Take the Pain out of Curriculum Planning and Improve Student Outcomes

300_iStock_000030650156_MediumA guaranteed and viable curriculum is one of the most powerful predictors of student achievement, according to well-respected education researcher Robert Marzano (What works in schools: Translating research into action, 2003). Many governing bodies agree that effective planning and documentation play a significant part in providing a guaranteed and viable curriculum, and if you would not set out to build a city without a rock-solid plan… why set out to teach young minds without one?

Other than positively affecting student outcomes (as if that’s not enough!), a benefit of having a coherent and explicit curriculum is the opportunity is the opportunity to further understand different perspectives due to transparency in planning, which can include diverse learning experiences such as excursions covering multiple domains. Sequencing may also be improved so that the development of skills can be prioritised as needed, and duplication of efforts across disciplines may be avoided with greater transparency across subjects and common skills or topics.

Curriculum plans are more than just artefacts frozen in time. When developed effectively, they allow teachers to consider research-supported pedagogies and teacher–learner context interactions that support learning. They become living documents that foster continuous improvement, and become a dynamic record of organisational knowledge.

So while there is little doubt in the industry about the benefits of having a solid curriculum plan, the reality is that it’s not always that simple. The sheer effort required for many of the ‘traditional’ ways of documenting curriculum strategy and tactics, in both time and mental capacity, cannot be underestimated. On top of that, throw in state and federal legislative requirements, school councils, school values, cultural sensitivities and contexts, as well as the different development stages of the student cohort, and you’ve got yourself quite the task.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this hard! With the use of a properly designed tool, a little time and some strategic planning, your school can be experiencing all the benefits associated with a guaranteed and viable curriculum.

Start by taking a step back and considering ‘why’ before ‘what’. Parents have chosen your school for a reason, so is that being reflected throughout your school’s curriculum? Your school council may also have indicated certain priorities for the academic year. Can you confidently point to where they are being addressed? By starting with the strategy first, these important considerations will form the basis of all teaching programs. Using a curriculum planning tool will not only help to support this crucial activity at school, but actually strengthen and enhance your school’s curriculum.

Edumate Academic Management System (AMS) curriculum planning tool has been designed in consultation with a range of curriculum experts and, as always, with an agile action-research development model led by our clients. The tool makes implementing and tracking school-wide strategy simple and effective. For example, at the request of a newly inspired principal returning from a conference, ‘computational thinking’ can instantaneously become a strategic element on every teaching program template in the school —simply by ‘checking a box’. When priorities change, drag-and-drop functionality make implementing changes painless and immediate. Similarly, a simple on-screen search can track how the core purpose and identity of your school is being addressed across all subjects and year levels (or maybe we’ll just double-check that mathematics isn’t using too many formal assessments!). Whether it is executive-led initiatives or specific school values and priorities, these strategic intents form the basis of the whole-school curriculum plan.

Once strategy is in place, we can break down into tactics and delivery. A cascading template system starting at school level, then subject or domain, down to year level and then specific classes, provides the scaffold on which to design learning experiences and assessments. Linking these tactics back to those carefully designed strategic elements helps to ensure closure of the circuit and delivery of the intent — purposeful and considered learning activities designed within the scope of the mandated curriculum and in the enriched surrounding of the school-specific teaching and learning program.

We have already mentioned the plan should not be a static artefact, and those who have experience will attest that when your plan meets the real world, the real world wins! With this in mind, now consider your specific class of students. Are they of the capability you supposed they were four months (or weeks!) ago when you planned your teaching program? A comprehensive curriculum planning tool allows you to go beyond adjustments and into the realm of creating invaluable organisation knowledge informed by emotive student responses, learning analytics and the ever-important professional judgement of your teachers. True differentiation and adaptive education requires more than a token box at the end of a word document, and deserves more than being contained in one teacher’s brilliant mind.

Within Edumate AMS, the curriculum plan remains a living document — dynamic and flexible yet safely archived from one year to the next. With a simple ‘roll forward’ functionality, there is endless opportunity for continuous improvement both during the year, and over the course of many.

As with any technology, ease of use and user-perceived value-add are two of the most important factors that influence adoption and use. A teacher’s role in not only delivering the curriculum; being part of its overarching strategy is imperative. By providing a simple yet powerful template-driven scaffold on which to create the curriculum plan, a school can help empower teachers to go above and beyond the minimum requirements by making them the foundation of all programs. From here, teachers can immerse in strategic initiatives, focus on differentiation, trial and test various pedagogies, ultimately adding significant value to the living curriculum document for years to come — not limited to filling in boxes in a Word document! Best yet, teachers have different strengths and strong leadership should cater for these. Collaborative planning allows those teachers who are so inclined to be part of creating curriculum plans, and those who have more of a delivery inclination to use the enhanced and enriched curriculum documentation from a central place.

So, with a little time aside for strategy, some well-considered tactics, and a measure of assistance from a flexible yet powerful tool, suddenly the question “How did we cover ‘Targeted Vocabulary’ in 2015 and what were students’ reactions?” doesn’t send chills down our spines.

The role of technology in schools is constantly evolving, as is the way we teach and understand learning. A strategically formed, guaranteed and viable curriculum is absolutely essential to improving learning outcomes for students and the development of your teachers. Is your curriculum plan strong enough? Can you readily point to where your strategy is being delivered, or which tactics relate to your school priorities?

 

Hobsons is an education technology provider dedicated to helping educators, administrators, students and families maximise success through every stage of the learning lifecycle. For more information about Hobsons’ Edumate AMS curriculum planning tool and how it can be a solution at your school, please contact us at info@hobsons.com.au.

 

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