Curriculum and instruction, one of the 50 highest paying masters degrees, may already sound like a narrow field of study compared to the breadth of a master’s in education program. However, students can also choose to focus their studies in curriculum and instruction further by declaring a specialization. While some broader graduate programs in education treat curriculum and instruction programs as a specialization within a master’s of education, other programs have a narrower focus. Some of the areas of specialization you may find in a curriculum and instruction program include grade-level specializations, reading and literacy, subject area specializations and curriculum evaluation and research.
Children at different age levels learn differently. For that reason, specializations based on grade level are some of the most popular specializations found in curriculum and instruction degree programs. By choosing a grade-level specialization, you are focusing your studies on developing a deeper knowledge of how children at that level of development learn and the methods that are used to teach them effectively. Grade-level specializations most commonly focus on the lower grades, from early childhood through elementary and middle school.
Some graduate programs in curriculum and instruction get more granular than others do. A curriculum and instruction degree program with a specialization in early and middle childhood education may cover development, learning patterns and teaching methods for children from infancy through eighth grade. Other degree programs offer distinct specializations in early childhood education and elementary curriculum that allow students to concentrate more narrowly on one age group.
One big difference between learning in early childhood, compared to learning in the upper elementary grades and the middle school grades, is the importance of play-based learning in early childhood classrooms. Playing is how toddlers and preschoolers learn.
Reading and Literacy
If there’s one skill that’s most crucial for students to develop in order to succeed in school, it’s literacy. Not only do students have to learn the foundations of reading and writing in the first place, but they also need to continue to cultivate age-appropriate skills in comprehension and communication throughout their studies. It’s no surprise, then, that many curriculum and instruction students choose to specialize in reading and literacy education. Classes in the specialization of reading and literacy may include the theories and practices of language and literacy development, literacy assessment and classroom strategies for effective literacy teaching. A literacy specialization may also emphasize the psychology of the reading process.
Literacy focuses on learning to read and write in general, but graduate students – particularly those with foreign language skills – may also want to consider a separate specialization, Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).
Subject Area Curriculum Specializations
For aspiring instructional coordinators in high schools, a specialization in a content area may be a better fit. Unlike the lower grades, where one teacher covers all subjects, older students typically have different teachers for different content areas. Instructional design and curriculum students may choose a specialization in a content area like social studies, English, math or science. These specializations include coursework uniquely tailored to the content of classes in this subject, like mathematical thinking and pedagogy for curriculum specialists in math or composition techniques and writing assessment for curriculum specialists in English.
Focusing on a content area may give you more opportunity to take graduate-level courses outside the education department. For example, curriculum and instruction students pursuing a science specialization may include natural science classes in their coursework.
Curriculum Evaluation and Research
A student of curriculum and instruction may also choose to focus on curriculum evaluation and research. This concentration isn’t necessarily relevant to professional practice in a school. Rather than a role like instructional coordinator or curriculum specialist, you are likely to move into a position as a research or scholar of curriculum development or an evaluator role within government entities or academic research environments. If this path appeals to you, then you should expect to delve into upper-level coursework in research in teaching and learning, applied research in curriculum development, advanced curriculum theory and planning and issues in education.
Even if you don’t pursue a research-based specialization, you will likely have to take graduate-level research courses as part of your master’s program. Some programs include a required research core that emphasizes quantitative and qualitative research methods.