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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Foundations Series: What is Curriculum Alignment?

The alignment of intended, enacted, and assessed curriculum, is an under-examined and misunderstood aspect of the educational process and often taken for granted. Despite this relative lack of attention, the term alignment can often be seen in the documents we read and the conversations we have with our colleagues. Alignment is a term that means different things to different people. So, how do we define curriculum alignment, and why does it matter?

In this blog posting, I'll begin to address the first of these two questions: what is curriculum alignment? If you'd like to read a "dictionary" definition, check this out. It's pretty good, actually. A bit wordy though. I like definitions that we have a shot at conjuring up ourselves if asked. I'm a fan of Norman Webb's definition. It goes something like this:

Curriculum alignment is "the extent to which and how well all policy elements work together to guide instruction and, ultimately, facilitate and enhance student learning."

That definition is a little less wordy, but could mean just about anything, right? I'm afraid that to really get at the heart of alignment, we're going to need to break this down a little more. And that, my blogosphere friends, will take some time. Lucky for me, this gives me plenty of things to blog about for awhile. For now, let me leave you with three thoughts:

1. Process vs Event. Curriculum Alignment, done well, is a process, not an event. Furthermore, the focus needs to be on student learning. If you can't draw a one or two step connection between the "alignment" work you are doing and how it will directly impact students, it may not be the best use of your time.

2. Defining Curriculum is Complex.

The term curriculum alone conjures up a wide range of responses and emotions. In a future blog, I'll dig into some different definitions, including the one I use in my work. For now, here's a picture of the framework I use to define and understand curriculum.

3. Defining Alignment is Complex. As I alluded to at the beginning of this blog posting, defining alignment is not an easy task. One blog entry can't do it justice. So, like I just did for the term curriculum, I present here for your viewing pleasure a picture of the framework I use to define and understand alignment.

Check back soon to see how I dig into curriculum alignment some more.

Resources Used

Porter, A. C. (2006). Curriculum assessment. In J. L. Green, G. Camilli, & P. B. Elmore (Eds.), Complementary methods for research in education (3rd edition). Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.

Porter, A C (2002) Measuring the content of instruction: Uses in research and practice Educational Researcher, 31, 3-14.

Webb, N. L. (1997). Criteria for alignment of expectations and assessments in mathematics and science education (Research Monograph No. 8). Madison, WI: National Institute for Science Education, University of Wisconsin–Madison.