Thursday, July 28, 2011

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.

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