Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.
What Is Curriculum Development All About?
No matter what age group you teach and regardless of your main subject area, curriculum development is an important part of an educator's job. Even if you work primarily with textbooks or preplanned curriculum materials, it is helpful to go through the process of curriculum development so that you can have a sense of where you are going with your students and what your major purposes are. In this lesson, you can follow along with fictional sixth grade English teacher, Ms. Greer, to learn about the curriculum development process.
Ms. Greer is a proponent of backward design, which is a philosophy that dictates that teachers should approach curriculum development by first thinking about where they want their students to end up. At the beginning of each new unit of study, Ms. Greer comes up with a list of major understandings, or educational goals, that she hopes her students will attain by the end of the unit. These understandings are broad and conceptual in nature, and not merely a list of facts that must be memorized. For instance, when teaching an expository writing unit, Ms. Greer works toward understandings like:
- A well-written introduction is important for grabbing readers' attention.
- An essay sticks to one topic or closely related set of ideas.
- Writers plan their work before sitting down to draft.
As Ms. Greer continues through the curriculum development process, she returns to her list of understandings to ensure that the activities she uses will guide students toward her goals for the course.
Considering the Learners' Needs
Ms. Greer knows that even the best-planned curriculum can still go awry if she does not take her students' abilities and needs into account. Therefore, each year as she develops her curriculum, she carefully considers the strengths and weaknesses of her students. For instance, if Ms. Greer knows that she has a group of particularly strong readers, she might modify which books she will assign, as well as the kinds of projects she will have the students do. She also allows for differentiation (planning activities suited to a wide variety of needs and abilities) as she develops her curriculum. This sometimes means taking one major understanding and breaking it down into multiple entry points, so that students can access the big ideas at their own pace or level.
Looking at the Timeline
Although it might seem obvious, a teacher should never neglect doing a close examination of the course timeline before getting into the nuts and bolts of curriculum development. For example, Ms. Greer knows that it is helpful to plan units so that they end just before major vacations, and she knows that she needs to consider approximately how much time per week or even per day she can devote to a particular unit. This attention to the timeline helps to keep her plans realistic and her curriculum organized and meaningful.
Selecting Lessons and Activities
Once Ms. Greer has developed a list of understandings, considered her learners' needs, and worked out the timeline, it is time to select and plan specific lessons and activities that will direct her students toward the overall course goals. For this, Ms. Greer relies on curriculum handbooks from her school district, teachers' guides that come with the textbooks she is using, and a few tried and true websites. However, she knows that it is her colleagues who are the essential component in whatever lessons, activities, or assignments she creates.
In the curriculum development process, collaboration is crucial. In addition to meeting with her grade-level colleagues, Ms. Greer schedules meetings with the art, music, and PE teachers at her school. She works with the learning specialist to differentiate the curriculum, and she works with other teachers to try to achieve a sense of continuity across the students' school day. Finally, she makes time to work closely with her students' fifth and seventh-grade teachers to ensure that the curriculum is continuous over students' time in the school. Although collaboration is time-consuming, Ms. Greer finds that it makes her curriculum richer and more meaningful, and in many ways it makes her day-to-day planning easier as she draws on the diverse expertise of her colleagues.
Assessment in Curriculum Development
Ms. Greer uses informal assessments to help her determine how her teaching is going and to help her modify plans as a curriculum is underway. At the end of each week, she looks over her notes and observations to determine whether she needs to slow down or speed up her teaching the following week. Ms. Greer also uses the assessments to help her modify her work for subsequent years.
The curriculum development process works best when it begins with the definition of overarching goals and major understandings. Teachers should first consider their learners' needs and then should think about developing appropriate lessons and activities. Collaboration and assessment are also important tools in the curriculum development process.
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