On Building Quality Curriculum

“If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.” (Yogi Berra)

This post stems from the insights I have gathered while working for the MYP on their new Building Quality Curriculum initiative, one which involves schools receiving feedback on selected unit planners. As someone who spent a good chunk of time writing that feedback (and teaching the MYP), I’d thought I’d collate some key aspects about what is required to get the inquiry stage of the planners right, both in MYP planners and elsewhere.



Common problems:

  • Too many for the length of the unit (no more than one key concept and three related concepts).
  • Only lip-service paid to the concepts in the actual learning experiences.
  • Key and related concepts confusingly overlap, e.g. “point of view” and “perspectives” in English Language and Literature.

Global context: STAY IN CONTEXT

Common problems:

  • No specific exploration is identified, with a real event, circumstance or situation in mind.
  • The real life event, circumstance or situation is not used as a lens throughout the unit.
  • It’s an afterthought, not a raison d’etre.


Common problems:

  • A collection of jargon words with little meaning.
  • Insufficient use of modality (e.g. might, may).
  • Missing key ingredients (concepts and/or contexts).
  • No student would want to think about it.


Common problems:

  • Are not “factual”, “conceptual” and “debatable”.
  • Are not creative and engaging.
  • When considered alone, or together, fail to unpack the statement of inquiry.
  • Questions wouldn’t lead to success on the assessment(s).


Common problems:

  • Too many skill indicators suggested. As an upper limit, perhaps a limit of one indicator for every three hours of teaching.
  • Not directly supportive of student success on the assessment(s).
  • Are not accompanied with specific, explicit learning experiences.


Common problems:

  • Would not produce reasonable evidence of performance on the stated objectives of the unit.
  • Not a performance of the students’ understanding of the statement of inquiry.




4 thoughts on “On Building Quality Curriculum

  1. Hi Phil,

    A really interesting post and one that definitely resonates with my inner grasp-task generator. I think that you’ve raised some really important questions about the authenticity and teachability of MYP units, particularly with regard to the jargon that is so often present within the language of our planning and delivery. In your comments on the role played by key and related concepts, you say that there are ‘too many for the length of unit’. I completely agree and I wonder if this implicitly raises a question relevant to our context: how many conceptual and authentic units should we be teaching in a semester/full year? We could then ask, how long should we dedicate to units in order to ensure that they are driven by student curiosity and inquiry? What role do stand alone exams play in these units?

    I also wonder if these questions are easier to answer in other subject areas where it might be easier and/or more authentic to ‘put a problem on the table’. Perhaps it really is necessary to turn up the ‘reality’ behind Language and Literature tasks, although I worry that we’d end up delivering a curriculum based on Apprentice style advertising briefs and lose that learning to learn and love literature piece…


  2. Ah, questions. Not sure there are answers that are generalisable, but sometimes the (inquiry…) questions can be enough to drive a process that gets us nearer a better result.

    I think the “reality” part of the language and literature tasks relates directly to the vision of good teaching being about inspiring students with subject knowledge that is made to feel relevant to the students and might provoke them to either do something good (action), or be a better person (character education). I think loving literature absolutely has a place here. How might they show this? Well, some random ideas both big and small that might be performances of understanding of a text include: book talks, to the class or beyond, role played as if they were the author; Twitter chats with authors; book reviews in the style of X newspaper/publication; organise a literature festival with various book readings and round table discussions; creative transformations of texts for an Arts Festival (transforming form (novel –> poetry, genre (sci-fi –> historical fiction)); curating a social media account on Goodreads etc.

    Now, the challenge, as always, is making the tough decisions about the current curriculum about what stays, what goes, what is updated and what needs to be fundamentally re-imagined. And, with that, because time is the most significant resource that is required, changes need to be made incrementally. I reckon a good starting point is re-imagining what an “exam” has to be (assuming you are “required” to have them). We might ask ourselves, what could be done that is more academically and socially innovative when you have a pre-existing 90-120 minute time slot of students from one grade level all booked into a large room together, with teachers available from within and beyond the subject discipline and grade level? Seems a like a golden opportunity for collaborative tasks, and/or the final showcasing of work, and/or a festival of performances, and/or as Arts Fair, and, probably, many more things beside.


  3. Building on today’s service inspiration and my knowledge of my CAS group, encouraging students to run book groups, enter literary competitions, would be great authentic experiences. I have two girls in my CAS group who are going to enter a story writing competition.


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