At the Sigety Faculty Summer Institute in 2019, veteran members of Blair’s English faculty came together to review the philosophy and align the curriculum for English 1, the foundational course for their department. The result is a course that provides a consistent English 1 experience for every freshman regardless of who is teaching, while still allowing Blair’s expert faculty members to teach in the ways they find most effective.
English department chair James Moore explained how the aligned curriculum works: Each of the five English 1 teachers teach the same unit—whether it be on Macbeth, short stories, poetry or a novel—at the same point in the year, for approximately the same amount of time, and with similar assignments and assessments. However, the teachers all have the ability to make the class their own by customizing their approach and choosing specific literary works from a course-wide list. “We never go so far afield, though, that students in different classes get a fundamentally different experience,” Mr. Moore said.
To date, the aligned curriculum has proven beneficial to teachers and students in several ways. Students who have to switch sections due to a schedule change find themselves in approximately the same place in their new class as they were in the old one. Teachers can easily cover for one another if they have to miss a class. And, best of all, according to Mr. Moore, “faculty members are constantly sharing ideas. I’ve got a terrific team teaching English 1, and we are all great resources for one another.”
Robert Brandwood, who has been teaching English at Blair since 1985, concurred that faculty collaboration has been key to keeping the course experience consistent for all freshmen, and he enjoys being able to turn to his colleagues to gauge his plans for the week, assignments and more. “The great thing about the aligned curriculum is that even while we teachers are all on the same page, we still have the scope for our pedagogical personalities to prevail,” he observed. “I’m still the same person I’ve always been in the classroom, and I still have the autonomy that I truly value as a Blair teacher. But it’s great to know that I’m asking the same things of students as my colleagues—in past years, that wasn’t always the case. Now, the student experience is the same across the board, and that’s the important thing.”
Dean of Teaching and Learning Amanda Lucas, a veteran English teacher with more than 15 years of experience who joined Blair’s faculty last summer, has found the aligned curriculum helpful in her first semester of teaching at Blair. “Different schools have different ways of teaching and different expectations for their students, but this curriculum and the strong collaboration among Blair’s English 1 teachers have given me an immediate sense of the expectations for my students,” she said. “And from a teaching-and-learning point of view, I especially appreciate the fact that teachers can grow in the areas they wish while still relying on the experiences of others.”
Mr. Moore noted that the English 1 curricular alignment was especially helpful last spring, when the pandemic necessitated that the School pivot quickly to remote learning. “We were able to do a really good job through that period by working closely together, teaching the same book, Toni Morrison’s Home, and giving the same assessment to every freshman,” he said.
In coming years, Mr. Moore hopes to bring the same principles of alignment and consistency to the English curriculum for sophomores, juniors and seniors. “It’s already starting to happen organically,” he noted, “and it’s especially good to have the stability that it brings to our curriculum as everything else shifts under our feet.”