Earlier this week we welcomed Lynn Cuffari back to the Teacher’s Lounge again. She’s probably pretty well known to the Curriculum Trak community because she is currently serving as our primary trainer. She originally began using Curriculum Trak over 7 years ago when she adopted it for her own school, Saint Augustine Catholic High School in Tucson, Arizona. Due to a move with her husband’s job, she stepped away from the school and was looking for a flexible way to stay engaged with faith-based education. She asked if there was anything she could do to help us here at Curriculum Trak, and she’s been providing remote training for Curriculum Trak schools just about ever since then.

So this week she joined us to talk about another topic near and dear to her heart, meeting the needs of the diverse learners in our classroom and to share about a training event that she’ll be providing for Curriculum Trak users in March.

Michael Arnold: Let me say welcome, Lynn.

Lynn Caffari: Thank you, Michael. Yes, in March, we’re going to present our training session called, “Making Curriculum Trak Maps that Meet the Needs of All Students.” And this kind of came to me, and I asked that we create a session like this because with our students, we can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to our unit and curriculum mapping anymore.

As mission driven educators, we believe that all students can learn and God calls us to ensure student success through academic rigor and also deeply rooted faith formation. And so today’s emerging disciples, as I call them, come from all walks of life, and they bring with them a rich slate of learning styles of academic needs, diverse languages and global cultures. And from that knowledge has been born this 8-hour training session that we’ll present over 4 days. We’ll give you the details for it at the end of this session. It’s an interactive workshop and one that I hope that after you listen to our podcast today, you will consider joining us and participating in.

Michael Arnold: We can’t wait to unpack that a little bit more, so stick around. I wanted to start with a fun fact. Lynn was one of our first podcast guests way back when we started the podcast. I guess it’s been a little over a year ago now. That podcast episode, which was entitled, Why Is Curriculum Mapping Important For Faith-Based Schools, is currently our most listened to podcast, so it’s still gaining traction. And so in this episode today, as we continue talking about mapping, we’re going to discuss how maps can support every learner.

This is really going to be a kind of a companion to our original conversation back then. We want to pivot a little bit and talk about how mapping can support your efforts to personalize your education, which can sometimes feel a little bit counterintuitive in the mapping process. So before we get to that, Lynn, tell us your story. Why is this a topic that’s so near and dear to your heart?

Lynn Caffari: Way before I even knew about Curriculum Trak, way before I even thought about mapping units and developing curriculum in certain ways, I was a teacher in Catholic schools. And for the longest time, our Catholic schools, and I believe this happens in a lot of faith based and private schools, were unable to enroll students if we knew that they had issues like dyslexia or that they were maybe high functioning on the autism spectrum or they had different issues. Even for some of our language learners, we didn’t have the resources we thought to meet their needs.

And I just remember one day, when I was still teaching, I had a family come in and just say, “Could you please consider us as one of your students? Can you take our son? He has dyslexia, but he has spent most of his elementary school in classrooms where they actually have developed strategies for this, but we wanted to have a Catholic education.”

And so even against what our principal had always said, I interviewed the family and we decided to take him in. His name is David, and David was one of the most amazing students I’d ever had. I was a language arts teacher, and most often whenever we read a novel, we would read those novels aloud. I would read a paragraph and a student read a paragraph. I’d read a paragraph because then I could ensure that they were actually reading the novels, and so I would always make sure when I got to David that I had read a big paragraph before him and just gave him a little one, and I’d say, “Do you feel comfortable reading this?”

The other students had no idea that he had dyslexia. And so he jumped right in, and he started reading two or three sentences. Within weeks, he felt comfortable enough in our classroom that he was reading whole paragraphs. He was writing paragraphs. I made a few tiny accommodations for him, maybe allowed him to use some graph paper or have some visual aids, but that was it.

That boy has gone on. He’s graduated college. He works with some kind of engineering in the northwest. And when I moved into administration, ultimately moved into high school administration at another school, his family actually brought his sister to my school, and both of them are my graduates. And so that opened up my eyes to the fact that we could make some small accommodations in our classroom to meet the needs of more students.

And the more and more I got involved in education, the more I realized that it might even include the student who was on the high functioning Asperger’s. I had another student in my classroom like that, and we would do the same type of reading back and forth. He’d sit in a chair, and I would think he was just off in la-la land not paying attention. But every time I got to him, he knew exactly where we were, and he read fluently. And then on top of that, if we were talking about something in current affairs or he related something to what we were reading, it was almost like he had this complete memory of a newspaper article that he read or a story that he had read or heard about and connected it.

Not only were we providing opportunities for a student like that who we wouldn’t normally have enrolled traditionally, but the other students around him were realizing that not everybody’s the same, and that we all learn differently.

And so I’ve had multiple experiences like that as an educator which have opened my eyes. I am not saying that we’ve been able to take in every single student whose parents wanted us to do that because sometimes we really didn’t have the resources a student needed. And I know that the public schools had those resources, and so I would try to guide them into making a decision that would be the best to help their students become successful.

So this is a long-winded way to say that I really do believe that we can meet the needs of very diverse populations in our school while still helping them to meet the required standards that we need. We don’t have to dumb down standards. We can raise that floor for every student in our classroom, and we do that through creating units in alignment with required standards, but we can make accommodations in our instructional strategies, in the way that we assess our students, and even in some of the ways that we approach all students in order to help them reach those same standards.

Michael Arnold: Let’s think about the diversity in our classrooms. I’ve heard you tell stories of highly gifted students or students who needed almost a different learning track, maybe with access to a different language or whatever. Of course, you were in Tucson. English language learners were a big part of the student population. That’s a growing concern all across the United States today as schools try to serve more and more students in our neighborhoods. What would be 2 or 3 of the most interesting or astounding statistics that you’ve come across in recent years as you’ve been digging into this and helping schools?

Lynn Caffari: It falls into a few different categories. One is the diversity in our country. Demographics are changing, and the number of Hispanic students, especially in Tucson, is growing, which is wonderful. We have brought in different cultures. But because of the way our tuition models are now, with tax credits and vouchers and different things, we’re able to invite more and more students into our faith-based schools. And the more that we open our doors, the more we’re going to have a representation of what’s out there in the country. So we need to bring in some strategies in our teaching for those language learners.

I read a very interesting statistic just the other day. I am on a lot of websites for the University of Notre Dame, and they’re working with teachers on how to bring inclusion strategies into the classroom. I just read something that says 9.8 percent of school age children have ADHD with the inattentive type comprising 45 percent of elementary cases and 72 percent of adolescent cases.

So do you know what that means? It means that if you have a classroom of 20 students, you’re going to have 2, 3, 4 students in each class that have that type of need. So how do we meet those needs?

We need to come up with engagement strategies. And these are not things that you need to send a student out of the classroom for. They’re strategies that we can incorporate into the classrooms. And so it’s not only having an intelligence about what is coming into our classroom and what needs the students have, but also understanding culturally where these students are coming from, socially and emotionally. And it’s a lot.

Think about what happened during the pandemic. Our students ended up doing a year plus of school in a Zoom-type atmosphere, in a virtual atmosphere. When they came back to school, not only were we dealing with academic gaps,but also we had to figure out how do students get along together again? And then add on top of it, attention deficit or some of the other issues that these students have. Teachers are heroes in my world here, and a lot of times we’re in the heat of the battle.

Michael Arnold: It’s amazing how time flies and yet some of the residual effects of that change in how we do school are still being seen in the classroom. And so teachers are even dealing with that as they try to consider, what am I teaching and how do I teach it? Curriculum mapping can be part of the answer to help organize your thoughts and be more personal–not less personal, but more personal.It can almost seem counterintuitive because curriculum mapping by design is removing some of the emotion and the reactionary things that happen during the day and we’re saying, Here’s what ought to happen in our instruction. So how do we use that to support very real, very personalized, very individualized needs in our classroom?

Curriculum Mapping Can Be Part of the Answer

Lynn Caffari: I’m listening to you, and I’m thinking that in a way, it removes the emotion or the reactions that we have to all this change.

And so it’s easy for us to say, “These kids are coming in with academic gaps. How am I supposed to deal with this, or what am I supposed to do?” When we put it down on paper and we remember that we’re professionals and that we’re educated and that we do the research and that there are strategies out there, then we can step back and instead of reacting to what’s going on, instead of bemoaning the fact that life is difficult, let’s use the tools that we have in front of us, like Curriculum Trak, like conferences that will give us some research-based strategies that we can implement in our classroom. And let’s take the high road. Let’s be the professionals we are, apply what we know, and then meet the needs of the students.

Let’s look at it objectively and then bring in the personalization that we need in order to meet the needs of our students. We build relationships with our students and then use all of the tools that we have to make sure that this works for the kids.

And to be able to document what works in our classrooms, I think is a very important aspect of teaching. We always need to look at ourselves as professionals. We’re not babysitters. We’re teachers, and we are out there. We know what we’re doing. Let’s apply what we know to what we know will work for our students.

Michael Arnold: Help us set the stage for how curriculum mapping ought to happen, setting the minimums of our course, so to speak, for the entire class. And then along comes Johnny or Susie, who needs differentiation or accommodations or whatever they might need. How does a guaranteed minimum map help us start thinking about how to support Johnny or Susie?

Lynn Caffari: By knowing where we have to go, by knowing what our endsight is, our guaranteed minimums. These are the units that I have to teach between September and June. These are the standards that my district or my state or whatever has required me to meet. I know those are my guaranteed minimums. Now it’s up to me to figure out how I am going to get my students to master those guaranteed requirements.

And so that’s why in Curriculum Trak, we look at those first 2 areas, our first 2 columns in our map, so to speak, our guaranteed minimums. This is what I have to do. The whole rest of the map is the whole rest of the world. That’s for us to deal with.

That’s our clarity, as we call it. How are we going to ensure that our students have mastered those standards? And so that’s where we can start bringing in our instructional strategies. First, we have to think, What’s our learning target? Where do I have to go? My students are going to be able to do this by the end of this unit.

That’s got to be guaranteed. That’s for every student. And then when I get into my instructional strategies or into the types of assessment or into the types of resources that I’m going to use, this is where I can start creating that list of strategies that I know is going to work for most of the students in my classroom. And then, okay, I know I’ve got Johnny.

I’m going to even say Joey because that’s my son who was a great kid, a normal kid. But I’m going to tell you a little story. He was in his ninth grade algebra class, after having skated through elementary school fine. We go to parent conferences. I think he’s doing fine in algebra, and the teacher said, ”Oh, he is such a class clown. He just cuts up every single time I try to do something. I hope he passes this class.” And I had no clue that this was going on because when he would come home from school, he’d say everything was fine. What we needed to do is to find somebody who could actually speak his language when it came to math, find a tutor who presented the same material in a different way. It turned Joey around in math, And he actually works nowadays in a career where math is a vital component of it, which I think is interesting.

So once I’ve identified that student who is not thriving in my class using all the basic strategies, that’s when I need to think, Okay, I need to come up with another instructional strategy that’s going to meet Joey’s needs or meet Susie’s needs, and I can easily document that strategy in my curriculum map. If I have a language learner and we’re introducing something on basic phonics or spelling or whatever, I have that list of strategies I normally work, but why not bring in something else? Why not ask that student who speaks Spanish, okay, we’re talking about nouns and verbs. How do you say that in Spanish? So now I’m also teaching my English students what a noun looks like in another language. Why not celebrate some of these differences and document those in my instructional strategies?

Maybe I’m going to find when I list my assessment strategies out, that this assessment’s going to work for the student, but maybe I have a group of students that instead of giving them a written document, I invite them to come up to my desk and present that information to me orally.

The objective is the learning. The objective is the mastery of the standard. There’s all different ways to get it, and our maps actually provide a place for us to document those strategies.

Michael Arnold: There’s a lot of things that can happen with the typical student because most students, it’s not a matter of if, it’s just when will a student hit the wall, when will they struggle to get a concept, and so we need to be on guard and need to be alert. And I think the point that you’re making is if we know it has to be taught, then we can get creative and personalize how they’re learning it to fit their specific needs, and that can be so valuable when it comes to meeting the needs of every learner.

Lynn Caffari: I think knowing that there are strategies out there to work with those students and that I can do it in my classroom helps empower me as a teacher to do my job better. And so I think that’s been an exciting turn of events as time has gone on, at least since I’ve started teaching. When I started teaching, you got a textbook and you went from page 1 to the end of the book, hopefully, by the end of the year. And if a student got lost along the way, unfortunately, especially when it comes to things like math and science, they would just fall further and further back.

But if we take an approach where we’re more open-ended to how we’re going to get our students there, then maybe we don’t have to have so much reliance on our textbooks. I’m going to use this textbook to help me get there, but maybe I can pull in some other resources from other areas that are going to help us meet those standards.

Unit Level v. Daily Lesson Level

Michael Arnold: Could you address the value of doing this at what you’re describing as the unit level as opposed to the daily lesson level? Why is it so important to back up and get that broader view that we have at the unit level?

Lynn Caffari: I have to tell you, it took me a while to embrace this because as a teacher in the classroom, I don’t have time to look at the big picture. I have this week of lessons I need to get done. I didn’t take time to see how those weeks actually fit into the whole, that those were puzzle pieces in the big picture of my classroom. So I think stepping back and knowing where I have to bring my students over a period of time and chunking that just like we do for our students. We have the big picture, and then we break it off into small pieces for them to understand. As educators, we need to see the big picture of where we are going, the big picture of our course. And not only our course, but also how does my course fit into all the other courses in our school to build a school wide curriculum?

But stepping back and looking at that, okay, I have to break this into 10 or 12 different big picture units. Then I start breaking it down. I let those daily lessons flow from the big picture. And then it’s not just a race at the end of the school year to get through a textbook.It’s more of, I’ve got a plan to get me from point A to Z, that I have already sat and looked at at the beginning of the school year.

Michael Arnold: Just to add to that, I think it’s so easy for teachers, to get into the weeds of the daily assignments, the daily activities. And then all of a sudden, you have a student who needs an accommodation, and you’re wondering, how do I remake this worksheet to serve that student’s needs? When, if I could just lift my head up and think, What’s the goal of this unit? It might be that we don’t use a worksheet at all. Maybe there’s a completely different assignment or activity that would still help that student get to the outcomes and that can be more valuable than trying to recreate the wheel, fit them into this little square-shaped hole that we’re trying to accomplish.

Lynn Caffari: It took me a long time to understand how to actually even begin to create a set of units for a whole school year. I tried to sketch out right away, these are the units I have to get through the school year. So I had some unit titles in there, and I had some standards in there. And then what I did is before I would teach a unit, I would actually sit down and map out my unit. This is where I’ve got to get through. So, I did it unit by unit as opposed to the whole year at a time.

Where I really saw it come to fruition was the second year that I taught that class, and I had my units mapped out. But now I looked at the set of students I had that year and thought, How am I going to make this map work for this particular set of students who may be learning a little bit differently than the students I had last year? So I went in, and I looked at my instructional strategies. I looked at the resources I was using, and I changed them out to make it work for my students.

So I had a framework there, but it was such a flexible fluid framework. What wasn’t flexible is what I had to teach, what I knew I had to get through, but I had the ability to look at my instructional strategies, the resources I was using, and the way I was assessing my students based on the relationships than I knew that I would have in that class that particular year.

Michael Arnold: You’ve mentioned in this conversation how exploring those strategies for Johnny or Joey or Susie, can actually be beneficial to all of the students in the class . This accommodation could actually become our standard practice at least for this year because it’s a better approach, and that helps us grow as teachers and add more tools to our tool belt.

Lynn Caffari: And the reason I kind of bring this all up is, I work with teachers in the context now of curriculum mapping, and a lot of times, they’ll say to us, “Okay, this year you’re making us do Curriculum Trak. Last year, you had us do differentiation. The year before, you wanted us to weave our biblical integration into everything that we were teaching. So this is just one more thing I have to do.” And what I like to say is the difference is that Curriculum Trak is a glorified database. It’s really where we collect everything that we do in one place. It’s not a new initiative. It’s our virtual filing cabinet.

Training Event

Michael Arnold: So you plan to bring this experience, these observations, this research into an event that we’re providing for anyone within the Curriculum Trak community, administrators, teachers, instructional leaders, support teachers. We’re offering it from March 18 to 21, so it’s coming up here in a few weeks, from 10:00 to 12:00 (ET). You can find more information about it in the events page, in the support manual, or you can register for it through your account if you’re an administrator. (There is a fee for this training.)

Tell us a little bit about what you intend to do. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I think you’re even going to be referencing AI from time to time as far as supporting the search for strategies and how they can build out their maps in a way to support every learner.

Lynn Caffari: I have added that AI piece to my presentation since I first created it just based on a conversation that I had with one of my former students. But I will save that for when we actually do this. I just want to let everybody know who would be interested in this, that it’s a very interactive session.

We will start out looking at some of the statistics, looking at demographics, looking at some of the influences that are walking into our classrooms right now. So we’ll spend some time looking philosophically and academically at this. I ask that each participant has a map that they’re going to focus on during that session. Hopefully, it’s one of your maps that’s a little bit more developed, so it will have your unit titles and your standards and some of the clarity fields filled out. We’re going to focus on things like differentiation, language learning, intervention, and cultural intelligence.

And I’ve pulled in a lot of resources. It’s really a mini PD. And in all honesty, I feel like what I’ve done is done some of the research that I never had time to do to bring in from some of the experts in the field about why we do this.

This is a little self-serving for me too because now when I have people who have completed this course, I can go into our Curriculum Trak network, and I can pull mapping examples for other teachers who are very interested in trying to make maps that meet the needs of every student in their classroom.

Michael Arnold: So this will be an opportunity for people to hear more about your research and experience to make some practical differences in their own teaching and also to feed into the community and provide some examples, real life examples of things that are happening in classroom as they continue to influence the Curriculum Trak network, which is a really valuable piece of the puzzle as well.

Lynn Caffari: Exactly. Hopefully, people will feel open enough to share some of what’s going on in their own schools.

And I try to bring our faith integration into this. Jesus was accepting of all children, and there’s so many examples in the Bible of his teaching styles. He didn’t teach one way. He used parables. He used figurative language all over the place. He used exaggeration. I love looking in the Bible at the types of ways that Jesus taught. He knew His audience was pretty diverse. We’re not all the same, and He had all different tactics and strategies to reach all of us.

Michael Arnold: This is open to anyone, but probably mostly people who have access to Curriculum Trak because it will be very much tied to your Curriculum Trak use. And there will be 8 CEUs provided through ACSI, for those that are interested in that.

Lynn, in closing, thanks for joining us. It’s always great to hear from you. I know a lot of people in our network enjoy working with you because of your warm, nurturing style, and you just encourage teachers to take their instruction to the next level, but also think about the students that they have in front of them.

Let me just get out of the way for a minute here and let you address teachers directly. But what would you tell a teacher today, perhaps, as they’re getting ready to stand in front of their class and teach them again at this point in the school year. What words of encouragement or advice would you give them as of today?

Words of Encouragement

Lynn Caffari: You know what? You’re doing God’s work. You’re serving children in the best way that you can. You’re professionals. You are heroes in this world because you’re dealing with so much more than what you thought, when you first got in. It’s not just playing school anymore. What you’re doing is you’re impacting lives. I just want to applaud you for everything that you’re doing, and thank you for everything that you’re doing, And carry on. You have it inside of you. We’re helping you to put it down on paper to collect it all into a tool like Curriculum Trak, but you’ve got this. You’ve got this.