Curriculum – the bugbear

Joseph Schwab talks about the four places around which the curriculum is constructed – the student, the teacher, the milieu and the subject matter. So often we believe that the curriculum is the document that we get given by the government but this is only a piece of the puzzle composing curriculum. How often as teachers do we get to the end of a unit and wonder what the students have learned, if anything! I am beginning to believe that when I finish a unit and the students have not learned what I had hoped, that I have priorized the subject matter piece of the curriculum over that the students’ experiences and understandings. The learner and the material did not meet. I can produce wonderful time-consiming activities and not see conceptual development.

Last year, my students and I were studying earth science. The students were motivated to learn – who doesn’t love volcanoes and geysers, earthquakes and tsunamies. We divided into groups and each group did a different activity which they then presented to the class. I hoped that they would take on the role of a scientist – questioning, experimenting and reporting. We were busy, we read and experimented. They practiced and ‘performed’ their presentations. Approximately, six of the students seemed to have understood the science concepts underlying the material – cause and effect and change over time. Now, some of them learned about working together or working poorly together and how to make the best of it. Some learned about poster making or public speaking. These are also valuable learning experiences but for the science concepts, I’m not sure it was the best way. I wonder how I would better scaffold their understanding. I wonder if I pushed my teacher/subject matter agenda and left the students out of the curriculum picture. I wonder how I could bring them back into it.

I have had a marvelous opportunity to learn this year. I have set my own curriculum. My professors have guided and encouraged me. The college has offered courses and I have taken the ones which interest me and have imposed my own agenda on them. I have learned. The project is one of my own choosing; the readings have been gathered by me and from the suggestions of my professors. I have chosen a theme from the strategic planning document of my school division but focused it in my own direction. My curriculum. I am the student, my professors are my teahcers, the milieu is the university graduate studies community, the subject matter is literacy. My curriculum is driven by my own interests. I am working and learning. Everyday the agenda is set by me.

I know that can’t work in schools with children, can it?

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