Defining quality curriculum
It’s been a powerful shift seeing districts, public and private schools opt to design their own curriculum rather than beholden to textbook publishers. But as we all know. with great power comes great responsibility. The best intentions could easily go awry with all of the elements needed to deliver coherent, guaranteed and viable curriculum. While many people are familiar with these terms, let’s do a quick recap of those descriptions to check in on how can a district or a school ensure produce that quality with such a wide variation of factors.
Also called “aligned curriculum,” coherent curriculum in the education community means it’s well designed to be thoughtful, free of gaps and redundancies, and consistently and appropriately prepares the student for the next level of learning. Coherence should be aligned across not only standards and units, but lessons, assessments, grade levels, age appropriateness and subject areas. And this applies to districts across schools as well. Alternatively, examples of incoherent curriculum could happen accidentally when teachers don’t know what other teachers are using, and as a result could be accidentally teaching the same standard in different ways, or in appropriately for the grade level. Or horizontally, where a ninth grade algebra student in California could be learning different skills than an algebra student in Maine.
This terminology of a guaranteed and viable curriculum is sourced from Marzano, which indicates the curriculum ensures that ALL students have an equal opportunity to learn. “Guaranteed” commits that each student has access to effective teachers and access to the same content, knowledge and skills to have the opportunity of success in school. Content cannot be randomly replaced by teachers on a whim. “Viable” ensures that students have been slotted enough time to learn the guaranteed curriculum.
So how do we get there? These three practices.
1. Full visibility
Coherent curriculum is clearly going to hinge on this practice. Stakeholders and users alike must be able to see which standards are being used, how students are being prepared for the next level concepts, and how they’re being assessed consistently. Admins, teachers, department heads, curriculum directors, district personnel, application of state standards will need various roles of transparency for this to be effective. For schools using software to manage their curriculum design, be sure ti offers different views for stakeholder roles, and some sort of top level dashboard to track progress.
[Image: Alignment Check] [Alt text: this is the xxx function window for yyy to monitor zzz]
The curriculum design system ideally should manage version control, so that all users automatically see the most current version and not duplicate work that has already been done. Additionally, the cloud-based system should be flexible enough for everyone to be able to not only hit their individual objectives, but give and receive real-time feedback to collectively contribute to the desired goals of the team. Collaboration offers yet another way to help elevate teacher growth of lower-performing teachers.
3. Understanding by Design® (UbD)
It’s important to agree on a consistent curriculum framework for not only consistency of output, but for consistency of standards-based learning goals and processes across a school or district. In the Understanding by Design curriculum framework, the main idea is student-centered “Backwards Design”–meaning instead of lessons where the student is assessed on the knowledge at the end, the student acquiring knowledge through an inquiry-based learning process itself is part of the curriculum.
In UbD, the unit is crafted beginning with a design template explaining WHAT the student would have learned to master the concept (Desired Results) through independent inquiry (Essential Questions), as well as HOW they learned (Understandings). We focus on teaching and assessing for understanding and learning transfer, conscientiously developing the 21st Century Skills of critical thinking, communication, creativity, and collaboration.
Student centered + mandated requirements + 21st century skills
Applying these three key practices provides the academic rigor and consistency needed for successful building, management and deployment of coherent, guaranteed and viable curriculum. Select your curriculum tools wisely for a genuinely collaborative experience and student-centered environment.
“Unit Planner provides opportunities for teachers to align assessments and instructional activities to the learning goals for the unit in a highly-meaningful way. As teachers code their units, the learning goals and assessments are kept front and center and purposefully drive the overall unit design” – Hampton Township School District, PA (midsize Blue Ribbon district)