for kids.

- You still have to start with important content. We work with schools and districts to help them improve on existing curriculum or create new curriculum with the four T’s in mind. So the four T’s are just, it’s a really simple framework we came up with. The T’s are topic, task, target and text. And it’s just a really simple way to synthesize a lot of our learning about how to design really tight Common Core aligned curriculum that is compelling for students and teachers.

- There’s skills that you use to get to understand the text. That’s the shift that the Common-Core is asking us to think about. Building knowledge about the world through reading informational texts.

- The frog’s tail turn different colors, like they camouflage.

- [Suzanne] Topic drives the learning for students. Kids are naturally curious. And the more they’re interested and compelled by a topic the more they’re willing to work hard.

- [Teacher] You have to be mindful of keeping that in balance with, am I really hitting the rigor of the grade level expectations of the standards?

- They’re going to have to think ahead about the kinds of topics that they’re going to pick to lend themselves to the standards that they have.

- [Suzanne] It’s about the interrelationship between the four and so we spent a lot of time having the teachers get smarter about each T but then also talking about how they interact with each other to make a really strong curriculum.

- So then I wonder if it’s target and topic are the drivers and then task and text come from that. As I’m thinking about my students, I’m thinking about how the targets, the topic, the task and the text all are interwoven into creating the perfect culminating experience for them.

- If I unpack the standard then I know all the things I need to hit. And I think of the standards really as a scaffold for us. When I think about standards, it’s sort of like somebody in the nation, you know, whoever wrote the Common Core has stocked our fridge has said, “This is the diet that third graders should have.” And then it’s the artistry of the teacher or group of teachers to decide what meal am I going to make with those ingredients, with those standards. You just have to read the standards closely and understand, like, what is the essence of the standard? What is it really asking students to do? And then, oh, what kind of text do I need to give them if I’m going to have them do this thing? You might even put two texts next to each other and say, “Oh, they both help kids understand the role of Congress but, look, this one has all that spinach in it of RI.6. I’m going to use that one instead.”

- It’s really critical that if we’re assessing standards it can’t be based on kids work in a final product. We want them to have this great final product but we also need to find a way to make sure they’re showing us they have the skill.

- In developing a task for the students, I need to be clear on what I expect them to be able to do and they need to understand what they need to do. You notice that they take the language from the standard and embed it right into the question itself. So if the topic says 4.2 Summarizing The Text. Summarize what you think the reading is mostly about and then the graphic organizer allows them to summarize within it.

- They’re going to be reading a mentor text, which is the Choose Your Own Adventure novel. And then their mid-unit assessment, they’re actually going to write the introduction to their narrative. They’re also going to be adding that caption too so we have a little bit of a W2 standard in here as well.

- I love the Choose Your Own Adventure. It just makes me really happy. I just think fourth graders are going to totally dig that as a task.

- I think one of the things that really pushed our thinking a little bit more was the bundling of standards.

- We thought about what the bundles are and now we can think about a text that fits those standards really well.

- Bundling is when you take standards and you look for things that they may have in common or be complimentary to each other. And then looking really closely at what each specific standard requires of students and how they might drive the task that you ask a student to do. And compliment that with a text that has to kind of push their thinking a little bit more. Now we’re really thinking critically about the task and what text is going to drive that task.

- We were able to bundle the standards. Then once we did that, we were to able to say, “Wow where are the assessments going to fit into these and how can we form assessments that really help the kids master that standard”?

- [Male Teacher] That’s what the kids have to do.

- It’s forcing us to really think hard about the task and how it’s explicitly related to the bundled targets.

- You see the trap door of texts because we don’t have a text necessarily.

- And we have them but we don’t know if they’re going to serve the purpose.

- And how’s the task going to serve that target? And is it the right task? Like, this one you’re talking, it still feels a little orphaned. It’s sticky when you can’t pull one without tangling the others.

- What we’re going to do is, you are going to pretend you are fourth grade curriculum designers. What factors should play a part in selection of an anchor text for a learning expedition? Remember the anchor text is just one of many texts kids will encounter but it’s for that centerpiece.

- Survival, growth, behavior, reproduction. So from the content it’s all four of the major functions that they want to get.

- Yes, I would agree. In fact, I think the presentation of this would be more sophisticated as well. There’s a lot of ways of getting around reading the text.

- [Woman In Black] Yes, too many visual pictures.

- Like, if I had to just build quick background knowledge, I might throw that book at a kid. Whereas this one would really allow them to look a little bit more at the craft of the writing in terms of pulling information out.

- We had to decide whether our purpose for our anchor text was to go deep and really develop their sophistication as readers and writers in their thinking or if the purpose of our anchor text was building a common background knowledge and schema.

- When we had to look at the targets, it was clear that it had to be this one for targets.

- [Suzanne] And say why?

- Well, because, really, 4.7 The Information Presented Visually was the, was for here but the other three, 4.1, 4.2 and 4.4, we felt like we could really get to more through here. Especially with the main idea because this had longer written piece about something and it wasn’t so the titles weren’t so clear about what it was about. Whereas this, the titles were what the main idea was. So it just didn’t work with the targets.

- Everything came back to that text and back to the standards and back to the task. And I didn’t realize how interrelated or how important that choosing of the text really is.

- One of the purposes of this work is to put really powerful texts in kids’ hands. And to have kids use those texts to really understand the world. That’s one of the things that I find most inspiring about this work.

- If you’re really willing to wrestle with how the four T’s interact with each other, I think you end up with just that very satisfying moment of creating something that’s elegant and that really holds together. I just have such tremendous respect for teachers ‘cause the job is so hard. It’s so multifaceted. There’s so many decisions you make everyday with students. They’re just constantly trying to push their craft for the sake of kids.

- It’s a process. And even when you think you’ve mastered it, there’s more to learn. So, teaching is a practice and we are forever going to be improving in that practice.

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EL Education

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