Saturday, November 13, 2010

Curriculum Prisons

It's easy to be distracted by the little things.

Curriculum can be a guide or it can be a prison.

When learning is driven by teaching more than teaching is guided by learning, things go sideways in a real hurry... learning turns into school... exploration fades into following a rubric and an education becomes an obligation...

When I read a curriculum, I spend most of my time looking at the few general outcomes, largely ignoring the large list of specific outcomes. But I'll admit, it's not easy... Because accountability is about those outside of the classroom controlling those in the classroom, it's easier to comply than it is to construct something better. Quite frankly, the risk might bring nothing good. And more's the pity.

Because that which is measured is controlled, it is preferable for those who wish to control to demand the minutia and those who inspire and nurture real learning would prefer the vague.


  1. Every quarter I re-watch the scene in Shawshank Redemption where he plays opera in the prison. It does something for my soul.

  2. I became physically ill immediately after being forced to teach my first fully scripted lesson. Being turned into a robot/parrot is wrenching, if one has retained a soul. I've adjusted a bit, and learned as with the rest of the prescribed curriculum how to draw out the tiny nuggets of learning possibilities that are buried within even a minute-by-minute script.

    Your final line is inspiring, and brings to mind the Tolkien poem, famous for the line on bumper stickers, "...not all who wander are lost." It's worth recalling the second couplet:

    All that is gold does not glitter,
    Not all those who wander are lost;
    The old that is strong does not wither,
    Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

    Trying to recover the authentic learning possibilities still lurking in the corners of this ghastly test-prep system, it helps to be the strong kind of old, and to have deep roots.

  3. I have to disagree about accountability is purely for those outside the classroom. You can be held to account by your learners or yourself and you have to have standards otherwise how will you know whether the lesson has been taught well and learning is happening? You state that what is measured can be controlled - surely in evaluating your teaching/learning you are measuring your performance?

    I agree that measurement for the sake of it is useless but in order to know where you are going, you have to have some idea of what 'better' is.

  4. Hey Joe,

    I always find it unfortunate that we, as educators, tend to immediately turn to our grade level expectations when we receive in a new curriculum document.

    Lately, I've been sitting down and spending more time with the processes outlined at the front of our documents...much more exciting than a list of outcomes. And this is where I have found the authentic possibilities to which you so rightly refer.

    I've also found it helpful to look at the expectations in the grades leading up to and following my specific grade. Unfortunately, the system of which I am a part doesn't build in the idea that we should be spending time talking to our non-grade level colleagues. Perhaps we need to carve out more of this space in our professional practice!

  5. The discrepancy between theory and practice. Curriculum in theory reflects on years of practice and action research. It is not intended to be disconnected from the experience of educators and the broad goals of all education's stakeholders. I believe the curriculum that guides me is by and large a thoughtful construction. It remains a broad road map in my mind. I think that view is shared by many educators. The curriculum should not be perceived as an educational 'On Star' that guides each moment of the learning journey. The immediacy of the classroom dynamic and the particular needs of our learners guides our practice. It is delusional to image this can be ignored. The powers that be imagine education to be a mountain children climb, each child taking their own differentiated path to arrive at the same prospect. They cannot conceive of education as resulting in people reaching their own unique prospect. This is what happens consistently. We simply fail to acknowledge the reality of all learning.

  6. Teaching a student for higher education or into professional practice is demanding. It's an enormous responsibility to educate at student with goals and objectives. They are written down to remind ourselves the larger responsibility is not our own experimentation of how we teach but does that objective enable the student into deeper and more critical thinking.

    I enjoy creating assignments that challenge the student to think differently and bring a point of difference to the problem to be solved.

    If everyone at the school Joe teaches at were to use the same theory and practice then great for the student. However, if the next teacher has a very different methodology would that confuse the student?

    Maybe higher education is different. My goal is to get the student ready for professional practice. The assignments are rigorous and require critical thinking to be successful. The challenge is how can I bring out the students creative imagination to solve a problem in a different way.

  7. Curriculum is such an interesting concept. There has been some fascinating research that challenges previous ways of thinking about teaching and learning. Kohn (2001) states “Considerable research has demonstrated the importance of making sure students are actively involved in designing their own learning, invited to play a role in formulating questions, creating projects, and so on” (para. 9). He goes on to explain that often times students and educators become bogged down in the rigidity of enforced standards and consequently miss out on real learning. I have been fortunate in my work situation to create curriculum in a previously non-existent program. As I seek to find balance between a planned curriculum, I am reminded that the students so eloquently are able to guide the learning by a very natural process of inquiry.


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