Curriculum mapping is the process indexing or diagraming a curriculum to identify and address academic gaps, redundancies, and misalignments for purposes of improving the overall coherence of a course of study and, by extension, its effectiveness (a curriculum, in the sense that the term is typically used by educators, encompasses everything that teachers teach to students in a school or course, including the instructional materials and techniques they use).
In most cases, curriculum mapping refers to the alignment of learning standards and teaching—i.e., how well and to what extent a school or teacher has matched the content that students are actually taught with the academic expectations described in learning standards—but it may also refer to the mapping and alignment of all the many elements that are entailed in educating students, including assessments, textbooks, assignments, lessons, and instructional techniques.
Generally speaking, a coherent curriculum is (1) well organized and purposefully designed to facilitate learning, (2) free of academic gaps and needless repetitions, and (3) aligned across lessons, courses, subject areas, and grade levels. When educators map a curriculum, they are working to ensure that what students are actually taught matches the academic expectations in a particular subject area or grade level.
Before the advent of computers and the internet, educators would create curriculum maps on paper and poster board; today, educators are far more likely to use spreadsheets, software programs, and online services that are specifically dedicated to curriculum mapping. The final product is often called a “curriculum map,” and educators will use the maps to plan courses, lessons, and teaching strategies in a school. For a related discussion, see backward design.
While the specific approach or strategies used to map a curriculum may vary widely from district to district, school to school, or even teacher to teacher, the process typically aims to achieve a few common goals:
- Vertical coherence: When a curriculum is vertically aligned or vertically coherent, what students learn in one lesson, course, or grade level prepares them for the next lesson, course, or grade level. Curriculum mapping aims to ensure that teaching is purposefully structured and logically sequenced across grade levels so that students are building on what they have previous learned and learning the knowledge and skills that will progressively prepare them for more challenging, higher-level work. For a related discussion, see learning progression.
- Horizontal coherence: When a curriculum is horizontally aligned or horizontally coherent, what students are learning in one ninth-grade biology course, for example, mirrors what other students are learning in a different ninth-grade biology course. Curriculum mapping aims to ensure that the assessments, tests, and other methods teachers use to evaluate learning achievement and progress are based on what has actually been taught to students and on the learning standards that the students are expected to meet in a particular course, subject area, or grade level.
- Subject-area coherence: When a curriculum is coherent within a subject area—such as mathematics, science, or history—it may be aligned both within and across grade levels. Curriculum mapping for subject-area coherence aims to ensure that teachers are working toward the same learning standards in similar courses (say, three different ninth-grade algebra courses taught by different teachers), and that students are also learning the same amount of content, and receiving the same quality of instruction, across subject-area courses.
- Interdisciplinary coherence: When a curriculum is coherent across multiple subject areas—such as mathematics, science, and history—it may be aligned both within and across grade levels. Curriculum mapping for interdisciplinary coherence may focus on skills and work habits that students need to succeed in any academic course or discipline, such as reading skills, writing skills, technology skills, and critical-thinking skills. Improving interdisciplinary coherence across a curriculum, for example, might entail teaching students reading and writing skills in all academic courses, not just English courses.