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Glossary: Curriculum & Instruction

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Back to Curriculum & Instruction

Following are some of the terms that come up in reporting on curriculum and instruction. Some definitions are adapted from The Glossary of Education Reform created by the Great Schools Partnership.

Advanced Placement: A program in which high school students take college-level courses through their own high schools. The College Board administers the AP program and exams, and if students score high enough, they can often earn credit honored by many colleges and universities.

Alignment: When used in the context of curriculum, this often refers to the process used to provide a coherent curriculum across grades, programs or a system. More broadly, education reports and policy proposals may refer to the alignment of various elements of an education system.

Curriculum: The lessons and academic content taught in a school or in a specific course or program. Depending on how broadly it is used, the term can include the learning objectives, the lessons or units taught, the assignments and projects, the books and other materials, and tests or other evaluations.

Differentiation: A wide variety of teaching techniques and adaptations that educators use to instruct a diverse group of students in the same course. The goal is to make sure all students master essential knowledge, concepts and skills, while using different instructional methods to help students meet those expectations.

Direct Instruction: An approach to education in which teachers direct the instructional process at students. This can often refer to a classroom discussion, a lecture or a demonstration.

International Baccalaureate (IB): A rigorous international program that aims to promote critical thinking. According to the IB website, students in more than 5,000 schools around the world are taught the IB curriculum, and high-schoolers can often earn college credit if their exam scores are high enough.

Open Educational Resources: Openly licensed teaching and learning materials that are free and available for anyone to use, customize and share. Used in both K-12 and higher education, they can include single lessons, classroom games, videos, or even entire textbooks.

Personalized Learning: A variety of educational programs, learning experiences, instructional approaches, and support strategies that are intended to address the distinct learning needs and interests of individual students (sometimes referred to as student-centered learning). The term also sometimes refers to offerings by online learning programs.

Project-Based Learning: An instructional approach in which students use diverse skills — such as researching, writing, interviewing, collaborating, or public speaking — to produce various work products, such as scientific studies, public-policy proposals or multimedia/artistic presentations. These projects are often designed to engage students in addressing real-world problems and issues.

Scaffolding: When learning is separated into sections, and an aid or tool is used for each separate section to enhance learning.

Scripted Curriculum: The most prescriptive form of standardized, prepackaged curriculum, since it typically requires teachers to actually read aloud from a script in class. The general rationale is that teaching quality can be assured or improved across a school or educational system, particularly in schools that have difficulty retaining experienced teachers.

State Academic Standards: Concise, written descriptions of what students are expected to know and be able to do at a specific stage of their education. They are typically organized by subject.

STEM: Science, technology, engineering and math. These subjects attract a lot of federal and state investment and are often touted as important gateways for students’ success in the job market.

Updated March 2021.