Curriculum mapping is work, and many teachers don’t want to invest the time to create one. But once they understand how valuable they are, it’s worth the time. What are some ways the best curriculum maps can transform your teaching? If I were to toss this question out to any group of teachers, they would surely come up with dozens of ideas. These seven advantages are what I’ve found to be the most impactful in my own teaching practice.
Has your district or administration ever handed you a ready-made curriculum map? A curriculum map that is basically just a list of the standards to be taught at each subject and grade level, and the months in which they should be taught?
In my mind, that isn’t a viable curriculum map. Why?
What Makes the Best Curriculum Maps
The best curriculum maps are the ones teachers create themselves. Teachers know best what their students need and how much time it may take for them to learn a skill.
The best curriculum maps tell HOW something will be taught, WHICH resources, books, media, manipulatives, websites, experiments, and projects will be used in teaching the content.
Only a teacher can create a curriculum map that provides this information. When a teacher creates the curriculum map himself or herself, it won’t simply languish in the dark recesses of a computer file gathering digital dust. It will be used on a daily or weekly basis, to the benefit of the students and of the teacher. It’s also not just a Year at a Glance document. It’s much more than that.
My mission is and has been for years, to find ways to save teachers time by organizing data, classroom systems and procedures, and handling the mountains of paperwork. A curriculum map you create yourself is one piece of that mission.
When we moved to virtual teaching in March 2020, my curriculum map saved me from confusion and wasted time. All I had to do was adapt the lessons to online and continue with the progress of the school year. My class had a smooth transition, and I never felt the stress of not knowing what to do.
In my free video course “Plan Your Year Like a Boss in 5 Days or Less” I show you how to create the best curriculum map that works for you. Your curriculum map should be a living, breathing, document that changes and pivots as quickly as you need it to adapt to the changes in your school and in education.
7 Benefits of Curriculum Mapping
For now, here are some fabulous benefits of having a curriculum map you actually want to use.
1. You can map out your year in advance and save hours of weekly planning.
Once you know what you’re going to teach and when, and you have your list of resources lined up, the major part of your planning work is done. In fact, my curriculum map template links right into my planning pages. (I’ll have my template ready for you soon in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.) Writing your own curriculum map makes it useful and identifies with who you are as a teacher. The best curriculum maps take into account your students, your school and community culture, and your core beliefs and philosophies about teaching. But simply having one doesn’t transform your teaching. Using one does. Implementation is the key.
2. You will never need to play catch-up to meet your standards.
You’ll have all of your core content and standards listed in one place. By beginning with the end in mind you will have clarity and focus in all of your lessons.
You’ll know how long you need to teach each skill.
You’ll have common essential questions to focus your teaching, you’ll know you’re getting to the core standards.
Your map will note the benchmark skills needed to demonstrate mastery, and it will include time for assessment by the district and state.
It’s a living document that you have control over. Since you created it, you have the flexibility to adjust and move things when schedules change. (And you know they will.)
3. You will see the gaps in your curriculum. You will find the redundancies in your teaching or curriculum.
Okay, that’s really two benefits. But they go together. It was an eye-opener for me when we reviewed the NGSS standards and realized the materials we were using didn’t cover the science content. What might you be missing? Your curriculum map will make any gaps obvious.
It will also catch redundancies. Are you doing the same novel study as a teacher in the grade before or after yours? Are you teaching the same thing in different units? By looking at your map, you can streamline and cut out unnecessary repetition of skills. The key is to spiral up and build on foundational skills taught earlier in the year, not just to rehash them.
4. Easy differentiation for all levels, from IEP to 504, to Gifted or accelerated learning.
We will always be making accommodations for students in our classes. Everything from differentiation of levels, group work, accelerated work, extra assignments, all can be noted right in the curriculum map. If an administrator, instructional coach, or parent wants to know what you’re doing to accommodate for a student’s specific needs, you’ll have it right there in front of you. Easy peasy.
5. You will see where and how to integrate the subjects you teach.
It’s not possible to teach everything you need to cover in discrete time slots. Gone are the days when reading, writing, and arithmetic were separate and divided. There’s no time for that!
Meaningful education brings it into the real world through authentic assignments and project based learning, inquiry learning, and more.
Writing across the curriculum about science, art, and math is an obvious integration. For example, if your class does a research project about biomes, then they can do an art project related to the biome. You could assign a math project calculating the maximum population of specific groups in the biome. You can integrate math into art projects.
For example, in fifth grade, we did art projects demonstrating the Fibonnaci sequence. Then we went outdoors and wrote about all the living things we could find demonstrating the Fibonnaci sequence. I still have the picture of the sunflower one student photographed in our school garden. You can see up close the spirals of the seeds in the center of the petal. Beautiful!
6. You will know in advance which evidence to keep in digital portfolios or paper portfolios.
If you’re still doing paper portfolios, you’ll be able to note in your curriculum map exactly which work would be best to keep for the portfolios. If you’re keeping digital portfolios, students can drop their work into them for review by you. You can link which projects you want to keep in them. When parent teacher conferences come around, or Open House night, or you have a meeting to discuss a student’s progress, guess what? Your digital portfolios have everything right there. No more hours of gathering and prepping for you!
7. The best curriculum maps help you articulate across your own grade level and between grade levels.
I can’t over emphasize how beneficial this practice is. Sitting down with teachers in the grades above and below you, or with those who teach a different subject than you is so enlightening. Once you’ve articulated your year long plan, students will benefit from the continuity between classes and the consistency in the teaching. It’s best to articulate right down to the details of academic vocabulary used, note taking strategies, text annotations, and software and applications used.
Bonus benefit of using a good curriculum map.
You’ll have time for assessments and reteaching. Why? They are integrated into your curriculum map and learning portfolios. Never again will you have to give an assessment that doesn’t reflect what you’ve taught to your students. Never again will you be scrambling and getting stressed over trying to find time for mandated assessments.
I hope this blog post has given you some ideas to ponder. Having a detailed, well-thought out curriculum map can be a lifesaver. It certainly was for me during the pandemic shutdowns. I’ll be sharing more with you soon about how to build your own map, what things to consider, and how to implement it in your classroom and grade level.
Still not convinced? Here’s a related post about 7 Steps to Becoming a Curriculum Mapper from The Problem Solving Teacher.
Click here to watch a video about the curriculum mapping course. Best of all, the course is free.
See you in the video series!
P.S. If you know other teachers who would like this information, please share the link with them!