The phrase “curriculum planning” can mean one of two related things: either the process of an individual teacher to build a class curriculum, or the means through which school boards coordinate the various curricula being used by teachers in order to achieve uniform goals. On its own, a curriculum is basically a lesson plan that functions as a map for learning. Careful planning is required to ensure first that the lessons actually touch on all required topics, and also that they meet school or governmental standards of basic education.
Teachers must typically have a solid idea of where their courses are headed in order to teach them effectively. A curriculum plan is one of the best ways for teachers to look objectively at what needs to be taught over the course of a semester or year, then organize an effective way to get from beginning to end.
Most of the time, teachers are not working in isolation — that is, they are usually teaching alongside many others who are covering similar ground. A large elementary school is likely to have four or five third grade classrooms, for instance. Schools typically want to make sure that all third graders are learning the same things, no matter the teacher in charge. This is where institutional curriculum planning comes in. Schools use curriculum plans to set overarching goals and basic requirements that teachers must follow to ensure at least some degree of uniformity.
Teachers often draw up their curriculum plans over the summer, while school is out. Plans can range from basic outlines to detailed charts and reports, but almost always include rough ideas of dates, as well as major topics to be covered. Anticipated exams, papers, and other assessment mechanisms are usually included, too.
Most schools also host curriculum planning meetings over the summer months, where teachers gather to exchange ideas and share curriculum plans in progress. Teachers generally have to submit their plans to a school reviewer before the year starts. Reviewers evaluate plans to make sure that they meet any set requirements.
Most curriculum planning comes in five phases: framing the context, planning the lessons, implementing those lessons, monitoring progress, and evaluating learning. Teachers and school boards usually start with context in order to keep the overarching goals at the heart of the planning process. In a nuanced class like astronomy, the context is all but self-evident. For broader classes like “second grade” or “seventh grade math,” however, school benchmarks and end goals must be kept in mind in order to keep a curriculum plan on track.
Individual lesson planning and implementation is where instructors have the most flexibility. Schools often set required reading lists or text books, but teachers can almost always organize their lessons and their classroom activities as they see fit. Teachers are usually in the best position to gauge individual student needs, and are generally encouraged to adapt lessons as needed to aid in understanding. Some flexibility is also important when it comes to current events and breaking news: should something happen in the world that directly relates to a lesson or otherwise impacts student life, teachers will often try to weave it into the day’s instruction.
Curriculum plans are an easy way for teachers and schools to quickly monitor progress. When lessons are progressing according to a set plan, it is easy to notice when students are falling behind, or when objectives are being missed. In this way, planning can be a sort of net to ensure that no major concepts are lost through the course of teaching.
Planning is also an important way for schools to streamline student assessment. Ideally, students should learn the same basic things no matter who their teacher is. Teachers are often required to incorporate certain assessment rubrics into their curriculum planning in order to ensure uniformity within the school, school district, or region. Sometimes this is as strict as standardized tests. More often, teachers have the freedom to write their own tests and paper assignments, but must usually use student results to prove that certain concepts have been mastered.
Special Considerations for Home School
Parents who elect to home school their children often face unique curriculum planning issues. In some places, home school curriculum is set by local government entities, the same as in public and most private schools — but not always. Parents must usually spend a lot of time researching and planning their curricula to make sure that their children learn as well as their peers in more traditional schools.
In the home school setting, there is not usually any school board looking for uniformity. Rather, the onus is on the parent to ensure that the chosen curriculum will incorporate everything the student will need to know. A plan that is too easy can disadvantage children when it comes to standardized tests and college or university admissions. Plans that are too challenging, however, often cause students to miss important things. A number of home school organizations and community groups provide curriculum planning resources to parents looking to find the right balance.