“It is what we already know that often prevents us from learning.” – Claude Bernard
An essential area of teaching is the choice of Curriculum. How do you define a curriculum?
Essentially a curriculum is composed of 3 very important questions. The questions of What, How and Whether. To probe into it further, the first question can be further elaborated as 'what is worth teaching.' The second question can be defined as 'how do we teach' and the third question would be 'whether a child is learning what is being taught.'
In the language of International Boards, the curriculum can just be explained as the written curriculum, the taught curriculum, and the assessment curriculum. The curriculum is thus the definition of what the School stands for.
In practical words, a curriculum is the living vision of the school. While most of the schools take pride in having a lovely wooden frame with the mission and vision statement hung somewhere above the principal's desk, it is actually the curriculum that is a mission in action.
In the words of experiential education, the aim of education can be summed up in 5As. The first of the A begins with the AIM, which is essentially your goals and objective to be achieved at the end of the year. This is followed by ACTION. We have learned from innumerable lectures and sermons that no theory is worth pursuing without deeds or the element of action.
This leads us to ANALYSIS. So we understand what is being taught and is what is being taught relevant to the subjects in the school. Then arrives the major indicator which is the APPLICATION. The application of the subject being taught is the connection to the real world. Unless this is done, learning can never ever be understood and practiced. Finally, it is the ASSESSMENT of what is being taught. This completes the cycle of the Experiential Education.
Curriculum - A chariot race
The word curriculum is derived from Latin where it stands for currere. Currere means a running course. Now think of chariot racing across the Roman Colosseum. You have horses which are finding multiple challenges in the form of obstacles and the fellow contestants. Yet a great master at the helm, holding the reins, can control and lead these horses to the end line.
I don't want the teachers to be and behave like Gladiators but at some point, we will have to rise above and teach the curriculum that students would love to be taught!
The written, taught and assessment curriculumhas to be in sync to make a school progressive. To jump into a practical discussion and make it more relevant to the educators, we would divide the curriculum into three core subjects.
The three core areas are academics, spiritual or moral curriculum and finally the co-curricular curriculum. These are in no particular order. The co-curricular curriculum is the one that supports the other two and is not an isolated curriculum in and of it.
Teaching the 'taught curriculum'
One of my favorite stories of a real 'taught curriculum' is that of a college professor. The professor was assigned to teach the students about the formation of rocks and terrain of the region. In his remarkable first session, he assured the students by saying, 'I guarantee that after these classes on geology, none of you would ever become a geologist but I also assure you that after these classes none of you would ever look at the rocks in the same way ever again.' Imagine the collective awe!
Have we ever wondered what makes the students believe that they are either a language kind or a math kind? Our words through the assessment curriculum make the difference.
The Math Gladiator
Take the example of Ned. A brilliant and enthusiastic student who was excited as ever to participate in the Maths Olympiad. Despite his enthusiasm, he failed to make it to the school team. And then, he was told you at good at English, don't waste your time on numbers.
Seriously! Numbers are everywhere. On our alarm clock, mobile phones, car plates, calendars, recipe books, pages, currency, shopping bills. Everywhere. So imagine telling students numbers are not a part of their life.
I wish teachers would take a leaf from my Maths teacher Mr. Kamraj's classes. Sir would even scold us in numbers. You are so dumb that you can't multiply 124 by 31. And that’s exactly the kind of challenges we need. If you wish to have sports period, solve this equation, he would challenge us. Unaware of his mind tricks, we top scored in mathematics. Marks are numbers too!
History is interesting too-
Often we hear that history is too academic and full of dead people. True but there are lessons from the dead too. What if they weren't dead? Yes, that is the premise of an Alternative History project.
I love teaching history. So in one of the classes, I shared the plot of the book (now a popular TV show on Amazon), 'Man in the High Castle.' This book suggests the event had Hitler's Nazi forces won the WWII over the Allies. Students truly understand the notion of freedom. They create scenarios, write about the use of more atomic bombs, imagine the plight of countries under colonial rule and rise of imperial Japan. Agreed this takes time but this history class never had one dull moment.
Schools make a mistake of dividing the three curriculums into three separate zones, which are not related to each other. The success of a good curriculum implementation in school would lie on trans-disciplinary themes. Each of the curriculum acts as an inter-disciplinary rather than a stand-alone subject.
Here is what you can do:
1. For 'written curriculum'
- Add props to your lesson plans. Bring a chessboard if you are testing about fractions, multiplication or even whole numbers.
- Share library resources or video clips to emphasize key messages. Humour works, every time, almost.
- Read books that have discussed strategies for teaching subjects. Two excellent books are 'Teach like a Pirate' and 'Why are school buses yellow?'
2. For 'taught curriculum'
- Stories are the most powerful medium to communicate ideas. Instead of relating history, talk about perspectives. Have a case study on alternative history or the Big History project.
- As an academic task, read the book 'Made to Stick' with your fellow teachers. The ideas will ensure your lesson plans stick and not get stuck.
3. For 'assessment curriculum'
- Jesus once asked the Almighty to not put him to test. I wonder if the noble Christ was speaking of our examination system. The unit test and the dreaded report card that follows.
- Create value in an examination. Research agrees that students learn better in teams. Stop having all exams as a single combat between the student and the exam paper. Use TPS (Think Pair Share) as a beginning.
The author Dawood Vaid has completed the certificate course on 'Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills' by The University of Melbourne. He has developed capsules using the 21st-century skills under the organization Sky Education. The capsules integrate various subjects from Maths, Science, Languages, ICT, and Arts. The themes range from FIFA’s Football fever to Fun with Newton. To know more visit www.skyeducation.in or email [email protected]