What Is the Curriculum Development Process?

Instructor: Clio Stearns

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

Curriculum development is an important aspect of teaching and learning. This lesson will guide you through the basics of the curriculum development process. You can apply what you learn in this lesson to a variety of content areas and age groups.

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.

Backward Design

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.

Consider all the different needs that might be represented in a classroom like this one!
differences

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.

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