There’s a lot of negative press and myths about what curriculum mapping is and what it is not. These three false beliefs about curriculum maps may be common in your school. Let’s take a look at the myths and turn them inside out.
A Curriculum Map is Too Rigid and Doesn’t Let you Take Advantage of Teachable Moments
Have you heard this comment from other teachers? It’s as common as candy in a staff meeting. Many teachers balk at the idea of being “told” what to teach and when. Instead they choose to wing it and look for “teachable moments.”
In reality, having a curriculum map gives you a great deal more freedom than you might expect. The fact that you have your year mapped and navigated before you even start means you don’t have to worry about unexpected interruptions.
You know what I mean; a pop-up rally, the principal says he or she needs you to do an assessment before an upcoming meeting, a parent that wants to do a special project with the class. These are the kinds of interruptions that can really throw a zinger in the best plans.
But when you know that you have your unit planned out ahead of time, it’s easy to choose to take advantage of the teachable moments. It’s not a problem because you can move other things around or tie the moment in with other topics you’re studying.
The Incident of the Black Widow and the Preying Mantis
It was a warm day when my 3rd grade class and I were coming back from recess. Someone saw a preying mantis on the wall and pointed it out. Just as quickly another student said, “Hey, look, a black widow is coming at it!”
Yes, indeed. The preying mantis took a defensive pose and the black widow darted at it. The preying mantis jabbed and the black widow retreated. But only for a moment.
This back and forth battle continued for several minutes. Would you have ushered your class inside and told them to forget about it? I doubt it. I didn’t either.
We stayed outside and watched the battle to the end. It was exceptional because it was like a front row seat to a Discovery Channel filming. Also, third graders have a huge fascination with the “Who Would Win?” series of books that pit one creature against another.
I took photos of the battle and sent them home to the parents via our classroom communication app. Once the battle was over, I put the photos up on the whiteboard. We did a little bit of research about the insect and arachnid, learned some vocabulary, and then got right to work on a story about the battle. Sadly, it was a battle to the death.
The writing was stellar. The students were inspired. The science lesson fit right in with our environmental science lessons. The writing took the place of our daily writing.
I didn’t have to change a thing in my lesson plans, except to add an extra day to a science unit. It was easily done.
That’s just one example of how you can take advantage of teachable moments and be creative in your instruction when you have a curriculum map.
✅ A curriculum map absolutely allows you to be creative and take advantage of teachable moments.
Curriculum Mapping Is a Waste of Time Because No One Uses Them Anyway
How many times have you heard or seen this one? Everyone gathers in a staff meeting at the beginning of the year. The principal gives the directive to create grade level curriculum maps for the year.
The teachers retreat to their rooms, create their curriculum maps and send them to the principal for review. Then they quietly put their curriculum maps in a file drawer and never look at them again.
What just happened?
Undoubtedly, the teachers in this scenario don’t know how to create a curriculum map that works for them. They might be under the impression that a Year-at-a-Glance document or a table of standards is a curriculum map. But it’s not. The whole idea of mapping is so that you know what your students need to learn, how it will be assessed, and when and how you’ll teach it.
The textbook is not the be-all, end-all of instruction. If you follow lockstep with a textbook, you’ll never get through all the lessons in a year. And if you think that you need to create a curriculum map and then later create lessons to follow exactly what’s in the textbook, you’ve missed the point.
Teachers who do that are only making more work for themselves.
The textbook is a guide. The teacher is the professional.
Who knows the student population at your school better? You or the authors of the textbooks?
Create a Learning Plan and Lessons That Resonate
With that in mind, if you want to create lessons that resonate with your students, if you want to create learning that inspires students to go deeper, if you want to create a truly joyful classroom environment, then curriculum mapping is where it’s at. And it’s worth every minute of effort.
It’s time to move out of the mindset that the textbook authors know more than you, and that you have some sort of obligation to follow their structure. The book is an aid, a guide, an assistant to you, the teacher.
If you take the time to plan your year in advance, and yes, it does take some time, you’ll reap the benefits of having the activities and lessons that you love and your students love in place. You’ll be able to backfill any gaps with extra resources of your choosing.
If you write your curriculum map with the model of how you want to teach, it will be a joy to use. You’ll save time every week with your planning. You won’t ever have to do the Sunday Night Scramble for a lesson plan again. Or worse, walk in on Monday morning and say, “I wonder what we should work on today.”
✅ If you know how to create the best curriculum map for you, you’ll use it every week of the year. Guaranteed.
Who Needs a Curriculum Map if They Have a Pacing Guide?
This one is built into the culture of many schools. I’ve known many teachers over the years, who just open up their textbooks, and write the lessons from the pacing guides into their plan books.
They just move from one to the next, to the next.
The problem with this, is it’s inevitable that you’ll:
- Fall behind the schedule due to unexpected events at school
- Fall behind the schedule because you need to reteach, which is never built into a pacing guide
- Fall behind the schedule because you’re out a day or two and have a substitute who does something entirely different with the class
- Fall behind the schedule because _______. (You fill in the blank for the other thousand reasons that are sure to come up.)
Use Your Pacing Guide as a Starting Point
When you’re planning your instruction for the year, the pacing guide is a handy and helpful tool. But remember, you’re going to start with backward planning. This means you’re going to look to the end of the year, and know what it is your students will need to be able to know and do.
Once you know the end goal, you aim your teaching arrows right at that target. If there’s a lesson or two or ten in the pacing guide that don’t move your students toward that target, get rid of that lesson.
Use the pacing guide to help you decide how many days you’ll need to spend on a certain topic. But if there’s a topic that doesn’t guide your students to the end goal, skip over that topic, and use the time you’ve saved to reteach or go deeper into and exploration of a core topic.
Your personal curriculum map is going to become your new pacing guide, not the ones you get from the textbook publisher. Remember, always remember, that the textbooks are a guide. They’re the tools you use to get your students to the goal.
The Coach Leads the Team to the Goal
Let’s use an analogy of a football coach and her team, (since we’re talking about goals.) The football coach has a huge playbook full of plays and strategies. Perhaps it even has notes, such as, “If this happens, do this play, otherwise do that.”
No one expects the coach to use every play in the book. The players depend on the coach to choose the best plays that will move them to the goal. The best coaches know how to do this well, and crush the goals. That’s why they get paid so much.
You’re the coach of your students. Let’s get you using your playbook with purpose and intent.
✅ Just because it’s in the playbook, the coach doesn’t have to use it. Just because it’s in the pacing guide doesn’t mean you have to teach it. Design your own pacing guide for the core competencies in your curriculum map.
Do you want to know more about how to create a curriculum map that works for you? You can watch this quick video about how to
Or you can sign up for the free video course at the bottom of this post.