Writing a Curriculum Guide

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How to Plan a Curriculum

Planning a curriculum is not unlike lesson planning, but it takes place at a different level.  Whereas a lesson plan covers details such as what text to use, which pages will be assigned, and the particular method of imparting knowledge, a curriculum plan takes a broader view.

A good starting point for a curriculum plan is to determine the topic (or topics), the length of time involved, and, most importantly, the knowledge that should be obtained by the end of the course.  It is useful to know the age group involved, their probable level of training in the designated area, and whether they are going from your course of training to a job or to further education.

For the sake of brevity and focus, we are going to assume that the curriculum being planned is for sixth grade art students in the state of Missouri, USA.  It will be part of an over-all curriculum plan for a school district, and must adhere to state and local standards.

Before beginning planning, the educator would be well advised to visit the website for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.  Missouri has been going through a school improvement process during the last several years; one outgrowth is a very nice table of Grade Level Expectations for each subject offered for students age five through eighteen, or Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade.  The GLE’s are presented in a user-friendly format, both as a word file and as an excel file.  These tables make an excellent starting point for your curriculum, as they will highlight the material a sixth grade art student in the state of Missouri should be covering.

Next, check the records of your particular school.  Since the advent of standardized testing, the Missouri School Improvement Process flags out areas of weakness and strengths in over-all student achievement.  Don’t sell your art program short by assuming that all the kids are going to do is draw and make posters.  Art lessons are a great place to reinforce vocabulary, history, social studies, mathematics, literature connections and more.  Art is in everything–so you can use it to teach almost anything.  When you have identified the areas this particular group of student seems to need some help in, go talk to their fifth grade teachers in those areas.  They may have some great ideas for lessons where they would love to collaborate with an art assignment.  Cross-curricular planning is one of those buzz-phrases that can really jazz up your resume.

Be aware of cultural prejudices in the community.  While introducing new concepts is certainly one of the areas the arts are great at, treading on toes should be done lightly, if at all.  Or as one of my former employers put it, “Puppies and kittens, Daisy.  You can’t go wrong with puppies and kittens.”  I won’t go that far, but be aware of local mindset.  It can save you a lot of trouble!

Finally, get a good calendar of the school year, including planned events.  While you will not want to plan your entire curriculum around it, posters of school events really are a valid art experience.  A lot can be learned from them–design, spelling, composition…just to name three.  Furthermore, you do not want to plan a large assignment for home-coming week, or try to cram so many lessons into a year that there are not enough class sessions to complete them!

Armed with this information, you are ready to begin the real planning.  First, make a list of what the students need to know by the end of the year.  Second, co-relate those skills.  What will lead from one to another?  What will have to be taught as a discrete unit?  Next, count the number of class sessions you can expect for this school year, and subtract five from that number.  This will give you days for: snow days, assemblies, fire drills and other unexpected interruptions in your instruction.  Discourage other teachers from thinking that art is study hall.  It is not.  

Check your budget, supplies and available tools.  While a pottery unit may be attractive, planning one that involves potter’s clay and a kilne may have disappointing results if the school is not equipped with the correct resources!  Determine how you can teach the skills with available resources.

Set up your grading scale, classroom rules, and discuss with your supervising teacher, principal or superintendent disciplinary expectations.  Plan record keeping.

Finally, create a calendar of the days this class will meet.  In pencil or using sticky notes or a computer chart, jot in tentative major topics for each lesson.  Did you plan enough “wiggle” time for emergencies or frustrating days that don’t go well, or re-teaching?  Have you scheduled in art contests, special events, and holidays?  Did you include instruction in areas where students need reinforcement for other classroom instruction? Is there enough variety in your art areas to allow for learning differences?  Are you covering the grade level expectations?  Do you have supplies or the budget to get supplies for all the assignments?

If you can answer yes to all those questions, you are ready to write up the Curriculum guide your principal/superintendant will want for your area and to create a hand-out for parents; plus, you are well on your way to having a curriculum map for the current school year.

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