Understanding Macro in Curriculum Design

Sep 25, 2018

The prefix macro comes from the ancient Greek prefix makros, meaning “large” or “long.”

We are probably more familiar with its paired prefix of micro, which means “small.” After all, we have microscopes, microwaves, microphones, microcomputers, microanalysis, micronutrients, and microorganisms. Many of our fields of study—from science to medicine to economics—pride themselves on being able to drill down into the minute details and provide a thorough understanding of the material. We use a microscope to see what we cannot see with our own eyes. We conduct a microanalysis to gain a deeper understanding of a concept than we would arrive at on our own. In many ways, “thinking small” is ingrained in us. That why we have phrases like “It’s all in the details.”

However, we cannot neglect the importance of the macro. While the micro focuses on the tiny details of a topic, the macro is the big picture, and too often, we can lose sight of it.

In curriculum design, macro means understanding where you want to end up before you begin. As Bespoke ELA explains with a metaphor, the macro of building a house is understanding how many rooms you want it to have, what feel and theme you are trying to achieve, your cost projection, and its overall appearance. You need those things in mind before moving on to creating a blueprint that will eventually drill down into details as minute as considering whether there are enough light sockets, if the plumbing is installed in the right locations, and how the staircase will fit.

Planning a curriculum, just like planning a house, must begin with the macro if it is to be successful. Could you imagine starting a house plan with the installation of electrical outlets before you had even determined how many rooms there would be or where they would be located in relation to each other? It would be nearly impossible to make a meaningful decision. Even worse, the decision you did make would start to limit the other decisions available to you.

That’s the real risk with starting with the micro. If you make a detail-oriented decision too soon in the process, it ends up dictating the project as a whole, blocking off a world of opportunity and innovation.

If, for example, you begin a curriculum design project by determining what tool you will use to assess students, you are going to be limited in the types of assignments, activities, and lessons you can build. The classroom elements will start to revolve around the assessment tool rather than the other way around.

If you instead start with your goal for the class (or even the school) as a whole, you have a much broader understanding of what you are trying to achieve. By the time that you have drilled down to the detail of choosing an assessment tool, the why of selecting that tool is much more apparent, allowing you to make a choice that complements rather than restricts.

We may have a predisposition to thinking small because we know that the details matter, but we need to remember that the micro serves us (and our students) best when we place it into the context of a well-developed macro. That is where we must begin.

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