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.


  1. Thanks for sharing this post and continuing to make me think about curriculum. I find your comment about your daughter very interesting. I wonder if she would be reading at grade level even if her teacher wasn't traditional. I was far from traditional, and while not all of my students were "reading at grade level" at the end of the year, they all made big gains, and those students that were "ready to read," met or exceeded grade level benchmarks. Other children, developed the pre-reading skills (phonemic awareness skills, vocabulary skills, and letter-sound knowledge) that they didn't have before last year. Now, our students will not be ready for a traditional Grade 1 class, but who says what Grade 1 needs to look like? Don't we all have to respond to the students that we have in front of us? Our students will, however, be ready to solve problems, ask questions, persevere at difficult tasks, and self-regulate so they are able to learn. Does this make them ready for Grade 1? If not, what are we looking for when we're speaking about this readiness? I think that this new K document is forcing us to think differently about what curriculum is and what learning looks like. It sounds like you did this last year through your teaching experiences. I wonder what others have done and what they think.


  2. Thank you for the comment Aviva. I like that you are calling us "respond to the students we have in front of us." Even in my non-traditional ways some students wanted a more traditional Grade 8 year, so I told them our last unit would be as traditional as I could make it, they were nervous about high school, nervous that I wasn't preparing them. What I've noticed is that traditional schooling isn't good for all, but non-traditional schooling is enjoyed by all (even if they complain because they think it's not preparing them). The Grade 9s would all come back and tell me they were prepared for Grade 9 Science. Now, was that teacher non-traditional or traditional? Do more teachers start to change because students mention what they've done in other non-traditional classes? I think that is my hope. Even my emerging reader, is she reading because I taught Grade 1 and so did her grandmother so she has us in addition to her teacher and ECE helping her along? Does she just want to keep up with her sister? I think my challenge for the year is look at the four frames from your K document and think about what I can incorporate my coming year. If the change is coming from the bottom up, then I definitely want to be ahead of it, and encourage others to do the same!

  3. Thanks for your reply, Olivia! Whether traditional or non-traditional, I would wonder, how are we meeting the needs of all of the students in front of us? If a student isn't succeeding with our approach (no matter how enjoyable the learning may still be), what are we doing to help this student succeed? I love the comment that runs through the new K document about our view of the child as being "competent and capable of complex thinking." This is a view that I think should make its way through all grades. Your comment about traditional versus non-traditional classrooms made me think of a statistic that Mark Barnes shared in his book, ROLE REVERSAL (a fantastic read). He mentioned how students do better on standardized tests (regardless of the amount of preparing for them), if we teach them to "think." This is something that I've noticed in my classrooms over the years too. Maybe instead of worrying about traditional vs. non-traditional ways, we work on really developing the thinking skills (inquiry is great for this) that will allow all children to be successful. What do you think?


  4. I would agree, teaching them not only to think, but push their thinking and show their thinking. Descriptive feedback and peer feedback is a excellent way for them to demonstrate and practice their thinking. Not only thinking about academic topics but in their interactions with their peers, so I think we go back to thinking about not just the traditional "curriculum" but other opportunities for students to show their thinking. Some of the curriculum documents already include a metacognitive part, thinking about your thinking, and assessments should contain an inquiry/thinking section in their achievement chart. The last couple of years that I've sat on the school improvement meetings, it is in this section of EQAO that students score the lowest, I wonder why that is?