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Curriculum development 1


This essay discusses how curriculum development, professional development, and action

research are linked within an educational system. Language learning is used as an example

throughout in order to provide a subject-area example. Professional development and action

research are considered part of closing the gap between the ideal (i.e., the written curriculum)

and reality (i.e., taught curriculum) as teachers develop not only pedagogical skills but also their

personal development, career development, moral development, overall school improvement,

and improvement of the teaching profession as a whole. Action research permits teachers to be

part of the solution as learning principles are to be established and adhered to. It was determined

that shifting teachers to become more curriculum functioning will better provide the knowledge

and skill necessary to increase understandings among learners and common assessments across

Curriculum development 2

Curriculum development, professional development, and action research:

A foreign language perspective

If the hypothesis is true – that any subject can be taught effectively in

some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development –

then it should follow that a curriculum ought to be built around the great

issues, principles, and values that a society deems worthy of the continual

concern of its members (Bruner, 1960, p. 33 & p. 52)

Bruner's hypothesis, now almost 50 years old, not only is still relevant to the general

classroom of today but is also relevant to foreign language learning as well. Curriculum

development, professional development, and action research provide the means for linking the

desired results with individualistic and collective ends. In language learning, like other skill-

based subjects (e.g., sports, drama, and music), the curriculum tends to focus on behavioral

objectives for each skill (Glickman, Gordon, and Ross-Gordon, 2007) which then leads to

professional development and action research - should the gap between the desired results and

current reality warrant it. Instead, a more integrated curriculum merges concepts,

understandings, facts, and skills such that subsequent professional development and action

research would together establish language acquisition as both means and ends.

Building a curriculum around the acquisition of a language is best served when based

on the growing of understandings. Wiggins and McTighe (2005) highlight several distinguishing

features of understandings as follows:

a) an important inference, drawn from the experience of experts, states as a specific and

useful generalization
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b) referring to transferable, big ideas having enduring value beyond a specific topic

c) involving abstract, counterintuitive, and easily misunderstood ideas

d) being best acquired by “uncovering” (i.e., it must be developed inductively,

coconstructed by learners) and “doing” the subject (i.e., using the ideas in realistic

settings and with real-world problems).

e) Summarizing important strategic principles in skill areas (pp. 128-129)

Thus, instead of adhering to a curriculum that is based on a behavioral-objective format – one

that progresses from an objective to an activity then concludes with an evaluation – an integrated

curriculum begins with creating the overall desired results in the form of understandings. For

language learners to achieve understandings, they must demonstrate a level of communicative

competence that provides the evidence of both language skill and content knowledge. Fisher and

Frey (2007) list the following formative assessment means for checking for understanding: a)

oral language, b) questioning, c) writing, projects and performances, d) tests, and e) common

assessments and consensus scoring. Recognizing that all these techniques should be a part of

any assessment program, the focus here remains on performance tasks and the importance of

building common assessments as part of an overall curriculum development practice.

Once the desired results have been established, designing common performance tasks

precedes the instructional planning through a “backward design” (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005).

Fisher and Frey (2007) add that “creating an assessment, even an imperfect one, allows groups of

teachers to talk about the standards, how the standards might be assessed, where students are

performing currently, and what learning needs to take place for students to demonstrate
Curriculum development 4

proficiency” (p. 122). Having teachers collaborate in this way provides the means for identifying

the gap between the ideal (i.e., the written curriculum) and reality (i.e., the taught curriculum).

To close this gap, professional development may need to be considered in order to give teachers

the necessary knowledge and pedagogical skill to improve current practice. Similarly, action

research provides a more collectivist approach to closing the gap by implementing a more

formalized plan that extends over a longer time frame.

In developing common assessments across disciplines, professional development needs to

address more than pedagogical skill. “In recent years the field has expanded to include a variety

of other purposes: a) personal development, b) career development, c) moral development, d)

school improvement, and e) improvement of the teaching profession (Glickman, Gordon, and

Ross-Gordon, 2007, p. 366). When teachers have the support and opportunity to work together

on common assessments they also build their personal network with others that can lead to a

variety of professional development purposes as mentioned here. Since performance tasks are

included in the curriculum, their efforts are directly related to school improvement as well. The

act of developing assessments can also be the basis for conference talks, thus extending the

applicability of common assessments throughout the teaching field as well as promoting one's


Action research can also help closing the gap between the written and taught curriculum.

“Action research in education is study conducted by colleagues in a school setting of the results

of their activities to improve instruction” (Glickman, Gordon, and Ross-Gordon, 2007, p. 406).

Since common assessments are the link between planning for learning and the desired results

(Wiggins and McTighe), collaboration between teachers can foster improved practice that
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extends to all areas of teaching in the form of learning principles. The premise of basing

teaching practice on a set of shared principles is to not leave the details of teaching to the

teachers alone but rather share the commitment with administrators as well (Sergiovanni, 2005;

Wiggins and McTighe, 2007). This allows for a more collaborative action research as the

process proceeds through a series of five stages: a) “select focus area, b) conduct needs

assessment, c) design action plan, d) carry out action plan, and e) evaluate effects and revise

action plan” (Glickman, Gordon, and Ross-Gordon, 2007, p. 408). In language learning, action

research that adheres to individual professional development better prepares teachers to gain the

expertise and experience needed to close the gap between what teachers say should be done and

what they actually do on a day-to-day basis.

In summary, language teachers who pursue learner understandings and communicative

competencies work together in designing the most appropriate common assessments that can be

implemented across different language levels. Professional development and collaborative

action research assist in shifting language teachers to a higher level of “curriculum functioning

(as displayed by initiating and suggesting ways to change and knowing how to proceed in

creating curriculum)” (Glickman, Gordon, and Ross-Gordon, 2007, p. 393) that addresses both

personal professional development goals as well as school-wide objectives. By giving teachers a

level of choice, responsibility, support, and authority, teacher leaders emerge then become agents

for change instead of objectives of change.

Curriculum development 6


Bruner, J. (1960). The process of education: A landmark in educational theory. Cambridge:

Harvard University Press.

Fisher, D. and Frey, N. (2007). Checking for understanding: Formative assessment techniques
for your classroom. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum
Development (ASCD).

Glickman, C., Gordon, S., and Ross-Gordon, J. (2007). Supervision and instructional leadership:
A development approach. New York, NY: Pearson.

Sergiovanni, T. (2005). Strengthening the heartbeat: Leading and learning together in schools.
San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Wiggins, G. and McTighe, J. (2007). Schooling by design: Mission, action, and achievement.
Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).

Wiggins, G. and McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: Association for
Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).