A relevant curriculum

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.


8 thoughts on “A relevant curriculum

  1. This is a really interesting post. How will ACARA be able to cater for the aforementioned multidimensionality of curriculum if no school can demonstrate that thinking about it in these terms is effective? Of course the framework it develops for the majority of schools who do not have the capacity to function effectively for students whilst constantly redefining curriculum. Systems need to move first, set aside one school populated with skillful 21C teachers to lead and develop for the rest.

    1. This is the whole challenge education faces, how to bring systemic change to scale so all young people benefit. There are many strategies but the only way to sustain this sort of cultural change is to invest more heavily inteacher and leaders professional learning. No short cuts!

  2. Greg I agree completely with the sentiments expressed. During my time of Principalship what has been in the back of my mind is expressing to teachers we employ or those that are present a way of teaching. Many come from different cultural backgrounds and training so therefore have fixed ideas on how to teach based on their experiences or training. This is sometimes in conflict with where the Principal or leadership team see teaching and learning in our school. This is a huge shift for some who see teaching in a specific manner. Therefore I feel the cultural background of the teacher has a significant influence on their pedagogical knowledge.One would hope this would be sorted out during an interview or goal setting conversations or even observations, however, I believe we need to “spell out”how we want our students taught and what our expectations are.This makes an assumption that one size fits an all category, however ,what I feel is we want students engaged in their learning and owning their learning. How as a prospective teacher are you going to do this, because it needs to be articulated so many are on the same wavelength.
    I feel a number teach the way they were taught because that feels comfortable and I made it! The challenge is to open the eyes of teachers. The students will respond.

  3. A relevant curriculum will always be subject to debate and change, but I believe that inspirational and dynamic educators who are truly supported by leadership can creatively ‘make’ the curriclum fit with the personalised learning needs of their students and actively engage them in their own learning. In response to Mr Brogan, instead of seeking to blame teachers, ‘spell out’ expectations or ‘sort out’ their cultural background, beliefs or experiences (which I may add every human being brings with them including leaders, teachers, students and their families ) perhaps leading by example: encouraging and supporting strong partnerships and relationships; creating a whole school culture of creativity, innovative practice and collaboration; encouraging shared teacher leadership in professional development; recognising and embracing teachers as learners and learners as teachers; and valuing cultural diversity and experience may help with some of issues that have been at the back of your mind.

    A quality, relevant and engaging curriculum for our students, that will help them develop the skills and confidence to be active and informed citizens in a rapidly changing world is the responsibilty of all educators. This should be regardless of their role in the school or local community and sometimes it may even need to be in spite of what may be the current curriculum or political agenda.We should all be working together to make this happen with arms and eyes wide open.

  4. Greg, this was a really great post for me! It got me thinking about the re-imaging of curriculum, and the whole notion of merit pay for teachers.

    I feel confident in a curriculum that can deliver a real 21st Century student, particularly after teaching with the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (IBPYP). I can see a hybrid for Primary Schools around Australia that encompasses aspects of the National Curriculum and the IBPYP Curriculum – driven by authentic inquiry based learning. And, I can see the Beatitudes underpinning the Values and Attitudes behind this curriculum, really giving the Catholic perspective and ownership to our education sector. Most importantly, I can see our new learning environments greatly supporting a curriculum like this. – The possibilities here are really exciting!

    But…. I just don’t know if I can see it happening with an introduction of performance incentives for teachers.

    I’ve written more on this in my new post at benoxley.wordpress.com. I’m interested in everyones thoughts…..

  5. Be very confident. This sort of short-sighted strategy get nowhere and will not work. It is a distraction from the main game of building the capacity of every teacher.
    We can then look at rewarding evidenced based improvements that highlight improved teaching practice and reinvests in teacher ongoing learning.
    Great blog of yoiurs

  6. I totally agree with Greg and Karen regarding teacher capacity and development however there are many teachers who place roadblocks in front of what you want to achieve. This is where we need to have the courageous conversations and move forward with the vision. Do we have the right answers. Possibly not. However we need to engage students in their learning, as I believe schools were developed for them. This is a significant shift for many.
    Teacher development and sustainability is crucial to our profession.

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