Curriculum at ASM

Extraordinary learning for and from every student

“Curriculum is the way in which we assist the development of reason, logic, and general knowledge in our students. It nurtures creativity, encourages thinking and risk-taking, fosters all experiences that result in physical, mental and emotional growth, shapes intellect and supports individual strengths and challenges.”  From the ASM Professional Development and Teaching Practices Handbook

The curriculum at the American School of Madrid is based on our school philosophy and objectives. Curriculum is neither set nor static.  Curriculum needs to be dynamically and continuously developing and evolving to prepare students for their future.

Using our Learning Beliefs and definition of curriculum as a guide our vision for curriculum development ASM is moving toward a curriculum that is:

  • An ideal match for our diversity of learners.
  • Guided by our school’s mission.
  • A clearly articulated and aligned continuum of learning.
  • A coherent map of interconnected elements: concepts, knowledge, trans-disciplinary skills, dispositions, actions, and social emotional and service learning.
  • Clearly focused on assessment, learning outputs, and learning data.
  • Measurable; using a balance of internal and external quality measures.
  • Guided by essential agreements that reflect our beliefs and drive our practice.
  • Supported by professional learning and development based on ASM priorities and resources.
  • Supported by excellent resources (human, material, facility, financial etc…).
  • Supported by effective structures and systems: schedules for common planning time; systems for reviewing, evaluating, and monitoring.
  • Communicated with all stakeholders.
  • Celebrated.

Our key areas of focus going forward are:

  • Assessment:  assessment “for”, “of” and “as”  learning that is focused on learning outputs
  • Differentiation:  a differentiated and inclusive curriculum for our diverse learners
  • Curriculum Cohesion:  an aligned and articulated continuum of learning
  • Technology: the integration of relevant technology to enhance, enrich and extend student learning
  • Inquiry: strategies to engage students in conceptual understanding
  • Service Learning: developing the opportunities for students to apply problem solving and skills to real world issues and situations
Our Commitment to Excellence

We are committed to employing the best faculty and utilizing the best resources and instructional practices in support of student learning. Our curriculum is framed and organized around standards and benchmarks that develop the understandings, knowledge, skills and dispositions necessary for all students to be successful 21st Century Learners. In collaboration with the US State Department, ASM was involved with the development of the American Education Reaches Out (AERO) Standards and Benchmarks K-12. The AERO Standards are an ongoing collaboration between the US Department of Overseas Schools and schools around the world.  AERO Standards have been aligned with Common Core Standards in recent years. Common Core Standards have tremendous resources aligned with them. Following the development of the Common Core Standards in Mathematics and English/Language Arts, US national standards are also being developed for the Sciences and Social Sciences Currently ASM uses both AERO and Common Core standards and we are evaluating the benefits of adopting standards such as the Next Generation Science Standards.

From this core set of curriculum documents, teachers at ASM map out the written curriculum into a cohesive series of inquiry-based learning units using Understanding by Design principles. These units are saved and cross referenced in a common format using a curriculum mapping software called Atlas Rubicon.  Engaging, relevant, and challenging units of study in each subject area are continuously renewed so that we reach all of our students and cater to their diverse needs. Learning support teachers and differentiation strategies are used to further support students’ individual learning needs.

Our pedagogical approaches are derived from researched best practices from around the world, in consultation with leading consultants in a number of fields. Consultants such as; Dr, Mary Ehrenworth and others from Columbia Teachers College, MetamorphosisResponsive Classroom, Dr. Thomas Guskey, Elena Aguilar, Dr. Erma Anderson, Tom Schimmer and others have worked directly with ASM staff over the years and have been instrumental in helping us shape our instructional beliefs and practices. We strive to develop a culture of consistency in our approach to teaching and learning throughout the school and are committed to providing ongoing professional development and training for our faculty.

Curriculum Development at ASM

In the previous strategic plan that ran from 2005-2015, the ASM curriculum was identified as a key area of focus for the school.  In order to focus on curriculum consistency and cohesion, the school invested in professional development and training in curriculum mapping particularly the curriculum unit planning format and structure developed by Grant and Wiggens called Understanding by Design.

During the 2014-15 school year, a Strategic Committee made up of staff from a range of departments and grade levels, the Headmaster, and the divisional Directors, developed ASM’s current Strategic Goals in Reading, Math, and Global Citizenship. The plans for the three goals map out the key actions and strategies. In all of them both curriculum development and professional development are key and critical areas.

Curriculum, is more than a collection of documents, but encompasses the whole learning experience for students at our school. Much like the story about the wise man and the elephant, people can focus on different aspects of curriculum and miss the bigger picture.

Curriculum Review Cycle

ASM continues to honestly, openly, and vigilantly look for ways to continuously improve. ASM looks broadly to find schools and organizations noteworthy for their innovations and achievements. We draw from the best educational practices in the world that are contextually transferable to ASM.  It is in this way that we uphold our commitment to an American education with an international perspective.

ASM has an on-going Curriculum Cycle of continual review and renewal in all subject areas and service areas.  This cycle ensures that all curriculum, service areas, and classroom resources are continually upgraded and connected to best practices.  Each subject or service area has three years of support on this Cycle. Year One is the Study Year where stakeholder feedback and best practices are reviewed.  Year Two is the Development Year where curriculum revision / renewal is finalized and new / additional classroom resources are identified, and Year Three is the Implementation Year where the revised curriculum is used within classrooms and new / additional classroom resources are available for students.  Throughout the span of the cycle, continual enhancements continue to be made with curriculum and resources.

Curriculum Definition

Summarized from: Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation: How to Work Smart, Build Collaboration, and Close the Achievement Gap 2nd Edition; 2013; Kim Marshall

Curriculum has several components and the same word can be used to refer to a variety of different elements involved in teaching and learning.  It is important to clarify which element of curriculum we are talking about in order to avoid talking at cross-purposes or causing confusion.

Curriculum is:

  • Standards.  Standards are broad national or international learning goals in the different subject areas.
  • Curriculum as in K-12 articulation.  This is a school’s kindergarten-through-high-school plan spelling out which skills and content will be taught at each grade. It answers questions like: When do we cover the Holocaust? When do we do division of fractions? When do we teach about magnetism? When should students master the persuasive essay? Thoughtful K-12 articulation prevents the overlap and duplication that occur when teachers at different grade levels are in love with the same topic (for example, the rainforest). Articulation ensures that the limited time students have in classrooms will be used efficiently, and that children will move through the grades without major gaps in their education.
  • Curriculum as in grade-level learning expectations.  Taking articulation a step further. They are clear statements of what students should know and be able to do by the end of each year. (A “scope and sequence” or series of “curriculum maps” are sometimes used to map out the topics for the year, the order in which they should be taught, and how much time should be spent on each one.)  Grade level expectations are accompanied by exemplars of proficient student work and examples of the types of problems students should be able to solve, passages they should be able to read, and writing they should be able to produce—along with the rubrics used to score open-ended student work. If expectations documents do their job, it’s crystal clear to teachers, parents, students, and principals what proficient student work looks like at each grade. No surprises, no excuses.
  • Curriculum as in classroom methods.  These are the pedagogical approaches (cooperative learning, project-based learning, direct instruction, and the like) that teachers use to convey the standards and learning expectations to students.
  • Curriculum as in commercial programs. These are published packages that include materials, an approach to instruction, assessments, and teacher training.
  • Curriculum as in teaching units.  These are carefully crafted chunks of instruction of limited duration (a six-week history unit on World War II, for example, or a three-week English unit on poetry) that often include big ideas, essential questions, assessments, teaching strategies, and daily lesson plans. Units are most often planned by teams of teachers who share the same grade level or subject area.
  • Curriculum as in classroom materials.  Narrower than programs and more focused than units, curriculum materials are usually commercial (but sometimes teacher-created) print or other tools, including textbooks, workbooks, worksheets, software, or other media (Houghton Mifflin ”History of the United States”, “Wordly Wise,” and “Mario Teaches Typing”, to name a few). They are designed to teach a specific part of the overall curriculum.
Curriculum Components

At ASM, we view curriculum as being made up of four interrelated components:

The “What”: The Written Curriculum

Curriculum Documents

ASM’s Curriculum is standards based and uses AERO and Common Core standards leading to either an American Diploma after grade 12 or either partial or full involvement in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program in grades 11 and 12.  The school’s written curriculum is intended to provide a clear and strong foundation for IB curriculum standards and criteria. To that end the school has used the IB Learner Profile as the basis for Learner Profiles at each division. Our curriculum goes through a regular review process so that it remains relevant, aligned, challenging, and dynamic and also to ensure that it is based on current best practices. Our curriculum development process entails an annual review of units and the sequence and relevance of the units at the various grade or department levels. The review process includes identifying best teaching and assessment practices, and planning for professional development and supporting resources.

ASM’s written curriculum is based on standards for each subject area and unit plans for each grade level and class. It includes:

  • Standards: broad statements of learning for the subject disciplines
  • Benchmarks: performance expectations for each grade level or course
  • Unit plans: a unit or module that details the standards and benchmarks and learning goals, key assessments and learning activities, and resources for a chunk of time (e.g., 4-6 weeks)
  • Curriculum Maps:   maps of the sequence of units in a calendar year.

We continue to further develop:

  • Structures and resources to support differentiation.
  • Specific agreements on common and consistent practices and procedures to make our assessment beliefs actual in practice.
  • Essential agreements: specific teaching methodologies and practices that will be used consistently.
  • The progression of learning from grade to grade to create a smooth and cohesive continuum.


The “How”: The Taught Curriculum

ASM’s Philosophy of Teaching and Learning  

Teaching and learning are inextricably linked. No evaluation of the quality of teaching methods and practices can be made without considering and analyzing the quality and depth of learning it engendered.  The following quotation encapsulates what we believe about effective teaching and learning:

“The purpose of teaching and learning is to help students develop and extend the concepts they use to understand the world, solve problems and communicate…”  (IBO, 2008)

Teaching and Learning Essential Agreements

Essential Agreements describe the key practices that reflect ASM’s beliefs about effective teaching. They are the teaching methodologies or strategies that we all agree are essential to the implementation of our curriculum.  At ASM we have developed broad, PK – 12, belief statements to serve as the foundation for essential agreements in regards to assessment practices and the development of essential agreements for Math and Reading are key action steps going forward in our current strategic plan.  We will continue to develop essential agreements for other areas in our program.

Teaching and Learning Practices

In the classroom, teachers meet the needs of learners when they:

  • Inform learners of the big ideas, essential questions, and assessment criteria at the beginning of the unit and regularly throughout
  • Help learners connect the big ideas and essential questions with their interests, backgrounds, and with learning in other areas
  • Routinely provide for differences in readiness, interest, and style of learning
  • Use a variety of instructional strategies to facilitate construction of meaning and  promote deeper understanding
  • Use questioning and wait time to encourage learners to reflect and rethink
  • Use pre-assessments, formative, and on-going assessments to determine learning needs and opportunities for enrichment
  • Provide feedback for learners to improve and also to make modifications to their teaching
  • Set and maintain high expectations helping learners to establish and achieve personal goals.
  • Effective teaching is based on units of study that are:
    • Based on inquiry.
    • Focused on conceptual understanding.
    • Developed in local and global contexts.
    • Focused on effective teamwork and collaboration.
    • Differentiated to meet the needs of all learners.
    • Informed by formative and summative assessment.
    • And balance the development of skills:
      • Thinking skills
      • Communications skills
      • Social skills and Emotional skills
      • Self-management skills
      • Inquiry and research skills.
The “Whether”: The Assessed Curriculum


At ASM, there are two key categories of assessment.  Assessment of learning provides evidence of what students understand, know, and can do at various stages of the learning process. It typically comes at the end of a section or unit.  It helps us to determine “whether” our students have learned and provides information for teachers as to how they can improve student learning. Assessment for learning are when assessment is used by students to reflect on their goals and development and by teachers to give specific and timely feedback to students.  Assessment for learning occurs within the learning process on a regular and ongoing basis. Assessment for learning is critical for teachers as it gives them the opportunity to make adjustments in their instruction. Assessment for learning is critical for students because it involves them directly and actively in the learning process and gives them ownership of their own learning.

Assessment Categories

There are four major categories of assessment at ASM, summarized in the chart below. All of our internal assessments are seen as assessment for learning. The majority of data for report cards is drawn from Unit assessments.

On-going Assessment

  • Designed and marked by individual teachers between the ‘chunk’ assessments in order to monitor ongoing progress
  • Used for assessing prior knowledge, skills and understandings, to give formative feedback and to modify instruction
  • All units include pre-assessment and each team agrees on a set of on-going assessment tools/strategies they will use
  • Examples: concept maps, quizzes, journals, observations, muddiest point, learning logs, questioning, reflections

Unit Assessment

  • Designed and marked by grade level/subject teams and given at the end of a ‘chunk’ of learning by all those teaching the unit
  • Used for determining the level of understanding reached by a student, for giving feedback, and for modifying instruction/next stages of learning
  • All units include an assessment task and students are provided with descriptions, exemplars, and feedback based on specific criteria and are given opportunity to act on feedback
  • Examples: contextual tasks, final projects, reports, essays, author studies, labs, diagrams, tests

External Assessment

  • Designed and marked by a body outside ASM
  • Used for determining our student performance and growth based on external criteria, comparing ourselves with other schools, and adjusting curriculum in response to the collected data
  • High School students may choose to sit for IBDP exams and IB courses and the degree program involve elements that are externally assessed such as the Extended Essays and the Theory of Knowledge Essay
  • Examples: MAP, SAT; PSAT; IB DP

Common Assessment

  • Designed and marked by groups of teachers for groups of students
  • Used for determining specific areas of performance and growth based on school goals and criteria, adjusting curriculum in response to the data
  • All students sit common assessments by subject area/grade level regularly
  • Examples: Writing prompts, projects, essays…

Formative and Summative Assessments

Formative assessments are on-going assessments, observations, summaries and reviews that inform teacher instruction and provide students with feedback on a daily basis. Teachers at ASM use formative assessment as the predominant form of assessment in classrooms. Formative assessments are used in every lesson for teachers and students to gauge understanding of the concepts, skills and knowledge and as an opportunity for students to receive feedback.

Our Assessment Philosophy

ASM views assessment as integral to planning, teaching and learning. Our assessment practices inform teaching, support future learning and are aligned with learning goals and reporting practices. We believe that assessment is the collection and analysis of multiple measures of data that indicates the students’ levels of understanding and is achieved through a variety of assessment tools. It allows for the monitoring of student progress and provides feedback to encourage learning, promote motivation, and self-reflection. Ultimately, our assessment practices promote our mission to foster personal growth and provide meaningful opportunities for achievement through a culture of continuous improvement and accountability.

ASM School-Wide Beliefs for Assessment

  1. Assessment drives instruction and uses data from formative as well as summative (internal and external assessments) to evaluate the effectiveness of the teaching as well as to inform curriculum planning.
  2. Assessments should address a variety of levels ranging from factual recall through deeper evaluative and analytical skills.
  3. Assessment should be varied and differentiated in order to give students with different learning styles opportunities to show their strengths.
  4. Assessment should be focused on clear standards, learning objectives and performance goals.
  5. Teachers should provide models or exemplars to ensure expectations for performance or learning outcomes are understood.
  6. Assessment must emphasize personal improvement not competition; students should be encouraged to self-reflect with the goal of increasing autonomy.
  7. Assessment should be ongoing and timely, and should be feedback-driven.
  8. When appropriate, students should have a choice regarding type of assessment used.
Equal Access To Learning Opportunities

It is the responsibility of every teacher at ASM to maintain the highest expectations of learning in the classroom to ensure that every student is included, challenged and successful. Teachers plan using the School’s curriculum, effective strategies, resources, and data to meet the needs of all students and to allow equal access to learning. We effectively engage students in learning by using a variety of instructional strategies to meet individual learning needs; providing a respectful, positive, and safe student-centered environment that is conducive to learning. ASM is committed to a constructivist, inquiry-based approach to teaching and learning that promotes the development and application of problem solving, creativity, and critical-thinking skills.

Strategic Goals

As part of the accreditation process with Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges, ASM has established seven-year student performance objectives which will carry the school until 2022.

By 2022, the school intends to achieve the following goals:

  • Reading – the school will foster a positive reading culture which supports and sustains the development of both life-long and proficient readers of complex texts at or above their grade level
  • Mathematics – students will demonstrate improvement in their understanding of mathematical concepts, procedural skills, and problem-solving practices
  • Global Citizenship – both ASM and its students will demonstrate increased commitment to global citizenship* (cultural and social diversity, environmental stewardship, and service learning)

*The American School of Madrid defines Global Citizenship as a commitment to help all members of the community learn to respect themselves, others, and the world around them. This respect is founded in an understanding of the interconnectedness of individuals, an awareness of the human condition, and sense of responsibility for the well-being of local and global communities and the environment.  It is also a willingness to actively engage in concrete, socially responsible action in pursuit of this well-being.

English Language Arts Philosophy Statement

At The American School of Madrid, the English Language Arts program is an integral part of all areas of the curriculum, educating students to be critical thinkers, effective communicators, and reflective learners. The development of this program is guided by the AERO and Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy. The program promotes the behaviors and attitudes that will allow students to build richly literate lives. Students are afforded a wide range of opportunities to communicate for authentic purposes through the use of spoken, written, and visual language. Teachers work with whole class, small groups, and individuals to develop strong reading, listening, and speaking skills as well as word study and media literacy skills.

ASM’s balanced language arts program ensures that students have explicit instruction in the reading and writing process. The classrooms utilize flexible grouping in order to differentiate to meet the diverse language and literacy needs of each individual. Teachers use the workshop framework to teach and demonstrate specific skills, strategies, and habits. The workshop framework includes a mini-lesson to explicitly model skills and strategies, followed by time for independent reading or writing while the teacher confers with individuals or guides small group learning. The workshop also includes partnership time to develop communication and collaboration skills.

Our writing curriculum focuses on developing fluent writers who write to convey meaning through daily writing practice, studying how authors write, writing for a specific audience and using the writing process.

Based on individual conferences and formative assessments, teachers and students identify and address areas for growth. Students develop these areas by analyzing, responding to and producing a variety of text and media. Students utilize many technological tools to effectively communicate with local and global audiences. Students are expected to be active learners who are responsible for and monitor their own learning.

Effective reading and writing programs require students to analyze, evaluate, make connections and communicate. With inquiry-based teaching and learning, all students are engaged in personally meaningful, intriguing, authentic learning experiences building on prior knowledge and understandings. Using Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop (link to WORKSHOP MODEL AT ASM PAGE) as a framework for literacy instruction encourages an inquiry stance which builds on students’ interests and ideas. Working within this model, students move forward in their path of intellectual curiosity and understanding, developing both the critical thinking and literacy skills necessary to meet the challenges and to thrive in our rapidly changing and interconnected world.

Research points to a strong correlation between a student’s oral language development and their ability to comprehend text at a deeper level as they progress through the upper grades. Oral language develops through social interactions and collaborative learning. By creating diverse situations and opportunities for meaningful collaboration, students explore, negotiate, problem solve, and share in a natural way that enhances both language and cognitive growth. Through talking and engaging with books from an early stage, students begin to develop strong identities as readers.

Mathematics Philosophy Statement

The ASM mathematics program provides our diverse learners with the knowledge, skills and understandings to become mathematically proficient.  We follow a conceptual approach to teaching and learning math so that students experience rich task that involve mathematical understanding, fluency, problem-solving and reasoning.  Through this, we empower our learners to successfully apply their skills in a variety of contexts with confidence and perseverance.

With the National Council of the Teachers of Mathematics, we believe that an excellent mathematics program requires effective teaching that engages students in meaningful learning through individual and collaborative experiences that promote their ability to make sense of mathematical ideas and reason mathematically. Our goal is to establish the following practices in every ASM math class.

  • Establish mathematics goals to focus learning.
  • Implement tasks that promote reasoning and problem solving.
  • Use and connect mathematical representations.
  • Facilitate meaningful mathematical discourse.
  • Pose purposeful questions.
  • Build procedural fluency from conceptual understanding.
  • Support productive struggle in learning mathematics.
  • Elicit and use evidence of student thinking.

In Lower School our focus is on “just right” math.  Using the same flexible, workshop structure in the classroom along with pre-assessment tasks for each unit allow our grade level teams to tailor instruction for each student’s level, providing the right level of challenge and practice for every student.

In Middle School and Upper School we are establishing a progression of math classes that ensures that all students are prepared and able to choose the IB Standard Level mathematics class (Calculus).

More information: Stanford Professor, Dr. Jo Boaler,  explains a conceptual approach to teaching algebra.