In an educational setting, curriculum is a word that can elicit different types of reaction. All curriculums share a common goal of being designed to help students learn. How individual schools utilize and implement curriculum is vastly different and unique, depending on the needs of the student, faculty, staff, and community in which the school serves. Regardless of location or choice of curriculum, the actual development of curriculum is a critical piece to the success of each student in school.
What is Curriculum Development?
Regardless of your teaching experience, educators know that a sound, effective curriculum is an absolute critical component to providing successful instruction and education as a whole. The term “curriculum” can mean different things, but primarily, for teachers, curriculum is the overall entire plan for their course, including standards, learning objectives, teaching strategies utilized, assessments, and materials.
For schools or districts, curriculum can mean the standards-based approach to the overall learning process. For example, a school may be a STEM- or STEAM-focused institution, with a curriculum based on project-based or problem-based learning with experiential design heavy on science, engineering, and math. This approach would be their curriculum of learning and would drive the types of courses students would be able to take. One thing is certain about curriculum and its subsequent development—there is no one size fits all when it comes to the learning environment.
Questions to Ask During the Curriculum Development Process
Curriculum development is a multifaceted process, with the exact process varying from one school or educational system to the next. However, at its core, the framework of curriculum development includes analysis, building, implementation, and evaluation. During this process, the idea of continuous improvement needs to be apparent. Curriculum challenges come when tired, worn-out ideas grow stagnant. As educators, our plans for instruction should be frequently reviewed, revised, and updated as new and different needs arise.
Curriculum changes are often necessary based on new discoveries, innovations in best practices, or, like we have all experienced, shifts in learning styles from face-to-face to remote to hybrid instruction during a pandemic. To maintain current and up-to-date knowledge regarding curriculum development, several questions can be asked to maintain the fidelity and integrity of the curriculum.
What is the Policy and Oversight Structure?
When developing a curriculum, key components must be addressed before getting off the ground. First, are there decision-making structures in place to determine what is written, taught, or tested? This can be completed by establishing a curriculum committee where the vision of the curriculum is formed, which can include the clear purpose and written commitments to guide the development of the curriculum.
Finally, the policy and planning piece are critical, in which the written policies ensuring access for all students to resources is clear, along with the communication plan for how the curriculum will be taught, and any future changes to it.
Is There Accessibility and Support?
Developing a curriculum doesn’t stop once the components are created. For curriculum development to be utilized at its max potential, accessibility and support must be apparent, including equity plans, inventory and needs assessments, rollout plans, initial professional development, and continuous support.
Can All Students Use the Curriculum?
The most vital piece to any curriculum is the depth and scope of impact for all students. Specifically, the curriculum should address and make clear what every student should know and be able to do based on their abilities. The most successful teaching comes from having clearly defined learning outcomes and the subsequent evidence that learning has occurred.
Is It Aligned to State Standards?
Successful curriculum is more than just utilizing a textbook, which in itself could be outdated. School curriculum should be rigorous and aligned to state standards, with multiple forms of learning modalities and strategies present. Curriculum should inspire engaging learning with questioning, analyzing, synthesizing, and deeper levels of knowledge and understanding.
How Relative and Current is the Curriculum?
Great curriculums keep up with a changing world and are never a one-and-done initiative. Revising the curriculum regularly allows for review and addition for new topics that are current and relevant. Curriculum can play a crucial role in allowing educators to keep up with constantly evolving trends in education and in the needs of students, including technology and new skill sets needed to compete in a global economy.
Is It Diverse and Inclusive of All Students?
For educators serving young people, questions around perspectives and experience must play a role in choosing or developing curriculum, including the use of outside resources or creating our own. A diversity of perspectives represented in curriculum is important: it gives students a full view of history and provides them with important access to inclusive and diverse experiences that can positively impact them in nearly every aspect of their development.
Inclusive and diverse curricula can empower underrepresented students, allowing them to experience high self-confidence, which inevitably leads to more opportunities in the future. Additionally, students exposed to diversity in the classroom or curriculum could potentially exhibit less racial prejudice, thus reducing racial stereotypes and fostering cross-racial understanding.
Developing and implementing the right curriculum in your school can produce positive results for both students and teachers. Enjoying and thriving in a curriculum that is thought out, researched, analyzed, and constantly evaluated can lead to massive shifts in school culture and climate, while preparing students for an ever-changing society. As educational leaders, we are charged with providing the right processes and structures for our schools to ensure we are implementing the most effective instructional pathways possible. A proper curriculum can ensure that students today are equipped with the right tools for success.