Caution Road Construction Ahead: Building a Curriculum for Excellence

Caution Road Construction Ahead: Building a Curriculum for Excellence

By Elizabeth O’Connell, Lower School Principal, Academy of Notre Dame
Before any instruction and learning can begin, a school must design and develop its curriculum, essentially building a road that paves the way for the student to advance from one skill or concept to another and from one grade to the next.  It is imperative that the curriculum be monitored during implementation as well as reviewed and evaluated.  As we all know, roads are not permanent. Over time repairs and new points of access are needed that require attention. Much like road maintenance, the foundational work of school curriculum requires frequent attention too. Evaluation of what is being delivered and how it can be done better is the goal of curriculum development. 

The Curriculum Development Process 

Curriculum Development enables educators to collect and to record curriculum-related data that identifies the core skills and content taught, the methodology and the assessments used for each subject area and grade level. The completed curriculum scope and sequence then becomes a tool that helps teachers – or even an entire school site – keep track of what has been taught and plan what will be taught. 

Curriculum Development is an ongoing process for documenting what’s being taught in a meaningful way that’s connected to learning outcomes and encourages frequent reflection and planning to better meet students’ needs.  The development of an effective curriculum guide is a multi-step, ongoing and cyclical process. The process progresses from evaluating the existing program, to designing an improved program, to implementing a new program and back to evaluating the revised program.  


Designing the Curriculum Roadway

There are two areas of contemplation for educators when tasked with curriculum development - Bloom’s Taxonomy and Wiggins’ Understanding by Design (UBD). 


Bloom’s Taxonomy

Bloom's Taxonomy is a curriculum framework, giving educators a way to conceptualize and organize "...the knowledge, skills, values and beliefs critical to the design of a coherent curriculum plan that facilitates student learning and their achievement of the desired educational outcomes." (Boland, 2012)    

The following six learning objectives are used when teachers develop curriculum.  Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation.  Such a framework is a useful structure for teachers to use for self-evaluation of their practice, developing interactive discussion with pupils and planning assignment questions which promote deep learning.  


Wiggins’ Understanding by Design (UBD)

UBD is a framework for improving student achievement that helps teachers clarify learning goals, devise assessments that reveal student understanding, and craft effective learning activities.  UBD is a set of tools for teachers to become more effective instructors.  It is a way of thinking that helps the teacher be more disciplined, focused and mindful of priorities.  The students become more engaged, stay centered on instruction, and partake in more meaningful activities which improves their overall work.  Students thrive in an active classroom and become independent and creative learners.

The author of the UBD concept, Wiggins, often states: Begin with the end in mind by identifying what students should know and be able to do through: Enduring Understandings,  Essential Questions,  Content, Skills, Standards, Assessments and Resources.

More information on Understanding by Design, watch these videos:


Benefits to Curriculum Development

Curriculum Development benefits a school in a variety of ways.  A school’s identity becomes clear when the curriculum development process establishes a clear program philosophy.  Not only does the development allow for flexibility but it also encourages experimentation and innovation within an overall structure.  As schools commit to specific initiatives, educators can reference these initiatives in the curricular units to provide evidence of the work.  
Curriculum development is collaborative by nature, so teachers can easily build units together, including multidisciplinary units. It also allows for curriculum coordinators to work closely and efficiently with teachers, strengthening an overall faculty culture of collaboration.

This reflective, shared process invites teachers to think, write, reflect, discuss, and revise curriculum in thoughtful and collaborative ways.  As curriculum is developed,  comprehensive resource centers are created.  In addition, the curriculum development process helps to focus instruction and ensures that assessments measure not only student progress but also the effectiveness of the goals and objectives of the curriculum in meeting student needs. 


Curriculum Mapping Mission Statement at the Academy

The curriculum framework identifies a school’s mission and vision.  The Academy’s mission focuses on educating the whole person for life through a curriculum rooted in spiritual formation and academic excellence based on 21st century skills and technology, as well as, state and national educational standards for all disciplines. The process of curriculum development and mapping is to ensure that students in grades Pre K-12 are offered a coherent, consistent and a high quality education where inquiry is the center of all planning, articulation, reflection and regular program assessment. Curriculum mapping will enable all disciplines to align for not only effective instruction but also resources that are current and meet the high standards and school wide expectations set forth by the Academy.

We need to think about creating curricula and classroom environments 
that give children the opportunity 
for wonder, mystery, and discovery; 
an environment that speaks to young children’s inherent 
curiosity and innate yearning for exploration
 is a classroom where children are passionate about learning.  (Heard)