When teachers join together to write curriculum they know it will be hard work, but work that pays dividends in student learning. Curriculum serves as the foundation for teaching and learning. It is the roadmap to guide teachers as they craft and deliver engaging learning experiences.
In short, designing a rigorous, coherent curriculum is integral to teaching and learning success. But what tools are needed to successfully design a rigorous, coherent curriculum?
Teachers must first identify what it is students will know, understand, and be able to do as a result of their learning. This step in the process is guided by goals, state and/or national standards.
All too often, the list of standards for each grade and subject is overwhelming. As such, educators must work to prioritize the standards that are foundational for students to be prepared for the next grade or course.
The remaining standards serve as supporting standards that connect to or enhance the priority standards. This is also the time to embed additional standards into the design process such as the ISTE Standards for Students, CASEL’s Social Emotional Learning Competencies, or the Habits of Mind dispositions.
Once the priority and supporting standards have been identified, write the learning goals in student-friendly language.
The units of study serve as the framework on which teaching and learning rest. The priority and supporting standards anchor the units.
Begin by unwrapping or deconstructing the priority standards to determine the specific concepts or skills within the standards and the level of thinking or rigor needed to secure student learning. It is important to consider both the knowledge taxonomy and application of learning for students to attain the standards.
Once the standards have been deconstructed, the Big Ideas (key understandings) will emerge and the Essential Questions (EQs) can be determined. Essential questions are open-ended questions used to spark student thinking and learning around the unit content. From a teacher's perspective, the EQs aid in focusing instruction and assessment in the unit of study.
What evidence of student learning can be gathered? Developing assessments that align to priority standards allow teachers to gauge and monitor student progress toward the learning goals. This includes both formative and summative assessments.
It is important to consider how these experiences and activities are connected to the standards and will build learning for students. They must provide appropriate levels of challenge to build from knowledge of content to opportunities for application, thus fostering critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Experiences must be appropriately sequenced and connected to meet the diverse student learning needs. Consideration must be given to how instruction can be differentiated for the learners based on student readiness, interest, and learning styles.
Some students will need scaffolds and supports, while others will be ready to move forward more profoundly. Crafting an effective curriculum that includes multiple pathways to mastery allows learning to be relevant, engaging, and meaningful to maximize student success.
Once the curriculum writing process is complete, the review process can begin.
At this point, each grade or subject level curriculum must be examined to ensure that priority standards are distributed appropriately with sufficient emphasis for students to attain the standards.
A well-designed curriculum framework outlines the learning goals and skills to be introduced, developed, and mastered at each grade level. Students situate new learning on previous learning. As such, it is important to sequence learning from K-12. When teachers have the opportunity to discuss how learning builds and grows from the earliest stages to mastery, it allows them to see the big picture and understand how the learning process in their grade or subject matter contributes to the end goal.
As you can see, developing a rigorous and coherent curriculum can be an overwhelming process! Having a tool that provides a framework for this process supplies the clarity needed for strong curriculum design.
At Eduplanet21, we provide the framework to streamline the curriculum design process. Our tool walks teachers step-by-step through the design process of establishing learning goals, identifying assessment evidence, and developing learning plans to build student mastery.
We ensure educator success by providing personalized professional learning opportunities in creating a meaningful, engaging curriculum. To learn more about the products and services we provide, please visit our website at eduplanet21.com.
Dr. Lori Stollar has served as a Director of Curriculum & Technology, a Professional Development Specialist, adjunct professor, and high school social studies teacher. She recently retired after having served 35 years in public education.
Lori is passionate about helping teachers and school leaders positively impact student learning. Her research interests are in professional learning communities, collective teacher efficacy, and classroom instruction.