Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Emergent curriculum design isn’t a free-for-all. It’s not about evading standards–our own, or those that our state mandates. Emergent curriculum may be co-designed with students, but it’s still very carefully planned. In fact, it’s been my experience that emergent curriculum is far more data informed than many other kinds of curriculum we often purchase or create.

A quick aside: I make no apologies for using the word data. Data are information. They come in many forms. I continue to wonder what the unintended consequences might be of reducing our understanding of them to numbers. Most of this post is about gathering data, but the process is incredibly human-centered. We make human-centered decisions each day in our personal and professional lives, and when we do, we’re using data, whether we like to admit that or not……aren’t we? Perhaps data aren’t the problem. Maybe people who rely on only one type of data when they make important decisions about kids or curriculum might be. I’d love to know your thoughts on this, once you’re done reading. 

ANYWAY. It all begins with a framework, much like the one below. What matters most to you might be very different, though. How might you define the foundation and load bearing walls inside of your own curriculum? What are those walls holding up?

Many of the teachers that I support found their framework on the Next Generation English Language Arts Standards. The writing process and the elements of writers’ craft serve as two common load bearing walls. These three elements support the development of specific forms that writers will investigate and create together. Essential questions, authentic audiences, and meaningful purposes all matter very much, but teachers don’t control for these. They’re co-designed with students, and so, they aren’t included in this frame.

How might you create a blueprint that defines all that you must control for, in order to ensure quality learning and work And then, how might you invite your students to rough it all in?

The tool below includes a number of methods that have helped me and the teachers that I support SEE our students, ACCESS their voices, and CUSTOMIZE our curriculum frameworks, in response to what we learn. The learning targets that align to our standards, process, craft, and form stabilize our foundation and load bearing walls. We situate and pursue them in differentiated ways based on writers’ needs, but we don’t ditch them altogether. We don’t rip out the foundation or knock out load bearing walls.

Once the frame is in place, we share it with students. We make them co-designers from the start, and we use the discoveries that emerge from the unit to adjust the framework even further as it’s taught.

Here are some of the human-centered ways we gather the data we need in order to design curriculum together. Most of these approaches are adapted from IDEO’s design kit.  I’ve used all of them to forward emergent curriculum design work inside of the schools I support.

In my experience, designing frames helps teachers get clear about what they’re controlling for, while methods like these ensure that students are our collaborators. How might you use them with intention? What other approaches do you recommend?

As I’ve explained, this is new and experimental work. I don’t know many who are doing it. If you are, I’d love to chat with you more. Say hi in the comments or find me on Twitter or Facebook.



  1. Letitia Arney Reply

    I really like the idea behind the Rapid Prototype. I feel that I will be able to implement this into the Oklahoma State Standards for ELA into my classroom which will then allow my students to help me develop our curriculum based on a greater understanding of all that must be taught throughout this next year. It almost relieves me of some of the pressure I have placed on myself to try to develop interesting lessons- of course I will guide and direct, but my students will have a voice as well and this will give them ownership in the learning process. I am going to take a deeper look into the other 7 strategies and see where I can incorporate them into the unit, but the Rapid Prototype will be a great place to start!

    • I’m so sorry for my late reply, Letitia! For some reason, WordPress has stopped notifying me when people comment here, and I haven’t checked my dashboard here in some time. I need to get back to blogging soon!! I’m so glad you like this approach, and I hope you’ll stay connected as you try it. You’re in the FB group, yes? I think I’ve seen you there……

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