There have been unprecedented demands in the realm of teaching and learning during this academic year. Alternate methods of instruction, contingency plans, pivots from face to face to remote learning, quarantining, social distancing – all of these have taken a toll on educators, their students, and the families your school are serving. For many schools, and rightly so, curriculum mapping efforts have been shuffled somewhere toward the bottom of the priority list. Now, as schools are beginning to gain their bearings, many are returning to their mapping initiative. As they do, the question is often, “What is the best way to get back into our curriculum mapping project?” 

Our answer: Return to articulation

Due to the disruptive and ever-changing nature of instruction over the past year, many schools are finding that more clarity, more consistency, and more collaboration over the concepts and skills each course will (or should) cover is more important than ever. As teachers were sent back to the drawing board to find new instructional methods, technology resources to support their instruction, and assessment techniques that fit the realities of remote, flipped, or socially-distanced learning, reflecting on what they were trying to teach and why became even more important. That’s really the purpose of an articulated curriculum in the first place.

So, whether you are starting your mapping initiative for the first time, or coming back to it after a pause, we recommend that you consider some of the following steps we classify as part of the articulation phase of mapping: 

  • Rough Course Outline: Ask every teacher to populate or redefine their big course concepts (expressed as unit titles) in their course maps with clearly-defined conceptually-based unit titles. This should be done as quickly as possible, and in one sitting while avoiding generic unit titles. (For example, “Fractions” could be a possible unit title in grades 1-5. “Adding Fractions of Two Digits” is a much more specifically-named unit title.) The goal is to capture as much of the teacher’s current view of the course without getting too deep into additional planning and content creation. Existing resources such as textbooks, syllabi, lesson plans, etc. can help inform this process. Ultimately, the teacher, even those teaching skills-based classes like music and technology, should be able to present the main points of their year-long “speech” as a rough draft in 10-15 minutes. Use what you have and report what you know recognizing that, like any good rough draft, much of it will be changed (or even omitted) as the final draft emerges. Have each teacher set a goal of 10-15 units in their course. Allow for exceptions as long as the teacher is not being overly detailed (or too vague). Note: How you are approaching English Language Arts might make that area an exception. 
  • Initial Standards/Benchmarks Alignment: After the basic rough outline of the course (expressed in conceptual unit titles) has been organized, it is time to identify which standards/benchmarks adopted by the school will be instructed or assessed in those units. Again, this is not the time to get drawn into the weeds. Take a quick walk through the benchmarks for your grade level, identify as many as you are confident will apply and keep on going. The main purpose here is to see how much coverage we can guarantee at this point. So, don’t over-report on assessed benchmarks. A single unit should aim for only 3-5 assessed benchmarks. If there are more, the unit might be too broad. (Note: ELA is again an exception to this rule of thumb.) As we work with our standards/benchmarks and run reports, you may find that there are holes in your planned instruction – key concepts that were not planned to have included, or concepts (units) that do not fit into your framework. This is the time to find out about those concepts and figure out what to do with those units as you continue revising your course outline.
  • Review and Reflect: After the first two columns of a map have been completed initially, it is time to see how things are shaping up. Using some of the reporting options within Curriculum Trak (i.e. – Scope and Sequence report and the Benchmark by Course report), review the information you have gathered so far. This could be done independently teacher by teacher or as a group or department asking: 
    • What are we missing? 
    • Where are we overlapping? 
    • Where can we do less? Where can we do more? 
    • Will this course fit seamlessly with the courses above, below, or next to it (other subjects)? (Note: How the course integrates with other subject areas is a valid consideration here as well. Sometimes concepts need to be included or excluded simply because of the needs of another required course at the same grade level.) 
  • Refine and Improve: Go back to either the list of units (course concepts) and/or standards/benchmarks alignment and make improvements. This might require adding or removing information, asking questions, grieving the loss of “soap box” units, or embracing concepts that are less exciting. It will require humility. You may even need to seek the input of other teachers on your team. On the other hand, teachers may experience new-found freedom from those textbooks chapters they didn’t realize were optional. The goal is to create a course guide that adequately meets the needs of your students and adequately fills the role it is designed to fill.  
  • Finalize Your Key Course Concepts: As you continue this process as a team, your “guaranteed and viable” curriculum will begin to emerge. You will begin to gather around the concepts that need to be taught no matter what and protected no matter how many other initiatives and activities have become part of your school culture. You will begin to recognize where to invest your valuable instructional time and what areas are not worth your time at all. Teachers can always plan and teach other units as time allows, but your course map should begin with only those units that have to be taught no matter what. 

At some point, you will notice that the articulation phase is beginning to settle down. The right concepts have been identified and your educators are embracing their current configuration as the correct configuration for your context. Minor changes will still need to be made over the coming weeks, months, and years, but you will very clearly no longer be in either a “data dump” or refining/reorganizing mode. Your mapping work isn’t finished because you may only have the first two columns of each map completed. But, you have articulated your curriculum at its most basic level. That’s a reason to celebrate.

Curriculum Trak seeks to provide resources for schools who are engaged in this endeavor. If you are returning to your mapping efforts after the disruptions of 2020, you might consider creating an archive of your account in order to give your teachers full freedom to make big changes to their courses. You might also consider joining our CT Certification training where we flesh out the steps above in more detail, consider reports and other opportunities for instigating growth in this area. As always, contact support if you have any questions or concerns.