Overview of Dr Kathie Nunley's
Layered Curriculum® (c)
must teach to an overwhelming variety of students. Any high school
class may have students who cannot read past a second grade level.
These students are sitting alongside others trying to prepare
for next year's Advanced Placement class. There may be as many
as five different native languages spoken and each student at
a different level of English proficiency. Several special education
students are likely to be mainstreamed into the class. There are
visual learners, auditory learners, tactile learners, and plain
old reluctant learners. Sprinkled in are students with attention
deficit disorder and hyperactivity.
As a high
school biology teacher I am expected to take this eclectic collection
of human beings and teach them the curriculum laid out by the
state. At first glance this appeared an impossible task, but over
the past two decades I have designed and created a workable method
to differentiate my classroom. The result is a simple five step
solution for differentiating your classroom. I call it Layered
Take the mystery out of your lesson plan by handing it to the
students in advance. My students receive a copy of the lesson
objectives (called the C layer, keep reading) and assignment options
at the beginning of each two week period. These unit sheets contain
a variety of assignment choices that are designed to meet specific
core objectives. Each assignment has a point value based on the
complexity of knowledge and time requirement.
Divide the unit sheet into three layers. Each layer will represent
a level or depth of study on the topic. The bottom layer is called
the C layer because students working strictly within this
layer can earn a grade no higher than a "C" on the unit. Students
are free to choose the assignments they want and in any order.
Different assignments are worth different amounts of points based
on the complexity. Students can choose any number of assignments
for any combination of points up to, but not passing a grade of
represents a basic understanding of the topic and is structured
so that any student in the room can achieve this level of success.
The greater the diversity in the classroom, the greater the diversity
of assignments in the C layer.
In the first,
C layer, offer a variety of basic assignments to meet the needs
of every type of learner you may have. I make sure that I have
enough assignments so that even my nonreaders can achieve success.
This layer includes hands-on activities for the tactile learners,
video and art projects for the visual learners and optional lectures
for the auditory learners. Include textbook assignments for students
who prefer this traditional method of learning. Include at least
one assignment that must be done in any language except English.
It is really exciting to watch the interaction between the English-only
students and the English language learners when faced with having
the tables turned.
or poetry or history assignments which require cross-discipline
involvement. For example, I may ask them to write a poem describing
a conflict found in an amphibian's world. Students then must get
written feedback from their English teacher on their poem. In
my classroom, the C sections is the largest section on the unit
assignment sheet because I cover the bulk of my state core curriculum
in this layer. There needs to be approximately three times as
many assignment choices as required. (e.g.: if you expect them
to complete 5 C layer assignments, have 15 to choose from).
Create a second or B layer requiring more complex types
of thinking. This layer requires the students to manipulate or
apply the information they learned in the C layer. Here students
carry their newly learned basic knowledge a step further. Students
"play" with their new information in this layer. They
build, design, use, apply, problem solve, create, brain-storm,
etc. Other B layer assignments may include interdisciplinary studies,
history fairs, application of new words, creative displays of
compare & contrast, etc. If you need ideas, look back through
the middle layers of your Bloom's Taxonomy.
As my original
design was for high school biology, a "problem solving lab" is
required in this layer. I simply suggest problems such as "How
fast does a fish swim in miles per hour?"; "Do snails have a taste
preference?"; "What is the volume of a frog's heart?"; "Which
brand of mouthwash is most effective in killing bacteria?". I
usually list four or five questions that pertain to the unit we
are studying. The students are always free to choose another question
if they wish, with my permission. I give no other information
regarding the lab. They must write their hypothesis and a detailed
procedure. They need to gather whatever materials they need, although
I will help them find materials after they have written their
procedure. It is critical not to give any information or help
with procedural designs until after they have written their own
ideas. This may be very frustrating at first to the students as
they all want to ask the teacher how they are to do the lab. I
simply tell my students that I haven't the slightest idea! You
will be amazed at the creativity on the part of your students
when left to their own imaginations.
Add a final layer called the A Layer which requires the most
complex thinking - critical thinking. Here students mix traditional
research with other things like values, morality and personal
opinion. Offer students several issues in the topic that are currently
under debate in the real world. Students must conduct a literature
search to find three recent studies on their topic and then write
a critical evaluation of that issue. The final product may take
various forms such as a letter of persuasion to a legislator on
an environmental issue or a two minute oral presentation arguing
The final and most important step to Layered Curriculum is
assessment through an oral defense of the students' assignments.
As students finish an assignment they spend a couple of minutes,
on a one-on-one basis, discussing what they learned. Based on
the prearranged objectives, I ask several key questions and help
clarify their ideas and verify that the learning objectives have
been met. This is a wonderful way to meet face to face with every
student and assure that they are indeed learning. I often carry
note cards with the objectives on them to use during these discussions.
The cards help students understand that there is a criteria involved
in assessing their learning experience. This one-on-one formative
assessment is invaluable to student learning and success.
the classroom easily, you may want to set up various learning
stations in your room to free up your time for evaluation and
facilitation. One of my most successful ideas has been to record
my lectures. I can upload them for students to listen to on their
own time, or have them watch and listen at a computer station
in the room. Since lecture is an option, the students can listen
to the lecture whichever day they choose, or even outside of class
ir they choose to do so. Listening via a headset is wonderful
for the attention deficit students who may have a difficult time
focusing on a live lecture. This helps isolate them and the information.
Physical props can be set out at the table to assist points made
in the lecture. Never again will students have to get notes from
a classmate because of an absence. It is also wonderful to be
able to record your lecture in the quiet comfort of your home
or empty classroom ahead of time, free from any interruptions.
The lectures can be either audio only or attached to a visual
watching area is set at desk level in an isolated corner for those
students watching a video. This can be streamed or set up via
other media. Headphones can be used here too to isolate the noise
from the other working students. Laying blankets on the floor
in front of the monitor gives a seating option for those students
who seem allergic to the traditional classroom chair.
should be used whenever possible. Online or stand alone computer
programs make wonderful assignment options especially for the
limited English proficiency student because concepts are graphically
represented. If you have internet access in your room make sure
to include a variety of assignment options which utilize it. You
may want to integrate BYOD assignments too. So students can watch
or interact with programs on their own devices, or using the set-ups
provided in the room.
To save time
with oral reports and presentations, a video camera may be set
up in a storeroom or quiet area so that the students can record
their presentations for your later viewing. This is especially
helpful with students who are reluctant to speak before a large
group. Or they can record them with their smartphone and put them
in a dropbox.
idea has been color coding each unit. I photocopy each unit on
a different color of paper. This makes it so easy for us to refer
to the "green sheet" or "orange sheet", etc. It also makes it
much easier for the students to find their assignment sheets in
notebooks filled with school papers. I have a file cabinet in
my classroom so that students may keep their unit sheets and work
in progress in the classroom. This is important for those students
who lack organizational skills. When a unit is due, the students
turn in their colored unit sheet and I record the points they
have acquired. At the end of the grading period they fill out
a term summary showing how many points they received on each unit
and write down their final term grade. They attach this summary
sheet to the four colored units we've completed and turn it in
to me for their final grade. There are no surprises. The students
understand what it takes to get a certain grade and they have
all the control to obtain that grade.
has been very successful in all types of classrooms subjects and
grade level.(See samples page). It requires
a bit of a shift in thinking though on both the part of the teacher
and the student. The grades are not based on the traditional percentage
of correct information remembered, but rather on the depth in
which a student pursues the study of a topic. A "C" grade denotes
a basic understanding of core concepts. A "B" grade indicates
not only an understanding of the material but a personal discovery
through an original lab or an application or manipulation of the
material. An "A" indicates that the students have mastered the
concepts and have included a critical analysis of current issues
relating to the subject matter.