Monday, February 21, 2011

Defining Curriculum

I am in my last week of the Curriculum course of my graduate certificate program at Johns Hopkins.  I have taken probably four or five college courses with "curriculum" somewhere in the title, but this course has made me look at the curriculum development process with a more holistic-- and critical-- viewpoint.  

Previously, the working definition of curriculum that I have used, at least during formal curriculum development projects, was the set of content and skills (usually a list of standards and objectives) that students should master as part of their education. When I look at many curriculum documents, that seems to be the definition of curriculum that underpins them, even if the developers never explicitly stated or even realized it.  

That list of standards/objectives, however, is only a part of curriculum. What exactly does a quality education look like?  Is our goal to prepare students for college?  To provide a steady, reliable labor source for the economy?  To ensure that our country is peopled with responsible citizens?  The answer(s) will fundamentally shape the curriculum development process.

What attitudes and characteristics do we want our students to develop?  We need to think about not just what we want our students to be able to do, but what we want them to be like as learners and members of a community. In Developing a Quality Curriculum, Glatthorn refers to this as "the organic curriculum,"  which is nurtured rather than directly taught, but which certainly requires careful consideration when planning curriculum. 

Does our curriculum demonstrate an "everything but the kitchen sink" mindset, or are depth and quality emphasized?  What are the gaps between what is written, taught, and tested-- and what do those gaps say to our students about what we really value?  For example, when teachers ignore any standard that isn't on the high stakes test, it is obvious to our students that what counts is the test score. 

If we skip the tough questions and jump straight into lists of objectives and lesson ideas, we short-change the process, and our students.   Putting in the time and effort to address them may be difficult, but doing so provides a stronger foundation upon which to build our curriculum 


Monday, February 14, 2011

LIteracy Redefined

In his essay on socio-technology trends in learning, Stephen Wilmarth describes how once upon a time, development of a symbolic alphabet moved us from “orality” to “literacy.”  Movable type and the printing press later redefined literacy.  The Internet has redefined literacy again, and in fact with the speed of new developments (Web 2.0, the cloud, mobile computing) we have very likely entered an era of constantly shifting and evolving literacy. 

Teachers and administrators   have to get past the chatter on whether this is “good” or “bad” and recognize it as reality. 

What educational themes emerge in this new reality?

1)   Students as content creators – Rather than passively consume information, students need to transform and interact with it.  (This, of course, has always been true!)
2)   Collaboration and “collective intelligence” – Students need to interact with each other and make positive contributions to each others’ learning
3)   Social media as identity creation – Trying on different personas has never been as easy as it is now.   The personas we create online help to define the relationships we have with others. Students need guidance in navigating the risks and benefits of this process.

Wilmarth concludes that education is moving “from cathedrals to bazaars.”  The longer administrators try to keep their schools ivory towers, the more irrelevant those schools will become.  Instead, we need to embrace the “messy, non-linear, highly organic process of learning—at least the kind of learning that seems to be at the core of what it takes to be a successful citizen of the 21st century.”

Wilmarth, Stephen. (2010.) Five Socio-Technology Trends that Change Everything in Teaching and Learning. In Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.