When it comes to writing good history curriculum, there are a handful of universal truths that cross all of history’s sub-disciplines. The following tips can help writers align curriculum with standards and clients.
1) Do Periodic Alignment Checks
It’s easy to get into a rhythm when you’re writing an engaging piece of history curriculum. Oftentimes these are story-driven curricula that are fun to write; however, getting wrapped up in telling the story can cause a writer to plow through a large portion of writing without stopping to check alignment with the curriculum. At times, I find myself overwriting on assignments about the founding of America because that period of time is my personal favorite. With this in mind, I have to establish extra pauses to ensure that I don’t miss the alignment. This breakdown most often happens when a commonly told story is written on “autopilot” without tailoring to ensure coverage of a specific set of standards. Take the time to stop and confirm alignment to the customer’s needs.
2) Maintain the Integrity of the Content
Whether writing for a public or private (or religious or secular) client, there are specific needs one encounters when writing social studies curriculum. With respect to history specifically, there are certain episodes and stories that are sensitive subjects for certain audiences. The story of Pocahontas as a preteen girl who was traded [for nefarious purposes] to the Jamestown settlers by her father is not the most appropriate story for a younger or more sensitive audience. Given these considerations, it is vital that history curriculum writers maintain the integrity of the content. The writer has a responsibility to tell the stories of history the way they happened, without altering facts to fit an audience, but it is entirely appropriate to tailor the content to that audience. For example, instead of telling the true story of Pocahontas, it may be better (and just as sufficient) to tell younger children that Pocahontas was an American Indian girl who was involved in a peace pact between the settlers and her tribe.
3) Anticipate and Prepare for Feedback
As we saw in the previous tip, history can be a sensitive subject. One of the ways a good curriculum writer can foster a positive and interactive relationship with the client is by anticipating and preparing for likely concerns and questions. Political sensitivities attached to history can make people uncomfortable. But, if writers prepare themselves for those uncomfortable conversations, it is possible to exceed client expectations by planning for and speaking to their concerns. For example, there is a portion of U.S. history in the 1940s that is unexpectedly controversial because of the Allied involvement in the Balfour Declaration (1917) and the creation of the modern Israeli state. Rather than trying to ignore a potential sticking point, writers can produce the sensitive content in a deliberate way and then prepare to explain their decisions from a calm and academic perspective. More often than not, this foresight prevents unnecessary misunderstandings.
4) Pare the Writing to the Assignment
The descriptive and detailed nature of history makes it easy to overwrite. If the scope of an assignment on the Civil War period is limited to the war, then it isn’t appropriate to include the lead up to the war and Reconstruction afterward. What was expected to be a relatively short, page-long story can quickly expand into a much longer and beautiful tome. History curriculum writers are probably lovers of history, so it is easy to get wrapped up in telling a story. It is critical to remember that the client’s needs have to be the focal point of the writing. This tip is an easy one to remember as long as the writer keeps in mind the assignment requirements.
5) Ask for Exemplars from the Client
Clients typically have an expectation for what they think a curriculum should look like. These expectations may be based on established documents or the opinions of their own subject matter experts. It may be that the client is okay with a brand new and unfamiliar product, but rather than take the chance and risk losing time, it is best to ask the client up front whether they have an existing document upon which they would like the new curriculum to be based. This moment of inquiry can save a mountain of headache.
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