Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Does curriculum need to go on a diet? A follow-up to #edchat

As expected, tonight's #edchat was not disappointing as we talked about how to deal with an overloaded curriculum.  It was as fast and furious as ever.  There are some things I'm sure I missed and probably will miss even after reviewing the archive dozens of times.  After trying to pre-load the discussion earlier, I came away with even more questions and ideas tonight.  These are the ones that were most impactful to me.

At the risk of sounding like a traitor, sometimes I wonder how many times we as teachers are responsible for our own problems?  A lot of discussion centered around teaching standards, not long lists of content.  Out of curiosity, I ran the North Carolina Standard Course of Study for sixth grade science through Wordle and was surprised at the results, particularly the prominence of the higher order verbs "analyze" and "evaluate".  Of course there is the possibility of the curriculum writers covering themselves to look good.  For the sake of argument, let's say that is the case.  If the "official" curriculum is stated this way, the teacher now has plenty of freedom on how she or he teaches the course.  We just don't do it.

Let's look at a different curriculum such as math.  I'm also a math teacher and math always seem to stand as the exception to the possibilities.  Math tends to be skilled based, at least for K-8.  Doing the same thing as with the science curriculum, the results are dramatically different.  It's hard to find the verbs.  When you do, they are lower level.  Waldo is easier to find than the verb "analyze".  Two dynamics are at work here.  One, math is just a different beast.  Two, maybe it's not as rigorous as we'd like to believe.  HOWEVER, I do think that it is possible to weave the goals and strands in such a way as to cover concepts that are demonstrated by all the skills we worry about being on the end of year test.

Another common error we make as teachers is confusing curriculum with the textbook table of contents.  Textbooks are even more arbitrary than curriculum is.  This fallacy is not as common as it once was because of district imposed pacing guides.  Now the pacing guide becomes the curriculum impostor.  As someone said tonight, it's interesting that we are told to focus on higher level thinking skills with particular concepts that are given one day on the pacing guide.  How one should deal with the pacing guide is a more delicate matter.  It is largely dependent on your school and/or district admin.  For some the consequences can be quite severe if the  pacing guide is not strictly followed.  That's a sad indictment on the state of education.

Moving away from condemning ourselves, another very important point was made tonight.  Content cannot be thrown out.  Even if a conceptual framework is going to drive future curriculum development, then it is still permissible to select particular content to teach those concepts.  Someone else noted that there are some important content pieces that are being cut out, perhaps wrongly so.  The example given was the Holocaust.  Of course, these will always be subjective judgments.

After tonight, I'm not as dismayed about the future as some.  Despite what the talking heads and policy makers tell us, I think we can make it work as the folks on the front line.  What do you think?

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