Triangulating curriculum design

The only useful thing I ever learned about curriculum design was at a staff development day while in Mongolia. Thankfully the presenter spoke in English and it was translated for the Mongolian staff. I say, “thankfully”, because this (a) reduced my overall cognitive load, and (b) meant I could process the material twice.

Anyway, the big take-away I had was designing your courses backwards, and triangulating three things:

  1. Goals
  2. Methods
  3. Assessments

Goals are what you think your students should know/be able to do, at the end of the course. It’s the point B you’re trying to get them to. Working out your point B (and, for any possible course that has real or implicit prerequisites, the point A they start from), is essential because you can’t get students where you want them to end up if you don’t know what that is.

Then you need to work out appropriate methods to get to those goals. It’s no good saying you want to get to B, if you teach via a method that leads to C. For example, if your goal is grammatical analysis abilities of Greek in English, then teaching communicatively in Greek only will not get you there. And, vice versa, if your goal is an oral ability in Greek, then written translation exercises will not get you there. And so on.

Then you need to design assessments that will test whether you got to those goals. In effect, you are testing (a) did the student(s) reach your goals, (b) did your teaching get them there? That is, assessment assesses both students and teaching. It’s important to get this right because (i) if your assessments don’t actually assess your goals, you have no idea whether you reached them, and (ii) how you assess inevitable influences what students do.

That first issue is part of what I was driving at with the NT translation post – does translation function as a useful assessment for most NT Greek courses’ goals? No. It would be perfect if the class’s goal were translation though, say, a class in translation!

That second issue is also incredibly vital, especially where a lot of student “time” is directed by the students. What a teacher does in 2, 3 contact hours constitutes one part of the teaching method, but students will inevitably shape their own practices around how they will be assessed. So if you have, say, communicative methods in 3 hours of teacher-led interaction, but the class is tested on translation and vocab tests, guess what students will spend their time doing? That’s right, prepping for translation and rote-learning vocab.

Which is why you need to triangulate all three of these things, to make them line up perfectly. And, because that’s going to fail, to do it iteratively. That is, to get to the end of a course of teaching, and evaluate as a teacher whether you reached your goals, and why it is you failed: were the methods wrong? did the assessments do what they were meant to? Did the assessments corrupt your methods and mislead your students? Were there other factors? How to fix these?

(Of course, I have zero control over all three of these factor in almost all my current variety of roles, so don’t blame me!)

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