Innovative Curriculum Design: Questions for Teachers and Coaches

People often ask me what questions I use when I work with teachers to design curriculum.  I work from an Understand By Design (UBD) framework and then I add these questions throughout our discussion and development.

What's the question your students WANT to answer?
Too often teachers come up with their own questions rather than including students in this discussion.  We all know we have curriculum and content to cover, but just by having a discussion, or an informal KWL (or KWHL, or KWHLAQ) you can learn what interests your children.  By allowing them to be a part of the conversation, you build autonomy and purpose right away.  Both are key in fostering intrinsic motivation and will help keep students engaged.  

photo by Jennifer Ralston

What current events are happening that could inform your classroom discussion?
Scour news sites for articles or videos pertaining to your study.  While doing a unit on Polar Animals, I suggested that a teacher also share with her students the work that scientists are doing in Antarctica in stations like McMurdo and the Amundsen-Scott Station. This added a whole different perspective and layer to a study she had done for many years.

What choices will students make about their learning or demonstration?
Always start a unit by listing all of the places you can go to get information about your unit of study.  Give them the options, high tech or low tech, and let them choose how they want to learn.  When it comes to sharing or demonstrating learning, do the same thing.  Brainstorm all the possibilities and let students choose.

In what ways will you support risk taking and failure?
Plan for specific modeling of risk taking and failure.  Show students what it looks like when something doesn't work out.  Just when you think students have seen enough of it, do it again.

Who are the mentors/experts/organizations you will introduce your class to?
The options for bringing in experts are endless.  You can bring in mentors online or offline, through live discussions, or recorded.  Your job as a teacher is to bring in people who know more than you.  It's ok to admit that someone else might have more to share about working in Antarctica than you.

How will your students collaborate together?
Plan for this and set up structures to support it.  Students don't have to collaborate on every project or every stage, but always include it somehow.

What do you plan on learning along with your students?
So many teachers feel like they need to know it all before teaching a concept to their students.  All this does is support the old way of teaching in which the teacher knows everything and funnels it on to his or her students.  If you can let go of this idea, this could be the one thing that totally transforms your teaching.

What standards will your unit meet?
From Common Core to Next Generation, standards aren't a bad word.  They give us a framework to work from.  Set the bar high, plan carefully, support students and they will get there.

How can you share your learning from a local audience all the way to a global audience?
Last, how do you share all of this new learning?  Ask students, give suggestions, build a list of ways that your class can share their knowledge.