Beware the Pretty, Shiny Thing in Curriculum Design


In my instructional coaching work, I spend a lot of my time encouraging teachers and trainers to stay focused on their intended outcome when designing curriculum. I have even been known to urge them to remain in ruthless service to their outcome. Why such strong language? Because, I am desperately trying to protect them from being distracted by... the pretty, shiny thing in curriculum design.

It will lead you away from your intended outcome.

What in the world is the pretty, shiny, thing? It is anything good, fun, interesting or worthwhile that has absolutely NOTHING to do with the intended outcome of your course, curriculum or training, but much like a chocolate bar waved in front of a dieter, it is almost impossible to resist.

I could tell countless stories of good teachers gone momentarily astray over a noble idea, engaging activity, enlightening guest lecture, fascinating visiting exhibit, or hot new teaching strategy that they were dying to wedge into their course or lesson plan.

Almost all pretty, shiny things have definite value, just no value added for your current course, curriculum, learning project or training module. You see, I am of the persuasion that It isn't enough for an activity to be worthwhile and fun, it still needs to move the learner down the road towards your intended outcome. If it doesn't, it is so much noise and distraction, and it is my job as the guide on the side to direct said pretty, shiny thing toward the really-great-idea-for-another-course folder.

It is good; but also extraneous and distracting.

I sometimes feel like a wet blanket or party pooper when I have to do this; but I know in the end that the precious little time my coaching client has to effect real growth and change in their learners will be eaten up by tacking that pretty shiny thing onto the back of, or squished into the middle of, their curriculum, course or lesson plan. Extricating the pretty shiny thing is a delicate matter however, but can generally be accomplished with validation and curiosity. A couple of sentences that have worked for me (and that you can ask yourself if your are struck by the pretty, shiny thing bug) are:

"Oh, yes that is interesting/engaging/enlightening, but can you help me understand which outcome that will help your learners attain?"
"Yes, what a great activity/exhibit/film clip/game, but can you help me understand which curricular trouble spot that will assist you in addressing?"

Save your pretty, shiny thing for a better time and place.

These questions are thoughtfully considered by teachers and trainers and generally result in the agreed upon, although somewhat reluctant removal of the pretty, shiny thing from the current course or curriculum. I enthusiastically encourage them to save it for a better-suited course or training, one in which it can take a starring role as the perfect vehicle for helping their learners meet a different intended outcome.