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T H E S K I L L F U L T E A C H E R 441

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Curriculum Introduction

Part 5

Introduction to Curriculum Part 5 addresses the thinking and design that go into planning successful in- struction. The anchor and starting point of planning daily lessons is a good curriculum. The standards movement has caused a rethinking of what good curriculum is and how to create it. Since schools are making the commitment to have all students reach proficiency, just presenting material and covering topics is no longer acceptable. Curricula must be designed so there is great clar- ity about what schools want students to learn and how to know when they do.

Chapter 17: “Curriculum Design” describes what teachers should have in hand from the district so their planning is solidly rooted in the commitments made to what children are supposed to be learning. A good curriculum provides the intellectual superstructure from which teachers take guidelines for the direction and content of their lessons.

Chapter 18: “Lesson Objectives” that are clear and appropriate enable teachers to carry on with good lesson planning. Fuzzy thinking about objectives is at the root of an enormous number of teaching and learn- ing shortfalls in our schools.

Chapter 19: “Planning” is a detailed exposition of the cognitive sce- narios good teachers go through in their heads prior to instruction. The planning never produces results if the objective is fuzzy or inap- propriate.

Together these three chapters form a piece. They need each other. Good plan- ning requires good objectives to be anchored and purposive. A good objective needs a good curriculum behind it to be important and clear. Successful teach- ing requires that professionals also be knowledgeable and skillful at all three.

Chapter 20: “Differentiated Instruction” profiles the variables teachers control in designing learning experiences for their students. The thir- teen variables described in this chapter are, in fact, a comprehensive layout of design features we can differentiate to address the individual learning needs of our students.



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Chapter 21: “Assessment” provides the framework to make assessment a tool for student learning, not just a measuring device. It also empha- sizes student ownership and the motivational opportunities inherent in good assessment practices.

Chapter 22: “Overarching Objectives” describes the way in which our core values and sense of personal mission can influence our instruction and have positive consequences for student learning.




T H E S K I L L F U L T E A C H E R 443


Curriculum Design

The curriculum for any subject or course at any grade level consists of a set of agreements between the district office (or academic department) and its teach- ers. This chapter describes those agreements. Teachers need to understand the status of these agreements thoroughly if they are to effectively choose instruc- tional materials for daily use, participate in curriculum development groups, and, most importantly, be skilled at planning good lessons. After defining and describing these agreements, we highlight the ones we believe are essential for every district to have and for teachers to use as a foundation for their lesson planning. Whether a curriculum is tight or loose is determined by which of these agreements are firmly in place.


Records of the agreements that have been worked through can be found in curriculum guides in most schools and districts. The curriculum children actu- ally receive depends on how faithfully these agreements are carried out. These agreements (the essential ones have an asterisk) address the following:

pp Topics to be taught*

pp Big ideas*

pp Units of study organized around the big ideas*

pp Learning expectations (or learning outcomes) for a grade or course*

pp Uniform assessments (sometimes called benchmark assessments), es- pecially final assessments, interim assessments, and unit assessments*

pp Criteria for proficiency on assessment items*

pp End-of-course samples of proficient student work (an exemplar every- one can look at to see exactly what the district really means by the learning expectation)*

Whether a curriculum is tight or loose is determined by which agreements are firmly in place.



Curriculum Curriculum Design



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pp Pedagogical practices

pp Pacing guides and curriculum maps

pp Lesson plans

pp Time allocations

pp Instructional strategies

pp Materials

pp Resources

Many districts are not sufficiently explicit about what their curriculum is. An addi- tional problem may be insufficient control over how it is implemented, even when certain elements are clear. As a result, the experience of children going from grade to grade may depend on individual choices teachers make about what to teach. It is important to know the stance your district has taken toward curriculum so you know what you’re accountable for. Otherwise, there’s a lot that can go wrong. And what can go wrong with curriculum? Consider the following possibilities:

pp There isn’t one.

pp There used to be one; it might be around here somewhere.

pp There is one, but nobody teaches it.

pp There is one, but people teach what they want out of it, which means the students’ experience is inconsistent.

pp There are no common assessments.

pp The curriculum is the textbooks.

pp The curriculum has neat activities, not a focus on student learning.

pp There is a curriculum, but it does not match the standards teachers are responsible for.

pp The curriculum office says what to teach, when, and for how long, with what materials, what methods, and exactly what to say as you teach it, making teachers feel as if they have no leeway.

It is important to know the stance your district has taken toward curriculum so you know what you’re accountable for. Otherwise, there’s a lot that can go wrong.



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Districts can avoid these problems and give teachers a solid ground on which to stand that balances cohesiveness, accountability, and professional decision-making. The agreements that comprise a curriculum (or absence of agreements) are about what is required, what is recommended but optional, and what is free choice for each of the elements. Table 17.1 shows these same elements in a format that can be filled in with specifics to profile the status of agreements for any given curriculum.

It is certainly not necessary, or even desirable, to have districtwide require- ments or uniformity on all the elements. However, we do advocate having the three key elements in place that together define learning outcomes: (1) end- of-course exemplars of proficient student work for a grade level or a course, understood, and used in common across the district for skills and academic content; (2) uniform final assessments; and (3) clear criteria for student suc- cess listed for interim benchmark assessment and the final assessment. The

Table 17.1 Matrix of Curriculum Agreements

Curriculum Element Required Recommended but Optional

Free Choice


Big Ideas

Units of Study • Big ideas • Guiding questions

Learning Expectations

Uniform Performance Assessments

Criteria for Proficiency

End-of-Course Exemplars

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