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Career and Technical Education (CTE) | Educational Resources

Supplemental Materials vs. Comprehensive CTE Curriculum: Which Is Right for You?

March 22nd, 2022 | 9 min. read

Mike Cescon

Mike Cescon

With past experience in teaching, a couple of degrees in writing, and an upbringing immersed in medical jargon, Mike is positioned well to hear out the most common questions teachers ask about the iCEV curriculum. His goal is to write content that quickly and effectively answers these questions so you can back to what matters - teaching your students.

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As a CTE teacher, you’re probably used to cobbling together a curriculum from various resources you’ve found online. While this may be a tried-and-true method, it does come with disadvantages, costing you both time and energy. On the other hand, making the leap to a curriculum system can be overwhelming and may seem like more trouble than it's worth. 

So what resource option is right for you? Should you stick with creating your own curriculum, or use a provider’s? What are the benefits of each, and what problems can they solve?

As a CTE curriculum developer, we’ve heard these questions from thousands of teachers over the years, and know the challenges you face when choosing resources for your classroom. 

In this article, you’ll discover whether supplemental materials or a full curriculum will better suit your needs by exploring them through the lens of common teaching challenges like:

  1. You have no materials to teach your course
  2. Your current materials are outdated
  3. You need more engaging ideas for your curriculum
  4. You need to better prepare students to earn certifications

By the end of this article, you’ll be able to decide what types of materials will work best to answer each of these challenges, so you can make the right choice for your course. 

Challenge #1: I Have No Materials to Teach My Course

There could be several reasons you don’t have any materials to teach your CTE course. Maybe your program is brand new and you have nothing to work from, or maybe the course standards have changed from the prior year, and now you’re left scrambling to adjust. 

Whatever the reason, this is one of the most common challenges CTE teachers face. And generally, teachers handle it in one of two ways: either they start putting together their own curriculum from scratch, or they seek some kind of pre-made curriculum to take the burden for them. 

There are benefits and drawbacks to both of these options, and depending on your preferences, one or the other may better fit your teaching style.

I Prefer Composing a Curriculum from Scratch

For many teachers, creating their own curriculum out of supplemental materials is half the fun of teaching. This method allows you to scour the internet for the perfect lesson plans, activities, and projects to create customized units tailored to your students. 

This is a particularly effective style for more experienced educators who are familiar with the course material they’ll be covering. By doing this, they have total control over how their course will look and feel, and for many, that’s a tough benefit to beat. 

If you enjoy creating and customizing your curriculum from scratch, then supplemental materials will likely be the right choice for you. 

I Prefer Working with an Existing Curriculum

As a teacher, you’ve got a lot on your plate as it is, and many teachers like you simply lack the time or energy to build a new curriculum from the ground up. Instead, you might rely on a textbook or curriculum system to supply most of your course material and structure.

There’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, relying on an existing curriculum for your course can even be better for your students. After all, it frees you up to focus on more important things, like tweaking your lessons to be more engaging and fun so your students pay more attention in class.

For new teachers, inexperienced teachers, or teachers who simply want to take back some of their time and energy, using an existing curriculum can be a boon to your course. It provides a sense of structure and stability that will save you hours every week. 

If you want to reclaim more of your time and focus, then using a full-fledged CTE curriculum will suit your needs.

Challenge #2: My Current Materials Are Outdated

Another common problem that plagues CTE teachers is having out-of-date course materials. For some teachers, this is because they’re new to their CTE program and inherited an outdated curriculum from the previous instructor. For others, maybe it was a long time coming, but your favorite textbook or lesson plans are no longer relevant to the subject you’re teaching. 

No matter your situation, having outdated materials is a hassle to handle. After all, if you aren’t teaching your students accurate information, how can they expect to succeed on their certification exams, or in the industry they seek to enter?

If you want to fix your outdated materials, the first step is to perform a curriculum audit. Usually, this involves going through your curriculum step-by-step and noting down where the material fails to meet course standards, or is otherwise irrelevant or inaccurate.

Once you know just how much of your course material needs to be replaced, you can start considering your options for replacing it.

Only Some Parts of My Curriculum Need Updates

Upon completing your curriculum audit, you may discover that only some lessons and activities here and there are outdated. The rest, however, are still relevant and reliable for your course. 

If this is the case, then using supplemental materials to shore up the holes in your curriculum will likely be the right call for you. After all, the bulk of your material is still up to date, so why bother replacing the whole thing when only some parts of it are inaccurate?

Instead, it would benefit you to find individual lesson plans, activities, and projects online that you could seamlessly incorporate into your curriculum.

Most of My Curriculum Needs to Be Updated

Alternatively, you may conduct your curriculum audit and find that most or all of your course material is out of date, even down to projects and activities. This may be the case with old textbooks or for certifications that have undergone significant changes. 

If you need to replace the bulk of your course materials, then a comprehensive CTE curriculum will likely suit you well. After all, it’s often much better to start with a clean slate rather than attempting to salvage the unsalvageable. 

With the lessons, activities, and assessments a full-fledged CTE curriculum provides, you’ll be able to kick your course off to a fresh start. What’s more, since most curriculum providers work hard to keep their products updated, you’ll also ensure your curriculum is never out of date again.

Challenge #3: I Need More Engaging Ideas for My Curriculum

There’s no denying that student disengagement is a huge issue that many CTE teachers face. Blank stares, neutral expressions, and awkward silences are unfortunately common to many CTE classrooms, and it’s harmful to everyone. After all, if students don’t engage with material, they’re less likely to retain information or succeed on their exams. 

One of the most common reasons students might not engage with your course is because the information is presented to them in a way that isn’t interesting or exciting. Textbooks, for instance, aren’t known for grabbing student attention, even if they do have excellent content within them. 

The first step to incorporating more engaging ideas in your course, then, is to determine how much of your current curriculum students respond to. Are there particular units or projects that energize the room and bring out the passion in your students? Or is the bulk of your curriculum just not exciting enough to engage them?

Once you determine how much of your curriculum needs to be made more engaging, you can consider your options for doing so.

I Want to Enhance My Current Curriculum

If you decide that your current curriculum already has some interesting lessons and activities that students are known to enjoy, then you probably want to work to enhance what’s already there. 

If this is the case, then seeking out engaging supplemental lessons, activities, and projects would probably be the right move to make your course more exciting. Simply put, why fix what isn’t broken? Your current curriculum just needs to be spiced up a bit, and there are many engaging resources out there that will help you grab your students’ attention. 

Need a new idea to boost engagement? Try a strategy or two from these articles:

I Need to Completely Overhaul My Curriculum to Make It Engaging

You might also find that most of your course material simply bores your students to tears. This is somewhat common for CTE teachers who rely on textbooks to teach their classes, since the information within textbooks is designed for comprehensiveness over engagement. 

If most of your course material bores or disengages your students, it may be best to completely overhaul it and replace it with a curriculum designed to be more appealing. 

After all, your students are your priority, and if they’re not interested in one or more of your courses, perhaps sweeping changes need to be made to hook them back in. While some teachers or schools may feel overly attached to their textbooks, does that really matter if students aren’t learning in the best ways for them?

Challenge #4: I Need to Better Prepare Students for Industry Certifications

For many CTE courses out there, the primary goal is to prepare students to take exams and earn valuable industry certifications. These certifications are often essential to your students finding work after they graduate from your program. 

To that end, finding materials that both meet your course standards and prepare students for certification exams is critical to ensuring their success. 

There are two common ways CTE teachers go about this, and depending on your needs, one or the other might be the better fit.

My Students Are Struggling on Their Exams in Particular

If your students seem to grasp your course material, but still struggle on exam day itself, then you might be better off seeking out supplemental materials to help them out. 

Many providers offer certification test prep materials designed to ready students for specific exams. Often, these products include online study guides and practice tests students can take to be in the best position possible for their actual exams. 

For instance, when it comes to business education or computer applications courses, there are test prep materials out there for the Microsoft Office Specialist Certification exams. For CTE health science courses, NHA offers test prep materials that align directly with their many industry certifications. 

If you need a few guided resources to take the pressure off and help students pass exams, then supplemental test prep materials will likely suit you well.

My Students Are Struggling with the Course Material Altogether

On the other hand, if your students are struggling with their course material as a whole, it might be worth finding a curriculum that’s a better fit for them. After all, not all curriculum options are created equal--some are higher quality than others, or align themselves more closely with specific certifications so students are prepared on exam day. 

If you want well-rounded course material to ensure your students gain the knowledge they need, then a full-fledged curriculum would likely be a better choice for you. 

This option is more thorough, and based on the testimony of many teachers, that makes it all the more effective at preparing students for their exams. In fact, students actually experience more success when they use both high-quality curriculum and test prep materials in conjunction with one another, which will optimize the course and maximize their chances at passing.

So Which Option Would Best Suit Your Needs?

It can be frightening to choose new educational resources for your classroom. After all, you’re probably so used to preparing for class in one way, that making the leap to a new method seems like it will cause more problems than it will solve. This is especially true if you aren’t sure what benefits your choice will bring you. 

In this article, you’ve discovered more about both supplemental materials and complete curriculum options, and the challenges each can answer. 

Generally, if you already have a curriculum you love or prefer composing one from scratch, you should stick with supplemental materials. These materials will work well to enhance your existing curriculum and solve any challenges you come across. 

On the other hand, if your current materials need to be completely replaced, or you just want to save time and energy, then using a comprehensive curriculum solution will suit you better. There are curriculum options out there that will give you and your course a fresh start and a solid foundation to work from, so you’re not drowning in extra work every week.

If this sounds like you, and you want a full-fledged, engaging curriculum to teach your CTE courses, then try a free, month-long trial of the AES curriculum system. These curriculum systems will provide you everything you need to teach your whole course, including lesson plans, activities, projects, and more:

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