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Jan 22

Chris Smeaton

Transforming curriculum

“Transformative change refers to changing the education system by re-examining student needs, how we teach students, what we teach them, how to better engage communities in educating students and how research can be harnessed to inform change.” This quote is taken from the Alberta Education Action Agenda 2011-14. This document was followed up with Framework for Student Learning: Competencies for Engaged Thinkers, Ethical Citizens with an Entrepreneurial Spirit. This powerful framework ensures that the student is at the heart of everything that we do in education and realizes that literacy and numeracy are foundational to student learning. It further defines the competencies required for students in the 21st century:

  • Critical Thinking, Problem Solving and Decision Making
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Social, Cultural, Global and Environmental Responsibility
  • Communication
  • Digital and Technological Fluency
  • Lifelong Learning, Personal Management and Well-Being
  • Collaboration and Leadership

Alberta Education has been a leader in engaging stakeholders through their Action on Curriculum agenda. In 2011, they hosted three separate research roundtables on curriculum that “brought together education partners and stakeholders to share, interpret, review and discuss research, literature reviews and article summaries, and share practical experiences and knowledge.” Action on Curriculum- Summary of Findings Research Roundtables 1, 2 and 3. Each roundtable discussed key concepts.

  • Roundtable 1: Competencies, Literacy and Numeracy, Interdisciplinary Learning
  • Roundtable 2: Ways of Knowing, Student-centred/Personalized Leaning, Breadth and Depth, Interdisciplinary Curriculum
  • Roundtable 3: Flexible Timing and Packing in a Variety of Learning Environments, Responsive Curriculum, Assessment of Competencies, Assessment

Alberta has long been a world leader in education and there is no doubt that one of its greatest strengths in the past has been its curriculum. However, as I look at this new research and review other world class education systems, I fear that our curriculum may be becoming an increasing weakness. The content is massive and often unengaging for many students. Teachers struggle just to cover the curriculum, especially in the Provincial Achievement and Diploma Exam years, just in case it is a question on the test. The ability to go deep into concepts of interest to students is literally denied because of  the sheer number of outcomes. Rather than a richness of curricular outcomes where all students discover their passions and strengths, we are somewhat forced to offer a factory line production.

The work being done at the provincial level needs to continue but I’m not sure whether the massive reconstruct envisioned by Curriculum Redesign will be accomplished any time soon. And quite frankly, that is not fair to the students, especially high school students currently in our schools. Locally we need to make some quick adjustments to ensure that we are in fact meeting the needs of today’s students. The question is, “Will local divisions, local administration, local teachers and local communities be given permission to make curriculum transformative and meet the vision of Alberta Education or will we just continue to be forced to cover content in order to meet the plethora of outcomes?”

 

2 comments

  1. Linda VandenBerg

    Coverage is still a concern with teachers, I agree, in spite of those of us that preach “going deep”. Until the Alberta Government puts kids before PAT and DIP scores, we won’t see much of a change, unless, our clients rebell and demand otherwise.

    Sometimes we cannot wait for permission to make curriculum transformative. Isn’t the curriculum supposed to be a guide? Besides, if we teach students the major outcomes, and build their critical thinking skills by going deep, I believe they will perform much better than trying to cover all of the knowledge outcomes that are listed in the ‘guide’.

    We certainly have a challenging job of making sense of it all.

    1. Chris Smeaton

      Coverage will always be an issue if we allow it to be. Excellent teachers know their curriculum inside out and are able to find the “core” learnings and go deep. But, the curriculum has be very familiar to the teacher.

      There is too much research that supports the notion that good teaching will get good results. I continue to be a firm believer that focus on instructional practice will provide results.

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