A “school design” is much more than curriculum but involves thinking through many aspects of the life of a school: educational objectives; choice of curriculum; rewarding and developing faculty; assessment systems; the culture of a school; school calendar; schedule; and hundreds of other decisions, each affecting one another.
As a new school, Avenues has had the unique opportunity to design its curriculum, and the other components of a school design, from scratch. Any curriculum design, however, is based on a number of well-established factors, including national and local standards and the school’s mission.
Avenues’ curriculum design process begins with consideration of these factors and then uses what Grant Wiggins, a nationally recognized educator, called “backwards planning” in his approach called “understanding by design (UbD.)” This approach focuses first on the outcomes desired, then works backwards, plotting the steps that will produce those outcomes. UbD helps teachers clarify learning goals, devise assessments that reveal student understanding and craft effective learning activities. Developed by Mr. Wiggins in association with Jay McTighe, UbD’s key idea is that a primary goal of education should be the development and deepening of student understanding, which is most effectively revealed when students can transfer what they have learned in one area to understanding in other areas. By defining what student outcomes they want to achieve, teachers then work backwards to develop their curriculum to reach those goals.
A major component of the resulting curriculum design is a good assessment program, which will allow teachers and administrators to evaluate how students are progressing and where they need to go. The curriculum can then be adjusted to respond to students’ needs, improving and strengthening it through many iterations, with more detail added with each iteration.
Curriculum design, then, is not a one-time process. The school is constantly reexamining the curriculum, fine-tuning and improving it, both during the school year and at the end of each year.
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