Tony Gurr

Seriously…what is CURRICULUM…Seriously? [Part THREE of ???]

In Curriculum, Our Schools, Our Universities on 21/03/2011 at 4:12 am

Nature is one. It is not divided into physics, chemistry, and quantum mechanics.

Albert Szent-Gyorgi

In the very first part of this mini-series (and, I’m rapidly discovering it will not quite “fit” into a neat, little “trilogy”) I mentioned that the starting point of a “curriculum rEvolution” was the question:

What are your beliefs about what type of “curriculum model” you (and your students) need?

However, and I as I tried to point out, many institutions are just not used to this type of approach – an approach that makes “explicit” those underlying assumptions that “drive” the way we “do business”.

What we have to remember, however, is that institutions are made up of people. I’m guessing that you are “people” (institutions do not read blogs) so I’d like to offer you a version of those mini-quizzes we find in magazinesto see if you are ready for a “curriculum rEvolution”.


Let’s start with a couple of “YES” or “NO” questions remember, you have to say “YES” to make it worth reading the rest of the post:

Q1. Do you (really) believe that every single student can learn or at least grow as the result of further educational and learning opportunities?

Q2. Do you (in your heart of hearts) believe that schools, colleges and universities should be organised around the notion of student learning?

Q3. Do you (and this is the “killer” question) believe that a curriculum should be more than a “teaching plan” – that we should conceptualise of curriculum as the expression of “educational beliefs in practice” and that we need to think of curriculum in terms of the “whole educative process” (rather than simply “content”)?

If you answered “YES” to two out of three of these questions, you should probably read on – if not, read on anyway (or take a look at Part Two)!

Answering “YES” to questions like these suggests (to me, at least) that you see your role (as a teacher or educator) as involving the creation of meaningful change in all your students and that you would perhaps want to see “curriculum” as more of a coherent roadmap for supporting the holistic development of all your learners.

OK – it might just mean that you did what I asked you to do and answered “YES” – but, I am (forever) an optimistic kind of guy.


Let’s try a couple of others:

Q4. Do you believe learning is more than “knowing” – it is about doing something with what we know and our ability to continue to learn and grow after “formal education” is over?

Q5. Do you believe learning is a “complex process” that involves the whole person in a c0-constructed, situated (context-specific) and collaborative exercise of sense-making?

Q6. Do you believe learners develop attitudes, skills and knowledge best when they are connected to and transformed by their learning – in addition to taking responsibility for that learning?

I’m hoping we are on a “roll” here – and again you said “YES” to at least two of those.


Let’s push the envelope a little more:

Q7. Would you agree with the statement “real education involves making a sustained, substantial and positive impact on how learners think, act and feel”?

Q8. Would you agree with the statement “real learning involves making a sustained, substantial and positive impact on what learners can do with what they know and learn”?

Q9. Would you agree with the statement “real curriculum renewal involves moving to the creation of a living curriculum that reflects the development and growth of the whole student, in addition to developing assessment processes that can evidence the quality of learning that has taken place and what student can do with what they know and learn”?

I never said these questions would not give you a headache…and, I know it might have been better if we had done some form of likert scale for this last set of questions. You know:

5 – Strongly Agree

4 – Agree

3 – Neutral (I never really “got” why we use this one – I have not met many educators are “neutral” about their students. If I have met teachers like this, I have usually advised them to simply “get out of Dodge”).

2 – Disagree

1 – Strongly Disagree

Then, asked you to add up all your points and compare your totals to a number of descriptions that tell you where you are on the “learning teacher” to “teaching teacher” continuum…but that would have been too much hard work for a lowly blogger.

Besides, Oprah and Cosmopolitan have done this to death…

You get the idea.


Question nine is a nice one. It introduces the idea of a “living curriculum”.

A living curriculum is not chopped up into discrete courses, decontextualised skills and “chunks” of knowledge; rather, it facilitates the holistic performance of meaningful, complex tasks in increasingly challenging environments.

A living curriculum promotes collaborative co-creation of knowledge, understandings and abilities by learners and teachers (and teams of teachers from different disciplines) and in doing so creates a sense of efficacy and confidence in learners.

Learning opportunities, challenge or problem-based projects, materials and content are structured so that students gradually regulate their own learning over their whole “learning career” and so that learning is always meaningful and makes sense.

These goals are promoted in a variety of ways through living curricula. For example, a living curriculum encourages students to clarify their purposes in performing a task, to assess what they already know, and to predict what is to be learned on various learning opportunities.

A living curriculum helps learners highlight what is most important and thereby fosters feelings of control over subject matter. It explores students’ attitudes about themselves as learners and about learning in topic and discipline areas. It provides opportunities for students to assess difficulties they have in learning and consider strategies they could use to overcome learning difficulties. It stresses continuing to work in the face of ambiguity, solving problems despite unexpected difficulties, and looking at problems as challenges to learn more and better.

By being engaged in curriculum in this manner, students come to see themselves as successful, capable learners.

And, then there are curricular that resemble the Dead Sea Scrolls…hidden away for years, collecting dust, never questioned…well, not by many.


OK, back to some questions:

Q10. Choose the correct answer:

a)    A school, college or university is an institution that should exist to provide instruction.

b)    A school, college or university college is an institution that should exist to produce learning.


Q11. Choose the correct answer

a)    Most of our schools, colleges and universities exist to provide instruction.

b)    Most of our schools, colleges and universities exist to produce learning.


Do I need to say more?…Perhaps, a couple of words.

It should be clear that the view of curricular I have in mind represents a significant change for many educators (especially academics in higher education). The type of  paradigm shift required of educators and academics is quite significant and we cannot expect this to occur overnight.

Many may, in fact, wish to challenge whether we need such a shift and could suggest that the assumptions a teacher or faculty member holds about curriculum constitute a grounded source of principled ideas about how to promote learning in a given discipline.

In truth, many of these objections are often “stalling tactics” – designed to minimise the disruption of lesson plans, materials and textbooks – prepared years ago (IMHO)…but let’s give people the benefit of the doubt.

While this is often true, the evidence base for “newer thinking” on teaching and learning is grounded on a belief in a “scholarship of connection and engagement” with all those in our wider learning communities – these communities both “start” and “finish” with learners.

As with any respectable scholarship, most professional educators today believe that the assumptions that underpin action and decision-making should be continually challenged and that it is this very process that contributes to the learning of educators and academics – and, more importantly, students.

However, it has to start with those educators and academics “challenging” themselves – then, perhaps challenging the way their institutions “do business”.

But, more on that…tomorrow.


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