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Curriculum Design 1

Do your homework: A practical guide to designing your curriculum.

Jennifer D. Smith

Prescott College

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Do your homework: A practical guide to designing your curriculum.
There are many factors to consider when designing the curriculum for your
classroom. The information that teachers impart to their students forms the very
foundation of their intellectual base that they build upon throughout their lives. This base
is second only to the foundation parents give their children before they enter school. One
must consider the cultural diversity of their students in order to design an engaging
curriculum that is inclusive and sensitive to multicultural backgrounds. There are tried
curricula that have proven to be beneficial to students repertoire. Teaching the rules of
grammar and writing mechanics, sharing classic literature and training students in
thoughtful reflection, educating students about people, places and things of historical
significance and imparting to them how these things apply to them are just a few of the
factors to consider when developing an engaging curriculum that is worthwhile for your
students. The best piece of advice a teacher can follow is to do your homework in
order to seek out the curriculum programs that will best suite their class.
Factor #1: Not all children are raised equally. Plato once said, The most
important part of education is right training in the nursery (Bennet, Finn and Cribb,
1999, p. 21).

One cannot deny the powerful effect of our upbringing. In the book titled

The educated child: a parents guide from preschool through eighth grade., Bennet et al.
assert that children must be taught such personal traits as responsibility,
self-discipline, and perseverance in order to achieve their greatest potential in school
(p. 67). The authors conducted a study of many teachers and schools and recorded that
the majority of teachers told them much of their class time is spent raising children.

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Due to shortcomings in the home, teachers are finding themselves teaching hygiene,
manners, rudimentary respect to the rights and property of others, counseling children of
divorce, teaching the facts of life, teaching conflict resolution, etc all the while that
they are expected to be teaching the fundamentals of reading, writing, multiplying and
dividing (p.16). It is the stand of the authors that since students only spend 10% of their
life from birth to age 18 in school, it is not enough time to teach both basic socialization
and basic academics within the school setting; therefore, it is up to parents to bring up
their children with a set of moral values that will prepare them to meet their education
with enthusiasm and the skills necessary to succeed (p. 17).
It is true that a teachers time in a students life is limited, and that the teachers
primary responsibility lies with the teaching of academics; however, it is equally true that
if success is to be found in the school both for the teachers and for the students, some
social skills are going to have to be taught within the school because in todays homes
more often than not, these values are not being taught. In their book entitled How to talk
so kids can learn at home and at school, Adele Faber, Elaine Mazlish, Lisa Nyberg, and
Rosalyn Anstine Templeton explained that we have an additional responsibility to
todays generation of children. (1995, p.16). They further explained that:
Never before have so many young people been exposed to so many images of
casual cruelty. Never before have they witnessed so many vivid demonstrations
of problems being solved by beatings or bullets or bombs. Never before has there
been such an urgent need to provide our children with a living model of how
differences can be resolved with honest and respectful communication. Thats the
best protection we can give them against their own violent impulses. When the
inevitable moments of frustration and rage occur, instead of reaching for a
weapon, they can reach for the words theyve heard from the important people in
their lives. (pp. 16-17)

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It is clear that we are not dealing with an ideal world. The audience for Bennet et als
book (1999) are parents who actually are taking an active role in their childs education
and therefore would benefit from the advice to train their children in social values. The
rest of the children of the world may not be so lucky as to have parents that are as
involved in their educations. It is therefore wise for teachers to assume that role of social
trainers as well as academic trainers if all children are to be given the opportunity to learn
the social values and skills necessary to be successful in school and ultimately in life.
Curricula Resolution #1: Teach social values.
Factor #2: Children come from various ethnic, socio-economic, and cultural
backgrounds. In the book entitled Teaching American Indian students, the author, Jon
Reyhner (1992) stated that Good teaching requires that teachers understand and respect
the individuality of all children. Neither appreciation nor respect are possible without
knowing the childrens cultural and environmental backgrounds (p. 14). There are many
social influences that shape a students perceptions and learning styles. For example,
research indicates that many of the Native American populations from the Southwestern
United States are predominantly visual learners (p.84). This population also tends to be
more cautious learners who will be inclined to study a problem out rather than jumping in
and taking a risk (p. 83). These tendencies stem from the social mores that exist in their
culture where one would be ridiculed if they took a risk and failed. It is imperative for
teachers of children with varying cultural backgrounds to familiarize themselves with the
differences that exist in order to be more sensitive and inclusive of students who may
perceive the world from different standpoints.

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Another crucial point for teachers to be aware of as they plan their curriculum is
the fact that some textbooks were written with language that would express a bias for or
against a particular culture. When describing the travelers encounters with Native
American tribes along the Oregon trail some textbooks may use potentially offensive
terminology such as filthy savage and the like which could cause harmful stereotyping.
It is not only important to be aware of the language used within your textbooks, but it
would be helpful for teachers to explain the diversity of cultures and the differing view
points each culture may have had as it encountered the other for the first time. The
important thing to remember as a teacher is to stay away from categorizing one culture as
being dominant or more right than the other (Reyhner, 1992, pp.157-167).
When addressing the issue of economic differences Reyhner asserts Although
they cannot control poverty, teachers can equip themselves with the knowledge that
education can be a liberating force in students lives. Teachers can empower their
students to use creative intelligence to break free from the bindings of poverty (1992, p.
30). Horace Mann once wrote: Education is the great equalizer of the [human
condition]the balance wheel of the social machinery This idea gives each
[person] the independence and the means by which they can resist the selfishness of other
[people]. (1992, p. 14). (The words in [ ] brackets were used in place of the words from
Manns original quote in order to carry out the continuity of this paper to be non gender
biased.) Understanding the social mores and the cultures of the students we teach and
focusing our curriculum to the utilization of our students strengths as well as the
development of new abilities utilizing those strengths as a catalyst is critical for the

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development of a curriculum that is inclusive to all students of varying backgrounds.


Curricula Resolution #2: Plan a curriculum that is multicultural and inclusive.
Factor #3: There is so much information out there that we can teach our students,
how is one to know where to focus our curriculum? What are the crucial elements an
effective teacher must include to be of the greatest benefit to their student? Bennet et
al.s book discussed this very topic in great detail. Beginning with the preschool and
discussing all the grades through eighth grade, the authors described at length the
curriculum an effective school should be teaching their students. From giving lists of
literature classics that should be read at each grade level, to emphasizing the importance
of sticking to the tried and true methods that have proven over the years to be invaluable
to the learning process, to listing very specific details as to what elements of the core
subjects should be taught, the authors left no stone unturned. They broke all the core
subjects into their own categories and then mapped out their idea of the most important
elements that were crucial to the development of an effective curriculum. For example,
in the category of fifth grade English the authors suggest the students should:

write reports, summaries, letters, descriptions, essays, stories,


poems, etc.
use different resources (e.g., atlases, glossaries, the Internet) to
write reports
practice organizing, drafting, revising, and proofreading
write reports that address a specific audience; define a main idea;
provide an introduction and conclusion; use organized paragraphs;
illustrate points with good examples document sources in a simple
bibliography (1999, p. 133).
The list goes on. This list was drawn from the Core Knowledge Sequence. The
categories of Math, History, Geography, Science, Art, Music, and Language Arts are all
mapped out in just as much detail. The simple message here is that there is a wealth of

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information out there that should be researched. One must study all the tried curricula
and their effectiveness in order to make an educated decision as to what would be the best
information to include in ones curriculum. Curricula Resolution #3: Include the longstanding fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic.
When considering what curriculum to include in your classroom there is such a
wealth of resources and information at your fingertips. You might already have a pretty
good idea of what you will be teaching based upon the materials that are provided to you
by the school you will be teaching at. However, it would be well worth your time to do
some independent research to collect the data on what has been tried and what works.
Even more important than implementing a long standing curriculum, be mindful of the
particular demographics of the students you will teach, and be sure to seek out those
resources that will assist you in the planning and implementation of various curriculum
that will serve your students best. Some of the best changes that have come about in
recent times in the field of education are the ones that have awakened our sense of the
diversity of the students we teach. Each student has a unique background, a unique
learning style, a unique capacity to grow where they are planted. It is our
responsibility to seek out the best of what is out there and to adapt it to enhance the
curriculum in our classroom. It is then that we can plant the seeds of the quest for
knowledge within our students and watch them grow.

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References
Bennett, W.J., Finn, C. E., Jr., & Cribb, J.T., Jr. (1999). The educated child: a parents
guide from preschool through eighth grade. New York: The Free Press.
Faber, A., Mazlish, E., Nyberg, L., & Templeton, R. A. (1995). How to talk so kids can
learn at home and at school. New York: Rawson Associates.
Reyhner, J. (1992). Teaching American Indian students. Norman: University of
Oklahoma.