As the school year begins, there is a lot of focus in staffrooms and classrooms on the design of programmes that learners will be engaged in as they come back to school.
For some, the focus will be on immediate plans for outdoor education trips or swimming sports and other events that will occur within the first few weeks. For others, it will involve a longer view to ensure that teachers will be able to ensure ‘coverage’ of all essential knowledge before the end of year exam. For some, the planning will be an individual endeavour, for others, it will be more collaborative, either in teams or the whole school.
In recent years, many demands have been made on schools in terms of what it is that they include in their curriculum. In a constantly changing world there is no doubt that the amount of content teachers required to teach is an issue causing a great deal of angst. Schools are called on to teach students all manner of things, leaving many questioning whether sufficient time is spent on the ‘essentials’ such as English, maths, and science.
It seems nowadays that every interest group and government department is calling for their cause to be included in what has become an increasingly crowded school curriculum.
It would be easy to think this congestion is a product of The New Zealand Curriculum itself, which, in addition to each of the learning areas, determines that students must develop a range of values and key competencies. How do teachers find the time to cover all of this?
Or, is the real issue the way in which different schools and teachers understand what is required to implement it? The NZC doesn’t provide a rigid recipe to be followed (that’s the domain of a syllabus as we used to follow last century). Rather, it is as its name suggests, a framework within which teachers and schools are charged with designing a localised curriculum. A curriculum that is tailored to the needs of the learners in that school, and which reflects the local context in terms of the resources it draws on and references.
The localised version of the curriculum should also reflect the particular values and beliefs of the school and the school’s community, which in turn should be evident in the pedagogical approaches that are used and the strategies and structures that support student learning.
Concerns about what needs to be covered, leading to further concerns about the resulting congestion, need not be the distraction that they are. What is far more important in that coverage is the way in which a localised curriculum addresses the vision and mission of the school. If a school’s mission is to create lifelong learners, for instance, then what becomes critical isn’t so much what is covered in the curriculum, as what approaches to learning are developed and refined that will ensure the lifelong love for and engagement in learning.
To gain a perspective on this we need to consider first the ‘why’ behind our curriculum, to understand the drivers behind its design, and then use this understanding to resolve some of the tensions that exist. The NZ curriculum isn’t based upon lists of content that a panel of ‘experts’ have deemed important to transfer into the minds of young people. Instead, it gives priority to the development of skills and dispositions that will create successful learners — both now and into their future. Learners who are inquirers, who have the skills to access, process, and communicate ideas and information in creative and meaningful ways. Learners who can discriminate between fact and fiction, who have a strong sense of their own identity, and who can relate well to others.
The content (or subject) areas of the curriculum, then, provide useful contexts for these skills and dispositions to be developed.
The following questions may help provoke some different ways of thinking about the curriculum you offer, and the way you offer it:
- How does your curriculum offer a ‘personalised’ experience for students? Does your view of ‘personalised’ simply result in more work for you as you attempt to plan lessons for each student, or is it more about shifting the ownership of learning, with learners accepting responsibility for and driving more of their own learning?
- Does your curriculum design take account of the new and emerging views on equity, diversity, and inclusivity and how these can inform the design of a localised curriculum?
- Are you thinking of a curriculum that uses knowledge to develop learning capacity? Or, is your view of curriculum still largely focused on the content that must be covered?
- Does your school promote and cultivate a culture of continuous learning for teachers and educational leaders? How is this reflected in the curriculum that is then offered to students, and their role in co-constructing that?
- Are you actively pursuing new kinds of partnerships and relationships as a part of your curriculum design? Are you fully embracing the ways in which expertise from outside the school can be used to contribute to the learning of your students? What about the learning your students do outside of school in other contexts — how can that be brought meaningfully into the school curriculum?
- What is the role of technology in your curriculum design? Is it simply being used to do ‘old things in new ways’ to access and record information, or are you and your students leveraging its potential to accelerate learning?
As you return to your school or class this year, what is the thinking that is guiding the design of the programmes you are planning for your students? Are you concerned mostly about what you need to cover? Does this lead to a timetable that is congested, leaving you concerned about a lack of time to adequately address things? Or, is your curriculum design focused primarily on developing the learning capacity of your young people who need to thrive in an increasingly complex and changing world?
CORE Education provides a 20-week course for teachers that addresses many of the concerns above. The Modern Learning Curriculum course is specifically designed to assist those responsible for leading curriculum design and implementation in schools, and provide them with the understanding and strategies for doing so. Click here for more information.