Beyond curriculum

I have lost count of the number of curriculum reviews I have lived through as an educator and I’m yet to be convinced that past or even current curriculum reviews actually address the real issue of how teachers’ work.  It is one thing to strip back a curriculum to allow teachers greater flexibility and freedom to go deeper into the learning but there needs to be focus on how we develop teachers’ capabilities to teach a contemporary curriculum.

My concern with the latest curriculum review is that it distracts attention from the critical issue of how teachers’ work and how we make decisions about the quality of that work to improve student learning.   I agree that we must focus on literacy and numeracy as the foundation to good learning but it is contingent on teachers who not only know how to teach the basics but also continue to builstudent teacherd on and deepen student knowledge through challenging tasks and activities.

One of the main problems with a prescribed curriculum is it focuses on delivering content. While content is important, what matters is how students understand it, construct it and apply it.  Effective learning relies on effective teaching and in Singapore for example, there is heavy investment throughout teachers’ careers on developing their pedagogical and content knowledge.

Now we’ve had the government’s review of the what (curriculum), I believe we need a teacher led symposium on the ‘how’. How do we engage all teachers in the type of inquiry and critical reflection that we expect students to engage in to become independent learners and critical thinkers?

Curriculum will always be subject to heated debate and ideological divides so the opportunity for real change lies in exploring new ways of working, new modes of teacher practice that reflects the changing nature of the world, the tools and today’s learners.  As my colleague, Br Pat Howlett, Principal of Parramatta Marist High says how can you teach in a traditional way and expect students to think critically and work collaboratively.

As Richard Elmore et al Instructional Rounds in Education notes:

….if your improvement strategy begins with a curriculum solution … then you have to invest in the new knowledge and skill required of teachers to teach that curriculum if you expect it to contribute to new student learning. A failure to address teachers’ knowledge and skill as part of a curriculum-based improvement strategy typically produces low-level teaching of high-level content.   There are only three ways to improve student learning at scale. The first is to increase the level of knowledge and skill that the teacher brings to the instructional process. The second is to increase the level and complexity of the content that students are asked to learn. And the third is to change the role of the student in the instructional process. That’s it. If you are not doing one of these three things, you are not improving instruction and learning.













3 thoughts on “Beyond curriculum

  1. Universities have known about the importance of improving the lecturer’s knowledge and skill for some time now; that’s why they had sabbaticals that were well thought out and well directed. It may be an innovative strategy to introduce short sabbaticals for teachers as part of their professional learning.

    Another is the need for more high quality professional development based on and around curriculum content and delivery. It needs to be delivered by experts and not just our own school colleagues. There would be a greater need for this now, considering that the new Australian Curriculum is about to be institutionalised in our schools.

  2. You make some important points, Greg – how we teach is just as important as what we teach. And as Elmore says to achieve curriculum change, we must invest in developing new knowledge and skills of teachers, and also ensure that students are engaging in that learning in different ways.

    However, I don’t think we should underestimate the power of the curriculum itself. For instance, the perspectives through which the curriculum views historical events, can lead to establishing people’s lifelong attitudes towards cultural groups or nations. I think we can see evidence of this in our current political debates and in our treatment of our indigenous peoples.

    The breadth of the curriculum to which young students are exposed can also shape lifetime interests. Students who are not exposed to understandings about visual arts or music, or who do not develop fundamental movement skills early in their primary years may end up avoiding these important parts of our life throughout their lives.

    I too have lived through many curriculum reviews. But I think this is the most overt and targeted political intervention in the curriculum that we have ever seen. I believe we should all be concerned when some wish to narrow the perspectives through which our Australian students view history, the arts and sciences.

    Both effective and innovative pedagogy and a balanced, challenging curriculum are needed to fit our students for the future.

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