Creating Curriculum with Meaning and Purpose

Blog Series, Learning, Learning Innovations, Online & Blended, Smart Teachers / by

I have come to realize when it comes to curriculum, nothing is more important than the child, and the willingness to remain flexible with the planning process. This creative process is art, and contributes to what Seth Godin refers to as becoming indispensable in his twelfth book, Linchpin. There is not one right way to do this.

“Here’s the truth you have to wrestle with: the reason that art (writing, engaging, leading, all of it) is valuable is precisely why I can’t tell you how to do it. If there were a map, there’d be no art, because art is the act of navigating without a map. Don’t you hate that? I love that there’s no map.” Seth Godin

Be indispensable. Create meaning. Be purposeful. Do important work. Do work that’s bigger than you.

The most rewarding teaching happens when I create the curriculum myself. Why? Because the process of creating is messy and valuable and teaches me the most. According to Grant Wiggins, this teacher planning is “one of the most vital elements of the enterprise.” He discusses it in a blog post titled, “How do you plan? On templates and instructional planning.”  I always ask myself — ‘Why am I doing what I am doing?’ I use Backward by Design because by starting with the end, the unit project, and focusing on big picture questions while incorporating foundations, my students and I are able to make connections and see relevancy. In teaching, I create a map, but do not have a chosen pathway. Great teachers are content experts who can go where their students need them to go in order to accomplish what they hope to accomplish. Each student creates their own path.

So, what’s in a unit?

Here is what is in one of mine — In our district, there is not a 9th grade History course, so in order to create an online, integrated 9th grade ELA course, we needed to very much tap into the Common Core State Standards, and include elements of Humanities, and Historical Thinking/Literacy. This in itself increases meaning and purpose for our students. Each semester of my 9th grade ELA course is comprised of four Units. Our students work through the curriculum online, and at their own pace, but come in for weekly meetings to discuss progress, get assistance, and present projects. I do not claim to have things all figured out. There are plenty of innovative ways to create and deliver online curriculum. I accept that in sharing my work with you, I am vulnerable. Although that is not easy, it is necessary — I share because I believe I have something to contribute, and plenty to learn. After reading Grant Wiggins’ “The Futility of Trying to Teach Everything,” I realized what I have to teach is what is important to the students. This led to developing the essential questions for my 9th grade class units.

Big picture questions for the first semester of the course –

Unit 1: Why is an education important?

Unit 2: What is the role of a citizen in a democracy?

Unit 3: What are the roles of violence and compassion in a democratic society?

Unit 4: Is service learning important in a democracy?

Unit 1 Essential Questions –

1. When and where do learning take place?

2. Who can and should be educated, and why?

3. Who should have access to college? Should it be open to all?

4. What is your educational philosophy?

5. What is an appropriate metaphor for learning/education?

Unit 1 Project –

Students are asked to create an individual learning plan, complete with their philosophy of education, and metaphor for learning. It is important to me that this ILP is the students.’ I do not edit it, or make changes. I listen. I read. I guide. Students are always encouraged to look at the project first. This guides not only my work, but the work of my students. I want them to know why I am asking them to do what I am asking them to do.

If you’d like to see more, watch my video below!

Courtney Hanes

Courtney Hanes

Mrs. Courtney Hanes is an online Literature teacher at the Riverside Virtual School in Riverside, Ca. Follow Courtney on Twitter @CourtneyHanes.