What is Curriculum Design?

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  • 0:00 Curriculum Design & Teaching
  • 0:36 Curriculum Design &…
  • 1:50 The Nuts & Bolts of…
  • 3:43 Curriculum Design &…
  • 4:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Curriculum design is a big part of teaching, but it can be hard to know exactly what it means. In this lesson, you will follow a teacher as he learns some of what goes into effective curriculum design.

Curriculum Design and Teaching

Mr. Eliano is a fourth grade teacher who works at a public school in Illinois. He has been teaching for a few years, and he loves his job. He has great relationships with students and families, and his classroom management is wonderful. But, Mr. Eliano gets confused when it comes to curriculum. Sure, he can construct lessons on a day-to-day basis, but he struggles with the big picture. Mr. Eliano sits down with colleagues and supervisors to ask what curriculum design really is. Let's follow his journey as he seeks out the answer to this important pedagogical question.

Curriculum Design and Seeing the Big Picture

First, Mr. Eliano talks to his colleague Mrs. Chang, who has been teaching second grade at his school for more than a decade. Mrs. Chang tells him that the most important thing about curriculum design is to remember that it involves seeing the big picture. Mr. Eliano wonders what that really means. Mrs. Chang explains that when she designs a unit, she thinks in terms of what she wants her students to be able to know and do after the entire unit is over. She also checks herself by asking why these pieces of knowledge or skills are important. If she can't answer that question, she goes back to the drawing board.

Mr. Eliano wonders why Mrs. Chang skips straight to the end of the unit, instead of thinking about what her students will learn that day. Mrs. Chang explains that the day-to-day planning falls into place much more easily once you have sketched out the big picture. She tells Mr. Eliano that some people call this method backward design, where you start at the end and work backwards to think about what particular activities and experiences will start moving your students toward where you hope they will be. Mrs. Chang reminds her colleague that if you don't have a big picture or end goal in mind, you might lose track of your own purpose. If you don't know where you're going, it's really hard to help your students get there!

The Nuts and Bolts of Curriculum Design

After his chat with Mrs. Chang, Mr. Eliano feels really excited to get started with designing a curriculum. In fact, he has been thinking about designing a unit around literature circles. He decides that his students will work on the following goals:

  • They will listen to each other and respond in kind.
  • They will be able to write a complete paragraph about a book.
  • They will be able to describe to one another how characters have changed over the course of the book.

Thanks to Mrs. Chang, Mr. Eliano really feels like he understands the big picture. His curriculum will have purpose and a sense of direction. When he sits down with his lesson planner, though, he realizes he is stuck again. What comes next?

Mr. Eliano goes to talk with his administrator, Principal Kaplan. Principal Kaplan compliments Mr. Eliano on his clearly defined goals and his creative ideas. She reminds him, though, that curriculum is also about remembering the nuts and bolts of learning. For instance, there's a vacation coming up in a few weeks, and Mr. Eliano needs to decide whether he wants to finish this unit beforehand. He needs to think about how much time his students will spend on reading every day, and whether the unit will include homework. Will families be involved in this unit? Will other teachers or specialists play a role?

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