Four Keys to Meeting Curriculum Goals

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past 19 years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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I had the privilege and pleasure to co-create a two-day staff development experience at Lower Merion with Heidi Hayes Jacobs and Bena Kallick. Lower Merion Public Schools had four curriculum goals heading into the session:

  1. Increase connectedness among disciplines
  2. Provide avenues for students to have voice and choice in their learning
  3. Engage students as creative producers of knowledge, products, and services that resolve real-world problems
  4. Develop students’ identities as global citizens

These two days working with the amazing staff at Lower Merion proved just as beneficial for me as it was for them. Working alongside my friends and mentors resulted in me walking away with four stunning insights that will change how I will see my work going forward.

Take a look at our full session outline for insight into the experience.

1. Curriculum is a creative writing endeavor.

It is about what you choose (and don’t choose) to frame the experience. Which big ideas are worthy of uncovering? Which designed tasks will demonstrate understanding and transfer? All of these choices matter because they are intentional, important, and shouldn’t be dictated by standards.

2. Fresh language triggers fresh thinking about the work.

Bena Kallick
Bena Kallick speaking to Lower Merion staff about Habits of Mind and curriculum design.

I have been working with educators to draft transfer goals for years, but nothing compared to the ones drafted with Heidi and Bena last week.

NOTE: Transfer goals are broader aims of schooling that describe what we want students to be able to do independently. They are the inspiration for a range of performance tasks throughout PK-12 learning.

  • Seek to investigate challenging contemporary global and local issues by pursuing questions or a line of thinking.
  • Use design thinking and other processes to develop solutions, findings, prototypes, performances, and media.
  • Navigate through diverse sources and perspectives to make discerning and thoughtful judgments.
  • Generate, enrich, and craft communication through the strategic use of evidence and command of language.
  • Share stories, ideas, and points of view to engage others to think interdependently and potentially act collectively
  • Think flexibly, take responsible risks, and listen with understanding and empathy as they engage with the world

3. When you muck around with a radical shift in one structure you have to think about the ripple effects.

For example, if you significantly shift time (time is the variable, achievement is constant) you also will need to rethink:

  • How you group learners
    • Students from varying ages could be working on the same concept and/or competency
    • You could move away from grade levels altogether
  • How you support learners
    • Teacher as advisor
    • Teacher as supporting expert
    • Teacher as mentor
  • Where learning happens
    • In school vs. Outside of school
    • Physical vs. virtual.

4. Listen first to understand before trying to be understood.

This is as important for a group of educators during the summer as it is for teacher-student conversations for next year. You must try to make sense of someone else’s idea and incorporate that into a collective plan or vision before articulating your own idea. Listening takes time, practice, and compassion, but it is the difference between alienation and ownership.


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