Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Growth -v- change

As we have a day off school today I decided to spend some time reading the new book for a professional reading group I belong to.  The first 4 chapters of Curriculum 21 are all written by Heidi Hayes Jacobs, and these are the ones I've been reading today.

At the start of Chapter 1 Heidi states: "As educators our challenge is to match the needs of our leaners to a world that is changing with great rapidity."  In this chapter she writes about the need for curriculum revision in order to replace the out-dated content, skills and assessments with ones that are more suitable to today's learners.  She refers to this as growth, rather than change:  "change in schools can often feel trendy and superficial, whereas growth is positive and deep."  She acknowledges that changes are stressful but goes on to write:  "the real insecurity comes from not growing or changing."

Heidi also writes that a shift in curriculum is not enough, it's also necessary to change the schedule, learner groupings, personnel and the way we use space.  She writes about the need to "replace existing practices" and believes that the best place to start is with the assessments, rather than to start revising content and skills.  While at first this seemed to me to be a strange place to start, it does fit in with the UbD principle of starting with the end in mind.

When the focus is on upgrading the curriculum, teachers commit to reviewing the technological resources available:  the hardware, the software and the online resources.  Then, she writes, teachers need to commit to revising one unit, replacing the current content, skills and assessments with 21st century upgrades.  This will involve professional development of the teachers as they learn to use a new technology tool to replace the old one.  She recommends starting with assessment because "it forces educators to confront the very work assignments that are required of our learners".

Teachers should research the types of products and performances that professionals use in the subjects that they teach.  These could involve podcasts, digital music compositions, webcasts, films, blogs and so on.  Then teachers need to identify the existing hardware, software and internet capabilities of their school.  She recommends teachers should learn and become comfortable with at least one new tool per semester of the school year and should then replace a dated assessment with a modern one.  She writes:
We should aggressively go out of our way to search for better ways to help our learners demonstrate learning with the types of products and performances that match our times.
At this point it's important to share these assessment upgrades with colleagues and with students - teachers need to model that they too are learners.

She recommends that teachers are given a set time to meet to update the curriculum and to discuss their practice with a view to expanding their instructional repertoire.  This is necessary because:
What has changed is the knowledge base, which has grown, and the tools for communicating and sharing what students are learning as they cultivate these skills in a new world.  These tools have given students new forms to convey their ideas, changing the immediacy and range of input that is possible ... When students are engaged in the types of products and performances that are ongoing in the larger contemporary world, they are more motivated to respond to those forms and to create the as well.  The deliberate and formal work of identifying new options and working to target replacements is a sensible place for a faculty to begin.
Meeting about replacing or upgrading the content of the curriculum means that teachers are given the time to articulate what is timely and timeless and needs to be learned, and what can be let go.  She writes that the "ongoing process of challenging accepted knowledge and the cycle of replacing it are the signs of cultural maturation."  Teachers need to research new developments in their subject areas:  "if we examine curriculum without new ideas and perspectives, we tend to simply reinforce the familiar."

Photo Credit:  Spiraling by Will Montague AttributionNoncommercial 

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