There are four activities every Social Studies curriculum writer can (and should) use to ensure the product matches the need:
1. Institutional Identity
Before putting pen to paper, a curriculum writer should have a firm understanding of the end client’s institutional values and identity. What are its standards and learning objectives for the new curriculum? Rather than just inserting an off-the-shelf paragraph about the D-Day Invasion of Normandy into a U.S. or European History course, evaluate how the institution and the content intersect. Is the content going to an academy-like environment where detailed military knowledge better serves the curricular need, or is the user a humanities-oriented school that could benefit more from the nuance of international relations and enduring geopolitical alliances? The key is to put the curricular emphasis where it best fits the user.
2. Curricular Cohesion
A framework is important, but there has to be meat on those proverbial bones. Social Studies writers have to be the catalyst for holistic curriculum writing that starts with a framework, continues into content, leads to evaluation, and ultimately drives learning. Prefabricated curricula with outlines and banks of multiple choice questions are not cohesive. Ideally, there should be a clearly visible continuity between content, delivery, evaluation, and remediation. That kind of continuity is only possible when all components are developed in tandem. Let a lesson about the legislative process evolve away from an exclusively written explanation into a plan for a simulated model Congress, rubrics for evaluation, and prompts for written reflection to demonstrate concept mastery.
3. Instructional Alignment
The old saying about “the best laid plans” especially holds true in education. Investing in a wonderful curriculum that can only be taught by the developer who wrote it negates any real return on investment. It’s true that teachers know their content—most an expert level—but teaching teachers (or at least guiding them) about how to implement a new curriculum is the launch point from which the new curriculum will succeed or not. What changes about Social Studies teaching is not the content, but the presentation. In addition to pictures and stories, an immersive video tour through the reconstructed slaves’ barracks of a Civil-War-era plantation can take what was once a two-dimensional book exercise and turn it into experiential learning. Ultimately, matching suggested method(s) of presentation to curricular components goes the extra step toward driving content mastery.
4. Supplemental Enhancements/Extensions
More than a glossy workbook or a DVD full of periodized documentaries, a supplemental enhancement should extend a component of curriculum to higher levels of cognition. Instead of just reading about the feudal system of the medieval period, why shouldn’t good curriculum include a way to experience feudalism? Simulations such as reenactments, role play, rhetorical delivery, and argument reconstruction are all examples of the highest levels of cognitive rigor. The best written curriculum employs these enhancements and extensions jointly with traditional delivery. The experience of performing a reenactment of feudal society makes cognitive connections that simply are not possible on paper alone.
Every Social Studies course writer can use these four activities to develop curriculum that is living and breathing in a way that brings history, sociology, and the other social sciences to life. Recycling stale course outlines and populating them with new pictures is no longer seeing returns. With the increased importance of application and critical thinking in the marketplace, this dynamic approach to curriculum development in Social Studies is not a new trend. It’s the next evolution of the industry.