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Adult and Community Learning Services (ACLS)

Components of Curriculum

What is Curriculum?

Curriculum refers to the knowledge and skills students are expected to learn, which includes the learning standards they are expected to meet; the units and lessons that teachers teach; the assignments and projects given to students; the books, materials, videos, presentations, and readings used in a course; and the tests, assessments, and other methods used to evaluate student learning. (Definition adapted from the Glossary of Education Reform.)

Curricula often include the following components, among others:

  • Guidance for teacher(s) using the curriculum;
  • A scope and sequence for each level that provides a big picture view of the curriculum and describes the instructional units to be taught;
  • A series of instructional units that delve into more detail than the big picture overview in the scope and sequence; and
  • Sequenced and coordinated lesson plans that make up instructional units.

How is a Scope and Sequence Different from a Curriculum?

A scope and sequence is a major piece of curriculum, but not the curriculum itself. A curriculum includes everything that is part of the plan for instruction, including a scope and sequence, instructional units, lesson plans, resources, teaching strategies, and more. As an overview, a scope and sequence is often divided into manageable chunks of instruction, or units, and describes how these units build over time to provide students the college and career readiness skills and knowledge they need.

Scope and Sequence

A scope and sequence provides an overview of the plan for instruction and a format for seeing the "big picture" of a detailed curriculum. A scope and sequence:

  • Gives users a plan for what learning should occur over the period of time covered, and
  • Shows the scope of the material to be learned and practiced and in what sequence. It also indicates how unit topics, skills, content knowledge, and culminating tasks build over time.

A scope and sequence can give information to teachers in two ways:

  1. First, an overall, program-wide scope and sequence can be used as a guide for all classes in ABE or ESOL instruction, and makes clear the transitions from one class level to the next, as in the graphic below:

    Scope and Sequence for XYZ Program offering ESOL Instruction for all levels
    Beginner ESOL Class
    (SPL 0–3)
    Intermediate ESOL Class
    (SPL 4–5)
    Advanced ESOL Class
    (SPL 6–7)
    Unit 1Unit 2Unit 3Unit 4Unit 5          
    This format provides the director, all teachers, and other stakeholders an overview of the year so that the full scope of services may be understood. Educators teaching different levels may discuss the degree of alignment between what is taught at one level and higher or lower levels, so that instruction is seamless for students.

  2. Second, a scope and sequence can zero in on one particular class level to describe the instructional units, as in the graphic below:

    Scope and Sequence for XYZ Program's ESOL Beginner ESOL Class
    Unit 1Unit 2Unit 3Unit 4Unit 5
    This second use of the scope and sequence provides educators teaching at a specific level, in this case, ESOL Intermediate class (Educational Functioning Level Low and High Intermediate ESOL; SPL 4–5), an overview of the year so that the unit topics, skills developed, and culminating work may be seen as a whole as they build on each other month by month. This "treetops" view is critical for teachers and directors to have as their plan for instruction for the year:

    • Teachers can see what skill development needs to come first in order to progress to the next unit; and
    • The scope and sequence also helps teachers stay aware of the amount of learning that is expected to happen in the year.

The scope and sequence templates for Math, ESOL, and ELA are located on the ACLS Curriculum and Instruction Resources web page. The templates are optional to use.

Sample Adult Education Scope and Sequence Exemplars

Since 2015, ACLS has identified standards-based exemplars for sample scope and sequences, instructional units, and lesson plans. These exemplars were developed by adult education practitioners and reflect the needs and interests of adult learners. While all teachers may appreciate the samples, new teachers may find the samples particularly useful.

Instructional Units

Compared to the "year at a glance" function of the scope and sequence, instructional units go into greater depth to guide the teacher in the specific skills and content knowledge to be developed. In the unit, teachers drill down into the specifics of the unit goal and outcomes, list the level-specific (or benchmarks) addressed from either the CCRSAE or the Massachusetts English Language Proficiency Standards for Adult Education that support those outcomes, and the culminating assessment for the unit. Teachers also flesh out the vocabulary to be learned and all of the texts or resources to be used. All of this information is provided in the unit plan to describe a suggested sequence or outline of lessons that guides teachers when writing lessons for their students.

For example, in the area of assessment, the assessment of priority level-specific standards (or benchmarks) might be only generally sketched out in the scope and sequence as to what task students will complete. In the unit plan, however, the assessment section goes into more detail about the specific ways students will demonstrate their learning, as well as exactly where teachers will place the various formative assessments within the sequence of lessons.

Unit plans are a valuable teacher resource. Having a completed unit plan reduces planning time for lessons, ensures that all lessons are contributing to student outcomes, and ensures that all the lesson activities and tasks fit together into a cohesive whole.

The instructional unit plan templates for Math, ESOL, and ELA are located on the ACLS Curriculum and Instruction Resources web page. These templates are optional to use.

Sample Adult Education Instructional Unit Exemplars

Mathematics and Adult Numeracy samples: Math Curriculum Resources, Sample Instructional Unit: Fractions-Decimals-Percents Benchmarks, Mathematics Instructional Unit on Ratio and Proportion , and Mathematics Instructional Unit on Area and Perimeter . Also, see Curriculum for Adults Learning Math (CALM) instructional units: The Curriculum for Adults Learning Math is a complete curriculum (made up of instructional units) for students in ABE through ASE. It is based on the College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education (CCRSAE) for Math. To view CALM's Unit One, visit CALM: Curriculum For Adults Learning Math.

Lesson Plans

When developing lessons, teachers pull everything together that has been thought through in the unit plan for meeting the varied instructional needs of their students. Teachers reference the unit plan often when writing their lesson plans, and benefit from the thinking that already went into what and how students will learn. Sample lesson plans provide further guidance for teachers as they develop lessons for their own students.

The lesson plan templates for Math, ESOL, and ELA are located on the ACLS Curriculum and Instruction Resources web page. These templates are optional to use.

Sample Adult Education Lesson Plan Exemplars

Curriculum Development

The curriculum development process consists of four tasks:

  1. design
  2. implementation, including
  3. formative and summative assessment to determine whether students learned what was taught
  4. a curriculum review to determine whether or not the curriculum needs adjustment to improve student outcomes

Curriculum development doesn't have to be a linear process. Some curriculum developers may find that they want to first flesh out the unit plans by identifying the unit goal and outcomes, objectives, alignment with priority standards, and culminating assessment before being able to lay out a scope and sequence for the year. This method, also referred to as "backward design," is explained more in Grant Wiggins' and Jay McTighe's book, Understanding by Design, published by ASCD. Another excellent resource is the small but pithy book, Solving 25 Problems in Unit Design, by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins, published by ASCD in 2015.

ACLS and SABES responded to requests from the field to create templates for developing scope and sequence, instructional units, and lesson plans; they are available on the ACLS Curriculum and Instruction Resources web page. The use of these templates is optional, but they are helpful in providing a framework for effective curriculum materials.

Program Support for Curriculum Development

Curriculum development takes time, both to determine what content should be taught (e.g., within mathematics, English language arts, ESOL), and to discuss with other teachers how that content should be taught. Some programs make use of features such as prep time for lesson and unit planning, pre/post-planning time at the beginning and end of a year for curriculum development, and common planning time for teaching staff to discuss their curricula and teaching with one another. Please also see the Massachusetts Policies for Effective Adult Education in Community Adult Learning Centers and Correctional Institutions for additional information.

SABES Support for Curriculum Development

SABES offers extensive professional development for developing curriculum materials and in implementing the CCRSAE and the MA ELPS.

Programs may also submit draft curriculum materials to the SABES Mathematics, ESOL, and ELA Curriculum and Instruction PD Centers and will receive feedback to inform future work. Programs are advised to inform the relevant PD Centers that they plan to submit materials and specify the types of materials they will be submitting to facilitate planning and timely feedback. For contact information, see SABES website.

Questions? Please contact Dana Varzan-Parker , Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Specialist in ACLS.

Last Updated: September 5, 2019

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