Posts Tagged ‘Relevant Curriculum’

Last month I watched a TED talk by acclaimed speaker Ken Robinson. Personally, Ken Robinson is one of my favourite speakers on Education and educational reform. He has an ability to make his point not only entertaining, but simple and accessible to all. His message here has drawn upon previous material. However, he makes a very clear point about the core business of teaching and learning across all levels of education. Here is Ken’s talk:

Ken made some very astute points about education in today’s climate. One point he makes is rather ironic. He says that; ‘because of the nature of what it means to be human, the essential spark of interest in each of us in different’ (at this point, Ken was discussing the American ‘drop-out’ crisis and the experience of failure by students). However, in examining this fundamental element of how we are all different, our systems of education all expect us to excel at literacy and numeracy. Yes…. I said excel.

Governments and educational systems are motivated by measuring data around Literacy and Numeracy standards. You only have to look at the Australian National Assessment Program, Literacy And Numeracy (NAPLAN) testing, PISA World Rankings and the latest part of our world to endorse teacher based assessment – New York. The New Yourk Times last week wrote;

Under the new system, 20 to 25 percent of each teacher’s rating score would be determined by state-approved measures of students’ growth, another 15 to 20 percent by measures established by the schools, and 55 to 60 percent would be based on in-class observations or performance assessed by video recording….The new model would have four tiers — “highly effective,” “effective,” “developing” and “ineffective” — and be based on test scores and classroom observations.

…It can only presumably be said that these measures would be based around Literacy and Numeracy. But in our current global milieu, with China and India becoming more developed in terms of civilisation and education, and with the role technology is playing in closing the gaps in education…Where is the ceiling of literacy and numeracy attainment? Do we keep expecting more and set the ceiling higher each year, or do we expect something different?

Robinson urges us to move past the data and into a student centred, student led curriculum where not only Literacy and Numeracy standards are a focus, but also the Arts and student’s interests. He discusses the Finnish education system, where students do not drop out and where the results are the highest in the world for literacy and numeracy.

I have one problem with pursuing a system of education like the Finnish.. and that is culturally they have something quite unique. They have built a culture of education where the teacher is supported, highly respected and backed by the parent and society in which they live. They have autonomy over their curriculum and learning, they are paid extremely well and they are the top performing graduates within their country. Changing that aspect of culture long-term in already developed western countries will come albeit too late and have little to no substantial economical impact. By the time the culture has changed, China and India will have economically overpowered western countries in capitalist markets and the shift of wealth will have moved.

It almost becomes paradoxical in nature to be able to refashion an entirely new system of education when we keep expecting more of the same. I am not saying that Literacy and Numeracy standards are not important. They are. Yet facilitating and fashioning pathways for learners and teaching to the ‘Point of Need’ of a student at that exact moment of learning, is ultimately what teaching is about.

I ask you, how open is your education system to letting ‘go’ and giving freedom to teachers who are experienced, show talent and passion, to be able to redefine an ageing model of education? If literacy and numeracy attainment is becoming greater because of our need to engage with technology at a younger age, then where do our focuses for all levels of education lie? … I wonder what Beethoven would say?

It is not, and cannot be all doom and gloom. There are systems around the world in developed western countries that have made their move and begun to redefine teaching and learning. I am lucky to be a part of that. The core business of teaching and learning across all sectors now rests with the ability of the teacher to not only provide structures that enhance literacy and numeracy standards, but also allow for students to direct their learning through their interests. It offers a very interesting and deep model of education, particularly if educational institutions become centres of innovation, ‘think tanks’ and wider business propositions unto themselves. We can provide more than just a service… we can also fashion the future.


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There has been so much talk of late about the ideals of 21st Century environmental structures for schools to aid in the improvement of student development, that I think the discussion around the learning curriculum itself, is either not-exisent or coming about tragically slow.

There has been a push in Australia, from the Australian Commonwealth Government, for performance pay for teachers. Personally, I was saddened to see that Australia has gone down this path. Though I am not adverse to the world of business offering performance pay for their employees (other than the ridiculous bonus wages given to CEOs), I must confess that the innovation that these companies can both afford and expect, is culturally not something that the education community world-wide really has wanted to promote in the past.

Just as it seems that education in Australia is pushing forward with structural improvement, BANG!, you’ve got another nail in the coffin which hampers the premise of innovation in practice. It feels like performance pay brings about a focus on curriculum that rewards knowledge acquisition and the retainment of this knowledge (see Performance Overview Independent Education Union June 2011). The government wants to promote ongoing teacher appraisals, teacher reflection, quality teacher professional development and ultimately better practice, which I am all for. However, they are going about it the wrong way, mainly because the merit pay for teachers is subjective to the results of the students in standardised tests. It makes you wonder about authentic curriculum and the learner attributes we want to promote through curriculum. Give me a student any day that knows how to go about finding information, rather than a student who can just remember and regurgitate it.

After teaching with the International Baccalaureate Primary Year Program (PYP) Curriculum, I think Australia has a lot to learn about curriculum innovation. I’m not saying that there is nothing wrong with the PYP. However, it is an attractive curriculum from; a parent, student, educator, administrator, business and stakeholder view point.

Greg Whitby, Executive Director of Schools for the Catholic Education Office Parramatta, in his post on ‘A Relevant Curriculum’ says that;

With the process well underway for a National Curriculum that centres on standardisation and continuity of learning across all states; ensuring access to resources and data, I think we need to broaden our understanding of curriculum as a single entity and see it in a multidimensional way such as:

1. Form – what do we want students to know about themselves and about the world they live in and what do they already know?
2. Function – what learning opportunities are being created by the delivery of the curriculum?
3. Understanding – how are learners situating their experiences and connecting the dots?
4. Hidden – what are students unintentionally learning about the world through culture, custom and the media?

It is interesting to note that the underpinning Key Concepts of the PYP Curriculum itself does focus on the above attributes.

I believe that if we are to innovate on our curriculum we must drive student learning from the attributes of a effective life-long learner. We also need to examine the Values and Attitudes (particularly from a Catholic perspective – the Beatitudes) to the re-imagining of the skill set of the 21st Century Learner. I believe that this is extremely achievable and is something I am trying to work towards at my current post in Germany. It will be these attributes that will become the driving forces behind our new curriculum/s, particulary for our Pre/Elementary/Primary Schools. The knowledge, as important as it is, should really be the bi-product, not the focus. Below is an image from the International Baccalaureate’s Primary Years Program Learner Profile. Food for thought….

IB PYP Learner Profile Attibutes

In conclusion, I am not an advocator of chucking out the whole entire curriculum structures we have in place. I am a very big fan of protecting both a daily uninterrupted Literacy and Numeracy Block, but we really do have both the ability and the scope to move away from a curriculum based solely on knowledge acquisition. As Alex White writes in his blog that;

The ACER report (states): ‘incentives in themselves did not necessarily improve what teachers knew and could do, or lead them to teach more effectively.

I believe that improved student learning outcomes are more likely to result from skill and attitudinal based approaches to our curriculum.

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