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Launch a Curriculum Shaping Circle with Teachers, Students, and Families   

What are Curriculum Shaping Circles (CSCs)?

CSCs provide the opportunity for students and parents to offer teachers meaningful feedback on actual course curricula. These “learning stakeholders” work together for 3 to 5 sessions (about 1.5 hrs each) to establish student-centered plans for the course, topic, or unit under discussion. This results in dynamic collaborations enriching course or unit designs, infusing student/parent voices into the learning, and building a powerful collaboration.

Why are CSCs necessary?

Most students, including those involved in CSCs, have historically described the curriculum as “boring”, “irrelevant”, “useless”, “disconnected”, and other negative descriptors. Students and families rarely, if ever, have a chance to formally critique, reflect upon, and help create their own visions for their own learning in schools. Effectively, students and parents are systematically shut out of the process of shaping their own learning. Recent scholarship (see Morrill, Duncan-Andrade, Ladson-Billings, Noguera among others) emphasizes the rise in student engagement and productivity when they feel valued as co-creators of learning and curriculum.

How do you start a CSC at your school or community?

There are two routes you can take:

  1. Do It Yourself (recommended): Utilize this page with the tools and agendas offered here and launch a Curriculum Shaping Circle yourself. It’s truly that easy, yet it may feel challenging at first to get started. We are available via email or phone to offer ideas for how to get it up and rolling.
  2. Secure CGCT Facilitation & Supports (recommended): For those who would like CGCT to help facilitate the process and offer greater supports, we are more than honored to work with your school community. There are facilitation fees involved based on the scope of work and number of teachers/courses involved. Please contact for more information.

What’s the Curriculum Shaping Circle process?

This process can be tweaked by your school community:

  1. Identify a teacher(s) willing to work with students and parents to improve their entire course or particular unit plans by respecting the voices and ideas of students and parents. This teacher(s) becomes the CSC teacher(s). The teacher can be recruited by a student, parent, fellow staff member, community member, administrator, or anyone else.
  2. The CSC teacher(s) recruits students and parents to attend the CSCs. A group of 10 to 15 people is preferable. These CSC sessions can be held right after school.
  3. The teacher commits to securing snacks since the day gets long and hunger can limit people's participation or attendance.
  4. Publicize each CSC session in various ways, especially by student leaders.
  5. Utilize the tools (detailed below) to carry out the agendas, conduct student surveying, and conduct curriculum mapping.
  6. By the 3rd session, decide if a 4th planning session is needed to complete the mapping process.
  7. The final session is meant to be a share-out to the larger school community of interested people, especially all participants, future students of that course, and any other interested members of your school community.

What tools are needed? (all provided to the right)

  • CSC Guide
  • Student Survey
  • Unit Map Template
  • Unit Map Template (Word version)
  • Critical Unit Themes and Threads
  • Culminating Project ideas
  • List of Assessment ideas
  • Unit Evaluation Form (for students)

What example can we learn from? Kenwood Academy

As shown with the photographs above and video below (poor sound), students, parents, and teachers from Kenwood Academy conducted an amazing series of Curriculum Shaping Circles to completely re-shape their World History course. Here’s what transpired:

  • Three World History teachers attended at least one session, with two teachers attending all four sessions. They recruited 10 students and 4 parents to participate in the CSC.
  • In session #1, participants reviewed and critiqued their traditional curriculum and began to re-imagine what the course or unit can look like.
  • They surveyed over 150 students in 3 days to find out students’ real world issues of concern/interest, as well as how students learn best.
  • In session #2, everyone crunched the data to find out students’ topic and learning interests. From this session came 7 major topics to build units around. They broke into teams of 2 to begin unit planning around one of the themes (7 teams were formed).
  • In session #3, we continued to map out the units. CGCT facilitators brought a few dozens books/materials for possible integration. Students and parents conducted intensive curriculum mapping.
  • In session #4, we prepared a presentation for the Kenwood Local School Council (LSC) in order to share the CSC work, gain the LSCs support, and encourage the LSC to provide funding to expand this program for next year.
  • As a result of this CSC work at Kenwood, stronger relationships were established, 7 amazing units of study/action were created, the Kenwood team has been invited by the Midwest World History Association to present at their annual conference (Sep, 2015), and the LSC invited the students back to present a budget proposal. Students feel heard, great units are being established, and the World History teachers are excited by the process and future teaching!

Feedback from students?

“It's interesting. I’m able to see other people's point of view and helping things change for the next group of students. Hopefully it will spread to other subjects so students have a greater say in the curriculum. This is very important because it gets more students engaged. By the class being better for the future students, the curriculum might lead to students getting more involved in the community. They might get more fired up and boosted by it.”

– Carl Wilis, 11th gr.

“I like making a difference for students coming in so they wont have a boring curriculum. Learning needs to be more engaging. I like making changes that will be beneficial for others.”

– Ivory Caldwell, 11th gr.

“I think this is great. The whole process of engaging the students in their own learning gets them to wan to learn more… We’ll be able to accomplish greater student engagement through this work and increase students’ political work.”

– Ryan, 11th grade

“It’s a necessity.”

- Taylor Bridges, 10th gr.