Professional Learning

Video: 3 Tips for Designing a Rigorous K–12 Curriculum

2 Min Read

How do you build a stellar—and rigorous—K–12 curriculum? To truly maximize student outcomes, teachers need to approach this task purposefully and deliberately in an organized fashion. 

To start, let’s define the phrase rigorous curriculum. As I outline in my book Rigorous Curriculum Design: How to Create Curricular Units of Study That Align Standards, Instruction, and Assessment, a curriculum categorized as such should include the following elements:

  • Clear learning outcomes and matching assessments
  • Learning experiences that engage students
  • Differentiated instructional strategies
  • Sequenced units of study

In the video below, you can learn more about the three main lessons I have learned about designing a rigorous curriculum throughout my career.

  1. Take the time to focus on the foundational pieces: Don’t breeze through the foundation of your curriculum—your Priority Standards—too quickly. Spend time really identifying and aligning those priorities from grade to grade and course to course. If you rush through the foundation, you will be building a super structure on a weak foundation.
  2. Start small, build slowly: Don’t take on too much too quickly. Proceed with designing your curriculum at a pace that’s doable for your system.
  3. Leaders must be involved and committed: It’s not enough for a leader to attend a workshop or conference and then step away from the design of the curriculum. Leaders need to have an ongoing “hands-on, minds-on” mentality with a focus on committing, not just learning.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


You can book a keynote with ICLE Senior Fellow Larry Ainsworth to bring his expertise on rigorous curriculum design to your school or district.

Related Reading