Why Traditional Approaches to Curriculum Design Don’t Work

And What We Should All Be Doing Instead

The Problem with Traditional Approaches to Curriculum Design

The problem with traditional approaches to curriculum design is that they only factor in two considerations: curriculum needs and student needs. 

As the lesson designer, teachers are tasked with balancing these two needs to ensure delivery of appropriate, quality instruction. And while this approach allows teachers to achieve solid outcomes for schools and students, the outcomes for teachers are often less successful. Why? Because nowhere in the lesson design is a consideration for the teacher’s needs. 

The Little Matter of Time

What does it mean to design lessons with the teacher in focus? It means recognizing that teachers do more than simply “deliver” content. We scaffold lessons, providing opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning at various stages. But these demonstrations must be evaluated. And the results of that evaluation must be reflected upon, allowing us to revise the lessons midstream to reflect student progress.  

And that all takes time. 

While many unit plans provide time for students to complete these formative checks, they rarely build in time for teachers to evaluate that work and make the necessary adjustments before moving on. That’s because our curriculum is often so vast that it seems impossible to cover the required content in the time provided. This leaves students moving at a break-neck pace and teachers chasing their grading well into the evening and over the weekend. Many a teacher has been spotted grading assignments at their kids’ soccer practice . . . 

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Stop Sacrificing Your Own Time

You don’t have to surrender all of your own free time to support your students. Stop spending hours grading into the evening and feeling guilty if you don’t check your email over the weekend.

There’s a better way. We can show you how.

What to Do Instead

Instead, our lesson planning templates should include a section that factors in the amount of time necessary for teachers to properly evaluate student work at every stage in the journey, designing activities that can be assessed in live-time or where students can conduct some of the evaluation themselves. When we must provide specific, individualized feedback for assessments, time should be built in during the surrounding days that allows students to continue practicing the skills without generating more work that requires individualized feedback. 

Teacher-Focused Curriculum Design

Here are some ideas to get you started: 

  • Have students work in small groups within a collaborative digital document (one which the entire class is working in simultaneously). As they work, monitor the document in live time, redirecting and providing feedback during the lesson rather than having students submit stacks of individual assessments at the end of class. 
  • After instructing students on a new skill, ask students to respond to an open-ended prompt individually first. Then, move them into small groups where they will share responses and vote on the best answer, being sure to support their findings with reasons. Class closes with groups sharing their best responses before voting on which of those responses are the top three, discussing the pros and cons of each as they work. Gamifying this activity will incentivize them to produce their best work. 
  • Have students score their work against the grading rubric in the days leading up to the submission deadline. Based on their findings, they will develop a revision plan to help them achieve the grade they are aiming for. While this doesn’t reduce the number of assignments to grade, it will lead to more polished submissions, allowing you to grade quicker and with fewer comments. 
  • Provide submission windows rather than due dates for summative work to encourage students to submit their work early. Instead of receiving a giant pile of submissions on the same day, student work will trickle in over a period of several days, allowing you to spread the grading out over more time. 

Reimagining lesson planning and unit design to support all stakeholders: schools, students, and teachers, leads to better outcomes for all. 

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About the Author

Andrea Yarbough is a National Board Certified Teacher and the author of Artfulness: Formula-Free Creative Writing Explorations for Secondary ELA Classes. Trusted by major organizations with curriculum design and professional workshops, she has extensive experience developing meaningful, effective instruction for students and teachers, resulting in better outcomes with less work. 

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