What is curriculum mapping?
Curriculum mapping is an important task used to show proper alignment of program goals, course objectives, instructional support materials, formative assessment activities, summative outcomes assessments, and finally the instructional plan. Simply put, it is the creation of a map showing the path of both teaching and learning from start to finish.
What is alignment?
Alignment is an important concept in curriculum mapping and has a significant impact on instructional design, instruction, and assessment.
When striving for alignment, it is critical to start with the end in mind. Some experts refer to this as backwards design (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). In the case of the flower analogy (see Curriculum Alignment infographic), the flower is often the last part of the plant to grow and develop. When mapping curriculum, this is where we need to start. What do you want your students to do, know, or feel at the end of the program? Once you know that answer, you can start to align the course objectives with the program goals and finally ensure that the instructional support materials, formative and summative assessments, and instructional plan all align with the final program goals.
There are 5 curriculum mapping steps critical to ensuring alignment from beginning to end (or from end to beginning!).
STEP 1: WRITE/IDENTIFY PROGRAM GOALS
First, start with the end in mind! Write or identify the program goals that specifically relate to the course you are mapping. Sometimes these program goals are written for you by an accreditation body or a curriculum team, and sometimes they need to be written from scratch. Be sure to visit the Bloom’s Taxonomy and Writing Effective Learning Objectives posts if the program goals are not yet written. You must start with the end in mind!
STEP 2: WRITE/IDENTIFY COURSE LEARNING OBJECTIVES
Next, you must decide what skills, knowledge or attitudes you want the students to achieve by the end of the course. These must align with the program goals. In the case of the flower analogy, the stem is what feeds the flower. The achievement of the course objectives should provide students what they need to eventually achieve the program goals. Instructional designers continually circle back to the previous step to ensure alignment. Once you have identified or written the course learning objectives, circle back to ensure alignment with the program goals.
STEP 3: PREPARE INSTRUCTIONAL SUPPORT MATERIALS
Next, you can start to identify, gather, and prepare the instructional materials that will assist in your instructional plans and help students achieve the course objectives. This might include a textbook, open educational resources, videos, supplemental resources, learning objects, software or web tools, and others. Once you have prepared the support materials, circle back to ensure alignment with previous steps.
STEP 4: PLAN FOR FORMATIVE COURSE ASSESSMENT
Next, you need to identify and plan activities or assignments that will allow both you and your students to informally assess their achievement of the course objectives. Students should be allowed to test the waters before diving directly into a high stakes exam. So, what can students do to check their own progress and allow you to ensure they are on their way to achieving the course objectives before that summative assessment? These are often informal, graded or ungraded, lower stakes activities and assignments that allow students to fail and try again without detrimental consequences. These might include self-check quizzes, classroom activities as guided practice, independent activities as homework, or even simple partner-pair-share activities. Once you have planned for formative course assessment, circle back to ensure alignment with previous steps.
STEP 5: PLAN FOR SUMMATIVE COURSE ASSESSMENT
Next, you need to identify and plan assessments that will allow you to formally assess student achievement of the course objectives. This is the time for students to demonstrate their levels of achievement. From these assessments, you will be able to collect data to aid in improving instructional design, instructional strategies, and ultimately student learning. These assessments are often formal, graded or ungraded, higher stakes activities, assignments, and exams that call on the students to demonstrate mastery of the course objectives. Once you have planned for summative course assessment, circle back to ensure alignment with all previous steps.
NEXT STEPS: INSTRUCTIONAL PLANS
The next step, which will be discussed in future posts, is to plan the delivery or instruction. This involves lesson planning, instructional strategies, classroom management, and other considerations. Simply put, how will you teach so that students can learn and achieve the objectives?
Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.