Curriculum can refer to so many things because its actual definition is so broad - referring to the subjects comprising a course of study in school. As teachers we could think of curriculum as the standards we teach, the activities and lesson plans we make, or the books and resources we use but the truth is that a great curriculum is all of those things. If you have struggled with putting together curriculum, we wanted to take a full post and talk about how to build a great curriculum. With a couple of weeks left before school starts, now is a great time to look at your current curriculum and make a couple of tweaks if necessary. If you are a first year teacher, I highly recommend reading through these steps and familiarizing yourself with the process! You’ll use it many times in your career!
Step 1: Identify your priority standards. There are a million standards you are supposed to teach but we all know some of them are more important than the others. Which ones are the most important in YOUR class? It is best if you can get together with the grade above and/or below you and have a good conversation about what is the main focus of each grade. If possible, use a top down approach and have your high school/upper level teachers identify their priority standards. Once you know the end goal, each grade level can choose the priority standards that they will be most responsible for. These are the things that you are committing to spending the most time on. Your students should be amazing at the standards you choose as priority standards! Here’s a really important part of this first and most important step - you can’t make everything a priority. We have these books that are “aligned to the standards” that have endless resources. We may even feel like a failure if we don’t make it through the book. But while your instincts will continue to push you to make everything a “priority” and push through the book, the book is a product made by a company trying to appeal to as many people as possible. It will be a great resource but it is not your curriculum and some standards will have to be less important than others. You cannot make all of the standards a priority in a great curriculum. That just can’t happen. The best thing you can do is communicate with your team teachers and the grade levels above and below you and choose carefully and strategically.
Step 2: Identify support standards. Most of the rest of the standards that you didn’t choose as a priority fit under the umbrella of one of your priority standards. For me, it works best to organize it visually just that way. I like to use a spreadsheet (preferably a Google Sheet so everyone working on it can see and contribute) or a giant whiteboard. Separating the support standards under each priority standard begins step 3.
Step 3: Arrange your standards in the order you would like to teach them. Technically you could switch step 2 and 3 if you want, I just like to get everything I plan on teaching up on the board/sheet. Keep in mind what prior knowledge students will need to have for each priority standard. This is another time that having the general outline of the course before and after yours is helpful. It would be great to be able to pick up where your students left off and set them up at the end of the year for their next class.
Step 4: Identify learning intentions and success criteria. This is the lingo we use in my school district but you may know it as “I can” statements. What specifically do you want students to be able to do? Standards are not put into students or parent friendly terms. Go through each standard you have chosen and decide what you really truly expect to see with your own eyes in your classroom that would mean the student has achieved mastery of the standard. Does this feel like too big of a job because there are too many standards? Go back to step 1 and try to be realistic about your school year and your expectations for your students.
Step 5: Decide how you will help the students master the learning intentions. This is the fun part! Now that you have laid out exactly what you want students to learn, you can be so much more intentional with how you teach it! Make GREAT lessons specific to the learning intentions and success criteria rather than thinking how a worksheet or activity in a textbook says it meets the standards. Your learning intentions meet the standards and make much more sense to everyone involved. Work with those! If you find resources in a textbook, great! There are amazing resources online. So many resources have been created by teachers who know exactly what its like to be in your spot! Look at teachers pay teachers or teacher’s notebook! Check back on our site for some ideas and resources! Try to find ideas for your content in your everyday life! TAKE A TRIP TO TARGET! We all know that’s the best place to get the creative juices flowing! :)
Step 6: Keep working on step 5 and the rest of your classroom organization/management. We are continuously finding resources and perfecting lessons which means we tend to live in step 5. Don’t forget the ever important part of revamping curriculum: communication.