6 steps to the curriculum of your dreams


Teaching | Monday, April 22, 2013

6 steps to the curriculum of your dreams

Creating curriculum

Six years ago, my textbook was my curriculum.

Day 1 was page 1. The school year followed the table of contents.

I hated it. My students hated it. I knew there was a better way.

So I ditched my textbooks. I knew the content I wanted to teach my students, and I knew the way I wanted to teach them.

If the textbook didn’t support that, why was I teaching it page for page?

So, at the end of the school year six years ago, I started creating my own curriculum. In the order I wanted. Using the wording I preferred. With the pacing that worked best for my students.

It was liberating. And it wasn’t an enormous project.

As I outlined this process, I realized that a teacher creating curriculum is a lot like a pilot getting ready for a flight.

It takes lots of planning. Lots of setting up the proverbial dominoes so they fall just right. Lots of checking items off your list so you don’t leave anything out.

Here are the steps I used.

1. What kind of “pilot” do you want to be?: Commercial pilots. Fighter pilots. Private jet pilots. There are many kinds, and there are many teaching philosophies you can adopt, too.

Answer some of these questions about yourself: What kind of teacher are you? What do you want to be known for? Or, more importantly, what do you want your students to be known for?

Then, answer some questions about your students: What do you want them to be able to do at the end of the year? What skills do they need to develop for success? What discussions do they need to have to cultivate new ideas?

2. Charting the course: Before a pilot taxies to the runway, he must have his course clearly set. One of the first steps must be determining the destination.

Mission statements can be trite and forced, but I think they can serve an important purpose with teachers. They give you a destination. As a high school Spanish teacher, I know that I want my students to be able to converse easily in Spanish, so mine revolves heavily around that.

[RELATED: Teaching in a paperless classroom]

3. Setting waypoints: Flights need a destination, but often pilots don’t set their heading directly at the destination right away. If there’s a thunderstorm or restricted airspace, waypoints lead pilots on a safe path around those obstacles.

Your waypoints are the major themes that you want to cover. For me, I grouped each level’s content into eight thematic units. Each unit has a theme and related skills and content. Academic standards, district or school policies, and your content area’s prescribed curriculum may affect those themes, so gather those must-haves first.

4. The pre-flight checklist: Landing gear. Wing flaps. Hydraulic systems. They all need to work properly before a plane heads to the runway.

As teachers, we need to gather and review our pre-flight checklists. They’re the skills we want our students to master.

The information. The processes. The experiences. The essential questions to answer.

Textbooks set these up for us, but if we’re ditching our textbooks, we can arrange, modify, take away from and add to the pre-flight checklist of skills for our classes as we see fit.

5. The flight plan: Flight plans are the all-inclusive reports that include all sorts of factors affecting the flight. Weather. Altitudes. Sunrise and sunset. Estimated times of departure and arrival. It’s all there.

The flight plan is similar to creating unit plans and giving them some structure. These unit plans may include:

  • holidays, important school dates and any conflicts that might affect instruction;
  • the theme covered in the unit;
  • activities, projects and discussions;
  • academic standards and policies incorporated; and
  • any assessments (formative or summative)

6. Now, let’s fly: With flight plans finalized and checklists completed, it’s time to fly! But being flight-ready doesn’t mean you’re totally done. Pilots adjust their courses mid-flight to avoid thunderstorms. They might pick up the pace to make an arrival time.

As teachers, we’re no different. Flexibility is a hallmark characteristic of education. As we teach our new curriculum, we make adjustments. We reflect on what worked and what could be done better. We continually tweak our plans until they’re closer to our ideals.

Do these steps cover the process? What would you add, remove or change? Please add to the discussion with a comment below!

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  • Julie says:

    Are you the only Spanish teacher on your dept? If not, was everyone in agreement about ditching the text? And how did you come to that agreement without resistance?

    • Matt Miller says:

      Great questions, Julie. I am the only world language teacher in my school district, so coming to a consensus was not hard when there was one person to convince — me. My solid belief is that if you’re teaching the required content and meeting the standards — as long as students learn what they should — it shouldn’t matter whether it’s from a textbook or a paperless method or anything else. The main goal should be preparing students. Of course, in real life, there will be resistance I’m sure. I’d suggest ditching the textbook slowly — a lesson or a unit at a time — and letting the results speak for themselves. If students perform as well or better, I’d think it should be (**should be**) hard to argue with that. Thanks for the conversation!

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