Simple Steps to Layered Curriculum®
Kathie F. Nunley
Present Assignment Options. Instead of assigning class and
homework, offer an assortment of learning activity choices. Offer
a wide variety, addressing as many styles and interests as possible.
Activities may vary in terms of length of time required and point
value. Allow the student to choose which assignments they want to
do to meet the point requirements for that unit. Try to include enough
assignment choices so that even the nonreaders or low reading ability
students can experience success. A unit sheet may include lecture,
video, computer programs, book work, posters, modeling clay, poetry,
construction of a board game, flashcards, mobiles, book reports, video
performance. Allow the students freedom to come up with their own
creative assignments. Variety is key to leading rather than managing
Require an Oral Defense of Assignments. In addition, or as
a replacement for some written exams, have a brief one on one conversation
with each student as assignments are completed. You may be amazed
at what your students are and are not learning. An oral defense has
many benefits. It gives you an opportunity to meet face to face with
each one of your students. This allows for clarity and individualized
instruction. It reduces cheating. Even the student that copies the
answers to a book assignment from another student will have to study
that material in order to receive credit. Therefore, actual learning
is required for points. Don't be surprised to meet some resistance
to this idea from students who have had years of practice just "doing
the work" without any accountability. Another advantage to this
is that it reduces test anxiety if you use it as one of the primary
means of assessment or evaluation. If you have spent a few minutes
with that student asking her what she learned from the activity, is
there really any need for a formal written evaluation at a later date?
The face to face conversation is a more valid form of assessment than
many written exams. You can also individualize expectations to accommodate
various abilities in the classroom. With this individual assessment
you can change your expectations slightly from student to student
so that you are testing for individual growth rather than a general
criteria that may fit no one.
Offer your lectures as an OPTION. Or even put them on tape. While
most students will choose to listen to a lecture, their attention
is greatly improved when they perceive it as a self-made choice rather
than a teacher-mandated assignment.
lecture live, or set up a listening station in your classroom. Most
districts have a surplus of old cassette recorders with inputs for
five or six headsets. This allows the teacher to record the lecture
outside of class, later offering it as a learning option. There are
many advantages to this method. First, your lecture is uninterrupted
by classroom disruptions. It also frees up your time during class
for one-on-one work with students.
the headsets isolates students and helps them focus their attention
on the lecture. This is especially beneficial for students with an
attention deficit disorder who have trouble filtering out extraneous
stimuli. It also gives you an opportunity to isolate these students
without embarrassing them. Obviously it saves on your voice and reduces
your frustration. It also adds consistency to various class periods.
If students are absent one day, the tape is available for make-up
and even allows the class to continue in the event that the teacher
is absent. Try to involve pictures or physical props with your lecture
so that the students have some visual information to go with the auditory
Design and Offer Hands-on Activities for all Concepts. Teachers
have known for years that hands-on manipulatives lead to longer retention
of concepts but you may not have been told why that is true. It is
a simple plan to reach both memory systems in the brain. Humans have
two distinct memory systems which are actually located in different
areas of the brain. One is called the episodic memory and the other
is the semantic memory. Your episodic memory houses your autobiography.
These are memories which you did not specifically set out to learn.
They are unintentionally stored. It includes things like all the houses
you have lived in, your third grade teacher, a fun summer vacation,
and what you did last Christmas. Although you never set out to intentionally
memorize any of these 'episodes' of your life, you nevertheless did.
Psychologists refer to this as your episodic memory.
semantic memory comprises items that you have specifically set out
to learn, such as your work phone number, the second president of
the United States, the multiplication tables, and how many stripes
are in the American flag. Psychologist know these two memory systems
are separate in the brain because it is possible to have a memory
loss in one and not the other. This is why Alzheimer's patients may
not remember their children or spouse but could tell you who was the
second president of the United States. Understanding how these two
memories are separate explains why a hands-on experience in teaching
increases the likelihood of retention. The idea is to put the information
into both memory systems of the student. By having students intentionally
memorize a concept stores the information in the semantic memory while
the experience stores the concept in the episodic memory.
Offer a Variety of Textbooks. This idea may appear somewhat
unorthodox at first glance. However, it is probably the most important
first step in moving away from a teacher-centered classroom. Have
students choose their own text. Most teachers have accumulated an
odd assortment of textbooks over the years. It may be possible to
trade some between teachers within a district. There are many benefits
to this idea. First it shifts the focus off the textbook as an anchor
to instruction. It prevents routine teaching from a particular book
with book questions assigned as the main mode of instruction. By having
students choose their own text from a wide assortment, you accommodate
all reading levels. Many publishers even offer textbooks in languages
other than English. What an aid to a Limited English proficiency student
to have a subject reference book in their native language. When students
have several books at their disposal they can see the variety in approaches
and presentation of topics from author to author. Students begin to
see the textbook as a reference source to support their learning.
Teachers are forced to add a variety of instructional materials to
the classroom which will meet the needs of a larger percentage of
Tie the students grade into complexity of thinking. The concept
of layers in Layered Curriculum encourages students to think more
complexly in order to improve their grade. C layer assignments require
basic understanding. B layer assignments ask them to manipulate or
apply those concepts. A layer assignments ask them to critically think
on the subject.
is no easy answer to teaching. It is a tough occupation that most
of us won't escape without a few battle scars. However, you can increase
your success rate and decrease the classroom stress, by striving to
make your room as student-centered as possible. No longer will you
be solely responsible for student assignments and grades. You are
simply another resource. If students are not learning, or don't like
how they are learning or how they are doing, they have the power to
change it. Give them that control. You may get your classroom back.