Sunday, November 23, 2008

Post-Conference Buzz: Layered Curriculum

I just attended NSTA (National Science Teacher's Association) regional conference. I went to some amazing sessions that has put my head in a spin. In particular I learned about something called "Layered Curriculum," which I believe was proposed by Dr. Kathie Nunley. What I loved about this model was that it put together so many other theories that I've learned about and have been trying to implement/toying with implementing: brain-based education, Bloom's taxonomy, differentiation, and there's probably some other stuff I'm leaving out.

I'm going to summarize some of the key points here, in case readers are interested but also to help me remember!! (I never seem to be prepared at conferences; I always find myself writing notes on the backs of scraps of paper...) First off, before trying to teach using layered curriculum, it is important to educate students about how the brain learns best. (Here, I recommend John Medina's Brain Rules or Eric Jensen's Brain in Mind. The conference presenters, Kirsten Smith, Ron Bonnstetter, and another guy who's name I've forgotten(!), all from Nebraska, also recommend A Student's Brain by Kathie Nunley.) Some of the relevant key points are that all brains are wired differently, we like to explore, we don't like boring things, we need to repeat things to remember them, and we need exercise and sleep to keep our minds healthy. The conference presenters also recommended giving kids a learning styles test called VARK (visual, auditory, read/write, kinesthetic--supposedly at one's fingertips on the web).

Once students understand some of the basic brain rules and know something about how their brain is (like their learning style) they are prepared for their first unit of curriculum. Each unit is broken down in to three layers: Layer C is about remembering and understanding; Layer B, applying and analyzing; and Layer A evaluating and creating (you can see the Bloom's taxonomy-ishness here...). Students are given a variety of activities in each layer. Some sample curriculum I've looked at assign each activity a number of points and you are required to earn a certain number of points in each layer before moving on. Often, one of the activities is listening to a teacher lecture, but students could opt instead to read from a book, research on the internet, or watch a movie to get the same information (especially for layer C).

The teachers who presented had different methods for assessment, but both seemed to give an oral assessment to each kid when they finished a layer. There were also layer quizes, unit tests, and term tests (some of which was teacher choice, some district rules).

I'm super jazzed and excited to implement in my own classroom, but also really nervous. This is my third year teaching math and science at the middle school level, and I'm not sure I have the resources to provide the meaningful array that the teacher-presenters did. Now that I'm also in grad school part-time, I'm also not sure I have the time right now to take this on. I wonder if this is something I could try during my student teaching next year... Anyway, my plan is to do some serious investigating and planning this winter break. My plan is to try at least two units this year, so I can go into next year with some experience under my belt.

If you're interested in learning more, here are two websites to check out:,, and


Hai said...

Ava, thank you for sharing some of the things you learned about at the conference on your blog. It is very insightful information. I particularly liked the layering method. It is very nice to give kids options on how to learn the lessons, especially when some kids learn faster than others. Just recently I was talking to a student in high school and he expressed to me that at times he would rather just learn by reading the book than listen to his teacher lecture. Sometimes kids understand the concepts better when they hear it from their teachers and then read the book or vice versa. I think it is important to teach to different learning styles.

amy said...

Ava, thank you so much for sharing information about the conference. I am looking forward to hearing about the classroom application of "layered curriculum" in your classroom specifically. I am also looking forward to exploring the resources you provided.