Teaching Strategies | Classroom Planning
What Is a Curriculum Map? (And How Do You Make One?)
Chris Zook is a contributing author to the AES blog. He enjoys everything about online marketing, data science, user experience, and corgis.
Curriculum mapping — the process of making a curriculum map — is the practice of aligning skills to classes and grade levels.
Most of the time, a curriculum map looks a lot like a spreadsheet.
The rows show the weeks or months in a marking period, and the columns show information taught in that timeframe, like state standards and the resources available to address those standards.
When it’s completed, this spreadsheet gives you a comprehensive view of a class’s requirements, how you’ll meet those requirements, and if you need new resources to address different standards.
That gives you a lightning-fast understanding of your class in one quick glance. It also gives your administrator an instant understanding of what you need to be successful in classroom preparation, education, and even classroom management.
With all of this in one simple document, it’s no wonder why teachers across the United States are embracing curriculum mapping for every class they teach.
So how can you start mapping out your class’s curriculum?
To start, you need the right software!
1. Choose Your Software
Your software is the first major choice you have when it comes to creating a curriculum map.
Fortunately, there’s a surprisingly robust market of curriculum map software providers today. They all have the same general advantage, so your options boil down to your preferences and customer reviews.
Some of the most popular curriculum mapping programs are:
These providers make it easy for you to lay out the classes, units, lessons, and assessments that you need to plan to meet different standards.
As you work, you’ll have a much easier time organizing your thoughts with these programs than you would with a spreadsheet or Word document.
Even better, these services allow you to save and share your curriculum maps in locations other than your computer hard drive.
That’s key for success in the age of Internet-driven education. Everything in education moves faster today than it did yesterday, and if you want to keep up, you have to be just as quick!
That’s why it’s so important to make your curriculum map accessible.
2. Make Your Curriculum Map Accessible
In this context, “accessibility” refers to your ability to locate, move, update, save, and share your curriculum maps.
This is important because, as we established in the last section, education moves at lightning-quick speeds these days.
But it’s also important because accessibility makes your life easier.
Let’s say you spend a weekend working on a curriculum map for a new class you have to teach. The final step is to submit it to your administrator, director, or supervisor.
You share it with them via your software, and they add their comments.
You get their comments in real-time.
Best of all, you can make all the changes from any Internet-connected device, often including your smartphone.
Compare that against the pre-Internet classroom. Then, you’d have to fit your curriculum to state standards by hand, deliver it to your administrator in person, and wait for their replies.
After that, you’d have to spend time in the classroom revising your plan, which would often mean going into school during the summer or on the weekend to get everything up to speed.
With an accessible curriculum map, you don’t have to spend all that time going to and from school. You don’t have to hand-deliver a paper to your admin.
You create the map, click a button, and send it.
This is also convenient when you work with colleagues who teach the same (or similar) subjects. Sharing your curriculum map gets everyone on the same page and primes you for success.
So now that you have your software and accessibility worked out, it’s time to answer a crucial question.
Where will you start?
3. Choose a Class to Start
You have all of your ducks in a row, and you’re ready to make a curriculum map. So which class are you going to choose?
This question may not be incredibly important to you if you teach the same classes year after year. After all, once you have enough experience, curriculum mapping becomes a breeze, compared to trying it brand-new.
But if you’re an AP English teacher and you just heard that you have to teach, say, business education this year, then finding a place to start could be a little more challenging.
We recommend one of two thought processes to answer this question for yourself.
First, you can start with the most difficult class. It’s the one that’ll take you the most time to do from scratch, so you might as well get it out of the way.
Then, while you have a colleague or supervisor review it, you can work on the easier curriculum maps for courses that you’ve already experienced.
By the time you get comments back on your first curriculum map, you’ve already finished the maps for one or two other classes!
Then, you just have to revise your curriculum map according to their edits.
But this is just one methodology.
Second, you could start with the easiest classes first to get them out of the way. Then you’ll be 100% focused on the most difficult or newest class when it comes your way.
This method lets you crank out a bunch of curriculum maps that you know will be approved (or no longer need to have approved). It’s the “low-hanging fruit” option that lets you blaze ahead until you get to a more complicated class.
Once you’re ready to tackle that complicated class, it has 100% of your focus. After all, you’ve already worked through every other class’s curriculum map. You don’t have to think about anything else!
Regardless of how you choose to approach your classes, this is just the beginning.
The next step is critical to your success in the classroom as a whole.
4. Get State Standards for That Class
You have your software. It’s accessible. And now you’ve chosen a class to start.
The next step is to ensure you have all of the state-level standards for that class!
These standards are imperative because if you don’t fulfill them, you’re not doing your job in the eyes of the state government.
With that in mind, you need state standards for your classes right away!
The first place to go is your administrator. Administrators will almost always have access to the latest standards that you need to teach for any given class.
In the event they don’t (and it takes them a while to return your emails), you can seek out other teachers who have taught your class before you.
They may not be familiar with the newest standards for a class, but they can at least point you in the right direction.
Last, you can directly reach out to your state’s department of education, if you really can’t get any information on standards.
It’s up-in-the-air whether this method will work for you. For some teachers it does, and for others it results in unreturned emails or long waiting times between messages.
But when you need your standards, you need your standards! That means you have to get something by the time your class starts.
With that in mind, there are three other factors you need to include in your curriculum map to be truly successful in the classroom.
Fortunately, you can address them one-at-a-time.
5. Incorporate Student Needs, Your Experience, & School Standards
Your state standards set the stage for your curriculum map. But you also need to consider student needs, your experience with the subject, and school-specific standards.
You can find student needs by looking at your classroom roster for the marking period. If a student is marked as requiring an IEP or special attention, you’ll know.
This lets you plan for variances in student pacing and create exceptions to different parts of your curriculum map for specific students.
After factoring your students’ needs into your curriculum map, it’s time to look inward and assess your own experience with the subject.
Is this class a topic that you’ve taught before? Or is it one that’s brand-new to you?
If you’ve taught it before, you have a goldmine of experiential knowledge that you can use to lay out your curriculum map from start to finish.
If this is your first time teaching a class, seek out other teachers who have taught this course before you. Finding someone who can help you contextualize what to expect in your classroom can be a big help.
Finally, ask about school-specific standards. Some school districts take state standards and make them more stringent in order to have a stronger academic reputation.
If that’s true for your school, it means that you’ll have to modify your curriculum map to accommodate those changes.
Ideally, this will be the easiest task of the three listed in this section. You’ll already have the state standards listed – you just need to take them to another level.
Still, you only have so much time in the classroom.
So how can you make a curriculum map that protects against surprises in your week?
6. Factor Off-Time (Holidays, Conferences, etc.)
Every school has off-days, teacher in-service, professional development, sick days, holidays, conferences, and more.
Knowing when these days fall for your upcoming marking period will make all the difference in the world in terms of your ability to prepare your curriculum map.
While you can’t accommodate for your own sickness or family emergencies, you can make a curriculum map that accommodates planned days out of the classroom.
You can do this by getting your hands on the latest school calendar published by your administration. When you take note of every day off – or at least days when students won’t be in the classroom – you’ll have a much easier time of planning a whole marking period.
So now you have everything to make the first draft of your curriculum map!
But that’s just it – it’s only a first draft.
That’s why there’s one more step.
7. Review & Revise
After you have a curriculum map, it’s crucial that you have someone else review it.
It can be your administrator. It can be a colleague. It can be a friend. As long as the person you choose can follow your train of thought throughout a class, you’re golden.
If they get tripped up anywhere, you know you have something to change or improve.
This is always a complicated area for teachers. You spend a long time creating something, and then you basically ask someone else to tear it apart.
Someone ripping your curriculum map to shreds isn’t a fun experience.
But it’s necessary.
With that in mind, the best thing you can do in this situation is to keep yourself open to new suggestions.
Ultimately, you’re the master of your curriculum map, but you should take every edit, revision, and recommendation seriously.
You may determine that something just doesn’t make sense to include. Or maybe your reviewer missed something you had written down in a different week.
Either way, at the center of each critique is a kernel of truth that you can choose to implement.
Lay Out Your Marking Period with Digital Curriculum
Digital curriculum is one of the latest additions to curriculum maps in schools around the United States.
A digital curriculum is a classroom resource that empowers you to track student grades, lay out an online curriculum map, and much more.
While it might not fulfill every single standard you have to meet in a class, a digital curriculum is still a strong place to start – especially when you start teaching a new class!
Want to learn more about digital curriculum?
Read more about digital curriculum for yourself!