A nasty word conjuring up images of desks placed in isolation, checklists and a hurry up and finish mentality. Something that interferes with exploration and the natural processes of learning, creativity and curiosity.
This week we started exploring What is curriculum? and I found myself pleasantly surprised with the actual ambiguity of a term I had long considered to be rigid and fixed. While the definition I propose above does not account for all of my experiences with curriculum, it surely comprised the vast majority of my early teaching experiences. I recall the checklist of outcomes I ran through, determined that all students should encounter each one before the end of the school year. After a few years as a teacher, my mentality around this began to change, and with the introduction of the newest curriculum, this changed even further. However, restraints are still there and I began to question the checklist even further during the time of COVID teaching and again after viewing one of the readings for the week by Egan, “Learning in Depth in a Franciscan Friary cell”. In this blog post, Egan discusses the idea of Learning in Depth ( LiD) and reflects on his life experiences as a Franciscan novice in connection to this concept. The quote Egan used, by Thomas à Kempis, to encapsulate this experience into a singular sentences was “Your cell, if you consistently work in it, becomes sweet, but if you keep not to it, it becomes tedious and distasteful.” What Egan proposes is that time spent learning in depth allows learners to explore a topic in great detail leading to further interest and it thus “becomes sweet”. The opposite, which is often the case when checking off boxes, is that learners do not have the time to explore topics in depth and rather send time skimming the surface. This may result in learning (can we call this learning?) that feels “tedious and distasteful” as opposed to joyful.
Given this, how can one not want to include LiD within their curriculum? Do we as teachers not strive to create learning experiences such as these for our students? Can LiD and curriculum exist simultaneously? Is curriculum only defined by ministry documents, or is the scope larger than that? Curious, I spent a few minutes exploring some of the introductions within some of the Ministry documents. One notable quote from the ELA 8 document is the statement that “The components of the curriculum work together in a dynamic and flexible way to support deeper learning”. While this is included within the introduction for this particular course, I’m curious about how often this is considered within course planning and whether the content allows for the time needed to create deep learning.
Currently, I am working with another teacher to create a cross-curricular (that word again!) grade 8 and 9 blended humanities course where student learning would take place as a continuum over the two years and where the combining of courses and curriculum would create an environment that would allow students to both develop the skills (content) required as well as the time and opportunity to learn in depth. Our hope is that the design will create opportunities for students to experience the “sweetness” of deep learning.
I now take leave of this space to continue my muddling through other ideas connected to curriculum and teaching.
3 thoughts on “Exploring Curriculum”
Where you discuss skimming the surface of content compared to in depth learning really resonated with me. It can be stressful for the teacher and tedious for the students to be jumping from one thing to the next. The possibility for in depth learning especially in the humanities course you are building, I feel, may alleviate some of the “cover the content” pressure on teachers and students.
The broad checklist versus learning in depth is an interesting discourse in Science curriculum. BC has Science for Citizen 11 has aspects of learning in-depth regarding specific technology in science with social, economical, and political focus (trades-focused). This is opposite to the other options (Bio, Chem, Phys) with broad checklist-centered curriculum in their respective fields.
My curiosity is that the former potentially closes off future possibilities, while the latter allows for further specialization to discover and refine their interests. Is the trade-off to stoke their interest by focusing on one specific topic at the expense of pruning off future branches beneficial?
It’s nice to know that time teaching and adapting our teaching to latest “research” has allowed to realize just how much we need to rely on our personal values about teaching, our ever-growing respect for what makes each of students unique, and the checklists we can set aside for the next time they become the “latest” research.