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Diplomacy in Action

Section Three: Curriculum Processes


Section Three: Curriculum Processes

As teams are formed, they build a foundation and begin working together to implement interdisciplinary and thematic approaches. They will eventually begin creating and adjusting curriculum. During this activity, they need to unify on terms, concepts and standards. It is helpful if the school has already established academic standards for content, process and cognition. If these learning standards are already in place, they provide a useful starting point for the work of building interdisciplinary connections. The steps that need to be completed do not form a linear sequence. They are extremely fluid and dynamic. Although it is helpful to begin with definitions, some groups found success by working together first and letting the definitions emerge from the discussion. Others began by talking about learning connections and then built assessments around those connections.

� Define terms and concepts

� Determine Learning Standards

� Describe acceptable performance criteria (evidence of learning)

� Develop packages of assessments

� Design learning plans, units and lessons

� Discover connections in content, themes and skills

Differentiating Discreet, Integrated and Interdisciplinary

Despite the longstanding and significant interest in teaching beyond disciplinary lines, there is no single defining work that establishes the standard terminology for this approach to learning. Terms such as integrated, interdisciplinary, thematic, transdisciplinary, multidisciplinary and project-based are all used to describe learning that goes beyond a single discipline. In reality, early childhood education has never been highly disciplinary. It is most common to find rigidly structured disciplinary approaches at the high school level. But schools that follow a junior high approach rather than the more integrated middle school model are also likely to subdivide learning into discrete curricula and courses. The following three tables illustrate the language we employed in this project.


In our nomenclature, �Discrete� is a term defining a typical departmentalized model that defines and subdivides learning along traditional disciplinary lines of scope and sequence. This approach does not reject discrete learning; rather it uses the standards, concepts and specialized skills from each discipline as the building blocks of interdisciplinary learning. For many highly specialized subjects, a discrete class is a superior way to provide rigor and focus. This is why higher education is often extremely specialized.


Social Studies

Language Arts


Physical Science


Communications & Speech


Life Science




Chemistry & Physics

Behavioral Sciences

Research and Composition


The term �Integrated� refers to a discipline-based model that strands the expertise from a particular discipline across several years of courses and learning. This model provides a structure to transcend the divisions within a discipline, but does not necessarily set up interdisciplinary connections. For a school moving from a purely discrete model to one that is more interdisciplinary, the integrated model can be a useful transitional step to introduce principles of collaboration and connection that will be included in the interdisciplinary design.


Social Studies

Language Arts


Aquatic Systems

Indigenous Societies

Great Literature




World Literature


Sustainable Development


Modern Literature
Technical Writing

As an approach,Interdisciplinary relies on established standards for content, skills and cognition. Frequently these standards have been informed by the work of national content groups. It is certainly the case that each discipline has a well-defined vocabulary, skill set and expertise. In many cases however, the skills and perspectives associated with a particular discipline are used with varying degrees of precision and quality across the curriculum. This sharing and borrowing of skill and expertise can lead to a fragmented student experience if standards and instructional approaches are not sufficiently consistent. For this reason, an interdisciplinary approach can go along way towards ensuring a coherent curriculum.



Living Near Water

Geology, Biology, Chemistry and Physics of water

History and geography of human water use

Research and writing about humans and water

Living on The Land

Soil characteristics

Land Use





Mass Media


Geologic Formations

Living with Limited Resources


Public Policy





Beyond the broad conceptual distinctions of discrete, integrated and interdisciplinary approaches, there is a core set of terms that play an important part in the readiness and planning stages. In our project, we crafted a universal glossary so that our reporting and authoring would have continuity of meaning. In the case of an individual school, however, it would be useful to form working definitions as a part of the early stages of team development. An open discussion and conclusion about basic terms and concepts can reveal or provide foundational consensus that will be needed later on.

Notes and Reflections

� What approach to instructional design is already in place?

� What opportunities are available to enhance learning by moving toward more interdisciplinary approaches?






















Usi Using Curriculum Design to align Standards, Instruction and Assessment.

The steps and stages that follow are not necessarily linear. You will probably find it necessary during the actual planning to go back and forth between steps before being satisfied with the final product. To maintain the coherent quality of this curriculum design, check to ensure that all assessments explicitly reflect the desired standards and benchmarks. It is also worth checking that all activities are aligned to the standards addressed in the assessments.

Additionally, each team should reference any curriculum scope and sequence documents that are in place. There should be an alignment of standards and benchmarks both from the curriculum and including; Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, accreditation agencies and local requirements. This alignment enhances coherence and retains strong accountability to those charged with oversight of the program. One way to assert leadership over the alignment process is to establish rubrics to evaluate the process and the final projects against the original objectives and the standards and benchmarks.

A stack of booksMen and women discussing

Define terms and concepts

For the purposes of our project, we defined a set of terms using basic and minimal definitions that translated well into Spanish. Since many of the educators who were implementing these approaches were either bilingual or had limited English proficiency, it was important to the project participants that some of our foundational materials be available in Spanish. At several of the participating schools, Spanish language versions of The Basic School, Dimensions of Learning and The Coherent Curriculum were made available through the readiness phase and on an ongoing basis.

Area of Knowledge: A body of related skills and content, described in standardized language

Assessment: A variety of ongoing methods used to gather evidence of enduring knowledge

Benchmarks: Specific reference points of learner performance in an area of knowledge defined by the standards

Brain Compatible: That which uses the latest research on the brain as the basis for increasing understanding and retention.

Coherent: That which is held together by unified practice and purpose

Curriculum: A plan for learners to achieve desired learning

Interdisciplinary: An approach to learning which combines disciplines by focusing on common elements

Knowledge: Those skills (procedural) or content (declarative), which an individual has and may use as desired

Standards: A broad statement of learner expectations in an area of knowledge.

Determine Learning Standards

� Ask, What standards must learners meet for:

Content? (What declarative knowledge should the student know and understand?)

Skills? (What procedural knowledge should the student master?)

Cognition? (What thinking processes and habits will learners apply?)

Declarative knowledge can be thought of as �information� and usually involves component parts. It is knowledge that is hierarchic in nature. The most basic way of thinking about organizing declarative knowledge is as vocabulary terms. The most general way is as concepts. Between these two extremes are facts, time sequences, causal networks, episodes, generalizations and principles. The words �know that� are a cue to declarative knowledge.

Procedural knowledge consists of skills, strategies, and processes. Algorithms are the most specific type of procedural knowledge. They are usually comprised of steps that are performed in a fairly strict order. Strategies commonly involve the application of basic rules. However, these rules are not necessarily applied in any specific order. That is, the job can be accomplished in a wide variety of ways. Macroprocesses are the most general type of procedural knowledge. As the name implies, they are �big� processes with many interactive components. For instruction it is important to identify the component parts of the big process and determine the declarative knowledge associated with the identified procedures. The word �should� followed by an action verb is a cue for procedural knowledge.

These structural differences in declarative and procedural knowledge have implications for the way knowledge is taught and assessed

(Marzano & Kendall, 1996, pp. 54-55, 201-209).

Thinking and Reasoning skills consists of cognitive processes and habits that form useful patterns. Complex reasoning processes such as comparing and contrasting or determining cause and effect are examples of thinking and reasoning skills. An important cue to listen for when planning for cognitive skills is the phrase, Think about.

Des Describe acceptable performance criteria (evidence of learning)

� Ask: What forms of evidence will we accept to prove that students have attained the desired understandings and proficiencies?

� Construct scoring rubrics to describe levels of proficiency for each standard.

� Select sample student work to exemplify each level of proficiency. Annotate these �anchor� products to illustrate the type of evidence that is being collected.

Dev Develop packages of assessments

� Identify the range of assessments needed to collect evidence about student learning. Consider a broad range of assessment methods and schedules.

� Where appropriate, pair complex reasoning processes with declarative knowledge to enrich performance assessments.

� Create task-specific rubrics aligned with the performance criteria. Include descriptions of levels of proficiency as well as samples of student work where available.

Des Design learning plans, units and lessons

� Ask, �What learning experiences will be most effective at helping students become proficient?�

� Identify specific instructional strategies such as direct instruction, constructivism, cooperative learning, etc.

� Design learning experiences to help students acquire, integrate and extend new learning. Provide opportunities for rehearsal and application to reinforce the new learning.

� Organize the learning into logical and coherent lessons, units and projects.

� Determine materials and resources needed.

Dis Discover connections in content, themes and skills

� Identify the content areas being linked through the unit or learning.

� Identify declarative, procedural and cognitive expectations for each discipline.

� Look for overlaps or close connections between disciplines.

� Where there are common skills, agree on common standards and instructional approaches.

� Brainstorm themes that transcend any specific discipline but which relate to the content, topics and skills discussed.

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