Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Disconnected Curriculum...

I learned early on in my career as an educator to do first then beg for forgiveness later. Then it came to a point when I just "did" in my classroom and never really needed or wanted forgiveness. Lucky for me I had an understanding administration who would let me get away with one time blowing a window out in my science classroom. (But that is another story for another time...) When it came to what my students were learning I could be really flexible with what I taught them. It all when back to what was best for my kids. While my district would tell me that Concept A was more important for them to learn, they were not teaching my kids and I felt Concept B was more important so that is what I spent more time on. And I could do that; get away with it so to say. I took the basic curriculum that is "mandated" by the state and modified it to make it work.

The focus of #edchat last night was on an overloaded curriculum. Mainly, how should curricula could be modified so there is more emphasis on actual learning and less on just memorization and "teaching to the test."

There were some very interesting things said. You can catch the archive here and a few of the summarizing thoughts here.

My fear going into this discussion was that it would be less about curriculum and more about high-stakes testing. There was some talk of this, really the conversation centered around what would the ideal curriculum look like.

Here are a few of my thoughts...

Several people talked about National Standards or a National Curriculum. That is very, very murky water. Do we really want to give all that control to some government agency what our kids are learning. How is Race To The Top or No Child Left Behind working out for you? Keep that in mind when we start talking about nationalizing our curriculum and our students. If anything we need much less government intrusion and more teacher input when talking about what our kids need to learn. Even curricula that are developed by national organizations with an educational focus should be examined thoroughly before adopted. Again, what the organization feels all kids need to learn might not be what is best for your kids.

Most states have "opinions," "mandates," "requirements," whatever you want to call them of what each kid will learn in whatever subject and/or grade level. Fine. It is what it is. We have to make sure our kids all leave school with the same basic foundations. But lets get real. I want to believe that if we eliminated all mandated curricula for all students tomorrow that some how every kid would still be successful and would still learn what they needed to be successful. Call it a character flaw or whatever, but I believe educators, regardless of what they are told to teach, will continue to teach kids to the best of their ability and will still be supported by administrators who want to see their kids and teachers be successful.

But that's just me.

Look, the truth is most curricula are misaligned and make no sense. That is when it takes the skills of a caring educator to look over their students and see what needs more attention and what needs to be left out. The writers of curricula don't know what is best for your kids. You do. So sometimes you have to go into your classroom and realize what the state or district or whom ever wants you teach just ain't going to work.

So head out there and use these curricula as a guide but not the end all be all of your classroom. If you care about what your kids are doing, you are doing formative assessments and monitoring progress you will be just fine.

Image from Flickr CC Search


  1. I agree- it all comes down to knowing your students... that's key.

    We keep adding more and more to what kids need to know... shouldn't it be about the team/communication skills and critical thinking? Isn't that what they really need to be successful, global citizens?

  2. Yes.

    I live in a province where curriculum is highly mandated. Curriculum, Evaluation, Reporting, all of them highly mandated by the provincial government. That being said, we also have a government that focuses on providing French language materials first and eventually gets to English materials so we are pretty much responisble for creating our own materials. It can only work for me if I choose to live by your last 2 paragraphs, which I do. (I just tried to copy and paste those lines here, this comment form won't allow it).

    Perhaps we need to work on developing educators' skills around belief in their students rather than their ability to cover the curriculum. Curriculum is just a book, belief in our students abilities to be succesful is at the heart of teaching and learning. The book can (and does) change, as long as the belief stays we'll be fine.

  3. Perhaps we should focus on how to hire the best teachers and the right teachers to get the job done without the mandates. Too often I think mandated curriculum is the result of what is perceived as inadequate teaching-if we just give them more direction and lessons, they will be able to teach.
    I agree with getting to know your students. Equally important is getting to know your teachers.

  4. I find the thought of any more government involvement in education to be scary. I agree with many of the comments given above that good teachers look at their classes and teacher to those classes. Good teachers know what should be taught at their level and truly want to see their students master that material at that level, but each year have to come up with the best methods, best time frame, etc to accomplish that for a particular class. If you're not in the classroom how can you mandate what/when/how things should be taught? I believe our education system would be strengthened in this country if we put our energies toward improved teacher ed. programs. I also believe teachers need consistent, quality professional development to allow them to continually grow. Ever new technology use in the classroom allow us to teach things in new and often times exciting ways; we must have the freedom to decide what is best for our particular students and run with it!