Sunday, 21 August 2016

When curriculum becomes my inspiration

Last year I challenged myself in two ways...I started my MEd and I taught three different grades. I chose both these changes, I embraced them. I had the full support from my team and administration to be creative with curriculum. I also had the full support of my family to take night classes, have Sundays to catch up on my readings and write papers, and be almost non-existent the month of July.

It was no doubt my busiest professional year to date. My first year I taught Science and Social Studies to grades 1-3 for a term but this was different. This was almost all subjects and to grades 6-8. Plus my students wrote EQAO at the end. The curriculum is complex, instead of sorting between living and non-living things, I was now teaching about the properties of flight and the parts and functions of the plant and animal cell, many concepts I had to learn before teaching. Not to mention the learning styles of three age groups. However this was my third time teaching these grades and some of this content...but instead of pulling out my old binders with overheads and notes from the textbook, I was more confident in inquiry based learning and how much more engaging that could be. Instead of marking 90 tests or lab reports, I was marking 15 group projects. Because I know my curriculum well, content seemed to be popping out of everywhere: tweets, news articles, Ted Talks, conversations... It was a great year, I feel confident that I covered my curriculum and that my students learned.

I've never once questioned the curriculum, who writes it and why we must teach it. Well, that's not true, I do question the Math curriculum, but I don't have any suggestions just yet, so I keep plugging away at it. Other than that, I like my curriculum, I like that it guides my teaching, I even find inspiration in it. Especially as new curriculum documents keep coming, e.g. Health and PhDs Ed.

We are in an interesting place in our profession. Curriculum is what we must teach, and what students must learn. Before, students learned solely at school and probably from books, at least the facts, and the curriculum. Traditionally teachers gave notes, students took notes, students studied, students took a test. That was learning...but yet, we know that learning is much more than that. Yet there are generations of teachers that learned this way, and now teach this way, and even thought there are better ways to teach and learn, these traditions are deeply rooted, normalized and perpetuated.

I recall being in teacher's college and learning about new pedagogies, but then we would go on our practicums and even though we knew there were better ways for teaching and learning, we reverted to traditional ways. We reverted to how we learned, out of comfort, because our associate teachers were teaching that way. Even now there are union issues should we question a colleagues professionalism or practices.

Slowly, the more I share, the more others share, the more changes are coming, the more people are willing to push themselves just a bit outside of their comfort zone. So when Aviva Dunsiger started posting her thoughts on the new K document, and since I was done summer school, I couldn't help but follow along and join the conversation. When the FDK program first came out, there were many nay sayers. Even now there are primary teachers who are very vocal about how the kids are not prepared, there are far fewer readers and writers, etc. etc.

In my opinion and observation, I don't think it's so much the FDK program that is not preparing the children, but rather the high class sizes that some schools are experiencing...we are taking kids from being at home or in a 5 to 1 ratio at daycare to a 15 to 1 ratio in some very small rooms...but again, I don't have suggestions just yet...My youngest is going into Grade 1 in the fall and I  know her FDK teacher, a long time K teacher, was traditional in many ways, so Gabby came out of that program reading at grade level and "ready" for grade 1. The following came home closer to the end of the year, and knowing that Gabby could very well write these sentences, she had very little motivation to do so after school and I rarely pushed it. She knew it, but would not demonstrate her knowledge.

Having taught grade 1, I know the expectation is a paragraph by the end of the year, and really that's from the OWA. I have no doubt she will get there. But she may refuse to show what she knows, she may be given traditional ways to show her learning, she may not like that, she may not demonstrate knowledge of grade level content. I hope she has a good year and I wish her teacher luck.

But who decides what grade level is? What knowledge kids must gain in K or in 8, or 12? Gabby can retell movies, books, memorizes lyrics of songs, but if she does not write sentences, she will not be achieving grade level expectations in writing.

Ironically my MEd so far has taught me patience. I've learned I cannot impose change. If someone is comfortable teaching from the textbook and giving tests, the best I can do is carry on and hope they come along. But these new documents, these are imposing change, and naturally there will be many resistors.

How will you help the resistors this year?


Capra, F. (2002). The hidden connections: Integrating the biological, cognitive, and social dimensions of life into a science of sustainability. New York: Doubleday.
Mitchell, C., & Sackney, L. (2011). Sustainable learning communities: From managed systems to living systems. Journal of Educational Administration and Foundations, 22(1), 19-38.