Roadmap to Success: A
Curriculum Mapping Primer
Central office personnel, building administrators,
teachers, and parents are all interested in understanding the content,
skills, and assessments addressed in classrooms throughout a school or
While the questions offered by all aspects of an
educational system are important, perhaps none drive the curriculum more
so than the questions classroom teachers ask of themselves and their colleagues.
What do my students know? What did they study last
year? What are they studying in the classrooms throughout the school?
Is my colleague across the hall, who works with students in the same grade
and level as students I teach, covering similar content? Where do I begin,
and how do I help my students understand the connections between my subject
School districts as well as individual schools are
turning to curriculum mapping as a method to quickly and accurately answer
many of these questions.
What is a curriculum map?
Curriculum maps cover a wide range of important curricular
activities. Typically, they attempt to:
- address the total education of the students in
- create a "word snapshot" of the educational
activities of every classroom within a building or district
- capture the content, skills, and assessments taught
or administered by every teacher within a school building or district
- organize this information into an easily accessed
visual that presents a timeline of instruction by teacher and course.
One example is the database curricular map organized by the teachers
of Louisa County
Depending on available technology, curricular maps
can be simple or elaborate, and can encompass individual schools or complete
systems, such as the curriculum map organized by Spotsylvania
County Public Schools. Information can even be entered into a purchased
software package that organizes the data and provides keyword searches
to locate specific curricular information.
Regardless of the organization method, curriculum
maps address the major ideas and projects that drive a class, as opposed
to attempting to map every topic of discussion in classrooms, which would
unnecessarily consume time and energy. One of the most important features
of curriculum maps is that they are geared to the school calendar, and
each teacher's time line is precisely displayed on the map.
Who creates the curriculum map?
There are two groups of people crucial to the creation
of a curriculum map: the teachers who provide the information and the
curriculum team who organize the information.
The curriculum team begins working before asking
teachers to become involved. This group creates a vision of the curriculum
map and investigates whether school or district resources permit such
a vision to become reality. This organizational hub should be comprised
of educational leaders within the school or system, and might include
central office personnel, instructional leaders, and department chairpersons.
Once a vision of the curriculum map is clear, the
data collection process begins. Mandatory participation of all teachers
is essential, as each provides information about the content, skills,
and assessments administered in his/her class. The inclusion of every
teacher's information determines the development of a comprehensive curriculum
map that will eventually promote higher achievement. Teachers are requested
to chronologically map important skills, content, and assessments addressed
in each class taught. The information is then submitted to the organization
Why create a curriculum map?
Questions regarding what is taught in the classroom
are an intrinsic and useful part of formal education. Curriculum maps
lead educators and their community to ask and answer the provoking questions
that improve instruction and promote achievement.
For example, parents of students in the same grade
might ask "Why is my friend's son studying decimals in Mr. J's class
and my own son is not studying decimals in Mr. C's class?" Teachers
might inquire, "Why do some of my students recognize the parts of
speech while others are totally lost?" Parents, students, and educators
ask these questions when pacing is not evident in common courses.
Members of an educational community can look at the
school's curriculum map to discover when and if specific content is covered.
This helps to reassure interested parents when specific information will
be taught. It can also serve as the impetus to align courses horizontally.
A curriculum map provides insight into the big picture, and responsible
use of the information contained by a curriculum map can strengthen instruction
Most teachers, department chairs, and supervisors
for curriculum agree that the creation of pacing guides and course outlines
is easy; convincing skeptics to accomplish the goals mandated by such
documents often requires proof that following prescriptive curricula best
serves the students.
These skeptics are usually convinced when reviews
of the curriculum map clearly magnify problem areas in instruction, such
as redundancy, inconsistencies, and misalignment. A faculty or department
review of a curriculum map is designed to motivate teachers to correct
such problems, bringing their instruction into line with prescriptive
What happens to the completed curriculum map?
Once teacher data is organized, the labor-intensive
portion of curriculum mapping is complete and the review process begins.
Once the review is complete, the benefits of curriculum mapping are apparent:
issues in sequencing of instruction become obvious and easily correctable.
While review teams should be comprised of any combination
of administrators and educators, subject review by department is a logical
beginning point. Departments can investigate the map to identify gaps
in the vertical and horizontal alignment of courses.
Courses that are correctly aligned permit teachers
to quickly assess what students mastered in the preceding grade and to
focus on building skills and knowledge, as opposed to consuming valuable
time with unnecessary reviewing and re-teaching.
Horizontal alignment, often referred to as "pacing
guides," assures that all teachers of a common grade level address
specific subject matter following the same time line. Such alignment is
crucial in school systems dealing with state-mandated, standards-based
assessments. Initial review of the completed map by each department assures
vertical and horizontal alignment and segues into a broader review of
After vertical and horizontal corrections have been
made, a different review team comprised of instructional leaders from
throughout the school reviews the map in search of common points of instruction.
This team of reviewers informs teachers of overlaps in content or major
assignments to promote interdisciplinary connections. As teachers begin
to build on interdisciplinary connections, students naturally begin to
link information between and among courses, increasing the relevancy of
skills and content in such courses. Additionally, teachers can verify
skills or content addressed in other courses and alter their unit plans
to a higher level, making learning more relevant.
While curriculum mapping is an intense and time-consuming
undertaking, improvements to instruction such as vertical alignment, horizontal
alignment, elimination of redundancies, and facilitation of interdisciplinary
linking builds stronger curricula and improves instruction throughout
When is the curriculum mapping finished?
"A work in progress quickly becomes
feral. It reverts to a wild state overnight. It is barely domesticated,
a mustang on which you one day fastened a halter, but which now you cannot
catch. . . . As the work grows, it gets harder to control."
-Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
This description, although meant to describe the
writing process, is certainly applicable to a curriculum map. The addition
of new teachers, alterations to the program of studies, changes to state
standards—the factors that affect instruction within a building are
A curriculum map is a work in progress and schools
that view it as such create and recreate review teams for it, always looking
for ways to build bridges among curricula. Schools with established review
teams are keenly aware of the changes within the building that impact
instruction and assure that such changes are reflected on the curriculum
map in use.
Review teams work regularly to maintain an up-to-date
curriculum map that can be reviewed quickly and efficiently by novice
and veteran teachers alike. These regularly scheduled reviews preserve
an on-the-same-page mindset among educators, asking and answering the
questions that drive effective instruction.
Read More About It
On Curriculum Mapping"
Curriculum Technology Quarterly
This site offers an interview with Heidi Hayes-Jacobs, author of the 1997
ASCD book Mapping the Big Picture.
to Curriculum Mapping"
by Joyce Payne
This site provides a to-the-point description of the logistics of curriculum
the Big Picture: Integrating Curriculum and
This site offers in-depth information about the theories, processes and
applications of curriculum mapping.
This article was contributed by Janice West-Christy,
M.Ed., English Department Chair, Louisa County High School, Louisa, Virginia.
Ms. Christy coordinates an at-risk language arts program for Louisa County
High School and teaches both at-risk and gifted ninth-grade students.