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The Arts In Every Classroom: A Workshop for Elementary School Teachers

Designing a Multi-Arts Curriculum Unit

Learner Team members are introduced to a curriculum design process that asks teachers and students to focus on why rather than what — sometimes called backwards design. The teams begin to construct their own arts-based units of study, identifying enduring ideas and constructing essential questions that lead to carefully planned unit objectives and performance tasks.

Workshop Leaders Kathy Blum and Kathy DeJean. The Tinker Toy construction serves as a metaphor for curriculum design.

In Program 5, you will investigate a curriculum design process that works well for arts-based units. Unlike traditional approaches, this process focuses on the enduring ideas/understandings that drive the curriculum — the “why” rather than the “what.”

You will work in groups to construct enduring ideas/understandings, essential questions, and goals and objectives for your units of study.

Key Concepts/Vocabulary

  • Enduring ideas/understandings: the big concepts about a theme or topic that students should comprehend and retain after they’ve forgotten many of the details (a topic is a subject; a theme is an idea about the subject)
  • Essential questions: questions that guide teaching and engage students in uncovering the important ideas at the heart of each subject
  • Unit objectives: knowledge and skills necessary for students to demonstrate their understandings of essential questions

Designing Curriculum

About This Curriculum Design (PDF)
The Learner Teams worked through a process for developing curriculum. These materials will help guide you through the curriculum development process either on your own or with a group of colleagues.

About This Curriculum Design
The “backward design” process used in this session is based on the book and workshop series, Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. The book is published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Additional ideas were developed through the national education reform project called Transforming Education Through the Arts Challenge (TETAC), which was funded by the Walter H. Annenberg Foundation and the Getty Education Institute for the Arts.

Grant Wiggins is president and director of Grant Wiggins and Associates, a not-for-profit educational organization. He is the author of two books, Educative Assessment and Assessing Student Performance, as well as many articles that have appeared in major educational journals.

Jay McTighe is director of the Maryland Assessment Consortium, a statewide collaborative of school districts. He has been a classroom teacher, resource specialist, and director of a state residential enrichment program and has worked on school improvement projects with the Maryland Department of Education. His articles have appeared in numerous journals and books.



Based on the lesson plans and handouts for Program 5, think about how you might apply the curriculum design process discussed in this program to a content standard, topic, or theme relevant to your classroom. Write some notes in your journal.

Be prepared to respond to the following question at the next workshop session:

  • Based on this journal exercise, what difficulties or advantages do you foresee in working with the curriculum design model discussed in this program?


Reading Assignment

The following required readings will support your understanding of Program 5 for the for-credit workshop:

  • “Teaching for Understanding,” This article provides insights from research and educational practice about both the nature of understanding and how people learn for understanding.
  • Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. Prentice Hall College Div; ISBN:013093058X (December 28, 2000). This book is about the design of curricula to engage students in exploration and to deepen their understanding of important ideas and the design of assessments to reveal the extent of their understandings.

The following required readings will support your understanding of program :

In addition, review the following articles:

Ongoing Activities

Here are some other activities that can boost learning between workshop sessions.

Watch some or all of these programs from The Arts in Every Classroom: A Video Library, K-5:


Research resources on arts integration and curriculum design at your school or public library or on the Web.

Consider what multi-arts performance pieces, in addition to Quidam, might provide platforms for teaching and learning in your school.