Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Conquering the content - The IB approach

This week is my grade level parent information evening. When preparing my presentation, I usually provide the parents with an insight into the surface actions of my classroom - the day to day teaching that they see when they come in (or get told about by their children). Last year I was caught off guard by some parents who wanted to know more about the philosophical underpinnings of the curriculum that we frame our teaching around. This year I plan on having a more coherent explanation on hand for curious parents and have been brushing up on some related readings. I've referenced the following paragraphs with the sources that I used.

Students are currently learning in an environment that is commonly referred to as the ‘digital revolution’. Increased technologies and global interdependence requires greater intellectual and academic standards that have been previously required (Erickson, L., 2008). In order to accomplish this, curriculum design must consider alternative approaches. Traditional curriculum design focuses on content coverage and often fails to emphasis higher-level, lasting ideas that are universal by nature and application (Erickson, L., 2008). It is these conceptual ideas that bring focus and depth to a study and hold the solution to the increased academic and intellectual standards that are required in today’s age. Curricula with a focus on content instead of concepts fail to engage students at a high cognitive level. A concept-led curriculum encourages students to connect the factual knowledge that they have gained to other ‘big ideas’ of significance (Erickson, L., 2008). When this happens students discover personal meaning and can see relevance in their learning. They have a greater motivation to learn because they are engaged on a more personal level.

A concept is defined as being timeless, universal and abstract (Erickson, L., 2008). It is these aspects that allow them to be applied at various times and in various contexts throughout a student’s education. This links directly with a transdisciplinary approach to learning. By studying subjects in isolation, students pick up isolated facts and ideas. While it is important to become knowledgeable in separate academic subjects, in order to a more authentic understanding students must be given opportunities to connect their knowledge across disciplines (Boyer, E. 1995). Furthermore, brain research has revealed that learning at its optimum is an ‘integrative function’ of synthesizing, organizing and processing parts of information into a whole (Caine, R. & Caine, G., 1990).

The PYP framework is organized around six transdisciplinary themes. These were developed from Boyer’s work on The Core Commonalities, which are universal experiences that are shared by all people (Boyer, E. 1995). Boyer states that all traditional subjects have a place within the Core Commonalities and, by linking learning across these disciplines, students can make personal connections to their learning and achieve greater understandings (Boyer, E. 1995). The learning in a PYP classroom is structured in this way and complimented by being delivered in a guided, concept-led approach. This allows for greater analysis, evaluation and investigation as the students consider the transferrable possibilities of the inquiry.

Boyer, Ernest. L. (1995) The Basic School: A community for Learning. San Francisco, California: Jossey Bass Inc.

Erickson, H. Lynn (1998) Stirring the Head, Heart and Soul: Redefining Curriculum Instruction and Concept-Based Learning - Third Edition. Corwin Press.

Caine, R. & Caine, G. (1990) Understanding a Brain-Based Approach to Learning and Teaching. Educational Leadership Vol. 48, No. 2, pp. 66 - 70. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Alexandria, VA.

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