Tony Gurr

Between a ROCK and a very HARD PLACE (Pt 05) – “The End” (or is it)?

In Curriculum, ELT and ELL, Our Schools, Our Universities on 15/08/2012 at 3:54 pm

Obviously, as Flash noted, not very much!

It was a bit of a challenge for me to select an appropriate “opening image” for this post (especially because I used all me best ones for that bloody summary postThe “STORY” so far…).

The most important thing is – I kinda left Part 04 by saying something about me “answering” the following questions:

How dumb was that?

What was I smoking that night? I mean – the balls on the guy – suggesting that I had the “know-how” and “savvy” to fix this stuff. Not only that – I got all holier-than-thoupretentious and spiritual, even – with that touchy-feely stuff about:

 Sorry about that! You have to admit though, the Dexter quote was pretty “cool”yes?

 

Actually, I bet half of you are just reading this to see how badly I fall flat on me face with this one, right?

So, here goes nothing…

 

 

The fundamental “whinge” at the heart of this overly-long “serial rant” is that…

“we” in education (more specifically – ministries, departments of education, school administrators, curriculum co-ordinators, course designers, teachers and…my dog) have introduced systems of curriculum pacing (more specifically – sets of curriculum pacing guides, grounded on either test specifications or textbook content pages) designed to keep teachers “on track” and “on schedule” vis-à-vis the so-called outcomes we find on our curricular – but, in practice, tell” teachers what to teachwhen and how to teach it and how “fast” to “get through” everything (often in terms of weeks, days, class periods and – for crying-out-loud – even minutes).

I ain’t finished, boys n’ girls… 

These curriculum “support” tools, we are told, are essentially to make sure “no child, or young adult, is left behind” – but we all know it’s more about “not flunking the test”. The reality is, and “we” all know this (by “we” I refer now to all those poor saps that have to breathe life into these documents – by racing, non-stop, from page-to-page-to-page from pop-quiz-to-pop, from…you get the point) – is little more than an attempt to ensure “standardisation” of the teaching that takes place in a school or system.

Wait for it… 

The result? These types of practices and pacing guides prevent teachers from being the great LEARNers, QUESTIONers and CONNECTors that they can all be, almost always guarantee these same TEACHers have to go back to traditional forms of “teacher-centered instruction” and make adaptations to the curricular (or simply “dump” stuff) that make them even more ineffective – yani, usher in “factory model TEACHing”! 

Oh, yes – almost forgot!  

These very same practices reinforce “assembly line LEARNing” in students, hinder real and meaning growth in our kids and young adults – and make them hate “us” (and by “us” I mean all those lovely teachers). 

And, to add insult to injury many of them STILL fail the bloody tests…

 

Now, I’m guessing a few of you are asking…“Why the HELL did you not just say this (the start of the first post) – and save me almost 10,000 words of READing”?

Where’s the FUN in that?

 

The “real” question, of course, remains:

Who should we “give the finger”sorrypoint the finger at”?

I told you earlier – we do love our blame games in education…

 

If you want my “two cents”I know, I know…but I’m gonna give it to you anyways!

This goes TWO ways – Firstly…

…and then…

 

 

You see…the problem is NOT really about “pacing guides” at all.

It’s about the assumptions, the beliefs, the so-called “knowledge”…that we have allowed to “rule” our decision-making across our schools, colleges and universities!

 

INSTITUTIONSI say unto thee (the image is mostly because I forgot to jump on the “Olympics-cum-blogging-band-wagon” in time):

 

TEACHers (well, some of us)…I say unto thee:

 

…and (for BOTH):

 

 

…oh, yeah…not to forget:

Just so you know how “great” Usain Bolt really is…

Let’s stick with the running / racing theme for a minute – I might not have hitched my blogging-wagon to the Olympics, but I did use The Flash as part of this mini-series…

Most of us know that:

…the thing is…when the Greeks thunked up this notion, what they were really thunking about was (essentially) that a curriculum represented a  purposeful progression towards some predetermined goalThat goal, however, was never about how much “content” we could spoon-feed into the mouths of their LEARNers…nor was it simply a matter of how fast they could shovel that “content” from the “pacing guide” into the classroom.

BTW, and only if you are interested, the ancient Greek TEACHers did not have “fixed timetables” of 45-minute periods (or “doubles”) and they certainly did not have standarised, “do-or-die” paper-based “tests” – just in case you are interested!

The predetermined goal these ancient akademies had in mind was all about how they could best make a real difference to the real lives of their very real LEARNers – how, you might say, they could best contribute to a significant (and sustainable) improvement in those LEARNers.

…and make the world a better place!

Not too shabby…and, before I forgeta purposeful progression towards integrating LEARNing, development and performancecome on, you “know” the rest.

Curriculum needs to be viewed as the interactive process of designing, experiencing, evaluating and improving what LEARNers can do with what they knowthis cannot be done by TEACHers alone. It is (or should be) a true process of “classroom co-creation” – not a process that is done in a dark, smoke-filled back-rooms inhabited by “curriculum planners” and their love of “pacing guides”!

Effective curricular need to be more than about what we are TEACHing today (or Monday morning…and, God forbid, at 3 pm on Friday afternoon). Curriculum needs to move beyond “now” into the “future” LEARNing of students and “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.

When institutions and TEACHers only conceive of curriculum as a “document”, we might as well pack up and go home. A real, living, breathing curriculum is one that TEACHers (and LEARNers) see as an “on-going process of questioning” of what ought to happen and an “on-going process of problem-solving” with regards how to make that happen “in practice” in the classroom.

This takes “time” – and more questions than you can shake a stick at…

However, and even before this, a curriculum should answer the question “what are we here to do for our students” – it needs to be the fundamental expression of our purposes, aims and convictions (as TEACHers and institutions). That purpose needs to be centred on the type of LEARNer we want to “create” – and describe the abilities we want to see in each and every single one of those LEARNers…

Just as a curriculum needs to be seen as an expression of an educational philosophy, it also needs to be viewed as a roadmap or framework of educational values that informs problem-solving on a day-to-day basis.

 

In a word (or several), 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 (and frequently “burned-out”) TEACHer.

 

If a “poor” curriculum (or “pacing guide”) is one that looks more like a “tick-box checklist” of things to be poured into the heads of students, a “great” curriculum is one that has (at its heart) a meaningful sequence and structure that uses iterative revisiting and expansion over time – and one that makes room for co-creation by TEACHers and LEARNers.

Once we have a “graduate profile” the mental image of the type of LEARNer we are in the “business” of “building” – then we can worry about the type of “content” we can “choose” to make this happen. Concepts, themes and topic areas need to be revisited with greater sophistication, LEARNers need to be given opportunities to demonstrate earlier understandings and also be presented with newer challenges and projects imagineered to lead them to higher ability levels. Challenges and projects that also explore their evolving view of both LEARNing and the world they are building through that LEARNing – as well as their “place” in all of this!

Now, around about NOWif you ain’t “nodded off” (or gone back to Twitter to look for another Top 10 List)…you might be asking:

 

Institutions …HAVE TO:

  • Inspire their staff and TEACHers – “dare them to dream” about doing something different in education.
  • Support staff and TEACHers to access their own thunking, values and underlying assumptions about education, LEARNing and TEACHing.
  • Establish forums that allow TEACHers (and other staff) to explore their beliefs of what constitutes LEARNing, a “successful” education, curriculum, assessment, and what it means to “produce” 21st Century LEARNers (and “graduates”). 
  • 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. 
  • 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 across the whole career of LEARNers.
  • Build professional development systems and communities that assist individual TEACHers 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 the curriculum and evolving the abilities framework that forms the basis of the “graduate profile”.
  • Support all 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.

TEACHers should not have to try and do these things on their own…or feel they have to “break the rules” to do the “right thing”. Institutions have to have a purpose and systems that “feed” and “nurture” all staff and TEACHers – after all, we all know that:

…as much as we know “sages on stages” break more “things” than their own legs!

…you know what the really “sad” thing is?

I have spent all this time banging away at me keyboardrunning up a couple of half-decent “blogging soaps” – but YOU (yes, the person reading this) probably “know” all this.

YOU care about this stuff

YOU care about your LEARNers

YOU care about your own growth, development and LEARNing…

…or, you wouldn’t be taking time from your family and friends to read another 2,000 words from some silly blogger that you ain’t even met!

The question is:

How do we reach those that don’t read things like this? …and, really “need” to!

Take care – keep up the “good fight”…

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