Curriculum Opinion

Write Better Curriculum

By Anthony Jackson — August 02, 2013 3 min read
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The old saying goes that teachers create every other profession in the world. The person who first said that is lost to history, but the idea still holds true today.

In fact, in the global knowledge economy, nations around the world are looking to teachers to create innovative theories and practices of teaching and learning. School systems everywhere are figuring out how to prepare students to be globally competent—and ultimately how to make nations more competitive in a new world order.

If one looks at the practices of the best school systems in the world today, there are clear patterns on how to approach curriculum.

Here are the broad strokes on how to do it: The key to developing good curriculum that builds global competency is to include various activities focused on specific learning objectives, content knowledge, and skills. (Download free handbook on building student global competence.) There may be several formative activities or lessons that culminate into one final summative project.

Work with Colleagues

It’s impossible to scaffold learning if you don’t know what students are learning in prior years and in other classes. Talk with your colleagues, and ask your school or district leaders for time to co-write lessons that build student skill from novice levels all the way to college levels. See how it’s done in Japan.

Spend Less Time Teaching

Finland and Singapore, two of the best school systems in the world, allow teachers more time to work with one another to design and critique curriculum. This is difficult for individual teachers to pull off in most American contexts, but there are ways to free up teaching time. For starters, see the Flipped Classroom model, which uses videos (produced by yourself or others, such as the Khan Academy) to do some of the teaching.

Give Students Choice

Call on students to plan and assess their work over time. Students should be given responsibility to make key decisions about the direction of their work, focus, and presentation. Teachers should function more like coaches, working on the sidelines and delivering formative feedback to the students throughout the learning process.

Integrate Real-World Contexts

As long as students are learning, they should be learning about real-world things with real-world tools. Artificial story problems, hypothetical calculations, or humanities study without clear relevance to students’ futures is a missed opportunity, at best, and a formula for failure all too often.

Schools around the world may out-perform the United States on tests, but teachers and researchers still look to our schools for innovative practices. Asia Society’s International Studies Schools Network, like many other innovative schools, also employ these practices:

Assignments Don’t Go to the Teacher

In the global knowledge economy, effective citizens and leaders will know how to solve problems and affect change. The Internet has an uncountable number of tools that allow students to publish their findings and recommendations from which the world can learn and be inspired. These days, students shouldn’t create work just for their teachers to see; they should exhibit their work for the world to see.

Analyze Student Work

Curriculum writing does not end until you’ve analyzed student work. Out of 60 students who may have produced real-world project based on your curriculum, what trends do you see? If there are common mistakes or shortcomings, examine your lesson and see what could be stated more clearly, or what tools can help students overcome hurdles. In areas where students have exceeded your expectations, should you raise the bar the next time you teach? Analyzing student work is something every teacher should do. Ideally, teams of teachers do this together as part of constructive lesson planning culture.

Another old saying, a Buddhist proverb, goes something like this: If a seed will not grow, we do not blame the plant. Instead, the fault lies with us for not having nourished the seed properly. The global knowledge economy demands a different type of nourishment, and teachers are the ones who can provide in this way.

The opinions expressed in Global Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.