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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Ignoring Our Curriculum

A recent N.Y. Times article, "Let Kids Rule the School," describes how the Independent Project in a western Massachusetts school has shown the tremendous benefits of student-driven learning within an open-design educational model. Students in this program are required to map out their learning in a way that relinquishes teacher control and demands student facilitation. Teachers are accessed as experts and mentors in the learning process - not "key holders of curriculum knowledge."

This article addresses one possibility for a dramatic shift in our delivery of the current educational model. Giving students much broader definitions of grade expectations will allow them to participate more efficiently in their own learning. With so many point-by-point curriculum restraints, we cannot fully allow students to buy-in to the idea of being designers of their school day. Yet, no teacher can confidently abandon their carefully crafted units and classroom models to implement this kind of alternative programming approach, unless major changes take place to our educational framework.

Parents reading curriculum documents together with their children reflect a major shift in the accountability of a teacher - not to their self and administrator - but to families who access these legal resources in order to monitor how a teacher runs their class. How can we take the next step as 21st century educators, if we are constantly defending how we teach to an ever-informed community?

The only way is to ignore our curriculum.

The Ontario Curriculum should be a guideline. It should be a model of subject ideas - not a collection of required, restrictive topics. Give students the freedom to learn about what they want and have them link it to a curriculum framework that is more open and yielding. As a way of being accountable for their own educational decision-making, they will still need to conform to some sort of structure - but one that is not tied to assessment dates and reporting periods in a way that races through key ideas merely out of time constraints.

Learning is meaningful when socially-interactive and delivered in meaningful blocks of time. What could be more exciting to a student than coming to school with an idea that they want to learn more about and then being given the time and support to carry out that learning? They plan their approach. They monitor their own choice of peers for group work, evaluation and feedback. They choose the format and choice of technologies to best address their learning styles and multiple intelligences.

It is not until we take that first step into the dark that our students will finally light the way for us.

Thanks to Miss M. for another thought-provoking article to inspire the online dialogue.

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