Curriculum Mapping: Heidi Hayes Jacobs

In Mapping the Big Picture, Heidi Hayes Jacobs explains the justification and process of curriculum mapping. Jacobs, a national leader in curriculum mapping and integration, explains how computer-based curriculum mapping helps all teachers (not just a curriculum committee) work together to coordinate and integrate curricula for the sake of the student experience.

Jacobs simplifies what for our teachers has become a complicated and time-intensive task. She writes that teachers should only need an hour to update the content portion of a course map each year. Examples demonstrate how to write concise phrases that focus on the key points in each course. Jacobs limits mapping categories to content, skills/processes, and assessment. For content, she suggests that one uses either essential questions or key topics and themes. Our curriculum map currently includes seven categories: essential questions, content, skills/processes, habits of mind, resources, assessment, multicultural dimension, and integrated learning. No wonder it takes so long to update!

Of particular interest is Jacobs’ definition of assessment as student products and performances. Too often, I see assessment defined in terms of how the teacher evaluates student knowledge and skills. Jacobs focuses us on the work that the student creates to demonstrate learning. In addition, she argues that assessment types should become more complex in the upper grades. Typically, students complete similar forms of reports, papers, and tests from elementary through high school. Instead, high school students should write position papers, anthologies, and original musical compositions.

Jacobs argues for instructional depth over breadth. She quotes Wiggins’ article “The Futility of Trying to Teach Everything of Importance,” which should ring true in most high schools in the country. Curriculum mapping becomes a vehicle to assess the breadth of one’s curriculum and focus students on a limited set of essential questions.

I disagree with Jacobs’s insistence on mapping courses by month. While I appreciate that this allows one to determine what is being taught across different subject areas in February, I doubt that it leads to greater integration of work in different subject areas. Perhaps it would if curricular change were the sole focus of a school for a year or more. For real coordination among different teachers and subjects, it is much more effective to design interdisciplinary courses and involve multiple teachers in a co-teaching arrangement. Otherwise, integration efforts will always swim upstream against the constraints of time and curricular structure.

Today, Dr. Jacobs advocates curricular change for 21st century skills through the organization Curriculum 21. The focus on 21st century skills grew out of her work of mapping the curricula of so many school systems. I find it interesting that educators from  different fields advocate for curricular change to keep up with the times.

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