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Getting Results with Curriculum Mapping

reviewed by Eugene Bartoo - 2005

coverTitle: Getting Results with Curriculum Mapping
Author(s): Heidi Hayes Jacobs (Editor)
Publisher: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, VA
ISBN: 0871209993, Pages: 181, Year: 2004
Search for book at Amazon.com

Heidi Hayes Jacobss successful first book on mapping came out in 1997 and was the result of her extensive work with schools that had come to see curriculum mapping as useful. That book, written entirely by Jacobs, introduced the idea of mapping and how it could be used to encourage teacher collaboration on problems of curriculum organization, bring about curriculum integration, and develop a more intelligent and elaborate system of evaluation. There was a tone about the first book that fit comfortably within the traditions of curriculum planning that have evolved since early in the twentieth century.

Jacobss second book on mapping, Getting Results With Curriculum Mapping, is somewhat different. Jacobs is this time the editor rather than the volumes sole writer, and many of the contributions come from those who are associated with her in her extensive consulting work. Although the book provides interesting and useful suggestions about and examples of the work of curriculum mapping, the whole endeavor seems to be oriented to selling curriculum mapping and in particular the technology for such mapping offered by Jacobs and her associates.

The idea of curriculum mapping is quite simple. It is the description of what is going on in the classrooms of a school in real time. It is less detailed than a collection of lesson plans and syllabuses and more detailed than a list of course and unit descriptions. The level of detail is a function of both the size of the territory being mapped and the use to which the map is put.

Jacobs promotes curriculum mapping as a tool, and like most tools, it can be used for good or evil or both. It can be a way to create a more effective curriculum by engaging all teachers and staff in a collaborative effort, or it can be used to increase managerial control, or both. It can be used to communicate with various persons interested in the schools curriculum in terms that are meaningful and useful, or it can be used as a piece of public relations hype or a pro forma report. The issue, of course, is whether the decision to spend time on curriculum mapping arises from a problem that the school finds it vital to attack at the time and that will improve the teaching-learning situations in the school.

Jacobss approach to curriculum mapping came out of her work with school faculties during the early 1990s. The typical curriculum guidelines extant at the time did not contain the kind of information Jacobs felt was needed, so Jacobs and the teachers used large filing cards to list the content, teaching activities, and assessments for each month of the academic year, one card per teacher per month. The resulting map (really a large grid) gave an overview of the years work for each teacher in such a way that repetitions and gaps could readily be seen. This process then yielded a myriad of questions about the curriculum that could be triaged and attacked. Subsequent work by Jacobs has refined the components of this type of map in a way that makes the information it provides more meaningful to various stakeholders in the schools curriculum. A typical map includes essential questions (rather than learning objectives), content pieces, activities, and assessments, to which have been added the now ubiquitous state standards.

The maps that have developed as a result of Jacobss work take a different approach than other types of maps by those that preceded her: the traditional scope and sequence charts produced by schools after World War II, the lists of ordered learning outcomes that became prominent in the 1970s and 1980s, and the mapping process promoted by Fenwick English under the revealing metaphor of the curriculum audit. The traditional scope and sequence charts were driven by Ralph Tylers (1949) approach to curriculum planning and were really two-dimensional matchups of general content outlines with Blooms (1956) taxonomy. They were not particularly useful. For example, one could see, using a scope and sequence chart, that in a particular curriculum the analysis of short stories occurred in seventh grade. However, one could not see that one seventh-grade teacher used the Little House on the Prairie books for this purpose, which were also used by the fifth- and sixth-grade teachers for another purpose. During the latter quarter of the twentieth century, the curriculum was specified using lists of learning outcomes (Johnson, 1967). These primarily served a managerial and evaluative purpose rather than being helpful to teachers trying to organize a curriculum. The curriculum audit process developed by English involved a lengthy and detailed set of procedures designed to reassure central office administrators that the curriculum in their district was well-managed (Frase, English, & Poston, 2000).

Getting Results With Curriculum Mapping contains 10 readings: 4 chapters by Jacobs, 4 reports of various schools uses of curriculum mapping by practitioners on the scene, and 2 readings by persons connected with Jacobss consulting efforts that focus on the principals role in mapping and on the advantages of using computer technology in mapping. Nine appendices provide extensive examples of forms and structures, and there is also a short list of online resources and a bibliography. All of the pieces are written in a straightforward way. The whole book, like Jacobss previous one, can be read fairly quickly.

This book is designed to be helpful to busy school practitioners who are thinking about using curriculum mapping, want a fairly quick overview of just what it is, and might want to be directed to a place that can give them the help they need in implementing it. Ideas are supported with numerous examples that are presented in clear and straightforward ways and come from real-life experiences. The book abounds with examples of practices, procedures, forms, structures, surveys, checklists, and the like. They fill virtually all of the chapters, as well as the appendices, in the form of tables, lists, pictures, and short descriptions. The book’s 8″ × 10″ format presents all in a clear, simple, and attractive layout. The reader can easily see what is being written about as well as find the structures and tools to be used.

The first chapter, by Jacobs, sets up what is to come by reviewing the process of curriculum mapping, and the final chapter, also by Jacobs, closes out the book with a set of predictions. Jacobss other two contributions discuss the conceptual development of mapping as a vehicle for consensus building and the use of assessment data in curriculum planning. The four case reports are varied and interesting. Two concern public school districts that have had experiences with curriculum mapping for over 10 years: one a large suburban district outside Columbia, South Carolina, that is undergoing demographic changes and the other a medium-sized, upscale, exurban district in Iowa that is experiencing rapid growth. The other two reports come from a sectarian private P12 school of some 1,200 students in St. Paul, Minnesota, that has a traditional academic focus and from a collection of alternative, nontraditional schools in Pittsburgh that serve a transient population of troubled youth.

My major concern regarding the book is that it appears to be a sales pitch for curriculum mapping. The prologue by Jacobs suggests that measurable improvement in student performance is one criterion of the success of curriculum mapping, but nowhere in the book is there any verification that any significant level of such improvement has occurred in over 10 years of experience with the technique. When Jacobs talks of research, she means collecting information to pave the way for successful implementation of mapping, not investigating the results of implementation. Although her suggestions are congruent with all that we know about successful administrative implementation of an innovation and her continual defense of the need for teachers to work collaboratively is consonant with good leadership practice, this book is not a sober assessment of the value of curriculum mapping.

In her chapter on developing consensus maps, Jacobs approaches the question of consensus delicately by cautioning against the push for premature consensus. She terms a consensus map an essential map, where essential seems to mean what everyone can agree on rather that what is considered fundamentally important. Curriculum mapping, however, may not build consensus but instead exaggerate differences. The chapter on integrating assessments and standards is timely, but Jacobss description of bilevel analysis of assessment data makes no contribution to eradicating the false dichotomy between skills and content. Her suggestion of using curriculum mapping to set up times throughout the school year when teachers across the curriculum engage in common assessment tasks is an interesting one.

Mary Ann Holt, an experienced principal who currently works with Jacobs in her consulting firm, contributes a chapter on the principals role that is full of charts and tables and steps in the management process. However, her chapter suggests a number of questions that are not answered anywhere in the book. For instance, she acknowledges that one question a typical teacher might ask at the outset is where the data on the effectiveness of mapping might be, but then doesnt answer the question. In her suggestions on how teachers can go about freeing up time to work on mapping, she suggests that they drop some other things they are doing and offers a chart to show the ways teachers are spending their time. The chart is a simple grid of curriculum areas by grade level, leading one to conclude that the time to be devoted to curriculum mapping is to come from time that could otherwise be devoted to the teaching areas in the curriculum.

The chapter by Kallick and Wilson is a sales pitch for the use of computer technology in mapping. This is not surprising, since Kallick runs a company that sells software for mapping (the companys URL is referenced in the books appendix). The chapter describes how to fashion a procedure to make the need for computer technology palpable by emphasizing the importance of a public review of the information contained in maps and demonstrating the anachronism of using paper. The writers assert that such public sharing of information is tantamount to knowledge creation, since the information somehow comes from the tacit knowledge of teachers. After selling the value of computer technology, the writers acknowledge the difficulties with such technology by describing a few challenges in the whole process, but even those are betrayed by a smarmy tone of paternalism. For example, the writers state, As we all know, teachers are not accustomed to open dialogue that encourages skepticism and critical inquiry (p. 93). Surely this comment was not written for the typical reader of Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development publications, and obviously it was not written for teachers.

The four reports on the use of mapping in real schools may be the strongest sections of the book. They reaffirm the strengths of mapping as a tool to build collaboration among teachers but in some instances also betray the possibility of heavy-handed, top-down use of mapping by administrators. The two public school districts discussed in these reports make somewhat different uses for curriculum mapping. The district in South Carolina has 19 different schools, and its intent in using mapping is to bring about some uniformity between the official, standards-driven curriculum and what individual teachers decide to do in their classrooms. The writing of the case report on this district is hampered by the heavy use of metaphor and jargon. Certainly curriculum mapping can be likened to a tool belt, as the case report does, but extending that metaphor throughout the chapter makes for irritating reading. The chapters use of the phrase build a learning community masks what seems to be the real intent of oversight and clarity among all teachers and supervisors in the district discussed. Although it is important for the leadership of a large school district to find ways to get the curriculum organized and clarified and get everyone who is involved in delivering the curriculum coordinated and engaged with that delivery, that does not make a learning community, or even a community.

The case report on the experiences of the public school district in Iowa is quite different. This district has taken Jacobss message to heart, for it is clear that in this district, curriculum mapping is a tool for focusing curriculum work by teachers. Although accountability for student learning is a strong and continuing concern for the district, the report describes how teachers are organized and how the school leadership is retrained and refocused to support an organization that is oriented to curriculum problem solving with a high degree of teacher involvement and even teacher leadership. This district too was originally driven to use mapping by a need to find ways to eliminate the confusion caused by individual teachers working in isolation, but the means seem to be fashioned much more around emergent problems than some central plan. Two examples make this point: the formation of a technology team, after it has become apparent that a more rapid retrieval and delivery of information is needed for working groups, and the application of the mapping process to professional development planning so that professional development in the district is focused on the emerging problems of the teachers and less on the one size fits all type of professional development so typical of most school districts.

The independent school in St. Paul uses curriculum mapping in a similar way, but on a much smaller scale. The case report on this school provides a nice array of forms (included in the appendices) and demonstrates how a small school can implement mapping over a relatively short time. The school developed its own home-grown database for storing and retrieving maps that seems to meet the schools needs, making it unnecessary for the school to purchase an expensive computer program devoted to mapping (such as the one Kallick and Wilson portray as essential). The important message of the report is that mapping can provide a way for members of a traditional, liberal-arts-oriented faculty to collaboratively confront curriculum problems.

The last case report in the volume is perhaps the most curious. One would think that organization of the curriculum might be a good idea but that curriculum maps wouldnt be of much use among and across schools serving homeless shelters, detention centers, and community alternative schools in which students may come and go within a week. After all, as Jacobs continually asserts, the vision that mappers should keep in mind is the individual student that is to progress through the curriculum. Yet the students in these schools dont progress through the curriculum for more than a few days. So what is curriculum mapping used for in these settings? The answer seems to be that it is a way for the administrators to direct the teachers work. Maps are submitted to administrators twice a month: once at the beginning to receive feedback and once at the end (presumably to see if the feedback took). To be fair, it appears that the teachers in these schools are not experienced or skillful with basic instructional-planning concepts. For example, they were not ready, when mapping was introduced in these schools, for the idea of essential questions, which Jacobs promotes as a better way than more common instructional objectives to express ends-in-viewand therefore the use of these questions was delayed.

In summary, Jacobss new work is a nice introduction to curriculum mapping as it is practiced in many schools. It is full of helpful ideas and suggestions for practitioners who might be considering implementing it. However, the book takes an administrative orientation to the use of the tool and gives just enough information to entice the busy administrator to seek the consultant help and technological services of Jacobs and her colleagues. One is left wondering whether the effort and time given to curriculum mapping has had any lasting effect on student learning in the schools with experience in mapping or even whether mapping itself is still vital and useful to the many schools that have tried it beyond those included in the book.


Bloom, B. S. (Ed.). (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York: McKay.

Frase, L. E., English, F. W., & Poston, W. K., Jr. (2000). The curriculum management audit: Improving school quality. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.

Jacobs, H. H. (1997). Mapping the big picture: Integrating curriculum and assessment K12. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Johnson, M. (1967). Definitions and models in curriculum theory. Educational Theory, 17, 127140.

Tyler, R. W. (1949). Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 107 Number 11, 2005, p. 2437-2443
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11834, Date Accessed: 10/27/2021 5:53:12 PM

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About the Author
  • Eugene Bartoo
    University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s College of Education
    E-mail Author
    EUGENE BARTOO is a Routt Professor at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s College of Education. Bartoo is the director of a three year project entitled TRI-IT, funded by the US Dept of Education Teacher Quality Enhancement grant program (approx. $1.5 million over three years) and is under contract with Wadsworth Publishing for a book tentatively entitled "A Teacher's Guide to Action Research" (anticipated publication in Spring 2006). Bartoo recently delivered at the annual meeting of the Southeast Philosophy of Education Society, Savannah, Georgia, 4 February 2000, and wrote a paper titled "Schwab's Pragmatic Intellectual Space and the Development of a Course on Curriculum Inquiry". Bartoo’s review of Ernest T. Stringer’s book Action Research in Education (2004) was published in Education Review: A Journal of Book Reviews. http://edrev.asu.edu/reviews/rev304.htm.
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