What Is Curriculum and What Goes into Making It?

Author: Jonathan Schmalzbach - January 4, 2022

The race is not always to the swift.

Curriculum – it is one of those words that carry nuances of meaning. By dictionary definition, it is the “subjects comprising a course of study in a school or college.” It derives from the Latin curriculum meaning, “a running, course, career” (also, “a fast chariot!”). 

By extension, curriculum can broadly mean, the course taken, the set of experiences along the way, and the destination.

Rigor Without the Mortis

At CSA, we think a lot about what goes into the curriculum. Rigor, for one thing. While rigor may have the taint of stiffness, it is anything but. The book Teaching What Matters Most: Standards and Strategies for Raising Student Achievement defined rigor this way:

Rigor is the goal of helping students develop the capacity to understand content that is complex, ambiguous, provocative, and personally or emotionally challenging. 

A mentor of mine, the educator Kathie Bach, added to that definition. She observed, “Rigor is also responsible for preparing students to respond to challenges. In this way, the quotation might read: ‘Rigor is the goal of helping students develop the capacity to understand and respond to content that is complex, ambiguous, provocative, and personally or emotionally challenging.’”

A Commitment to Standards and Coverage

Designing curriculum for breadth means a commitment to standards. Curriculum design that starts with standards research ensures that students are exposed to the concepts and skills that define complete coverage.

To borrow from Kathie Bach again, she noted the key phrase here is “starting with standards,” which is different from “starting with content and finding a way to make it fit the standards.” Starting with standards means that coverage is not only thorough; it is consistent and coherent. 

At CSA, we also think a lot about excellence in design. In working with our partners to create content, we consider design in addition to breadth. Design incorporates the idea of presenting skills and concepts many times and in many different ways. Therefore, learners have several vistas to visit while acquiring new skills. A well-designed curriculum prepares travelers for all aspects of their journey.

A Journey Toward a Destination

Journey derives from the French word meaning “a defined course of traveling; one’s path in life.” Those on a journey interact with their surroundings. A journey is active and sometimes even work. Travel can be complex and challenging. 

Fortunately, the digital environment gives us a rich tool set for traveling with our students. There is content, formative assessment (directions for the journey), there may be video and audio, as well as media that allows for interactive participation. These tools generate a deeper understanding and connection to the material, which is what defines authentic engagement.

The Finish Line

We have seen that a curriculum development encompasses a path, life-and-career instruction, a course of study, active participation, and a race to the finish in our chariot. 

In racing, the finish line is often the starting line, the completion of a circular path. And so, it is good to remember that learning is not necessarily a battle to the finish with the fastest charioteer winning. As the aphorism goes, “The race is not always to the swift…but to those who keep running.” 

CSA would like to take that curricular journey with you. Click here for more information.

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