At the most general or abstract level, the goals of education include important philosophical ideas like "developing individuals to their fullest potential" and "preparing students to be productive members of society". Few teachers would disagree with these ideas in principle, though they might disagree about their wording or about their relative importance. As a practical matter, however, teachers might have trouble translating such generalities into specific lesson plans or activities for the next day's class. What does it mean, concretely, to "develop an individual to his or her fullest potential"? Does it mean, for example, that a language arts teacher should ask students to write an essay about their personal interests, or does it mean that the teacher should help students learn to write as well as possible on any topic, even ones that are not of immediate interest? What exactly should a teacher do, from day to day, to "prepare students to be productive members of society" as well? Answers to questions like these are needed to plan instruction effectively. But the answers are not obvious simply by examining statements of general educational goals.
National and state learning standards
Some (but not all) of the work of transforming such general purposes into more precise teaching goals and even more precise objectives has been performed by broad US organizations that represent educators and other experts about particular subjects or types of teaching (Riley, 2002). The groups have proposed national standards, which are summaries of what students can reasonably be expected to learn at particular grade levels and in particular subjects areas. In the United States, in addition, all state governments create state standards that serve much the same purpose: they express what students in the state should (and hopefully can) learn at all grade levels and in all subjects. Examples of organizations that provide national standards are listed in Table 27, and examples of state standards are listed in Table 28 for one particular state, Ohio, in the area of language arts.
Because they focus on grade levels and subject areas, general statements of educational standards tend to be a bit more specific than the broader philosophical goals we discussed above. As a rule of thumb, too, state standards tend to be more comprehensive than national standards, both in coverage of grade levels and of subjects. The difference reflects the broad responsibility of states in the United States for all aspects of public education; national organizations, in contrast, usually assume responsibility only for a particular subject area or particular group of students. Either type of standards provides a first step, however, toward transforming the grandest purposes of schooling (like developing the individual or preparing for society) into practical classroom activities. But they provide a first step only. Most statements of standards do not make numerous or detailed suggestions of actual activities or tasks for students, though some might include brief classroom examples— enough to clarify the meaning of a standard, but not enough to plan an actual classroom program for extended periods of time. For these latter purposes, teachers rely on more the detailed documents, the ones often called curriculum frameworks and curriculum guides.
Curriculum frameworks and curriculum guides
The terms curriculum framework and curriculum guide sometimes are used almost interchangeably, but for convenience we will use them to refer to two distinct kinds of documents. The more general of the two is curriculum framework, which is a document that explains how content standards can or should be organized for a particular subject and at various grade levels. Sometimes this information is referred to as the scope and sequence for a curriculum. A curriculum framework document is like a standards statement in that it does not usually provide a lot of detailed suggestions for daily teaching. It differs from a standards statement, though, in that it analyzes each general standard in a curriculum into more specific skills that students need to learn, often a dozen or more per standard. The language or terminology of a framework statement also tends to be somewhat more concrete than a standards statement, in the sense that it is more likely to name behaviors of students— things that a teacher might see them do or hear them say. Sometimes, but not always, it may suggest ways for assessing whether students have in fact acquired each skill listed in the document. Table 29 shows a page from a curriculum framework published by the California State Board of Education (Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Committee, 1999). In this case the framework explains the state standards for learning to read, and the excerpt in Table 29 illustrates how one particular standard, that "students speak and write with command of English conventions appropriate to this grade level", is broken into nine more specific skills. Note that the excerpt names observable behaviors of students (what they do or say); we will discuss this feature again, more fully, in the next part of this chapter, because it is helpful in classroom planning. In spite of this feature, though, the framework document does not lay out detailed activity plans that a teacher could use on a daily basis. (Though even so, it is over 300 pages long!)
Teachers' need for detailed activity suggestions is more likely to be met by a curriculum guide, a document devoted to graphic descriptions of activities that foster or encourage the specific skills explained in a curriculum framework document. The descriptions may mention or list curriculum goals served by an activity, but they are also likely to specify materials that a teacher needs, time requirements, requirements for grouping students, drawings or diagrams of key equipment or materials, and sometimes even suggestions for what to say to students at different points during the activity. In these ways the descriptions may resemble lesson plans.
Since classroom activities often support more than one specific skill, activities in a curriculum guide may be organized differently than they might be in a framework document. Instead of highlighting only one standard at a time, as the framework document might, activities may be grouped more loosely— for example, according to the dominant purpose or goal of an activity ("Activities that encourage the practice of math facts") or according to a dominant piece of equipment or material ("Ten activities with tin cans"). Table 30 shows a description of a kindergarten-level activity about "autumn leaves" that might appear in a curriculum guide. Note that the activity meets several educational objectives at once— tracing shapes, knowledge of leaves and of colors, descriptive language skill. Each of these skills may reflect a different curriculum standard.