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Is Curriculum Mapping Worth My Time?

For a few, like me, curriculum mapping is one of joys of teaching- carefully ensuring the alignment of assessments to standards, activities to assessments, selecting the perfect ancillary materials, and so on is almost as good as the first cup of coffee in the morning! For many, curriculum mapping is akin to a four letter word- sounds of groaning arise from the teachers as the administration reminds them to update their mapping throughout the year (or at least by the end of the year).

The experienced teachers know what they're teaching and some view the paperwork as busy-work which distracts from the time spent teaching, grading, etc. While mapping can be time consuming and even daunting, it is a best-practice for a reason. Here are the the top reasons mapping is a critical component of a teacher's job.


Gone are the days where teachers can have a four-month-long unit on dinosaurs because the topic is a personal passion. With or without high stakes testing, alignment to standards is critical. This alignment ensures all students in the grade level have been exposed to the same concepts, regardless of the teacher they had. In an increasingly mobile society, ensuring students are taught the concepts sets them up for future academic success. But I digress... back to mapping.

Developing a map requires that teachers plan with the end goal(s) in mind- carefully selecting or creating assessments to evaluate learning, aligning the lessons and materials to ensure students have the stepping stones to develop the skill(s) taught in the unit. This rolls into individual lesson planning- hyper-focusing on the specific skill that students should master at the end of the lesson, ensuring the skill aligns with the overall goal(s) of the unit. You are being strategic and intentional. See Lam & Tsui (2016) for additional research on alignment.


Imagine being asked to hit a target but not being told what the target is, how to hit it, or what to

use to hit the target. When students do not understand the goal of the lesson, how will they know if they have hit that goal? Creating aligned maps not only brings the learning goals to the forefront of the teacher's mind, but the goals must also be articulated to the students so that they know where they are going. When you know the end goals and the steps that students will be taking to get there, you are better able to communicate the purpose, relevance, and goals to your students. As Meij & Merx(2018) noted, the communication of learning goals to students raises the accountability and achievement of the students.

Evaluating Learning

Just as students don't know if they have met the goals if they do not know what the goals are,

teachers are unable to effectively evaluate learning and track progress without (1) knowing what the specific goal(s) of the lesson are and (2) what the big picture, unit goals are. Even more important, if utilizing a backwards design method of mapping, you are designing the instruction based upon the final assessments of learning. Planning the assessments (and by this, I do not mean to limit to only traditional test/quiz assessments) is a critical component of mapping. You are using the learning goals to design an assessment that accurately targets what the students should have learned at the end of the unit. Then you are designing your formative assessments to determine the progress towards the goal. Finally, after that work is done, you focus on your lessons, which are developed to meet the targeted learning goals. You can't accurately assess a student's progress and determine mastery without fully understanding the "big picture" or end goals. See Leoniek Wijngaards-de Meij & Sigrid Merx (2018) for more research on this!

Priorities and Gaps

The process of mapping is a natural job-embedded professional development opportunity and when done in teams can be an even more powerful practice (Lam & Tsui, 2016). When mapping the year, teachers identify the critical learner needs and prioritize what is the most important for students to master for the year. The yearlong map also brings to the forefront any gaps that exist (Archambault & Masunaga 2015)- without knowing this and being intentional in planning, students could miss exposure to critical skills. Unit maps zero in on the learning priorities for the unit, ensuring that the instruction, activities, and assessments all align with the priority. As you likely noticed, the reasons for mapping are interconnected, focusing on aligning your instruction to critical learner goals to ensure that both students and teacher know the academic targets.


Lam, B. H., & Tsui, K. T. (2016). Curriculum mapping as deliberation–examining the alignment of subject learning outcomes and course curricula. Studies in Higher Education, 41(8), 1371-1388.

Leoniek Wijngaards-de Meij & Sigrid Merx(2018)Improving curriculum alignment and achieving learning goals by making the curriculum visible,International Journal for Academic Development,23:3,219-231,DOI: 10.1080/1360144X.2018.1462187

Susan Gardner Archambault & Jennifer Masunaga (2015) Curriculum Mapping as a Strategic Planning Tool, Journal of Library Administration, 55:6, 503-519, DOI: 10.1080/01930826.2015.1054770


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