Unpacking the new draft curriculum in BC
(this is one of the few topics that have really nothing to do with German or Germany, but may be of interest to those from Germany interested in moving here and have their children attend school in the district of the Vancouver School Board).
“BC participants in consultations, researchers and world-leading authorities agree that learners and learning are best supported by a curriculum that is flexible, competency driven, concept based, and inclusive.”
What does this mean exactly? It all sounds very good, but when you dig deeper, you will see that things are very unclear. A curriculum is developed by 1. Identify problems, 2. Assess needs, 3. Goals and objectives, 4. Educational strategies, 5. Curriculum Development, 6. Implementation, 7. Evaluation & Feedback. This is a longterm process. Also this kind of curriculum will need a bigger budget to implement effectively. And everyone knows how much money BC seems willing to invest in education… (sarcastically spoken).
Changing the entire curriculum this massively will also mean changes to the Teacher’s Training in BC, along with the creation of workshops and seminars for current teachers. Finally, everything that is needed for teachers, students and parents will need to be made up from scratch. Nothing really exists yet. It is all in some educator’s imagination.
According to Michael Zwaagstra, a research fellow with the Frontier Centre, “British Columbia’s new curriculum is little more than a rehash of the failed anti-knowledge approach of the 1920’s. There is no reason to believe this approach will be any more effective now.”
A comment by Tunya Audain states “Looks like we are going into uncharted waters into something experimental, confusing, and maybe even dangerous.”
According to the Ministry of Education document “Exploring Curriculum Design – Transforming Curriculum & Assessment”, here are some guidelines they wish to follow when creating the new curriculum. My comments will be listed, as well:
Make curriculum more flexible to better enable teachers to innovate and personalize learning. (Comment: Teacher’s are always saying that personalized learning is impossible given the large class sizes & composition of today, so this doesn’t seem very likely to happen effectively.)
Reduce the prescriptive nature of current curricula while ensuring a solid focus on essential learning. (Teacher’s get less direction, but somehow are supposed to teach essential concepts, which may be different, depending on where in BC you are.)
Focus new curricula on higher order learning, giving emphasis to the key concepts and enduring understandings (big ideas) that students need to succeed in their education and their lives. (Comments: students should not only acquire the knowledge & skills, but also be able to apply them to knew situations, gaining knowledge, a good attitude and skills – Wow, this sounds fantastic on paper, but how will this be implemented in “real life”? I did come across one document explaining this, but it was 20 pages long, with each of the 10 sections having about 6 bullet points to consider. This would make for writing report cards that take weeks, rather than just hours. Also, they are very subjective points, such as “assess the potential impact of possible solutions.” – How would you accurately assess this? The student thought that a solution to the problem of littering would be to throw everyone who litters in jail. They then discovered the impact of this might be overcrowded jails and higher taxes. Would this student get points for competency or not? If so, would it also depend what grade they are in, what area of BC they live in and how connected to the Aboriginal World View this answer was? )
Make explicit the cross-curricular competencies that support life-long learning. (Explicit means state clearly and in detail, leaving no room for confusing or doubt. I talked to a teacher friend who said that at the staff meeting, everyone was expressing doubt how to implement some of these things without any clear direction or guidance. Also, without bias and yet including information about Aboriginals, yet not including stereotypes, yet including personalized teaching, yet ensuring each child learns the same essential components and yet including everyone in class, yet teaching to all of the different learning styles. That is a tall order.)
Respect the inherent logic and unique nature of the disciplines while supporting efforts to develop cross-curricular units. (My emphasis is on the word develop, as this means these things do not really exist yet and still need to be developed – for example learning about the Gold Rush and learning the math (how many people got rich vs. the value of gold, learning about social studies – the demographics of those participating in the Gold Rush and on what Aboriginal lands it took place or learning about science – the composition of the soil along the rivers, the other metals found, the effects upon the local wildlife etc. These kinds of things still need to be developed and could take years).
Integrate Aboriginal world views and knowledge. (Again, doing this without stereotypes or adding religion to the curriculum will be a challenge, as there are around 27 First People at least, and some say over 200 different bands and nations, which may all speak different languages, have different traditions, wear different clothing, may have matrilineal systems or as The National Centre for First Nations Governance put it “Aboriginal culture and values are distinct and often sharply at variance with the dominant culture.” Then what will happen?)
Develop assessment and evaluation programs that align with the changed emphases in curriculum. (Great, but this will take a long time and will be very subjective and make for very long report cards)
Here are some of the newer concepts arriving soon to a school near you. Or at least they are listed in the draft curriculum website.
The Good & The Bad
a. Fewer learning standards –
The bad: the accusation by critics is that the draft curriculum is “dumbing down education”,
The good: some teachers feel it is will give them more time to thoroughly teach one concept before moving on to the next
b. Flexible and personalized learning –
The bad: Too many children in one classroom for this to be possible
The good: If achieved, each student could be seen as travelling on the “continuum” of the educational trail at their own pace
c. Core Competency: thinking, communicating, personal & social, instead of reading, writing and arithmetic –
The bad: how can we be sure that the children are learning the things they need to know to move up to the next grade and succeed? Also, personal and social sounds a little vague – how do we teach this exactly? Values? What if they clash with parents values?
The good: We definitely need to learn how to think critically (this is what I am doing by writing this article LOL) and communicating is also a very important skill, whether using social media, Internet, e-mail, or pen, paper etc.
d. Allows for multiple ways of demonstrating learning –
The bad: This will take up more classroom time and will reach only a select group of students at any one time.
The good: Hopefully most children will understand by the time a concept is explained, shown and experienced.
e. Aboriginal World View is now embedded within learning standards – In a document entitled “Integrating Aboriginal Perspectives into Curricula”, it states: “To correct historical and social perspectives into existing and future curricula is necessary. According to John Ralston Saul, “Canada is a nation built upon a foundation with three “pillars”: Aboriginal, Francophone, and Anglophone. Canadian Society has often ignored the contributions that have been made, and continue to be made by Aboriginal peoples in the shaping of Canada.”
The bad: This curriculum still all needs to be developed, and this could take years, as two people can read the same description and yet still have different ideas on how to create and implement it.
The good: According to the document “Aboriginal world view has humans living in a universe made by the Creator and needing to live in harmony with nature, one another, and with oneself.”
Questions: Does this mean the Creator can come back into schools? Or is the Creator of Aboriginal Children allowed, so religion will make a comeback? Will BC be adding a few more holidays in their schedule?
There is also now a “First Peoples Principles of Learning” Pedagogy:
• Learning ultimately supports the well-being of the self, the family, the community, the land, the spirits, and the ancestors.
• Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place).
• Learning involves recognizing the consequences of one’s actions.
• Learning involves generational roles and responsibilities.
• Learning recognizes the role of indigenous knowledge.
• Learning is embedded in memory, history, and story.
• Learning involves patience and time.
• Learning requires exploration of one’s identity.
• Learning involves recognizing that some knowledge is sacred and only shared with permission and/or in certain situations.
Again, the question is how are these principles supposed to be incorporated at once? Who is going to be putting this together and how long will this process take? How do we know when it is “done?”
Assessments a.k.a. Report Cards
What the website tells us is that the new Report Cards will be based on:
a. literacy and numeracy foundations (reading and arithmetic) – this is what we are used to and don’t want to see leave our public schools
b. core competencies (this is where it gets harder, as there will be a need to assess student progress on the cross-curricular competencies and somehow provide a report on the new curricular competencies in an expanded model of assessment for each individual student, as well as someone to manage all of the volumes of data. Oh, and core competencies of “reading, writing & arithmetic” have changed to core competencies of thinking, communicating and self, so these are a bit harder to grade with multiple choice or true or false, as answers and grades are highly subjective and personal).
c. Essential ideas and processes for deeper learning – (know/do/understand) – measuring learning strategies, attitudes, levels of engagement and learning gains are highly complex, according to the section entitled “Implications of the framework model) and will require expertise, which not many people have yet as everything is so new, will require planning, which is what schools are struggling with at the moment and input, so this is where you come in. You can write to the school board with your suggestions and advice.
To the relief of educators, there is some direction for assessment:
a. Core competency profiles – that will be represented through phases of growth or development and will reflect the student’s ability to think, communicate and demonstrate social awareness and responsibility and are being collected from actual students.
b. Reading, writing & numeracy performance standards – this is the traditional report cards we are used to, but these will apparently be “revised & refreshed.”
c. Learning progressions – this one says least of all and basically just announces “more details are forthcoming.”
d. Item bank creation: these will need to be extensive, reliable and free of cultural and other biases.
-Will be used to gauge individual student growth and mastery
-Some items or clusters of items may be specified as mandatory
– Will be maintained and vitalized by regular input.
Funding Needed: on top of funding already given;
a. Test Prep – learning how to administer it and having the time to do it
b. Administration of Test
c. Scoring of Test
d. Dissemination of Test – may cost more to update/change curriculum
e. Computerized adaptive testing (www.ncsbn.org – How Does CAT Work?
Every time you answer an item, the computer re-estimates your ability based on all the previous answers and the difficulty of those items. The computer then selects the next item that you should have a 50% chance of answering correctly. This way, the next item should not be too easy or too hard. The computer’s goal is to get as much information as possible about your true ability level . You should find each item challenging as each item is targeted to your ability. With each item answered, the computer’s estimate of your ability becomes more precise.) Fees are approx. $360 Canadian per user?
f. Development of a large bank of items that reflect the curricula at various grade levels, providing grade-equivalent items from Kindergarten to at least Grade 10.
g. Assessment experts, educational researchers, educators and other stakeholders needed to create this curriculum
h. Database administrator to handle all of the data
i. Creation of a provincial assessment framework
j. A position for someone to Aggregate data – this apparently means: Data for which individual scores on a measure have been combined into a single group summary score.
k. Someone to ensure that student’s privacy is guaranteed and that the data is safe and handled according to “best practices”
l. Funding for in-service programs that will help educators understand new assessments
m. Communication – someone who is an “expert” and a good communicator, which is challenging as nothing has been created yet and to find an expert in both the new curriculum and good PR is not that likely.
So to sum up, the Ministry of Education is coming up with a brand new curriculum that will effect every public school in a way that attempts to change every course, every grade, every method, every assessment to a hodge podge of new ideas that nobody is actually very sure can work together. There is an old saying “don’t reinvent the wheel” and I think it applies in this case.
In my humble opinion (as an Early Childhood Educator, as a mother, as a member of Canadian Society who lives in British Columbia), I say that schools exist to prepare children for the “real world”. I want them to learn about the environment, how to handle a budget responsibility, how to help others in need and how to use the tools (new media) effectively to communicate. Bring driver’s education, accounting, business knowledge, social responsibility and the Golden Rule into schools. Teach children about littering, bullying, polluting, kindness, respect, getting along with others and sharing. Doing what schools have done and done well.
Don’t use schools to teach values, change opinions or politics. Leave that to the grown-ups. When I first heard about this knew curriculum, I also thought that it sounds just like homeschooling, only done at school. Then we all might as well homeschool and public schools will be closing down. Because schools are no longer effective, relevant or needed. And this is not the goal behind the new curriculum.