Even the most capable and creative teachers depend on well-written curriculum. Although a teacher’s abilities and personality will affect how materials are delivered, the development of a consistent instruction plan is critical for accurate assessment, appropriate financial support and, most importantly, student success.
What Is Curriculum?
The word curriculum may simply denote the material offered in a course of study. In local school districts, however, it is more fully defined as “the lessons and academic content taught in a school or in a specific course or program.” The elements of curriculum include:
- Skills and knowledge students should acquire
- Learning standards and objectives
- Curriculum materials, such as books, media, artifacts and data
- Tests and assessments
What Is Critical Thinking?
The Foundation for Critical Thinking calls critical thinking the “art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improving it.” True critical thinkers take measured steps when considering any important issue. They ask questions and gather information, then form and test their conclusions. They are self-disciplined, self-monitored and self-corrective; adhere to a high standard of excellence; and keep an open mind.
Why Is Critical Thinking Important in Curriculum Development?
Once the district chooses educational products from a publisher, teachers have little control over what textbooks, manipulatives, multimedia access and student materials reach the classroom. Learning standards, objectives and district-wide assessments are rarely negotiable.
But how the materials are employed, the strategies used by the teacher to accommodate students with different learning styles, and even the sequence in which topics are presented are often left to the teacher.
Teachers have the responsibility to evaluate their students and the class as a whole, and then decide how best to assist everyone involved while meeting requirements of the curriculum. Materials provided by the district are tools to meet these requirements, but it takes critically thinking teachers to consider all possibilities to ensure student success.
Thinking Critically About Curriculum
Strong teachers think critically. They practice the thinking art of analyzing and evaluating as they consider both day-to-day activities and long-term teaching and learning goals. They evaluate what they have, determine what they will need, and decide how and when to assess student progress.
Critical thinkers evaluate what they have: When presented with new or new-to-you teaching materials, it is important to do an in-depth review of them. Compare overall content and resources with learning standards and objectives.
Critical thinkers determine what they will need, and what they will not: If the materials provided introduce standards not included in the state or district objectives for your grade level, think critically before you delete them from the schedule. Perhaps they will provide background knowledge for a concept you will introduce and should be presented earlier than suggested by the text.
On the other hand, important concepts may be absent from the materials provided. The critical thinker will determine how to fill the void efficiently and economically. For example, asking other teachers from a variety of grade levels may lead to an important grade-level or school-wide solution.
Critical thinkers decide how and when to assess student progress: The purpose of student assessment is not only to assign grades. It is important to regularly check student progress. First, review the available quizzes, tests and assessments well in advance of lesson planning. As you see how students progress, ask yourself what is challenging and what they pick up easily. Think critically about the standard tests. It many be necessary to re-teach and reassess. It may also be prudent to simply review and move on from concepts with which students are already familiar.
Critical Thinking and Diversity
Even the most thoughtfully designed curriculum cannot anticipate the diverse needs of every classroom. Teachers must critically evaluate how well the standard curriculum for each grade level and content area addresses differences in language, culture and learning styles. Native customs, out-of-school resources and the background knowledge that can be taken for granted with one demographic cannot be guaranteed in another. Teachers must recognize and mitigate these differences with creative solutions.
Teachers vary widely in experience, personality and talents. That is why curriculum must be carefully analyzed by staff and educational leaders at all levels. The teachers who think critically about their own needs as well as those of their students will request appropriate professional development where curriculum requirements exceed their strengths.
Selecting materials, books, activities, long-term plans and teacher training are only some of the elements involved in curriculum development and design. As an experienced teacher, you understand the importance of thinking critically about each element as it affects your students.
If you would like to enhance your teaching and critical thinking skills — even into a position of leadership — consider applying for the Curriculum and Instruction track of the Education Specialist in Educational Leadership program at Mississippi College. This post-master’s program will introduce you to high-level teaching skills and strategies to shape schools and school systems to meet the diverse needs of all students.