Collaborating with curriculum

May 19, 2016

Janine Remillard offers advice for how educators can best use curriculum in the age of Common Core State Standards. 


Misperceptions and myths have long clouded the relationship between teachers and curriculum. The introduction of Common Core State Standards is raising old questions in new ways, with added pressures for teachers and administrators. 

Janine Remillard, an Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, offers these tips to help educators navigate the curriculum conversation.

Curriculum is a map

Free, online resources have given teachers the freedom to expand their lessons beyond a single curriculum in ways that wouldn’t have been feasible 20 years ago. This offers a lot of benefits for students. But teachers need to be mindful of how their planned lessons work together to support student learning over time. 

Deep learning takes time. The Common Core Standards are designed to keep students learning at each grade level by focusing on how concepts and ideas are sequenced to build over time. When teachers adopt mix-and-match curriculum on their own, they can risk drifting out of this scaffold. Curriculum mapping stresses the pathways between concepts, not just the concepts to be learned. When teachers work together, they can map out how their curriculum fits together to ensure students’ experiences are coherent across grade levels and all students have opportunities to learn.

Make curriculum your own

Most curriculums are developed to be universal, but the classroom is local place. One of the best ways for teachers to partner with curriculum resources is to localize lessons. That can mean incorporating local geography or regional history.

Good teachers need curriculum resources

As teachers are being encouraged to use the standards as a guide for what to teach, they are expected to gather and develop instructional resources that guide their students in meeting those standards. Curriculum resources, one common myth goes, are redundant, since teachers should already know the content they are teaching.
In reality, curriculum resources can be essential building blocks for lesson plans. The best curriculums are extensively field-tested. The widespread adoption of the Common Core State Standards has sparked an explosion of new curriculum programs, supplementary materials, and Learning Management Systems (LMS). Some of these can be great resources.

Teaching means collaborating

Think about using a curriculum guide as a partnership with experienced educators, since the guide embodies the collected expertise of the educators who developed it. Like any good partnership, both partners bring different knowledge and skill sets.
Teachers and students often consider themselves collaborators in learning. Teachers can consider curriculum developers as part of that collaboration. There will always be an interaction in the classroom between the teacher, the students, and the material. That interaction is how teachers make sure the needs of their individual students are met. They don’t need to reinvent teaching materials on their own.