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March 20, 2017

21 Questions To Ask About Curriculum Development

Instructional Strategies
Teacher in class
Too often, educators approach curriculum development as a product to be created. Continuous improvement should be about answering questions, rather than checking off goals. Mark Sanborn (2015) wrote, “In the past, leaders were those who knew the right answers. Today, leaders are those who know the right questions.” What questions are guiding the work of your curriculum development team? How can questions support teaching and learning? “Curriculum development is the essential function of school leadership. Whether the role is carried out by a principal, an assistant principal for curriculum, a team leader, a department head, or by leading classroom teachers, the curriculum defines all other roles in a school” (Wiles, 2009, p.2).
Traditionally, the written curriculum has not matched the taught curriculum among teachers within a school. Jacobs (1997) wrote, “If there are gaps among teachers within buildings, there are virtual Grand Canyons among buildings in a district” (p. 3). “Choosing important knowledge, sequencing it well, and getting it behind every classroom door in every grade” is an important part of ensuring that all students receive a rigorous and relevant education (Parker, 1991, p. 84). If educators develop a high-quality written curriculum, but fail to implement the curriculum then their work is the equivalent of motion masquerading as progress (Parker, 1991).
Curriculum development is much more than a summer workshop, unpacking standards, or meeting once a week as a content-alike team. If educators spend their time focusing on the taught curriculum they will be able to greatly impact student achievement.  “When school staff have a more informed conception of curriculum, a teacher’s daily decisions about how to deliver instruction not only affect student achievement in that classroom but also future student achievement, for it is assumed that students will be entering the next classroom prepared to handle a more sophisticated or more expansive level of work” (Zmuda, Kuklis & Kline, 2004, p. 122).
Curriculum development should be about answering questions. “If you want to make discoveries, if you want to disrupt the status quo, if you want to make progress and find new ways of thinking and doing, you need to ask questions” (John Maxwell, Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, 2014). The questions we ask are more important than completing the curriculum map.

21 Questions To Ask About Curriculum Development

Written Curriculum

1.  What are the key concepts we will address in this course/grade level?
2.  What are the key skills we will address in this course/grade level?
3.  What are the priority standards for this course? How will we ensure that these standards are emphasized throughout the year?
4.  Have teachers and administrators unpacked the standards?
5.  What are the soft skills that students need in order to be successful in our course/grade level and at the next level? How will we teach soft skills?
6.  If I had a son or daughter enrolled in this school district, would I be satisfied with the written curriculum?

Taught Curriculum

7.  How will we implement the 4 Cs (Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity) in curriculum, instruction, and assessment(s)?
8.  Will we use technology to support teaching and learning? How? What are the goals?
9.  What is the ratio of compliance vs. contribution in my classroom/school?
10.  Are there opportunities for student-led lessons or is every lesson dictated by the district’s curriculum and teacher-led?
11.  Are there multiple options for personalized learning throughout the lesson/unit?
12.  Does the lesson incorporate Accountable Talk or student-led questions which deepen student understanding?

Assessed Curriculum

13.  How will we measure student understanding?
14.  Are we designing authentic tasks for students?
15.  What is the role of formative assessment in measuring the written, taught, and understood curricula?
16.  How do we teach for transfer?
17.  Do we have a plan for when students don’t learn?

Learning Space

18.  Does our learning space support student understanding of the key skills, concepts, and soft skills that our staff has identified as important?


19.  When will our grade level/team meet to discuss teaching and learning?
20.  Do we analyze college and career readiness indicators? What is my role in supporting college and career readiness?
21.  Do teachers have the opportunity to provide ongoing feedback regarding the school district’s curriculum?
Based on recent conversations with curriculum design teams, I have found that a meeting agenda designed around questions can be a powerful tool. Too often, we enter meetings with our own agenda. By answering questions about teaching and learning, we are forced to grapple with our current reality. Before you begin dusting off last year’s lesson plans, ask your team one or more of the questions above. When educators focus on answering questions, we may find powerful answers that lead to student understanding.

Steven Weber is the Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning at Fayetteville Public Schools in Arkansas.

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