The need for flexible, personalised and responsive curriculum September 13, 2015Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
Tags: creativity, curriculum, exemplary teachers, NAPLAN, personalised learning
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from Steve Wilson
Imagine you had promised your friend or partner that you would go with them to watch a movie each week for a full year.
Imagine then, having made this commitment, that your friend or partner did not consult with you about which movies to watch – they simply selected the movie each week, irrespective of your own preferences or tastes, and expected you to come along.
You might put up with it for awhile. You would likely develop resentment about the situation. Eventually, as an adult, you might confront your friend and explain your feelings and try to change things. If they didn’t change, in all likelihood, you would simply stop going to the movies with them.
For children and young people in schools, the school curriculum is like being forced to go to the movies, to see things they often don’t like or can’t see the point of, but where they do not have the adult prerogative, legally at least, of simply not going to school. Trapped in schools with an unresponsive curriculum, feelings amongst young people towards school can and frequently do include resentment, apathy and disengagement. Every teacher commonly experiences these feelings amongst their children, and not just amongst the children who are the lowest academic achievers.
We should not underestimate the power of an unexplained and unresponsive curriculum as a factor in child and youth disengagement from school. Nor should it be underestimated as an explanation for any perceived decline in international education standards among western nations where, in most facets of life, young people influence and exercise considerable choice in most other areas of their lives except in school.
In writing this piece I am assuming curriculum as a broad entity, ranging from the documents comprising the Australian curriculum and the range of state-based adaptations to it, through to the formal and informal learning experiences of children in classrooms and schools, structured and developed under the auspices of each school.
Curriculum is the key. A cynic might say that curriculum is what education systems DO to learners in schools. A greater cycnic might say that what is done to learners is also being done to teachers. If our curriculum is not carefully thought through and structured, it can act as a straitjacket on teachers and learners, undermining their capacity to explore and engage through education. If the curriculum is over burdened in content areas, over prescribed with mandated teaching points, over tested, over regulated, then it robs learners and teachers of the potential to engage in education with imagination, personal investment, and joy. Learning becomes a chore, for learners and teachers alike. And, often, they disengage as a result. They simply stop trying.
In my many years as a teacher and teacher educator, I have always believed that teaching is among the most creative of professions. There is nothing more satisfying for a teacher than to develop learning experiences that enable children to understand concepts, develop skills and values, develop confidence, and enjoy their learning. The act of conceiving of and creating these learning experiences, ones that you know will bring out the best in your learners, then seeing your creative, intellectual efforts work in the classroom, and seeing children grow and want to keep learning as a result, is the key reward for the teacher.
To achieve this, curriculum needs to be freed up, becoming a crucible for fostering creative imagination rather than a straitjacket encouraging disengagement. We need a flexible curriculum, far less prescriptive than we generally have now, which encourages teachers to engage with and be responsive to the personalities of their students, and which enables young people to become involved with and take responsibility for their learning.
How to do this? We have plenty of evidence that current curricula are generally overcrowded and too prescriptive, so a good first step would be to identify a set of genuinely necessary core competencies, skills, values and content, which are limited and restrained, and which are essential for the social and economic wellbeing of individuals (and through them, the nation). The remainder and bulk of the curriculum should take the form of flexible guidelines which teachers can respond to with imagination and creativity, thereby inspiring their children to become involved and to strive to excel. This is a strength of the current curriculum in Finland, which has been considered the global ‘gold standard’ over the last decade.
We used to have in Australia, in the 1970s and 80s, strong and successful state-based cultures around school-based curriculum development – ones which enabled schools and their teachers to craft engaging and relevant curriculum developed from a clear but limited systemic curriculum framework.
These cultures (like the culture currently emphasised in Finland) had strong expectations of teachers as highly responsible, creative and professional individuals, based on high levels of trust of teachers. Unfortunately, later neo-liberal political ideologies and governance (from both sides of state and federal politics) gradually eroded these cultures. Examining and re-valuing the strengths of these previous curriculum cultures in Australia might be a good place to begin in conceiving how a less centralised, less crowded and more responsive curriculum would work for learners and their teachers.
Secondly, we have plenty of examples of thinking about curriculum, learner motivation and pedagogical approaches which respect the role of learners in learning, and teach us how to be inclusive of the tastes, preferences, talents and humanity that learners bring to their learning and their schools. People who have provided conceptual and practical clarity in their related writings include John Ainley, James Beane, Garth Boomer, John Dewey, Jacquelynne Eccles, Michael Fullan, William Glasser, Susan Groundwater-Smith, Roger Holdsworth, Stephen Kemmis, Tony Knight, Carl Rogers and R.E. Young amongst many others.
These contributions assist us in conceiving of more responsive, dynamic, shared and inclusive learning environments and communities, and of how to create effective and positive relationships between teachers and learners. They show us how these approaches can benefit and stimulate ALL learners – not just the most academically capable.
This, the ‘how’ of curriculum, is just as important as the content it contains. The ‘how’ of curriculum, the way we enable young people to engage in learning, must encourage young learners to make an intellectual and emotional investment in their learning by having input into how it is designed and conducted. That is the real beginning point to their engagement – enabling their committed buy-in to the process of formal learning.
Thirdly, in our teacher professional learning and development opportunities, in both the pre-service and in-service career stages, we need to continually emphasise the role of teachers as professional, imaginative and creative transactors and facilitators of learning. My own suspicion is that too many of our teachers may have come to regard teaching as having become de-professionalised – a profession in which they are simply expected to teach to the dot points the syllabus or school program contains, and to teach to the test.
Those teachers who do feel this way are being quite realistic – an over-crowded, over-mandated, over-tested (and often politically driven and destabilised) curriculum is de-professionalising. We need to give back to our teachers the opportunities and curriculum development skills to create curriculum and learning experiences that capture the hearts and imaginations of our children and young people.
Clearly, some of the above solutions to curriculum may require agitation by the profession and community, leading to macro, politically-endorsed reforms. In the absence of these, there are still very positive things that can be created by schools and classroom teachers from an over-prescriptive curriculum. Many formal curriculum and syllabus documents are not, on a closer reading, necessarily as prescriptive and confining as they first appear. Many mandated themes, topics or teaching points can be interpreted and adapted by the teacher, who can choose what to emphasise within particular topics, how much time should be allotted, what teaching approaches, activities or approaches to assessment might be used, and what opportunities there are to provide students with learning choices. With imagination and creativity, flexibility, personalisation of learning and responsiveness can often be crafted from curriculum documents which may initially seem too prescriptive and unforgiving.
Teachers who do manage to find this flexibility have the opportunity to create spaces in the curriculum into which they can invite their young learners to discuss, craft and conduct learning activities and the content they focus on. These teachers often feel great personal and professional fulfilment when they do engage with their students around their personal learning preferences, and achieve great learning motivation and improved academic outcomes with their learners – even on tests like the NAPLAN (without them having to emphasise the practising of the test).
Let’s return to my opening movie analogy. Imagine instead a classroom in which children and young people are continually participating by suggesting things to learn, and ways to learn, activities to do, ways to assess their learning, and in which they help their teachers to drive learning and learning outcomes. Imagine the creative energy that might drive the group, and the outcomes that might be achieved. Unlike the movies you are forced, unwillingly, to see, this is learning where you see the point, and want to engage, because it is in some ways your curriculum – as a learner (or a movie goer), you help to own the choices. Our curriculum design must be smart enough to enable learning to be personalised, flexible and responsive. Anything less risks more teachers feeling de-professionalised, and more learners in our schools choosing to disengage.
Tags: exemplary teachers, learning communities, technology and education
from Jane Hunter
This post is dedicated to my parents, Patrice and Noel, and to Anna who all had great passion for education and sadly passed away in 2014.
On the 5 March Sir Ken Robinson will give the first annual Anna Craft memorial lecture: Educating for creativity: From what is to what might be at Exeter University in the UK. It will be available on YouTube at a later date. Professor Craft passed away last year after a very brief battle with an aggressive cancer. She was 53. She and Sir Ken worked closely together for many years prior to his departure to the US and it is her seminal work in ‘possibility thinking and creativity’ (Craft, 2002; 2005; 2006; 2011a); 2011b); 2012) that leaves a significant intellectual legacy for education in schools. Groundbreaking studies – years ahead of their time.
Craft’s writing and scholarship formed the epiphany moment in my doctoral studies – that instant when all that I had read, the data from research, the years of teaching and thinking about the role of technology in learning in schools … it suddenly all made sense. Light bulb! Light bulb! Light bulb! I emailed Professor Craft at the time and she emailed me back – we planned to work together this year.
Teachers who forge ahead and integrate technology in the most highly creative, intellectual and imaginative ways view childhood and youth as empowered, not at risk, in digital landscapes. The notion of LifeWork became important in my research and “how creativity in children and young people must engage with the needs and rights of the inward, in the home and the personal, and with the outward, in work and in public life” (Craft, 2005, p.150). Craft (2005) provided an important and provocative lens quite early on, that on the one hand questioned the promotion of children’s creativity in schools, and yet on the other, there was a “parallel drive towards technicisation and bureaucratisation, which, had the effect of reducing creativity in the teaching profession” (p.10). Creativity and the role of the Arts in education is also a major pre-occupation in Robinson’s intellectual work; both scholars write, argue, research and promote ideas of possibility in teaching and learning in schools.
The name High Possibility Classrooms or HPC for a fresh model for contemporary teaching practice seemed a logical step towards the end of my research of four exemplary teachers’ knowledge of technology integration in the classrooms of 6-16 year olds in NSW public schools. The doctoral study is now the subject of a new book Technology Integration and High Possibility Classrooms: Building from TPACK; it was published by Routledge on March 9, 2015. See here to order a copy.
The warrant for the book stems from a need for robust theory drawn from research to underpin technology integration in learning in education contexts – Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge or TPACK (Mishra & Koehler, 2006) is a well known theoretical framework, heavily researched and is highly respected in schools and in higher education – the HPC model for technology integration builds on the important work of TPACK. HPC has five conceptions – see Figure 1 and 22 themes of students learning processes and teaching strategies – see Figure 2.
Professor Punya Mishra has written the foreword in the book. He refers to the core of TPACK as directly relating to teacher creativity: “the framework acknowledges that teaching (particularly in novel, and technology-rich contexts) is complex, and requires both problem seeking and problem solving. The flexibility and range of knowledge that are necessary to integrate technology thoughtfully makes technology-savvy teaching an inherently creative act” (Hunter, 2015, p. xi).
Briefly, the first chapter in Technology Integration and High Possibility Classrooms: Building from TPACK examines global policy and education trends in technology integration in Australia, the USA and the UK. There is a critique of East Asian models of schooling and a picture of technology integration in schools in Singapore and South Korea is illustrated. Chapter 2 discusses other models for technology integration principally TPACK and there is a brief reference to SAMR (Puentedura, 2006). The view of HPC as action knowledge is proposed towards the end of this chapter.
The following four chapters (3-6) are the case studies from the research and readers come to understand the worlds of Gabby, Gina, Nina and Kitty: early years, primary or elementary, middle and high school classrooms. In January this year Education HQ commissioned a series of articles about the teachers in the HPC study and if you click on each of the links above you will see a quick offering from the classrooms to acquaint yourself with the kind of practices that I argue will shift teaching and learning in our schools.
In Chapter 7 the commonalities and differences in exemplary teachers’ knowledge of technology integration are assessed from the point of view of the research. In the final chapter the question of whether all schools can create High Possibility Classrooms is posited from an urgent need to re-tool the discipline of education (Furlong, 2013) using conceptions of theory, theory, creativity, public learning, and life preparation. Collectively, the HPC conceptions work in concert with the fifth conception, contextual accommodations to create action knowledge (AK). These outcomes occur through actions both at the level of practice, through policy considerations, out of ideas for professional development for teachers and future research in schools.
Each chapter in the book has an end section for professional conversation using a series of discussion pointers to guide professional learning in technology integration in teacher education whether that might be in-service or pre-service teachers. I trust it will be useful. The case studies in the book are timely and add to what we know about technology integration from exemplary teachers’ perspectives – see Figure 3. They are inspirational examples for all teachers, they are being mapped to the AITSL standards and more research to validate the HPC model in mainstream classrooms is currently being conducted in primary and high schools.
I will use Technology Integration and High Possibility Classrooms: Building from TPACK in my own teaching – in teacher education we have the dual imperative to know how to use technology/learning management systems/blended learning approaches and so on; however we also have to model the rich pedagogical practices that we want our future teachers to action in classrooms.
I look forward to continuing the conversation.
Craft, A. (2000). Creativity across the primary curriculum: Framing and developing practice. London: Routledge.
Craft, A. (2002). Creativity in the early years: A lifewide foundation. London: Routledge.
Craft, A. (2005). Creativity in schools: Tensions and dilemmas. Abingdon: Routledge.
Craft, A. (2006). Creativity and wisdom? Cambridge Journal of Education, 36(3), 336-350.
Craft, A. (2011a). Approaches to creativity in education in the United Kingdom. In J. Sefton-Green, P. Thomson, K. Jones, & L. Bresler, (Eds), The Routledge international handbook of creative learning. Abingdon: Routledge.
Craft, A. (2011b). Creativity and education futures: Learning in a digital age. Stoke on Trent: Trentham Books.
Craft, A. (2012). Childhood in a digital age: Creative challenges for educational futures. London Review of Education, 10 (2), 173-190. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14748460.2012.691282
Furlong, J. (2013). Education – An anatomy of the discipline. Abingdon, England: Routledge
Hunter, J. (2015). Technology Integration and High Possibility Classrooms: Building from TPACK. New York: Routledge.
Mishra, P., & Koehler, M.J. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A new framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017–1054.
Puentedura, R.R. (2006). Transformation, Technology, and Education. Retrieved from http://hippasus.com/resources/tte/
Dr Jane Hunter teaches in the School of Education and is a member of the Centre for Educational Research at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. She researches in the field of technology integration and learning, pedagogy, curriculum and teacher professional development.
Tags: education and training, exemplary teachers, teacher education
Recently I had the opportunity to attend the annual conference of the NSW Council of Deans of Education and listen to Minister Piccoli espouse the NSW Government’s views on prospective teachers. He spoke about the quality of entrants into teaching: their literacy and numeracy levels and their suitability to be teachers. The points he put are part of the Government’s 2012 blueprint Great Teaching, Inspired Learning (GTIL). In this post, I’d like to consider what is meant by ‘suitability’ and question if this can be assessed.
The Minister spoke about ‘suitability’ for teaching. In Greater Teaching, Inspired Learning this is stated as ‘entrants into teacher education will … show an aptitude for teaching’ (GTIL, 2012, p.7). He explained that NSW would develop ‘a framework of attributes for assessing suitability for teaching’. The development of the framework will involve the initial teaching education providers, school authorities and teachers. But how do you judge a person as suitable for teaching? Is it based on a psychological evaluation? Will everyone need to take a Myers- Briggs assessment of personality types and be a certain type to be considered for a teaching job? It didn’t work for the Peace Corps, in the US. Will there need to be a recommendation from a principal? Or other educator?
In the project Teaching and Leading for Quality Australian Schools: A Review and Synthesis of Research-based Knowledge, Zammit et al (2007) found that quality teaching could be considered as being influenced by three domains: contextual factors, professional practice, and attributes and qualities of teachers. In the domain of attributes and qualities of teachers, we categorised these as personal, relational and professional. In the personal area, the qualities were: enthusiasm, passion and commitment; high levels of communication; and, motivation to enter teaching. However, these were identified as not the only attributes that contributed to student outcomes and quality teaching. But these seem to be the ones implied in the Minister’s speech.
How do you measure a person’s interest, desire or passion for being a teacher? I remember in high school completing a test to determine which profession / job I would be ‘suitable’ for to help me make decisions about my career. The result was I could do anything. Not so helpful.
We are not born teachers. Teaching is not ‘in the blood’. It is not a genetic predisposition – at least I don’t think it is. But you have to want to work with children; to put in the hours outside of school (the hidden requirements of the job). There are so many different and very good teachers, with a range of personalities, skills and backgrounds who have come into teaching from high school, from another course or from another career. The merchant banker has not changed her/her career to teaching for the money.
The framework for suitability is still to be developed. The form it will take is still to be decided. Let’s hope it isn’t a multiple choice, personality assessment… Watch this space.
NSW Department of Education and Communities, NSW Institute of Teaching, & Board of Studies (NSW) (2012) Great Teaching, Inspired Learning: A Blueprint for Action. Sydney: NSW Department of Education and Communities.
Zammit, K., Sinclair, C., Cole, B., Singh, M., Costley, D., Brown A’Court, L., & Rushton, K. (2007). Teaching and Leading for Quality Australian Schools: A Review and Synthesis of Research-based Knowledge. Canberra: Teaching Australia.