Cooking up a Curriculum

creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by Enric Martinez:

At my school, we are currently in the throes of implementing a new ‘instructional model’. One of the interesting ideas that has come out of the whole process is that instruction is always built upon what Robert Marzano calls a guaranteed and viable curriculum. Beyond what Marzano actually means by the ‘guaranteed and viable’, this got me wondering what ingredients influence the making of a curriculum. Here is my attempt at some questions designed to unpack some of complexities:

  • What is included in the curriculum? – Central to designing curriculum is the importance of having a clear guide as to what is to covered and when. This list often stems from the standards, but is also often supplemented with other elements such as UbD’s ‘Big Ideas’ or the inquiry model’s ‘Through Lines’. This map of standards lays out the overall narrative associated with what we expect our students to learn.
  • Why should students be learning what they are learning and what sort of future is being created? – Once we have a map outlining the landscape ahead, it is important to have a plan and approach through this space. This guide is the why. Why are we doing this? Why were these choices made? Why is it deemed as important? This is the complication which drives the narrative. Associated with this, there needs to be some explanation of what future is being created.
  • How are students learning and why? – Too often one pedagogical approach is seen as covering everything. This misses something in my view. How we learn needs to be the right approach for the situation at hand. For example, there are sometimes when direct instruction is needed, while other times students need hands on and problem based opportunities. Just as we ask why are students learning something, so to is it important to ask how are they learning it and why is this so. Is this because it is what we as teachers feel most comfortable with? Is it because the research says so?
  • How are staff being encouraged to own the curriculum? – Too often change is pushed onto staff as an expectation, with little time provided to work through issues or to actually own the situation at hand. No matter the potential associated with the change at hand, if we do not own ‘the why’ the idea or innovation will never truly succeed as it will not be driven passionately by those on the ground.
  • In what ways are students being empowered? – Although curriculum is designed with students in mind, involving them and allowing them to own it can be overlooked. We may focus on incorporating aspects such as critical thinking, questioning and collaboration in the classroom, but unless students understand why these practises are being pushed then they either get misunderstood or go nowhere in regards to improving learning outcomes. One thought is that instead of teacher at the centre, teachers instead become facilitators. Observing what is going on, providing constructive feedback, supporting students with the setting of personal goals, creating a space where students are engaged in their learning.
  • What is the role of leadership within curriculum? – All curriculum needs some sort of leadership to guide it, but what this leadership looks like has a significant impact on the final implementation. Leadership for many is about making decisions and dictating to the masses. The problem with this is that it takes the power from those who actually drive the change. Subsequently, it is important that leaders act as a resource, a mentor, checking, commenting, questioning, creating a culture, inspiring, not holding too tightly and allowing others to own it too.
  • How is assessment (and reporting) embedded within the curriculum? – In many respects it seems strange to talk about curriculum in isolation of assessment. It is essential that the assessment for, as and of learning is embedded throughout the curriculum. Associated with this, tasks should be authentic where applicable and involve sharing with more than just the teacher.
  • In what ways is technology laying the foundation for curriculum and learning? – Michael Fullan suggests that technology is not the driver of change, rather it is the foundation on which it is built upon. As Steve Brophy and I have stated elsewhere, technology makes higher order thinking and collaboration more possible. What needs to be considered when it comes to curriculum is that technology is not simply 1:1 laptops, instead it includes such things as cameras, projectors, file sharing platforms, robots, webcams etc. The list goes on. What matters isn’t what device people have (although some would are better than others), rather what is made possible.
  • How is the curriculum being communicated with parents and other community stakeholders? – One of the interesting points that came out of my school’s work on instruction and curriculum was how do you communicate it with parents. Although reports provide them with a summary of learning, this is usually published after the fact. The challenge to me is to create a culture of communication with parents beforehand. Whether this be through a class blog or an program like Edmodo, technology provides the means for involving parents and celebrating student work and achievements.
  • What is at the heart of the curriculum: subjects or skills? – One of the first comments that is often made about curriculum is that it is too crowded. The question, as I have discussed elsewhere, is whether the crowded nature comes from a focus on splitting content into definable subjects, rather than engaging students in skills associated with projects and problems. Claire Amos, an educator from New Zealand, wrote a great article on this matter, pushing for a refocus of curriculum around the five key competences: thinking; using language, symbols and texts; managing self; relating to others; participating and contributing.
  • How is the curriculum organised within the timetable? – I will never forget when I started out teaching many years ago, two of my four hours of Year Nine English were on Friday afternoon. This soon became all about survival, rather than quality learning. Consideration as to when something is taught can have an influence on how students engage with it, no matter how fun and exciting the topic may be.

So these are some of my questions. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe there are things unasked or perspectives that I haven’t quite seen. If so, I would love your thoughts. Is there an ingredient that you would add?

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Cooking up a Curriculum by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

2 thoughts on “Cooking up a Curriculum”

  1. In one of your points Aaron you said, “What needs to be considered when it comes to curriculum is that technology is not simply 1:1 laptops, instead it includes…”

    Do you think that teachers give too much attention to this? Would it be better if they left the decision about which technology was most appropriate to the students. I see teacher’s role as being to set the task, pose the questions, provide the criteria that need to be met. How students achieve this, including what technology they feel is most appropriate, is better left to them to decide. The choice of technology becomes part of the student’s method to achieve the curriculum goals, not something that teacher decides for the student..

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