A sustainable teaching and learning hub

Issue: Volume 93, Number 15

Posted: 25 August 2014
Reference #: 1H9csm

Curriculum mapping is the process of collecting and recording curriculum-related data that identifies core skills and content taught, processes employed, and assessments used for each subject area and learning level. The completed curriculum map can become a tool that helps teachers keep track of what has been taught and to plan what will be taught.

Julie Earl is deputy principal (curriculum/teaching and learning) at St Peter’s School, Cambridge, a coeducational independent school with a roll of 1050. She discusses her school’s experience using software that can make the mapping process simple and streamlined.

Education leaders look for initiatives that create sustainable improvement in their schools. Curriculum mapping has the potential to do just that. The process creates a hub for excellent teaching and learning, which can ultimately mean improvement in student outcomes. It’s about creating a sustainable framework and wide-ranging opportunities to improve what we do schoolwide.

A significant body of research informs us that the teaching process and curriculum are the two most powerful factors involved in student achievement. The challenge for education leaders is to bring together these aspects and move forward to further refine what we do, while retaining the flexibility and creativity that is the ‘art of teaching.’

Curriculum mapping is a process that requires careful planning and implementation. It is a shift in how we manage our curriculum. It requires transforming a dusty document into something we want and need to use on a regular basis. It increases our focus on the teaching and learning process – i.e. WHAT we teach and HOW we teach. At the same time, technology has made the process of bringing together teacher expertise and curriculum simple and effective, while minimising work for teachers.

Jay McTighe’s model Understanding by design is a user-friendly, workable framework. This is a simple model of curriculum design that marries well with the curriculum mapping process. The development of questions that are meaningful to students and reflect achievement objectives is essential. Assessment is considered: how will we measure understanding of the achievement objectives? The last phase is about meeting that goal/s (pedagogy: the HOW of teaching and lesson activities: the WHAT of teaching).

A teaching plan using McTighe’s methodology across the school means we have a common language and common understanding in key areas of planning. The achievement objectives, essential questions, and some common assessment are not negotiable. However, how an individual teacher gets there is the ‘art of teaching.’

Teachers can develop units of work using this framework and either post them online into the web-based curriculum mapping software or load them from other documents. The software providers offer necessary professional development required by staff. A lead team – in our case, heads of faculty and other key people – were involved. The lead team shared their expertise with others within their faculties.

The various software packages have many features; for example, a customisable template with links to curriculum achievement objectives; drop down boxes of competencies; values; learner profiles; a search mechanism; graphed representation of search results; links to international exemplars, and many more, all of which are simple and accessible.

Teachers then have access to their work anytime, anywhere. In the first instance, small groups of staff at our school loaded collaborative maps onto the web. Later, we will ask teachers to include their own differentiation plans.

The curriculum mapping review process begins when all data is loaded. Sometimes the review process is referred to as ‘meeting with a purpose’. We use the information to make informed decisions about curriculum with the best interests of the students in mind. The review process (over time) embraces the use of information to review and manage issues. These issues could include literacy across the curriculum; boys’ education strategies; assessment review; teaching the research process; gaps and double ups in the teaching plans; differentiation for gifted and talented students and students with special education needs; infusing thinking tools; reviewing key competencies, and many more. The review involves the meeting of strategic groups of teachers and may very well challenge the status quo. Meeting strategically for professional conversations about teaching and learning can only increase our effectiveness.

Map ping is a process, and as such, needs to be an ongoing part of our practice. It focuses us on what we are teaching and how we are teaching. However, mapping is only as good as the quality of the teaching plans, so it is essential that there are many opportunities for practice and the provision of exemplars demonstrating best practice. It is also a framework from which to develop a professional learning community. It pulls together a range of initiatives, both in-person and virtually. For example, many of our current practices fit nicely beneath this structure. The Thinking School initiative, The Learner profile, The Keys Club (for gifted and talented students), and Learning Support are but a few.

What teachers do is critical to student achievement. Curriculum mapping provides an easy to use tool and impetus to further focus on teaching and learning. It is a means by which we can develop a professional learning community amongst our staff, where we can share what we do well, where our focus is on student learning.

Further reading and references are available on request from the author.

Examples of curriculum mapping software

Please note that Education Gazette has not evaluated either of the two packages discussed, and in no way endorses or recommends them over others. They are meant only to serve as examples. There are also free options available, and schools should investigate to see what suits their needs.

Curriculum mapper (Collaborative Learning Inc.)
What they say:

  • According to the company website, this package boasts the ability to “identify gaps and redundancies so you can improve academic performance and test results.” Other features include the ability to:
  • create and document a master curriculum linked to standards and school initiatives
  • generate reports that analyse curricula to identify relevance, gaps, and redundancies that provide data for improvement
  • build a standards-aligned library of curriculum materials within a timeline or scope and sequence.
  • Professional development is available through CLI
  • Atlas Curriculum Mapping (Rubicon International)

What they say:

  • According to the company website, points of difference that recommend this software include:
  • ease of use to teachers of all technical knowledge levels
  • flexibility and customisation engineered for every school
  • robust reporting and analytical tools
  • customised sets rather than ‘canned standards’ for each school.
  • A free ‘test drive’ is available through the company’s website, as is professional development.

BY Julie Earl
St. Peter’s School, Cambridge,

Posted: 12:32 pm, 25 August 2014

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