Systemic Curriculum Development without All the Bells and Whistles

Possessing a clearly written, core curriculum for a school or school district is a strong indicator of its commitment to equity and excellence. Such a curriculum need not contain all the bells and whistles that tended to drag curriculum writing in the past onto a road of new return. Curriculum writing today should be tight, to the point without demanding a prescriptive approach to delivery to inhibit creativity. So, what elements need to be represented in this curriculum model?

First of all, an overall statement highlighting the major, learning focus of a particular grade and subject is essential. Next, there needs to be a listing of all key topics in a sequence that makes sense with a reasonable timeline for teaching each topic. Experience makes it clear that topics should run from two to four weeks to bring about effective closure. This results in a simple mapping of the curriculum with topics representing instructional units with timelines that fit into a semester or full year. A course timeline should represent learning for approximately 34-36 weeks to allow for the inclusion of other events.

Content Knowledge

The most essential curricular element is the selection and arrangement of text and other important reading materials for each topic (i.e., unit). A listing of key concepts is helpful. Then, draft the learning objectives associated with each topic in an order in which they will be addressed. Think in terms of the best way to begin the unit to build interest or check for prior learning. Unit objectives become the basis for arranging learning activities. Once prior steps are completed, a description of the topic/unit from the students’ learning perspective is drafted.

Once instructional units are set up and described as they would be delivered over the semester or school year, each unit objective, activity, is developed to show related student performances in a learning sequence. Each student performance in an activity is then related to appropriate State learning standard(s).

Assessment of Knowledge

When the curriculum is in a draft frame, it would be prudent to develop an assessment approach which includes various modes from launching the initial unit to the last. Writing an end-of-course assessment is an excellent way to inform all learning which precedes it.

Finally, note that the major focus of this curriculum model is knowledge. This focus represents the most recent research detailing the loss of reading comprehension in the nation at this time. We must get our students in important areas of knowledge at all grades driven by the best of reading materials to build in depth of understanding of concepts and how they apply to what is learned. Skills and strategies are essential but not sufficient to develop strong readers.

Dr. Bruce H. Crowder is a senior researcher for Educational Vistas, Inc. His work is primarily focused on creating pathways for deeper learning for all students through student performance and a dynamic curriculum replete with strategic teaching. Dr. Crowder may be reached at