Principles of Curriculum Planning

If you’ve never done it before, the very mention of planning your yearly curriculum can be enough to throw you into a panic. However, curriculum planning–whether for a full year or simply a unit–doesn’t need to be scary. Here are a few key principles to keep in mind as you approach planning the curriculum for your course.

  1. The longer the amount of time covered by a plan, the broader (more general) it will be. Thus a yearly curriculum plan will have far less detailed than a unit plan, which will be less detailed than a daily lesson plan.
  2. Curriculum plans of all levels are living documents. It is not a bad thing to make changes and adjustments as you go along. It is a good idea to keep track of these changes so you have them to use in the future. (No matter what you think, you won’t remember everything!)
  3. Curriculum plans are helpful for tracking time but also for tracking resources available. Keeping resource lists as up-to-date as possible is helpful.
  4. When you are first starting out, your curriculum guides will be less detailed than those of people who have been teaching for years. That’s okay. You can flesh yours out with time.

As an example of how to get started in curriculum planning, let’s look at a medium-sized curriculum guide–the Unit Plan.

Unit Planning

At the start of each unit, you want to use your yearly curricular plan to help you determine how many instructional days that you have to cover the material in the unit.

Step 1: Determine the content and skills that you need to cover during the unit and what resources you have available to help you do this.

  • What do your students already know? Need to learn?
  • Which standards will be addressed in this unit?
  • Are there any mandatory field trips or activities you need to be sure to include?

Step 2: Write broad instructional objectives for your unit. By the end of this unit, what do your students need to know and be able to do?

  • Write your objectives.
  • Consider how you will assess these objectives. If possible, design your final assessment for the unit at this stage. If time is an issue, at least be sure you have outlined a workable plan for the final assessment.

Step 3: Using the number of instructional days you have allotted to the unit, determine how many days will likely be needed for students to reach these objectives. At this stage, you might consider the following:

  • Have you left 1-2 days at the end of each unit “open” so that you have some wiggle room if you need to go back and reteach a concept?
  • How much time is necessary for students to complete the unit assessment? This is especially important if you are assessing through:
    • presentations (How many students can present in a class period? Have you left enough days for this?),
    • projects (How much time do students need to complete the project after having been taught the material?) or
    • performances (How much class time do you need to set aside for students to rehearse?).
  • Are there any interruptions in your instructional time, and how will this affect the students ability to succeed? (Is it fair for half the class to present their projects on Friday and the rest on Monday? Is there a holiday or other non-instructional day right before the unit assessment?)

Step 4: Lay out your unit plan, collect resources, and schedule the time for the final assessment.

  • Lay out a tentative schedule of your lesson objectives on the calendar.
  • Consider the final assessment. What content, tools, skills, practice do your students need to master before they will be able to succeed?
  • Have you built in time for supplemental activities such as field trips, lab work, etc.?
  • Consider outside factors that could affect the scheduling of these things. You may have to shift the order of your unit around slightly to accommodate factors outside of your control.

Use this plan to help pace your individual lessons. Keep it handy, and make notes on it as you actually teach the lessons. Which lessons (objectives) took longer to teach (master)? Which went faster than you expected? What should you consider adding/dropping from the unit? What new ideas do you have for the next time you teach it?

Keeping track of these unit plans and updating them at the end of the school year can be a very helpful exercise. Not only is this a quick way to assess whether all the mandatory material for the course has been covered, it also is helpful for preparing yourself and/or subsequent teachers to teach the course in future years. A little time spent now can save a lot of time (and worry) in the future.

Becky Hunsberger
Coordinator of Teacher Education Services
TeachBeyond Global

Photo Credits: Planner. By Evgeny Karandaev, via Shutterstock. Teacher’s Desk. by User:MattesOwn work, Public Domain, Link.