Who decides curriculum? Is it the state standards, the Common Core standards, the school district, the teacher? In my experience, it’s a mix of all of those, plus a big helping of “what we’ve always done.” The business of determining what teachers should teach is serious stuff, and yet doesn’t seem to get a lot of press (at least until someone exposes an egregious error: Texas Textbook). Curriculum controversies play out in so many education trends and hot topics–extended learning time, world language, STEAM (science, tech, engineering, art, math), standards, testing, and so on.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I teach, and what my moral obligation as a teacher of young learners is. I want my students to be creative problem-solvers, global citizens, empowered to act with integrity, and with a commitment to justice. They also need to be skilled communicators, in speech, writing, and through media. Finally, I want them to be their own best advocate for their education; I want them to have agency to navigate through this education and the metacognition and reflection to set a purposeful path for themselves and their lives.
So where do I get the time to do all of this? Don’t forget, I also have to throw in reading, writing, math, social studies, science, and as much character education as I can! Extended learning time has been a buzz-phrase in education for several years now, as in: the only way students will learn everything we need to teach them is to spend more time on task, more hours in school. There’s research to support this. But there’s also research to support that kids need less stress, more time with family, more unstructured play time. In our district, we’re moving towards teaching a language in elementary school (instead of starting in middle school). Which is great! It speaks to that global citizenry, a wider perspective for our students. But the time has to come from somewhere–what do I cut out, so that my students can learn another language?
STEAM education is another big trend, and again, one I absolutely support. Done thoughtfully, it gives students those opportunities for creative problem solving and systems thinking that are often hard to find in the regular curriculum. But again–to make this a meaningful part of the curriculum, something has to go. What’s the solution? It makes me wonder if we need to turn “schooling” on its ear, and look to alternative schools for interdisciplinary solutions. If we isolate curriculum into 40 minute blocks–first you go to Math, then you do Reading–all we can do is keep adding blocks to the day.
Do you know of a school that’s doing this work well? With ELT, or interdisciplinary approaches, or other innovation? Please share!