Sunday, July 31, 2011

Curriculum - Part V

THE HOW - This part of a curriculum is concerned with how the faculty will get 'The Who' to achieve 'The What'. Part of this involves an agreement on the teaching strategies that will be employed and part of it involves the leadership that should happen for this to take place. By-products of leadership (culture, management and creation) will be discussed in the next post.

These are the teaching methodologies or strategies that are essential for successful learning in the implementation of a particular curriculum. These can be organised around a 'premise'.
A premise should be research-based in order to facilitate best practice,
for example:

Premise - Students learn about excellence through exposure to models of excellence in both product and process

Instructional Strategy - Teachers will model the process of construction of text and/or jointly construct an example of text every time a new genre is introduced.

By having a core selection of instructional strategies, a school can be more aware of how they are implementing their curriculum. It is, however, important for school leaders to decide how closely they will require their teachers follow these strategies. Some schools might mandate the practice and others might leave it more flexible.

The framework for leadership below is authored by Michael Fullan and summarises the competencies that leaders should use in order to create a culture that supports authentic achievement. In doing so, leaders need to consider the context, which includes: past history; present beliefs; values and assumptions; and present practices.
Moral Purpose - In simplest terms, means 'acting with the intention of making a positive difference'. In education this positive difference can be referred to as 'causing learning.

Understanding Change - While it is essential for leaders to understand the change process, it is also important for them to understand the context they are dealing with for each group or person.

Relationship Building - If relationships improve, things get better. If they stay the same or become worse, ground it lost. Effective leaders encourage purposeful interaction and problem solving.

Knowledge Creation and Sharing
- Good leaders create environments that favour the exchange of ideas, provide opportunities to share and foster a moral commitment to share knowledge. Turning information into knowledge is a social process, and good relationships are required if we are to share and create knowledge.

Coherence Making - Involves making sure that the culture a leader wants is supported by the management structures. This is an on-going activity that leaders address. They need to ensure that valuable patterns and practices are recognised and retained.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Curriculum - Part IV

THE WHETHER: This part of the curriculum refers to us knowing if we are achieving what we've set out to do. The key part of this is assessment. Assessment is the systematic collection, analysis and recording of information about student learning.

Fenwick English created a framework to describe the way curriculum is constructed. He refers to the written, taught and assessed curriculum in his model. In the diagram below I've also included 'The Hidden Curriculum', which isn't an official part of curriculum planning, but is something that I think still deserves recognition.

The crossing over sections of the venn diagram refer to specific parts of the curriculum. Things that are written and assessed, but not taught, include skills, attitudes/dispositions and external assessments. Those that are taught and written, but not assessed, could include some parts of PSHE. Things that are taught and assessed, but not written, could be instances that are referred to as the 'teachable moments' that occur during lessons. The Hidden Curriculum is what students learn that is not written, taught or assessed. This could include, among other things, social cues that they learn in the corridors or playground.

A school's assessment policy should be based around its definition which includes:
  • Perspective
  • Purposes
  • Principles
  • Practices
  • Policies
The policy could be organised around the different types of assessment that occur within the school:
The types of assessment listed in the table above may be commonly referred to by different terms. It is important to ensure that all staff have a common understanding of what each type of assessment entails and why they are being used at the school. The assessment types listed above are:
  • External - Assessments that are designed, selected, and controlled by another person or group, apart from the class teacher. Typical examples of external assessments include standardized and commercial reading tests. These assessments have been used as indicators of both the educational achievement of students and the quality of instruction in schools.
  • Common - Assessment that is given to a group of students where the data is used by multiple teachers. These can include grade wide reading, writing or numeracy assessments. Their purpose is to determine the understandings and competencies for a grade or level.
  • Chunk - Chunk assessments are those that are given within a class at the end of a chunk of learning, such as a Unit of Inquiry. These assessments measure individual progress and determine the level of understanding a student has reached as a result of a chunk of learning. The data from these assessments is used by the individual teacher. An example could be a contextual task given by the teacher based on a unit of work.
  • On-going - Similar to the chunk assessment, on-going assessment tasks also measure individual progress and the data is used by the teacher alone. The difference between on-going and chunk assessments is that on-going pieces can be administered throughout the learning to provide a clearer picture of how the students are progressing through their learning and what directions they need to be taken in next. An example of this could be a quiz.
Research has shown that a well-written assessment policy can be a conduit for sound curriculum development and instruction. An assessment policy should be clearly and concisely written - and contain more than just bullet points! There also needs to be adequate support for the practices necessary to implement the policy - this includes plans for the provision of professional development.

Curriculum - Part III

'The What' indicates what we want our students to understand, know and be able to do.

Understanding is a term that I think it is important to clarify as many people can have different beliefs about understanding. I define understanding as the synthesis of skills, knowledge and attitudes/dispositions in action. When someone is able to transfer these attributes to new and different situations they are demonstrating understanding.

An inter-disciplinary curriculum is important in order for students to explore content that is relevant to them. By relating to their own lives, our students are able to make greater meaning of their learning. When constructing inter-disciplinary curriculum, the following format can be followed. The separate categories are explained below.

What we want students to understand, know and be able to do can be grouped by standards. Standards indicate the sort of knowledge and understanding we want the students to have by the end of their education. They frame the knowledge and link the conceptual understanding across the school to ensure that all of the learning is coming from common conceptual goals. They also provide meaning for the content and prevent the teaching of individual topics.

There are two types of standards - Conceptual and Procedural. Conceptual standards are the big understandings that students are expected to develop and deepen over time. Procedural standards are concise statements that describe what a learner is able to do as a result of mastering a particular set of trans-disciplinary skills.

  • Conceptually driven
  • Revisited using different illustrative content
Example: Group membership entails the acceptance of reciprocal rights, roles and responsibilities within a cultural value system.

PROCEDURAL STANDARDS are linked to specific skill groups.

Example: Skill group - Language for Learning
Learners are able to use language effectively to achieve a wide range of purposes with a wide range of audiences.

Standards are continually explored throughout the course of a student's education. In order to achieve this effectively, we can write descriptors - referred to as 'next level downs'. They are called this as a collective because, depending on the background, people refer to them by different names. I will be using the terms 'benchmarks' and 'indicators' to differentiate between conceptual and procedural next level downs.

BENCHMARKS: Explore specific aspects of a conceptual standard. They can form the 'central idea' of a unit. Benchmarks are written to be appropriate to a specific grade level and are closely tied to assessment of understanding.

Example (exploring the conceptual standard example above): Age group - Early Childhood
Groups have rights and responsibilities based on what they agree is important.

INDICATORS: Are a concise description of the individual skills that contribute to the ability expressed in the standards. They must be (i) assessable and (ii) purposeful.

Example (exploring the procedural standard example above):
Learners are able to structure, sequence and connect information in texts in ways that are most likely to achieve their purpose.

Concept driven curriculum is sometimes questioned by stakeholders who believe that conceptual knowledge is 'flowery' and robs the students of the chance to develop useful skills. On the other hand, some practitioners question the importance of teaching specific skills when the focus should be on conceptual understanding. It is extremely important to include both types of standards. Procedural standards allow students to achieve conceptual standards and, therefore, demonstrate their understanding. By creating clear standards, a curriculum is coherent for all involved in its implementation.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Curriculum - Part II

Curriculum is comprised of:
  • The Who - Students constructing understanding.
  • The Why - What is the driving purpose of the school?
  • The What - What do we want the students to understand, know and be able to do?
  • The Whether - How will we know?
  • The How - How will we get them there?

Consists of a profile of the students. It is a description of the students in the school/classroom in terms of what makes them diverse and similar including: language, culture, previous experience, achievement levels and interests.

The Mission - a statement of the school's driving purpose in relation to its particular 'who'. It should be:
  • Concise.
  • Tightly connected to the learning that takes place in the classroom.
  • Indicative of the kind of students that the school aims to produce.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Curriculum - Part I

Over the next few posts I am going to summarise my understandings about curriculum. I was going to do this separately but thought that the purpose of my blog is for me to think through my understandings so it is the perfect place to express this. Feel free to question anything I've written if it doesn't make sense!

What is curriculum?
A school's curriculum is key to its operation. It should reflect the values and beliefs that are outlined in the mission and can be seen as a 'road map' for enacting the mission. Curriculum is developed in order to cause learning.

Learning occurs when we add new knowledge or skills OR when we consolidate knowledge and skills that we already have. Learning enables us to achieve understanding, which is skills, knowledge and dispositions/attitudes in action.

The main goal of curriculum s to cause learning. Learning can be separated into two types - conceptual learning and skill/process learning.

Conceptual learning is happening when students are:
- Connecting new knowledge to prior understanding and to important concepts in order to construct theories of (i) how things work and (ii) why things are the way they are.
- Testing their theories in different contexts in order to (i) refine them so they have more and more explanatory power and (ii) see, when, where and how they apply.

Skill/Process learning is happening when students are:
- Comparing their performance to expert performances in order to identify ways to improve.
- Practicing a skill or process in order to make their performance more and more automatic.

Curriculum commonly includes both conceptual and skill/process learning in their design. These will be explained in greater detail and context in following posts.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Being Extraordinary

This week I am attending a conference about Curriculum Leadership. So far it has been a fantastic course and the opportunity to learn and discuss various elements of both curriculum and leadership has been extremely valuable.

One of the readings we've discussed today is concerned with leadership at the systems level. System leadership fosters leadership as a function of the system rather than coming from one individual. This type of leadership allows for a more sustainable approach because it doesn't rely on one person. If someone leaves the system then there are others who can carry on the process.

Leadership in this way involves managing the fine balance of allowing members of the system to network with each other and lead things in their own way yet also interrupt when required (when something is clearly failing, for example) and not to state the way things 'should be done'.

This sort of leadership requires someone to step away from the possibility of being the 'Great Ruler' who has all the answers to all of the questions. There are some people who are destined to be this type of extraordinary person and sometimes it can be difficult to turn away from this ideal. Sometimes we want to have all the answers. Sometimes we want to be the person that everyone turns to. It can be a kind of validation of our own hard work and knowledge acquisition. But we also need to think about the future and how best to serve 'the system' in the most positive way possible. Which will create the most positive influence?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

What? Why? How?

There are many techniques teachers can employ in order to create effective assessment pieces. When writing summative assessment tasks, or culminating performances, a trap that sometimes occurs is that the piece is superficial and there is no opportunity for students to demonstrate deep understanding. One way of ensuring that this doesn’t happen is to use a simple formula called ‘What, Why How’ (Erikson, L., 2002).

Each subtitle is used to formulate the assessment task. First, you ask what it is you want the students to do. Erikson suggests using a higher-level cognitive verb, such as analyse, evaluate or investigate when writing this part. For example, ‘analyse the development of technology in sports performance in the 21st Century’. Next is the why part, and this can be prefaced by the words ‘in order to’. We are asking, ‘why we are performing this task?’ What are the transferrable lessons to be gained from this? For example, ‘in order to understand how technology advances performance’. Finally we state how we want our students to demonstrate their understanding. Erikson states that this is the most important step, as we need to ensure that we are asking our students to demonstrate the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’ of the task. If we only ask them to show their understanding of the ‘what’ then the assessment piece will be shallow and not provide opportunity for deeper understanding.

Following the theme in the above example, students could be asked to explain (through a choice of mediums) how technological advances have shaped the development of a product they have created. They could design the product themselves or pretend they have invented one that already exists. The important part, however, is that they can explain the relationship of technology to the impact of their product. This way, they wouldn’t only have to be limited to sport and they could call upon other areas to compliment their understanding. Transport, leisure and communication are just three examples that could be used. This way we are not just asking them to list facts about technological advances in sports performance, but to explain their understanding at a conceptual level.

Using this format allows teachers to ensure that the assessment pieces provoke deep understanding. One of my goals for this year is to revise, along with my team, the assessment pieces in my grade level to ensure that they are facilitating deeper levels of conceptual understanding and not just focusing on facts. This will lead to more meaningful assessment tasks and aid in raising standards.

Friday, July 8, 2011


Over part of my holiday I was lucky enough to explore the Burgundy region of France. It was beautiful and it was nice to spend some time with my entire family for the first time in six years – the wine certainly helped!

On one of the days we went on a wine tour and the guide was asked what vintages were considered good for this region. Like a good salesman, he answered that ‘every year for these grapes are good years!’ The point that he was trying to make is that each year is different. This may be due to the amount of sun the grapes see for that year, the slope of the limestone in that particular plot, the humidity, and the amount of rainfall – the factors are too many to list.

When it comes to considering whether or not a year is a ‘good’ year, it is not necessarily the vintage of the grape (although this can help) but the taste buds of the consumer that decides. People’s tastes are different and it is up to them to decide what they do and do not like. Also, the way the final product tastes one year may not be the same as the next so the wine is constantly changing. Our guide was most unimpressed with the way the some wines are produced to taste exactly the same out of every bottle, instead of individualized each year.

On the car ride back to our accommodation, I began thinking how this can be very similar to teaching. Each student we teach is different and there is no one way (or vintage) that is right for each person. Our future depends on us not producing students that are exactly the same as each other. We are not in an industrial economic age anymore and, as far as ‘intellect’ is concerned, ‘book smart’ people are not the only ones who have valuable ideas to contribute to our societies. There are dangers of confirming to standards and this is something that we need to consider when standardizing education. What we need for the future is not the same version of one vintage, but a variety of vintages each with their different strengths.