Typhani Harris | July 2016

The Curriculum Combination from The Teacher Locker Series

Welcome to the Teacher Locker Series where we are unlocking secrets and revealing the perfect Curriculum combination of resources to have an effective and successful start to the new school year.

During this series, we will be giving out secret combinations and be opening the locker of preparation.

Let’s take a look at what’s inside the Teacher Locker todayThe Curriculum Combination

Today we are going to get those creative juices and help you start thinking about the Big Picture for this years’ curriculum combination, including how to plan backwards, foster creativity, and plan with purpose so you can get the most from your students.

Before we do anything to get ready for the start of school, we need to visualize the big picture for the year.   Every school has their own expectations for curriculum combination and lesson planning, but regardless of these requirements, there are three things that should remain in the forefront.

Purpose, Pacing, Planning.

For some reason, this is always a difficult question to answer…why are you teaching what you are teaching? Why do we make students take courses in English, Math, History, Science, etc.? What is the ultimate goal? The answer should not be: to pass a test or to graduate. The answer should be in the form of how this subject matter is going to prepare students for their world after  school.

Plan with Purpose

We already know about planning backwards, we did it throughout grad school, but sometimes we forget about, or struggle with, applying that concept to our classes. The Understanding by Design model by Wiggins and McTighe is a wonderful strategy, but sometimes feels a little overwhelming.  As a dancer, I prefer to PLAY: Plan Like an Artist, Yearly. When you step into the role of an artist, you immediately think backwards. When is the show? What’s it going to be about? How many weeks do I have to prepare my piece? Who is going to be in my piece?

Plan Like an Artist, Yearly (PLAY)

When we know the final “performance,” then we know what it takes to get there. The most important aspect of curriculum combination and design is simply asking the question, “Why?” Do you know why you are teaching certain lessons? Are you teaching something because you think you are supposed to, is it the way you were taught, or maybe it’s from a textbook?   Or are you teaching something because you know it is a stepping-stone to the final expected outcome for your students?

Rooted in Latin, the term curriculum means “to run a course.” It is not a book, a program, a set of standards, or anything they currently call common. Like an athlete training for a marathon or an artist preparing a show, the course of a curriculum combination should be created with the final goal in mind.

Per backward design (UbD), planning the final assessment FIRST gives purpose to each lesson and is valuable for both teacher and student because it provides the roadmap for the curriculum combination “course we are running.” Similarly, when we Plan Like an Artist, we know the product of the final “performance,” we know the date of the final “performance,” and we know the skills and techniques needed in order to complete the final “performance.” Arts educators know that the ultimate assessment of the lessons we teach will be seen by the community, and both students and teachers will be judged on the quality of the performance. People literally pay money to see arts students take their “tests.” Imagine if all subjects embraced this outcome.

Preparing for the Show

The SHOW is where artists display what they have learned/created. So we must start with the show in mind! What do you want students to know (Goal) and how are they going to SHOW you they know it (Task)? Although, the show could be a traditional paper pencil test or essay, consider determining a way for students to demonstrate their mastery in a relevant project-based application, this is the Task and it must be made first.

Now that we know about the SHOW…who is going to be in it? Determine the standards that students need to master in order to complete the Task. Categorize and prioritize standards based on what students must know in order to perform.

Every performance is judged, whether intentionally or not. So how do you want this performance to be judged? Create a rubric to evaluate the  Task.   This rubric will be a living document as you plan. At this point, we are just taking a look at the final task, but as you design, continue to revise based on specific milestones, skills, and techniques the students need to practice throughout.

Set milestones so students are ready for the show. What milestone steps or activities do the students need to be able to complete in order to successfully reach the goal?  These are small activities, formative assessments, which lead to the final Task.

Map it out.  Print out a blank calendar and input all of the days off, vacations, testing days, assemblies etc. so that you know exactly how many days your have to work with.  Input the final Task due date.  If students will present their final tasks, add dates for presentations.  Plot the dates for each of the milestones. Then work backward.

Determine the topic for each week, and the outcome needed for each topic in order to complete each milestone. This includes all of the skills and techniques, facts and definitions, content and details needed to master the standards. At the end of this process, you should know exactly what needs to be covered each week in order to achieve each milestone and be ready for the SHOW.

Daily Lesson Plans.  Now that you know where you are going and the milestones to get there, you can plan each daily lesson with purpose.

I know this is a lot to think about, and I might be using language that is different or analogies that may be unfamiliar, but don’t get caught up in the wording. Don’t exclaim to your department, “but we have to get ready for the SHOW,” they probably won’t have any idea what you are talking about unless they too have read this post (just forward it to them :). So, let me break it down a little smaller, that way you can at least dabble in this concept during this year.


Why are your students taking your class? What do you hope they get out of it which is relevant to their lives? Now, design the final assessment, outcome, test, task, or project that the students are going to complete which demonstrates the expected standards and purpose for your course. (This can be done by unit, quarter, semester, or year; try just working with a unit first). Determine that first, then everything you plan will lead to that culmination and will give purpose to the lessons. Don’t hide this from students, be transparent in the final expectations, even hype them up so the students get excited about what’s to come and it curtails the inevitable question “why do we have to learn this?” If you want to know how to create great performance tasks that are real world and relevant check out my book Putting the Performance in Performance Task (on Amazon). Even though it was written with Performing Arts in mind, it is applicable to all subjects.


Now that you know what the culminating assessment will be, print out a calendar to outline your year. First put in all holidays, days off, days of testing, assemblies etc. Then work backward. Plot the days needed to prepare, present, administer the culminating assessment and then design what outcomes need to occur each week in order to achieve success on the assessment. Finally, add in daily objectives, which are the steps needed in order to achieve the weekly outcomes, and will consequently build to the final assessment. Knowing the trajectory of the course will add purpose to each lesson, and solidify what actually needs to be taught. Sometimes we get stuck teaching something because it was what we were taught but always ask yourself why…why am I teaching this? That way you can ensure every lesson has purpose.


Once you know where you are going, and what you need to accomplish each week, now you can write purposeful daily lesson plans. These can be borrowed from others and modified for your students as long as they are designed to reach the culminating goals.

Be sure to check out my my Breakout Session: Coaching Teachers through the Arts Integration Process at this Summer’s Connectivity Conference!

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About the Author

Dr. Typhani Harris, author of Putting the Performance in Performance Task and Stop Teaching, brings over 2 decades of educational experience to The Institute. Originally a high school English Language Arts teacher, Dr. Harris transitioned into a dance educator who cultivated an award-winning collegiate style dance education program at a public school in California. Prior to joining the Institute, she was an educational leader and instructional coach specializing in preparing new teachers in secondary urban schools.  As the Executive Director of Academic Affairs, Dr. Harris maintains courses, conferences, and the accredited certification program at The Institute.