Meta-Reflection: Curriculum Design

I first came into Curriculum Design (EDU 60166) with prior experience in creating and teaching lessons and curricula but not with aligning them to any standards, nor having a clear assessment plan for them. Looking back, the practice of ‘unwrapping’ state standards and turning them into a cohesive unit plan was the most intimidating and daunting task.

Figure 1 - rigorous curriculumIn Ainsworth’s (2010) description of “rigorous curriculum” (Figure 1),  the unit of study is broken down into a step by step process of defining and writing “clear learning outcomes with matching assessments, engaging learning experiences, and instructional strategies” (p.8). Through this course I was able to not only design a 3rd grade science unit, but learned how be mindful of my students as I translated standards to learning targets to engaging learning activities.

One exercise I had difficulty with was creating assessments matching learning standards. Wiggins & McTighe (1998) clearly states that backwards design is not a process that comes naturally to teachers. “We are far more used to thinking like an activity designer once we have a target” (p. 65). I know this is true of my thinking, rather than reflecting on how the activities will meet the learning goals I set, I become overly focused on creating an engaging lesson which I vaguely believe will fulfill my goals if students are assessed. In reality, if I don’t take time to think of how to assess understanding, how would I be able to effectively recognize and foster it when I ask my students to display it? Learning about the 3 different stances on pre-assessments, none, aligned, and mirrored, as well as the utility of progress-monitoring, informal checks helped me to see assessments as a tool rather than a chore that better equips me to help my students. It can be as complex as a summative test or as simple as formative thumbs-up and down. I have found that planning assessments before and into my lessons adds purpose, direction and clarity to the standards I am aiming to teach.

My favorite portion of designing the science unit was learning about the gradual release model which I hope to implement in future classrooms. The gradual release of responsibility model is made up of 4 components: focus lessons, guided instruction, collaborative learning, and individual work. The important aspect of this model is that students to not simply go step by step through this model but rather, “move back and forth between each of the components as they master skills, strategies, and standards” (Fischer, 2008, p. 2). The collaborative learning portion inspired me to include an activity where students rotated through different stations recording observations and experiments about different seeds. At each station students are expected to fill out a worksheet to keep them individually accountable but also discuss questions located at each station. While the lesson design is theoretical, the 4 components in the gradual release model provide categories of activity types that I am mindful to include in future instruction.

While I am still growing and learning as an educator, this course has provided me both sound engaging and standard-aligned methods and practice actually crafting and creating a curriculum from scratch. I know that teachers normally enter schools and districts with established curricula and assessments, but learning about how each component functions towards meeting and expanding student learning has been insightful, challenging, and beneficial towards my professional development.


Ainsworth, L. (2010). Rigorous Curriculum Design. Englewood, CO: The Leadership and Learning Center.

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

Fischer, D. (2008). Effective Use of the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model. Retrieved from


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