Saturday, October 12, 2013

Curriculum: A major source of the problem.....?

One of the recurring themes in my posts has been my attempts to reconcile source work and inquiry with common tests that are focused primarily on student recall of facts about a topic, person, or era. In this environment, what are the first steps I should be taking when planning, knowing that there is a common test to administer where my students are expected to know X Y Z?

Up to this point, I have always examined the test and made a list of content that must be emphasized in my lessons.

When I first started teaching, I would typically examine the curriculum, making a similar, but longer, list of must cover content. In those early years, I would often teach without knowing exactly how I would assess all of the content that was coming up in class.
Back then, as I was still becoming comfortable with the content I was teaching, I would often ‘grade’ students in a variety of ways. Though I had absolute control over how students were assessed, I still taught history in ways that today I do not feel comfortable with. Why?
I have always taught in environments where really detailed curriculum documents prescribe tons of content to teach in a relatively short amount of time.
Sitting here now, having been teaching for 13 years, I feel that much of what happens in history classrooms that promotes coverage over depth, rote learning over meaningful learning, stems from how teachers view, and often shape, curriculum.

As soon as a curriculum document becomes a list of content that must be covered, much of what is meaningful about history education evaporates.

I have not spent much time examining history curriculums. What does yours look like?

I know many teachers may respond that curriculums look the way they do because of their state’s standards. This may be an accurate assessment, but I am not sure if that is true in my state.

I have actually never participated in the writing of a curriculum for a course. I have always been on the receiving end of thirty pages of well formatted “stuff” to teach.

When these documents are created, I wonder how much time is spent thinking about the following questions:

What does it mean to know a topic? For example, when we say students will study the French Revolution, how are we conceptualizing and defining student success?

What skills are students going to practice, refine, and master in this class? What do we mean when we say ‘cause and effect’ or ‘analyzing documents’? Are we focusing on too many or too few skills? How do we know?
Are we undermining meaningful learning if we list 40 sub topics that must be addressed in this unit on the French Revolution? And what is a unit any way? Are we sure we ought to be teaching a unit on the French Revolution? Might the French Revolution be better taught in a different context? Juxtaposed against other revolutions? Should we be looking to the textbook to tell us how to arrange our course?

I suspect the process of curriculum writing often looks and sounds quite different. Why?

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