- Develop a quality curriculum by identifying desired outcomes, unpacking the standards, identifying transfer goals, and prioritizing curriculum development.
- A quality curriculum can become the constant in schools, rather than a variable determined by each teacher.
- When school districts commit to clarifying the curriculum, each student will have a greater chance of success as he/she enters the next grade level.
According to Linda Darling-Hammond (2010-2011), “A quality curriculum alters a student’s academic trajectory; it is a more powerful determinant of eventual achievement than their academic readiness when they enter school” (p. 23). School administrators understand the importance of curriculum, yet several school districts struggle to identify the district’s priorities.
Each year, teachers enter the profession and share stories about reviewing the standards, searching for resources, and struggling to understand how to teach their grade level or course. Designing a curriculum is complex, but there are a few basics that leaders should consider when beginning a new curriculum.
Identify Desired Outcomes
The first step is to identify the desired outcomes. “The ultimate validation of a curriculum lies in its results; that is, did it help students achieve the desired outcomes?” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2007, p. 159). Wiggins and McTighe outlined a curriculum design plan known as backwards-design. The backwards-design model begins with the end in mind, rather than beginning with the activities, lessons, textbook, or materials needed for the unit.
Too often, teachers and district administrators begin planning by designing Unit 1. If a school district wishes to develop a K-12 Writing Plan, it is wise to begin with focusing on the type of products students will be required to write in their senior year. Map backwards until you get to developing writers in kindergarten. When school districts ask teacher leaders from each grade level to identify the desired outcomes, they will be well on their way to developing a quality curriculum.When school districts commit to clarifying the curriculum, each student will have a greater chance of success as he/she enters the next grade level. Click To Tweet
Unpack the Standards
Empower curriculum design teams by providing time to become crystal clear about the standards before debating essential skills, key concepts, content, or assignments. When state standards are adopted, teacher teams can unpack the standards or follow documents that have been created by the state department of education.
While it is beneficial to have documents created for teachers, I believe it is more beneficial when teachers have conversations about the standards and do the heavy-lifting of unpacking.
Larry Ainsworth wrote, “If teachers aren’t crystal clear about the full and precise intent of a given standard, how can they accurately teach it? How can they accurately assess student understanding of it? How can they clearly communicate to students the specific learning intentions for a unit of study? Answer: Without first analyzing the standard, they can’t” (2015). Once teacher teams have unpacked the standards, they may wish to revisit the desired outcomes.
Identify Transfer Goals
How often do we design teaching and learning for transfer? According to Grant Wiggins (2013), “Transfer is the bottom-line goal of all learning, not scripted behavior. Transfer means that a learner can draw upon and apply from all of what was learned, as the situation warrants, not just do one move at a time in response to a prompt.”
It is critical to design for transfer. When educators focus on transfer they will design authentic tasks for students. When a district team identifies transfer goals, it will support teachers across schools. Teaching does not need to follow a script. When individual teachers design lessons and units, they can align their assignments to the district’s transfer goals.
Too often, teacher teams identify activities, assessments, and even project-based learning with good intention. Good intention is not the same as identifying transfer goals and then intentionally designing units to help students demonstrate a deeper understanding.[scroll down to keep reading]
Prioritize Curriculum Development
Curriculum development should not be left to chance. Too many school districts hope that teachers will find time to work together. With the loss of staff development funds, changes in school calendars, the emphasis in most states on ‘less is more,’ the reduction of funding for central office positions, and initiative fatigue, some school districts no longer make time for curriculum development.
“Curriculum development is the essential function of school leadership. Whether the role is carried out by a principal, an assistant principal for curriculum, a team leader, a department head, or by leading classroom teachers, the curriculum defines all other roles in a school” (Wiles, 2009, p.2).
Curriculum development is a rewarding process that enables teachers to have professional conversations about the intended and taught curriculum. In addition to horizontal alignment, curriculum development provides educators with the opportunity to discuss what is essential across grade levels and in other courses.
A quality curriculum can become the constant in schools, rather than a variable determined by each teacher. When school districts commit to clarifying the curriculum, each student will have a greater chance of success as he/she enters the next grade level.
Ainsworth, L. (2015, March 25). Unwrapping the standards: A simple way to deconstruct learning outcomes. Education Week. Retrieved from https://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/finding_common_ground/2015/03/unwrapping_the_standards_a_simple_way_to_deconstruct_learning_outcomes.html.
Darling-Hammond, L. (2010-2011). Soaring systems. American Educator, 34(4).
Wiggins, G. (2013). Autonomy and the need to back off by design as teachers. Granted and…Thoughts on Education by Grant Wiggins. Retrieved from https://grantwiggins.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/autonomy-and-the-need-to-back-off-by-design-as-teachers/
Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2007). Schooling by design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Wiles, J. (2009). Leading curriculum development. Thousand, Oaks: Corwin Press.
About Steven Weber
Dr. Steven Weber is the Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning with Fayetteville Public Schools (AR). His areas of research include curriculum design, formative assessment, professional learning, and school leadership.