Streamlining the Curriculum – FAQs

Fundamentals - What it is and Why It's Needed


What is a storyboard and how is it different from a curriculum map?

A curriculum map provides a scope and sequence that shows key unit topics for a given course and/or grade level content. A curriculum map is written for teachers as the primary audience and clarifies what to teach.

A curriculum storyboard provides a scope and sequence that shows how key unit topics are connected to tell the story of a given course and/or grade level content. There is a deliberately crafted narrative thread to make learning more connected and accessible for students and families as the primary audience.

How does streamlining apply to curriculum? Why is it necessary?

The definition of streamline is to bring up to date; modernize; to put in order; organize; to make simpler or more efficient. Based on that definition, most curriculum documents could benefit from this review process. Streamlining curriculum makes learning easier to access, understand, and use; it also makes the curriculum more effective, engaging, purposeful, timely, and connected. Streamlining simply makes things work better.

What is the streamlining review process in a system?

The goal of streamlining curriculum is to make it more usable for the target audience. At a systems level, collaborative teams of educators examine current formats and generate fresh possibilities:

  1. What would teachers find useful from a system’s perspective to develop a robust and modern curriculum? What might that more efficient and up-to-date template look like?
  2. How might we make informed choices as to what to cut out, cut back, consolidate and create?
  3. How might we examine and bundle standards together to unearth possible storylines and make teaching and learning more robust and targeted?

Infrequently Asked Questions

How does streamlining connect to storyboarding? Do they really need to go together?

Streamlining reviews allow faculty and leadership to create a more realistic and effective curriculum responsive to the students in a community. Yet, we believe it is not sufficient. There is a need to make curriculum accessible to students through language choices and image selection. There is a need to deliberately revise the flow of the school year to be clearly connected. In other words, it is not simply to cut out what is no longer necessary in the curriculum, it is the combination of getting at what is essential and timely and communicating directly to the student as the audience.

How do we deal with the tension of guidelines from a state or country with the idea of streamlining?

Rather than creating tension, we believe that streamlining and storyboarding provide a more effective approach to integrating formal guidelines and standards. When teachers step back and unpack, bundle and place guidelines and standards into the narrative of a storyboard they make better sense than simply viewing them as a checklist.

What is critical, however, is that standards are converted into student-friendly learning targets, where, again, we reinforce the central tenet that our learners need to know precisely what they are attempting to learn and to develop. Guidelines can actually “come alive” when they are part of the student's journey and they know what they are.

Are there any common points of resistance to streamlining? Why would anyone resist what seems a sensible concept?

It is true that we rarely encounter resistance to the idea of streamlining a bloated curriculum. Where there can be some resistance is when it gets “personal” for a teacher, that is, when a specific course or unit might need trimming that feels “territorial”. With thoughtful criteria concerning what is essential for learners, streamlining reviews tend to work effectively.

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How do we begin to engage faculties, communities, and students in the notion of streamlining and storyboarding?

As Einstein once said, “A problem well-stated is half-solved”. We advise beginning with stating and encouraging responses from faculty and students regarding the common and pervasive problem of a relentlessly bloated curriculum. Streamlining is a direct set of necessary actions that a school system can take to alleviate the pressure. Encourage faculty, communities and students to review the process and to determine priorities of where the review process might be utilized or at least piloted. Key is that early on in the process of introducing the streamlining, it should be made clear that cutting back is critical but not enough.

The need for storyboarding is central. School leadership can continue the work by raising these questions: How might we engage students in a narrative view of the curriculum that they will actually understand? How can teachers be viewed as composers of the curriculum and be empowered to convert what they are expected to teach into a student-friendly and accessible storyline? Then, follow with asking faculty to examine a wide and striking gallery of storyboards from schools to begin a dialogue about possibilities.

What are the biggest and most common resistance points in cutting back on the curriculum?

The motive for resistance varies. In terms of streamlining, some teachers are protective, even territorial, about their existing curriculum and do not want to "let go." There is no question that streamlining requires time and commitment on the part of a faculty and can provoke a "leave me alone" response. Some resist because they hold a view of teaching and curriculum as "coverage" requiring the teacher to primarily dispense and to disseminate information.

As for storyboarding, we have consistently found that teachers like this work and get excited by the prospects. However, if resistance occurs it is usually because that this work takes time and challenges assumptions about the role of the teacher as a composer rather than a "dispenser."

Infrequently Asked Questions

Is there an approach unique to each group? Do we bring them together?

Obviously each school or school district has its own culture and internal decision making structures. There are multiple entry points to this work, but what is key is that initially members of the school community are assured they will eventually be part of the process. The process and purpose of streamlining and the move to a storyboarding approach should be shared with examples to all parties involved.

In the initial stage of the work all groups can certainly provide input as to what should be cut, kept and created, whether through interviews, small group meetings or surveys. Usually the actual curriculum work commences with faculty members laying out their current curriculum practice and their concerns.

When storyboarding, we encourage students to have access to teacher drafts of course storyboards to share their responses to the boards. Early engagement is a plus!

Are there specific concerns or points of resistance for each subject area that are helpful to anticipate?

In addition to the general points of resistance identified, there are sometimes specific considerations per subject and developmental levels.
  1. Given the critical importance of fundamentals in ELA on the early childhood level, teachers might breakdown the subject into several storyboards: reading, writing, foundational, language and speaking. On the other hand, they certainly may elect to move forward with one integrated storyboard. On the secondary level there can be a tendency toward “territoriality” as noted previously where specific works are on the table for consideration.
  2. At first glance, it would seem that Math might be a subject that does not have the feel of a narrative, yet our experience is that math works naturally for storyboarding given the serial dependency of concepts across the school year. Key is to highlight the central tenets in each unit whether elementary math or secondary and ensure that the student sees and makes the connections.
  3. Social Studies is an area that tends to more subjective choices about what key cultures, countries, eras and key leaders will be emphasized. The debates are often about what matters most, but our contention is that is precisely what a professional faculty should be considering.