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The Alignment Process

The Alignment Process

Photo: The Alignment Process by Dr. Ellen McMahon

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A project I am doing at work has me thinking. I am working on a curriculum project that I think of as an alignment process.  In looking at individual courses, whether in grammar school or high school or technical school or university, the overarching course goals have to be linked to everything else. How would you know if students met the goals or how would you even begin to approach assessing whether or not students met the goals if everything was not in alignment? Course goals dictate what will be covered in each session, so you have session objectives that lead to the student learning outcomes for that session…at the end of this session students will be able to…do something. The assignments have to give students an opportunity to demonstrate that they have in fact mastered the content of that session. Finally the assessments must be designed to measure whether or not the student has in fact met the course goals.  In my mind the most important thing is the next step and that is what information can you gather from all this that allows you to make the course better?  If students didn’t meet all the course goals what can the faculty do to change that? We are assessing not only student learning but also our teaching, as well as the process and materials used.

What if we focused on alignment in our day to day lives, following this same alignment process we might get to where we want to be more directly.  For some of us that may be good for others the journey no matter how circuitous is better than a straight line. Begin by thinking of where you want to be at a given point in time. I want to be a teacher. I want to have enough money to go on vacation. I want to speak another language. I want to write a book. Once you know where you want to go you can begin to map out the steps it takes to get there. I think they call this backward design.

In my personal life I do want to write a book. I want to write a mystery series based on my travels and one of my favorite hobbies, thrift stores. But I don’t seem to connect to the fact that for this to happen I have to begin writing routinely on that topic. I seem to procrastinate and think I will get to that soon, and of course other things get in the way. If I took my own advice I would start with the end in mind and realize that books don’t write themselves and I probably need to devote so many hours a week to just this project. And if those hours could be broken into manageable chunks I might actually do it.

Can you think of something you want to do but you haven’t yet?  Do you think the backward design process, starting with the end in mind and aligning your actions, might get you moving?