Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Concept-based curriculum and instruction

I'm in a 2 day workshop with Lynn Erickson on concept-based curriculum and instruction.  For our "homework" tonight we are in groups of 9, each of us reading a chapter from Lunn's book Transitioning to Concept-Based Curriculum and Instruction.  I was happy that when we numbered off, I ended up with number 8, thus having to read Chapter 8 which is about what principals and coaches need to understand about implementing concept-based models in schools.

Now, I have to say that for over 20 years I've worked at schools that already have a concept-based curriculum - the PYP.  However I've also consulted with schools that are moving from a more traditional way of teaching as they have decided to take on the PYP.  As with any new curriculum, change is hard - and those leading the change need to consider up-front what they can do to both to avoid the stresses and failures that might be associated with change, and to sustain any changes that do take place.

In Chapter 8, Lynn writes about how to set the stage for curriculum implementation.  This falls into 3 main steps:
  1. Examining the hidden impediments to change - for example principals who do not provide the necessary support will certainly make change less likely to succeed.  Some people embrace change (the early adopters) and others are reluctant to move out of their comfort zones. Coaches and principals need to consider the different personal characteristics of their teachers to help them to successfully implement change.
  2. Setting up the learning team - some schools know they need to change because students are struggling, yet teachers in these schools may be reluctant to change because of past failures. Conversely, schools that are experiencing success may not see the need for a change towards a concept-based curriculum.   In both cases, setting up a school learning team made up of teachers and instructional coaches is important before implementation.  This team should have members that are well respected by their colleagues, have diverse perspectives and be committed to a concept-based curriculum.  It's really important that there are teachers on this team, as they are the ones dealing with the change and can help anticipate and resolve the problems, as well as help mobilise the buy-in of the rest of the teaching faculty.
  3. Shaping a shared vision - it's really important to show teachers what a concept-based curriculum looks like in practice.  The teachers who are the ones implementing the changes are often not the same ones that were part of the decision making and curriculum development process.  Many teachers who are expected to change their practices experience anxiety and fear of failure, so support, modelling and coaching are vital. 
When adopting a new curriculum teachers go through fairly predictable developmental stages:
  • Self-oriented - wondering what it is and how it will affect them
  • Task-oriented - wondering how they do it 
  • Impact - questioning how the change is working for students
Coaches need to recognise what stage their teachers are at and design differentiated job-embedded PD to address the level of concern that individual teachers have.

When adopting a concept-based curriculum it's also important to consider student assessment. Traditional assessments measure knowledge and skills, but often don't provide much data about student understanding.  Assessments will need to be redesigned in order to focus more on conceptual understanding.

I have had an absolutely brilliant time today and can't wait to get back to school tomorrow to continue the learning.

Photo Credit: Anne Davis 773 Flickr via Compfight cc

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