Rethinking Curriculum Design  

February 26, 2014
“How can our educators and leaders strike the desired balance of designing their curricula to accomplish both the ideal and the reality – preparing students to successfully pursue whatever life pathways the choose in this 21st century and preparing students to succeed on state, provincial, and national tests without sacrificing rich and worthwhile learning?”(Ainsworth, 2011, p. xix)

Over the course of the last year, the Professional Development Department has been researching best practices in the area of curriculum design. As we have studied the curriculum design process outline by Larry Ainsworth in his book Rigorous Curriculum Design (2011) and used it to assist a few ESU 10 districts with aligning curricula to Nebraska state standards, we have become excited about the potential for using this process on a larger scale across the service unit.

One of the benefits of using the Rigorous Curriculum Design approach is that it begins with the students in mind. As Ainsworth writes:
A rigorous curriculum must keep students at the center of its design. ... [It] must remain flexible, adaptable to the diverse and continuously changing learning needs of all the students it serves. … [A] rigorous curriculum ought to be both engaging and experiential. It needs to provide [students] with powerful learning opportunities intentionally designed to motivate, challenge, and support them in making important ‘aha’s’ and connections on their own. (Ainsworth, 2011)

This student-focused approach helps the teachers who are designing the curriculum to look past their own personal preferences about the content, instead considering the knowledge and skills that the students must acquire in order to be successful in the future.

Another benefit of using the Rigorous Curriculum Design approach is that the end product is clearly aligned with the standards and assessments. This ensures that the great deal of effort required to align and revise curricula will make a direct and positive impact on student learning, including the learning measured by the standardized tests. This is essential, especially in our current educational climate of accountability.

The Nebraska Department of Education currently in the process of reviewing and revising the state standards for both Language Arts and Mathematics. We anticipate that many school districts in ESU 10 will be asking for assistance with aligning and revising curricula once these new College and Career Ready Standards are approved by Nebraska State Board of Education. As we use the Rigorous Curriculum Design process with area districts, we will strive to make it clear to all involved that, “curriculum development is not a separate piece of the school system’s improvement plan, but rather the beginning of a long journey to improved student achievement” (Ainsworth, 2011, p. 272).

Ainsworth, L. (2011). Rigorous Curriculum Design: How to Create Curricular Units of Study that Align Standards, Instruction and Assessment. Denver, CO: Lead and Learn Press.

-by Emily Jameson, Professional Development Coordinator