Tony Gurr

Seriously…what is CURRICULUM…Seriously? [Part SIX of SIX…for now]

In Curriculum, Our Schools, Our Universities on 01/04/2011 at 4:55 pm

An old, dear friend of mine in Abu Dhabi got me a note this morning and said I should “rename” my blog…to “allthingscurriculum”!

So, I have decided that today is the last day of the “saga”… for the time being!

OK – so, yesterday I left you with 10 words – 10 words that I felt “capture” the spirit or the principles required for a “curriculum rEvolution”.

Many of those words essentially convey concepts that need to underpin how we approach “doing curriculum”.

However, as I simply “gave” you the words yesterday, I thought I’d give you all a bit of an “exercise” today.

Below I have some explanations that relate to the 10 words – “…your mission, should you decide to accept it…” is to match the explanations below to the words from yesterday:


Principle A: an effective curriculum needs to be more than about what we are “teaching” today. It needs to move beyond “now” into the “future learning” of graduates – and is only as good as the way it prepares learners to keep on learning after the experience of “formal education” is over and done with. [“the word” = ______________]

Yes, the correct word is: Future-orientated


Principle B: curriculum thinking cannot be “divorced” from the values and beliefs of those involved in creating it. A great curriculum uncovers the underlying assumptions and aspirations that educators have for their learners and themselves – it is more than “content”, it is a “conscious educational philosophy” given “form” and “substance”. [“the word” = ______________]


Principle C: just as a curriculum needs to be seen as an expression of an educational philosophy, it also needs to be viewed as a framework of educational values that informs problem-solving on a day-to-day basis. A curriculum needs to “scream” this is who we are and this is how we do business – not simply list a series of dry topics to be presented by an equally dry teacher. [“the word” = ______________]


Principle D: a curriculum should answer the question “what are we here to do for our students” – it is the fundamental expression of an organisation’s aims and convictions. [“the word” = ______________]


Principle E: if a poor curriculum is one that looks more like a “checklist” of things to be poured into the heads of students, a great curriculum is one that has at its heart a sequence and structure that involves iterative revisiting and expansion over time. Concepts, themes and topic areas are revisited with greater sophistication, learners are given opportunities to demonstrate earlier understandings and presented with newer challenges and projects imagineered to lead them to higher ability levels. [“the word” = ______________]


Principle F: a curriculum has to be centred on learners, their learning and what they can do with that learning…nuff said! [“the word” = ______________]


Principle G: assessment and curriculum are the “currency” used by teachers and students and they should embody the very nature of the relationships we hope to build in and out of the classroom. As such, teachers and educators need to have a central role in designing not only the learning opportunities and assessment activities – but also the curriculum itself. Before students can own a curriculum, teachers have to be invested in and believe in it. [“the word” = ______________]


Principle H: when teachers and learners only conceive of curriculum as a “document”, we might as well pack up and go home. A real, breathing curriculum is one that teachers and learners see as an “ongoing process of questioning” of what ought to happen and an “ongoing process of problem-solving” with regards how to make that happen “in practice”. [“the word” = ______________]


Principle I: as such, curriculum also needs to be viewed as interactive process of designing, experiencing, evaluating and improving what learners can do with what they know. [“the word” = ______________]

…last but not least


Principle J: curriculum is a process (yes, I think we get this now, Tony), a process that gives us a way to imagine, explore, and critique ways of thinking about the purposes and practices of a curriculum. This very process helps teachers and educators “grow” as much as their learners – it allows them to revitalise their subjects and disciplines and look for more ways to cross traditional boundaries so as prioritise making a real difference to the real lives of their very real learners. [“the word” = ______________]

There is a “prize” for the first person who mails me the “correct answers”!


In a way, all these principles help teachers and educators move from the more simplistic conceptualisation of curriculum (the “teaching plan”) towards a more dynamic and expansive “perspective” focussed on answering the “three critical curriculum” questions:

  • What are we here to do for our students?
  • What should our students be learning?
  • How do we know that learning is taking place?

You would be surprised how many people struggle to answer these questions for their own institutions…from Rectors to Librarians.

This new “focus” or “perspective on real learning” necessarily involves a shift away from simply “teaching” maths, science, engineering, graphic design or English – to an understanding that recognises both students and educators are in the “production business”. And, they are in this process – together.

Students are in the business of “producing and creating knowledge” (understandings, attitudes, and abilities) that will make them effective learners, employees and citizens.

Educators, other staff and community partners are all ideally placed to act as “role-models” in this process and help learners deepen their life experiences, abilities and understanding of the world around them.

The process occurs in a collaborative and developmental manner as students interact with each other, educators and other staff, in addition to the community and workplace partners we all work with – it is not about “delivery” of a “lifeless document”.


OK – so what “actual steps” follow on from such principles?

Well, that’s the $10 million question!

But, a good start is to consider the following (in no particular order):

Schools, Colleges and Universities SHOULD……

  • Inspire their staff and faculty – “dare them to dream” about doing something different in education.
  • Support staff and faculty to access their own thinking, values and underlying assumptions about education, learning and teaching.
  • Establish forums and focus groups that allow teachers and educators (and other staff) to explore their beliefs of what constitutes learning, an education, curriculum, assessment, disciplinary thinking, and a 21st Century graduate.

  • Develop explicit statements about the whole educational process they are seeking to create for their learners (not just mission statements for “wall decoration”).
  • Create a “graduate profile” for the ideal student at their institution – a generic abilities framework that describes what graduates can do with they know.
  • Dedicate resources and support for the creation of a curriculum framework focussed on student achievement of the desired abilities and learning outcomes (not simply outputs or knowledge) in a principled, developmental and iterative, spiralling manner (yes, here is the answer to “Principle E”).

  • Expose staff and teachers to the concepts behind the “learning revolution” and “learning paradigm” and offer wider professional development opportunities that help staff look at education from the point of view of the learner.
  • Create mechanisms that relate an “evolving study of curriculum and assessment practices” to an on-going search for more effective ways to teach, create significant and engaging learning opportunities for students and support that learning through processes of assessment-for-learning, self-assessment and collection of longitudinal performance data (culture of evidence) across the whole career of learners.
  • Build professional development systems and communities that assist individual faculty members and teams to plan, teach, assess and evaluate their own practice (and move away from a generic, one-off, “expert” workshop model).

  • Put someone “in charge” of learning, curriculum & assessment, and institutional effectiveness.
  • Establish a “participative mechanism” for all teachers to take ownership of evolving the abilities framework.
  • Support disciplinary teams to explore wider opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration and the creation of “shared” projects and learning opportunities for students – in addition to establishing mechanisms for different teams to share knowledge, best practices and innovations with others.


Looking back at all six “episodes” (George Lucas would be so proud of his little “educational padawan”) – I see we have covered so much ground.

But, in actual fact, we have only begun to scratch the surface…

Alverno College began a similar “imagineering process” in 1973 – they are still “polishing” their model. It’s a process, it does not stop – and it all begins with a “first step”!

I know that many of you work with Ministries and Councils of Higher Educationperhaps, the first steps could come from them, too!

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