Sunday, May 27, 2007

More to think about

I always read Borderland, but Teaching the Controversy gave me more to think about than usual. In addition to talking about teacher rights, he talks about teaching the curriculum. He discusses the idea of teaching the curriculum and teaching about the curriculum. He says:
The adopted curriculum might actually invite discussion and controversy if you study the curriculum document itself with students.
My thinking is that if we take a critical stance toward curriculum, we can still use it, and at the same time question it’s content, viewpoint, assumptions, and relevance. Along the way we can teach what it intends for students to learn, and we can also think about why. Learning that’s embedded in a real social context stands a far greater chance of making sense than simply reading through a catalog of goals and objectives.
I wrote the curriculum in my last job. And I never once shared it with my students. We never had that all-important discussion about why they were learning what they were learning. I never gave them the opportunity to question my assumptions or the curriculum's relevance. Not in any formal way, that is. We talked a lot about how we could improve the program, but we never did it in conjunction with the curriculum. I can only imagine what insight I might have gained if we had done that.

Many of my K-12 teacher friends struggle with a mandated curriculum that they feel doesn't allow them to do much real teaching. I wonder if Doug's ideas about sharing the curriculum with the students would help. Would it even be possible? As long as the curriculum is the enemy, it controls our lives. But if we make it our own, study it with our students as Doug suggests, maybe -- just maybe -- we can all learn something from it.


teachagiftedkid said...

I always enjoyed writing curriculum for my gifted students...but I came to notice that I needed to be very careful with it. I needed to focus on what my goals were for presenting the curriculum - did I find it interesting or did it actually meet an educational objective? Many teachers get snagged in this trap.

Asking the question: Is it really interesting to my students is quite thought provoking? As teachers, we may be consciously or unconsciously determining our student's interest. I like your point of going straight to the student and asking. Much of the time, I used their performance on the outcomes as an indicator of their motivation or interest but never outright asked them.

It is risky to go to the student, though, as some students would be swayed by their peer's perceived attitudes. But it is worth trying next time I get the chance.

John said...

I teach ESL at a public community college. Our curriculum document, which we give to the students each semester, seems to be designed for official examination by state educational officers and accreditation officials. I used to read it at the students and try to explain some of the language but have given up and gone to an overview. There isn't a lot of flexibility in it, but the real curriculum in class changes somewhat from semester to semester. Although I agree with the idea of student involvement, I don't know if I have the courage to go too far down that path yet. In part, I don't know how to go down that path.

Anonymous said...

I always find curriculum discussions to be fascinating in that the discussion revolves around what should students learn and why. For many decades, the curricula that was used in schools had a prescribed set of learning objectives that were to be mastered by students to demonstrate their knowledge. Then along comes the present society and we've turned it all upside down. Asking students for input was unheard of and discussing curriculum - totally absurd. However, we are in a time that is different. We have entered a new dimension of education and what we did before doesn't resonate here.
As an administrator, I find that things work best when the staff understands what we are doing and the reasons for doing it. We discuss and sometimes change what we were going to do based on staff input. Now, I may come up with the basic framework but the staff is the one that develops and gives it life. This doesn't mean that students should do the same thing but we should allow for some input into what they are doing.
Also, we have to move away from students demonstrating that they have learned an objective by redoing something. Instead we should be focusing on what they are understanding through their creation of something unique.
We've learned so much about learning and understanding yet we continue to be under the control of curricula which need to be changed to become dynamic and changing.
Until we are able to shift our thinking on curriculum development and implementation, the gap between what students should be doing and what they are doing will continue to grow. Not good!

Jeff Stanzler said...

This conversation pute me in mind of a couple of things.
First, a propos Angie's comment, I think of William Glasser's writing (I'm most familiar with "The Quality School" and his argument that at some level students need to buy in to what they're learning if they're going to truly invest themselves in it. Some of our students (for reasons of personality, attitude towards school, etc.) are able/willing to do quality work regardless, but for many of our more resistant or skeptical students...the ones that we earn the big bucks ;-) trying to reach...he argues that the process needs to be a negotiation. In any case, I appreciate the prod to think a little more deeply about this.