To complete assignments for 625 and 626, I have developed and written my own curriculum complete with lesson plans. It has been an energizing and empowering experience that gives me confidence in my educational skills. However, recent experiences implementing a curriculum that I did not write has me questioning and pondering curriculum fidelity. It is not that I dislike the curriculum in question- students have responded well to it and it is a great model for pacing and flow of lesson plans. But there have been instances where curriculum fidelity has been difficult. For instance, one session has four activities planned in a one-hour time span. Even with adults this would be difficult, but I am working with 7th graders! In this instance, curriculum fidelity was not met and I had to cut two of the activities (activities that I really like) due to time constraints. This experience (along with a few others) got me thinking about the advantages and disadvantages of curriculum fidelity. This post raises more questions than answers. It explores, questions, and wonders about the importance of curriculum fidelity.
In short, curriculum fidelity is “the degree to which a lesson, program, or curriculum is implemented according to the original intention of the developers” (Gilbert & Sawyer, 2000). Achinstein and Ogawa (2006) add that fidelity is a term used by administrators and teachers to describe strict adherence to the text, pacing guides, and teacher scripts associated with a certain curriculum.
The advantages of curriculum fidelity are numerous and heavily emphasized among educators. For educators (or whoever is implementing the curriculum), fidelity means less work! If my lesson plan is already written, rationale has already been argued, and activities are pre-determined, I don’t have to stress each night about what I’m doing the next day (or question if it will work). For evidence-based curriculums that have proven to be effective, curriculum fidelity means that the facilitator can be confident in the quality of the curriculum and its ability to achieve goals and objectives. Other advantages include guidance for inexperienced teachers, equity across educational settings, and coherence and collaboration among teachers (Achinstein & Ogawa, 2006).
Curriculum fidelity raises some challenges that speak to instructor autonomy and individuality. At its worst, curriculum fidelity demands conformity over quality. Sue, a teacher struggling with curriculum fidelity, says, “What I’m feeling from the district is that teaching and education are not important. What’s important is the program that we’re using and following it, and individual style and teacher’s knowledge, and their abilities and their individuality should not come into play” (Achinstein and Ogaway, 2006). Curriculum fidelity assumes that all educators have the same knowledge and skills to implement the curriculum as it was intended. If an instructor writes their own curriculum, they can tailor it to emphasize their own teaching strengths and weaknesses. When using a curriculum written by others, instructors must put aside their own preferences for activities/methods and implement the lessons as instructed. The danger in this is that lack of investment in material may cause instructors to be less energetic and effective than if they had been using a curriculum that they were invested in.
Special Considerations for Sexuality Education
Curriculum fidelity is often talked about in terms of evidence-based programs. For programs that have shown to have positive results (in behavior, attitudes, or knowledge), curriculum fidelity is the only way to ensure that these results will be the same for all implementations. For sexuality education, this component deserves more attention. Let’s take the examples of a program that produces higher math scores on a standardized test and a program that produces greater frequency of condom use. The math program is called MathWorks! and the condom program is called Put it On! (work with me, people).
Scenario A: I am a math teacher teaching MathWorks! and I notice that yes, my students are learning how to answer test questions about math but I don’t like the teaching methods that are employed because they emphasize test-taking over understanding core principles. In this situation, what is more important: raising test scores to secure funding for my district or teaching math in a way that I feel is most effective?
Scenario B: I am a sex ed teacher implementing Put it On!. My students seem to be developing positive attitudes toward condom use but I don’t really like some of the activities in the program. However, this program is evidence-based and I am told that if I implement it correctly, my students will use condoms with greater frequency. What is more important: increasing condom use or adapting the program to my preferences?
In both scenarios, the desired outcomes are present. In both scenarios, the teacher feels that the lesson plans and activities could use some changes. Are the results of one program more important than the other? Does one program deserve fidelity more than the other?
As I said before, all of my pondering and questioning about curriculum fidelity has yielded few answers. I respect the people who write evidence-based curriculum but also empathize with instructors who feel it limits their autonomy and individuality. When I wrote the final section, Special Considerations for Sexuality Education, I was intending to say that yes! - condom use is more important than math scores and fidelity to sexuality curricula that affect real life decisions is more important than fidelity to curricula that are intended to raise test scores. But now I’m not so sure. Thinking about this subject and writing this blog made me re-evaluate a lot of my thoughts about education and curriculum-writing. I’m looking forward to other people’s thoughts about and experiences with curriculum fidelity. Thanks for reading!
March 27, 2011
Achinstein, B., & Ogawa, R. T. (2006). (In)fidelity: What the resistance of new teachers reveals about professional principles ad prescriptive educational policies. Harvard Educational Review, 76(1), 30-63.
Gilbert, G.G., & Sawyer, R.G. (2000). Health education: Creating strategies for school and community health. Boston: Jones & Bartless.