Content and Skills: Balancing Depth vs. Breadth
By Megan Davenport, Rubicon International
When writing curriculum, many teachers start by selecting which standards will need to be taught during a given unit. This is certainly no easy task, and the end result is often a lot of information that students will need to master. From here, teachers may synthesize that information into Enduring Understandings and Essential Questions to frame the purpose of the unit and guide inquiry. But now what? We have a list of standards containing a wealth of information and EUs/EQs providing a high-level focus, but how do we translate this into what we will actually teach? By identifying the Content and Skills within a unit plan.
The content and skills are the concrete items that students need to know, understand and do.
This is often referred to as “unpacking” the standards. When teachers have the opportunity to identify the content and skills in a focused and thoughtful way, it allows them to more deeply understand the standards in order to develop assessments that truly reflect understanding, and to design learning activities that will best prepare students for success!
When identifying the content, the teacher should review the standards to see what content-information is included. For example, some standards may include vocabulary words, key concepts and ideas, etc. The content can provide an opportunity to pull out all of this information into a focused list of everything students need to know. One easy way to identify these to do highlight or circle the key nouns in the standards
When identifying the skills, the teacher should review the standards to understand what students are expected to do to demonstrate proficiency. For example, do students need to simply recall the meaning of academic terms, or do they need to critique information to show a deep understanding? To identify the skills highlight or circle the key verbs within the standard.
The real art of writing content and skills lies in finding the balance of depth versus breadth- there will never be enough time for everything, so prioritization and balance are key. The more focused and specific your list is, the more focused and specific your teaching will be. Ready to get started? Check out our examples and resources below:
Content and Skills
Content: What students should know– the subject matter, key concepts, facts, and events
- Is it noun-driven?
- Is it clear & concise?
- Is it specific enough for an outsider to understand?
- Does it connect to the Standards, EUs, EQs, etc.?
Skills: What students should be able to do (mental, physical, etc.)
- Is it verb-driven?
- Does it reflect the appropriate level of thinking (Bloom’s Taxonomy/Webb DOK)?
- Does it align back to Standards, EUs, EQs, etc.?
Social Studies, Grade 1
- Communities, Neighborhoods, & Cities
- Neighborhood Helpers
- Cooperation and conflict
- Distinguish between near & far
- Identify people and places often found around the neighborhood
- Describe ways that each community member can work together to make it a nice place to live
Health, Grade 7
- 8 Dimensions of Wellness: occupational, emotional, spiritual, environmental, financial, physical, social, and intellectual
- Strategies to find the right balance
- Reflect on daily highlights and lowlights
- Research ways to manage stress (exercise, meditation, friendships, etc.)
- Compare and contrast prices and nutritional values to create a grocery budget
- Articulate a wellness plan that is viable for his/her individual lifestyle
English, Grade 10
- Close reading and textual evidence
- Historical context: Jim Crow laws, Plessy v. Ferguson, etc.
- Literary Terms: Foreshadowing, Figurative language, Symbolism, Theme, Character, Point of View
- Interpret and generalize based on textual evidence after close reading
- Identify and understand major themes in a novel
- Analyze the development of a character in a novel
- Utilize literary terms to explain author’s craft
- When creating daily learning activities, refer back to the Content and Skills as a checklist.
- Are all daily activities working on at least one portion of the Content and Skills?
- Once you have completed all of your Learning Activities, will students have utilized all of the Content and Skills?
- Review the list of Content and Skills with students at the end of the unit to celebrate learning. Look at all of the knowledge and skills we have gained!