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Curriculum can be overwhelming if you as a teacher are unable to define its scope. In this lesson, you will learn to identify the scope of curriculum development and think about how the scope impacts your work within a curriculum.

What Is Curriculum?

Who’s in charge of a curriculum? Did you think the district or the principal or the teacher? Surprisingly, the answer is more like: life! Broadly defined, curriculum refers to everything that students learn, are taught, or even are exposed to, both in school and in the world at large. When we talk about curriculum development, though, we are usually talking about curriculum that teachers and administrators consciously plan for.Defining the scope, or breadth and parameters, of curriculum is important for multiple reasons:

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  • To avoid being overwhelmed by or unfocused in curriculum planning
  • To help you assess students’ readiness for and receptiveness to a particular curriculum
  • To help you collaborate with families and other teachers to make sure students are having a coherent, meaningful experience with learning

Schoolwide and Districtwide Plans

Sometimes, a curricular scope can contain an entire school or even district’s approach to a subject area.

In this case, curriculum development might include buying a prepackaged program, or publishing a school or district-specific guide to expectations of student development over the years in this content area or skill set.Curriculum development at this level involves vertical planning, or envisioning how students will grow and change over time and make use of what they have learned one year in the following year’s program. Schoolwide and districtwide curriculum plans generally begin with long-term expectations of where students will be on completion of a program or set of goals, and work backwards, considering what skills and knowledge will be added each year to eventually meet these goals.

Schoolwide and districtwide plans might also take on a spiral nature. In other words, students revisit the same ideas and skills many times over the years and get at them in greater depth as their minds develop.

Unit Plans

Another smaller scope for curriculum development is a unit plan. A unit is a chunk of time spent in a particular content area, or set of interdisciplinary areas, in which students delve deeply into one particular set of ideas or skills. Some examples of units in literacy might include:

  • Genre studies (mysteries, fantasy, biography)
  • Nonfiction writing
  • Author studies

Units of study in social studies might include:

  • Neighborhoods
  • The Civil War
  • Colonial America

Units in mathematics might include:

  • Multiplication and division
  • Fractions and decimals
  • 2-dimensional geometry

When planning a unit, it often helps to list several skills or concepts that you hope students will achieve by the unit’s end. Then, you can design lessons, activities, and experiences that move students toward attaining these skills and concepts.

A unit generally lasts between a month and three months, depending on the nature of the content, the age of the students, and the dynamics of a particular class. A good unit plan also starts and ends with assessments that give teachers an idea of where students began in relation to the material and where they are once the unit has been completed.

Lesson Plans

Individual lesson plans usually encompass one to three class periods’ worth of learning in a particular subject area. Lesson plans ultimately build larger units of study.

The scope of a lesson should be manageable and should connect to broader curricular goals. You should always keep students’ needs, goals, and capacities in mind when planning a lesson.A common misconception about lesson plans is that they are primarily intended to instruct the students in how to complete a particular activity. Lesson plans should always be oriented toward teaching a particular skill or concept, even if the skill or concept cannot be fully learned over the course of one lesson. Begin your planning process by asking yourself what you are truly hoping to teach in this lesson, and plan activities and discussion accordingly. You will also want to be sure to think over how your lesson fits into your unit plan and your schoolwide or districtwide scope and sequence for a particular subject area.

Lesson Summary

Curriculum planning and development can be a complex and overwhelming process. As a teacher, you are tasked with considering the ways students’ daily work and activity fits in with the broader experience of what they are learning in school over time. Curricular scope can be schoolwide or even districtwide, but it can also be internal to a classroom, as in the examples of units and individual lessons. Before you take on planning work, think about how the different pieces of your curriculum fit together and create coherent and meaningful learning experiences for students.

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