Over recent decades, the term curriculum has been used in different ways. When I was teaching, curriculum was understood as lists of subjects, learning areas and courses of study. You had the syllabus and it told you everything you needed to teach to your class. We know this content-prescriptive approach limited the scope of teachers to really personalise the learning.
As I’ve often said, the greatest challenge we face today is relevance. Our students require a curriculum that provides them with meaningful experiences, that engenders deep and significant learning. It has to be relevant and responsive to the age in which we live. In other words, it must educate for life.
Marc Prensky believes that what we teach is probably harder than changing how we teach because the needed changes face so many political and cultural hurdles. Prensky is of course correct – we’ve had impassioned debates about what should be in and what should be out of the curriculum. But these discussions have been about content not about the broader question about what we want, and need children to know in today’s world. Knowing, not simply as a function of intellect but the whole person – imagination and emotion.
Youngjoo Kim has written an erudite piece in KappanMagazine about the curriculum. Kim says there are many factors including culture, religion, age and media which influence the way students gather and analyse information so the success of any curriculum comes back to good teachers moderating the learning. This is what we mean by personalised learning.
As Linda Darling Hammond, author of the Flat World and Education explains there are greater expecations of schools today than every before. We are asking teachers to ensure learning and that means figuring out as Darling Hammond says what they know and what they bring and then designing a challenging curriculum that responds.
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?
Teaching is undergoing a dramatic shift as the nature of learning changes – that’s why we need teachers to be expert pedagogical designers, constantly refining the learning experiences for every child. And that is why we need a clear framework to guide teachers in their work.