Details are Weeds in the Curriculum

Pants move higher and necklines lower as the world outside our classroom window turns vibrant green and blue skies beckon…  No one wants to be reviewing for final exams now!

The boring, irrelevant, gobbly-gook is the material students didn’t internalize and now attempt to cram.  That same material is what slaps me in the face now too, as I question why I wasted class time with it.

Vocabulary and details invade the curriculum like some super-weed, choking the development of foundational concepts.  We have an educational system coated in inch-deep fertilizer, left over from a time when the local teacher was the primary source of information, and only colleges were expected to grow plants with actual root systems.   Instead of deepening our garden soil, NCLB and other beaurocratic mandates just expand the spray of fertilizer to cover the walls and ceilings.   That way, we have room for all the weeds expected by every special interest group and politician in charge of approving curriculum.  Heaven forbid they should attempt to measure the depth of student understanding — if a test-item can’t be machine-scored it is just too expensive!

What irritates me most at this time of year is realizing that once again I’ve given in to what was easy —  all my classes have vocabulary, but the upper level classes got so much more concept development.  My brain knows my priorities should be the other way around — weed out details so I can emphasize the important concepts, but then I get mired in the day-to-day and don’t have time to replant the sprouts away from the weeds.  It’s just easier to toss out the same seeds I used last year — the ones that are full of grass seeds instead of valuable plants…

I make a little progress each year.  I wish I could just plow the whole curriculum under and start over…  but then I wouldn’t have time for anything beyond lesson planning.   Maybe with the upcoming requirements for competancy-based assessments for all courses, we’ll be devoting more professsional development time to meaningful curriculum & assessment work.


Not all details are weeds.  When a student grows a concept, the details grow as leaves and little rootlets.  Those are details that students attach to a larger, meaningful structure in their mind, and details that support and strengthen the overall understanding as students connect them into place.  Notice the shift to details that students are uncovering and connecting.  Weeds are the details strewn about by teachers.

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