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Curriculum Design Models

What are curriculum design models?

Educators are designers of learning experiences for students, and are designers of assessment procedures of those learning opportunities. Designing curriculum requires more skill and understanding than selecting a text book and following it page by page. Designing curriculum incorporates the broader curriculum goals and standards, the learning needs of our students, the resources available and the means by which we will monitor the effectiveness of these practices and strategies. Just as an architect designs structures to be built, so too can a teacher be considered an architect of learning experiences that learners will build.

Why is this important?

To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you're going so that you better understand where you are now so that the steps you take area always in the right direction. - Stephen R. Covey

Learning in the 21st century demands that we help students understand rather than just remember. In discussing the need to teach for understanding, Howard Gardner suggests that students need the capacity to take knowledge learned in one setting and apply it appropriately in a different setting. The methodology to build understanding requires a different approach to curriculum development, an approach that takes the evidence of understanding as a starting point and builds the learning experiences for students towards demonstrating that understanding.

The critical nexus between the need for a design methodology and effective technology integration in curriculum is articulated clearly by Michael Fullan, when he argues:

...the more powerful that technology becomes, the more indispensable good teachers are. Technology generates a glut of information, but is not particularly pedagogically wise. This is especially true of new breakthroughs in cognitive science about how learners must construct their own meaning for deep understanding to occur. This means that teachers must become the pedagogical design experts, using the power of technology - something they are not yet prepared to do, but is part of the getting out there story. (Fullan, 2000, 582)

What does the research tell us?

This focus on design provides us with considerable opportunities for change. In Bridging Research into Practice, the accompanying publication to How People Learn (National Research Council), a framework is proposed to help guide the design and evaluation of environments that can optimize learning. These include making schools and classrooms learner centered, knowledge centered and assessment centered.

One model for developing curriculum for understanding is that developed by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe in Understanding by Design. This model proposes three stages:

Stage 1: Identify desired results: what is worthy of understanding?

Stage 2: Determine acceptable evidence in which the assessment of understanding is thought of in terms of a collection of evidence over time instead of an event

Stage 3: Plan learning experiences & instruction

Another model for considering curriculum design is that proposed by Ben Shneiderman in his excellent book, Leonardo's laptop. Shneiderman proposes a new way of thinking about curriculum design for teachers in a Collect, Relate, Create, Donate model:

Gather information and acquire resources
Relate Work in collaborative teams
Create Develop ambitious projects
Donate Produce results that are meaningful to someone outside the classroom

Key Questions

1. What knowledge and skills would you need to develop expertise in curriculum design?

2. What structures would you need to support your design processes?

3. What leadership decisions could you make to support a design approach in your school?


McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. (1998). Understanding by Design. Alexandria: Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Shneiderman, B. (2002). Leonardo's Laptop. Human Needs and the New Computing Technologies. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Fullan, M. (2000). The Three Stories of Educational Reform. Retrieved 18 April, 2001, from http://www.pdkintl.org/kappan/kful0004.htm