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In this lesson, you can learn about three major elements of quality curriculum design. Imagine examples of how to apply these ideas to the classroom, improving your ability to connect past, present, and future learning.

Beyond the Textbook

Imagine you’re planning to teach a class in United States history from 1865 to the present day.

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You’ve been given the task of designing the curriculum and don’t know how to go about the process.You open the textbook for the class and decide to use it as the model for your curriculum. You start with Chapter 1:”The Beginning of Reconstruction Era”, wrapping up your curriculum plan with Chapter 12: ”Life in the New Millennium.”Is following the textbook really enough to build a strong curriculum? You decide to investigate what experts have to say about quality curriculum design.

Ralph Tyler and Curriculum Design

Ralph Tyler was a 20th-century American educator who played a large role in guiding how curriculum would be developed.

He identified the importance of three key principles in this process: continuity, sequence, and integration. If you know the TV show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, this may help you remember the first letters of the terms. Now let’s look at how you would apply Tyler’s principles to your U.S. history curriculum.

Continuity

Teaching curriculum by focusing only on following a textbook is a bit like having students walk down a narrow hallway. For example, let’s say lesson one of your class covers events from 1865-1870.

Your next lesson covers events from 1870-1875. Using this approach, your students never revisit the events of lesson 1 again. They simply move ahead from event to event as though they’re walking down that narrow hallway. They don’t get a good look back at the material until it’s time to study for a test.

Continuity involves revisiting material more than once. This reinforces students’ learning by allowing them to practice skills they learned earlier and to consider old information in a new way, reinforcing it.This approach is more like a spiral staircase where a student can look around them as they make passes around the center. They can see what has come before and how it relates to what’s in front of them now.

This idea of curriculum that revisits learning over time is also referred to as spiral curriculum, per American psychologist Jerome Bruner.

Sequence

The historical events in your textbook don’t go in a spiral, so how are you supposed to order the information in your curriculum? The answer lies in the principles of sequence, or how material is organized when presenting it to students. The goal of a good sequence? The information you present today should build on information that you presented yesterday.Chronological order is one valid way of organizing the information. The problem with only focusing on chronological order is that you may miss out on other ways of organizing the material. Here’s an alternative approach that uses different ways of sequencing to improve continuity. You decide to organize your curriculum by time period (chronologically) and by complexity.

For example, you plan to first cover the key events of Reconstruction. Then, you cover the time period again from the perspective of how the lives of everyday people were affected by these events. When you discuss Civil Rights in the 1960s, you circle back again to revisit how the Reconstruction era period related to civil rights of black Americans into the late 20th century, an even more complex topic.

There are also other options for organizing your curriculum. You could also focus first on giving an overview, prior to diving into specifics. You broadly describe the key eras within the timeframe of 1865 to the present.

Then you could go back to dig into each era in more depth.You could also organize your curriculum by concepts or topics. First, you cover historical events that relate to international conflict. Then, you focus on economic changes, then on political movements, and so on. So you’re still using your textbook, but in a different way than when you started. You’re realizing the value in creating curriculum that doesn’t force students down a narrow hallway.

Integration

Now comes another exciting, and challenging task. You’ve got to make the information relate to the lives of your students. It has to become relevant and real to them – and it has to link with their broader education. How learning matters within a student’s life and broader education is known as the integration of the curriculum.

Start by asking yourself these questions:

  • What do students already know? How can I link what I want to teach my students with what they already know in their lives? For example, you could ask students to recall a news story or local event they remember hearing about as a child and connect this event to what was going on in the country at that time.
  • What else are students learning? How can I link what I’m teaching with what they are learning in other subjects and disciplines? For example, you could use charts to represent different trends throughout this historical period, such as population changes and unemployment rates, which helps reinforce math concepts.
  • What matters to my students? How can I use my curriculum to help my students explore what matters to them in their real lives? For example, you could assign students to choose one element of pop culture (such as a meme, a TV show, or a song) and create a modified version that fits with the time period they’re studying.

Integration is like adding some windows to that spiral staircase, so students are encouraged to peer out into the wider world around them.

Lesson Summary

Influential educator Ralph Tyler pointed out three important elements of quality curriculum development: continuity, sequence, and integration.

  • Continuity refers to opportunities for a student to revisit and reinforce learning
  • Sequence is how the curriculum is organized
  • Integration asks how the learning will matter to the student’s own life and broader education

According to American psychologist Jerome Bruner, spiral curriculum, or curriculum that revisits learning over time, allows students to continually deepen and expand their knowledge as class continues.

To accomplish this, when you sequence your curriculum, you’ll want to think about how new information will build on previous learning.

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