As an educator in a small, independent international school in South Korea, I’ve witnessed how our size, and absence of an outside authority or school board, can create some curriculum continuity challenges. A particular challenge was the transient nature of our faculty, a common challenge in international schools, ad A curriculum mapping tool that allows for the easy sharing of information. It helps teachers fill in the gaps between grade levels and enables us to do more with fewer teachers, which can be equally powerful for different reasons in schools large or small.

We’re a standalone school, but perhaps that’s what brings the teachers and the staff closer. We rely on each other and try to keep each other accountable, which I appreciate from our teachers.

How is Curriculum Mapping Done?

Our curriculum mapping tool, Chalk, came about because we needed a uniform digital platform for curriculum and unit planning. We decided that we’re going to have an organization where teachers are planning units and sections. It has been very beneficial. According to our English as a Second Language (ESL) support teacher for grades 4-6, “I like the ‘compare curriculum maps’ feature as it makes it easier for teachers to compare and align different curricula. It encourages collaboration among teachers.”

From an administrator’s perspective, I look at the curriculum mapping and look at the vertical alignment between the primary and upper elementary grades, using Chalk’s “compare map” function. In departmental meetings, we gather around and compare our maps and see which we were missing and which ones we can add. The trick comes when we’re looking at the jump from upper elementary to grade 5 or 6 to middle school and then from middle school to high school. Successful grade-to-grade integration is essential.

Teachers are equally impressed by the map functionality, as one ESL support teacher explains: “Teachers need to take time to sit down and review maps together to find the gaps in vertical alignment, and where a topic/standard is more in-depth or detailed. When teachers are together, they not only see what standards and skills the students need to achieve to be successful for the next grade, but they can also plan schoolwide projects and events that tie together nicely. Planning together also gets teachers to share ideas for lessons, what worked for them and what didn’t.”

Curriculum Planning keeps teachers from having to ‘reinvent the wheel’ and they can focus more on honing the weekly and daily lesson plans.

What Should A Curriculum Map Include?

A challenge of being an international school is our staff’s transient nature, so we are looking at gaps and looking at achievement, both short-term and long term. For example, we have three new elementary teachers this year, and the teachers that preceded them left templates. They’re able to recognize, ‘okay, the teacher in the previous year covered this much; I can do the same.’ This keeps them from having to ‘reinvent the wheel’ and they can focus more on honing the weekly and daily lesson plans. They have their overview of the whole year ready for them. With this information, they can improve the specific units, the assessment, and the day-to-day, focusing on what students need. 

I think the idea of having a digital centerpiece like Chalk helps our teachers reflect on their practices;  are they doing something that they could improve on, or should they continue because it is a successful lesson? What else do they need to change? I think the idea that something is there truly does help. As our 6th-grade homeroom teacher reflects, “I have learned the importance of synchronizing ‘tags’ for subjects with everyone else in the school. Tags need to be added from the subject setup (main) page and not within the individual units settings page. This way, searching or doing comparative mapping is easier to find.” Additionally, our Middle School’s Humanities teacher adds, “My favorite function is the embedment among student outcomes (SESOs), standards, and lessons together.”

Curriculum mapping and alignment

We cover the Next Generation Science Standards and the American Common Core State Standards, but still, we allow some room for teachers to be more creative in terms of their local surroundings and their native countries. For example, if they’re teaching history, they’ll always have at least one unit on Korean history, identifying the relevance and connecting that to the rest of the world.

Even though the main subject might be US history when you get to the 1950s, the teacher might slot in a Korean history unit and how it is relevant to our students because the main population is Korean nationals or Korean heritage. They may have parents or grandparents who survived the Korean war, so they rely on feedback or do interviews with the grandparents. It’s woven into the unit’s creativity, and that’s something I give leeway for teachers to do. If they feel like they have to deviate a little bit from the standards, they can look at their unit plans and say, ‘Okay, I need to take a step away from US history but let’s also include what’s going on in the rest of the world.’ And then that gets entered into our curriculum tool. 

Continuity for the big picture

Our small size and the nature of our tight-knit group tend to make us self-reliant, and the fact that we’ve committed to maximizing Chalk to “power up” our curriculum mapping gives us the flexibility to allow for creativity on the part of our teachers. We can maintain a level of continuity despite our teachers often staying less than three years. Without it, we would be starting from scratch with every new teacher, and keeping up with curricular progress between grades would be highly problematic. Even interruptions such as those caused by the pandemic are minimized. In sum, having a better grasp of our curriculum allows our small staff to focus on the big picture and provide the best possible education for our students.

The ease with our curriculum mapping software has truly been an immensely helpful tool for aligning what learning students need at every grade and best preparing for the next grade level.

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This piece is adapted from a previous version published on edCircuit