Teaching, learning, assessment, curriculum and pedagogy
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As critics, our task should be to analyze the assumptions, strengths and weaknesses of existing curricula, and the ways that the concept curriculum is used; the difficult and much debated question is what exactly should this notion of critique mean?
Speaking for my own experience, one thing I have learned in the last ten years or so is that you cannot have critique without a tradition. In this way curriculum theory is not unlike music and art; it has traditions, which break up and are transformed but we cannot do without them - even anarchists have traditions.
I draw my tradition from Sociology and I am glad I had to read the long texts by Durkheim and Weber without at the time really knowing why. This was my particular biography and I do not imply that Sociology is the only tradition for curriculum theory; far from it. I have learned much from psychologists, historians and philosophers, although I have never been part of their traditions; whether there is a distinct tradition and discipline of "curriculum theory" and what its basis might be is for me a question open to debate.
Some curriculum theorists, particularly those in the American tradition adopt an eclectic use of theories from a wide range of sources. The relationship between the object of theory - "what is taught in schools and colleges" - and developing a theory of that object is complex. Is it, for example, a discipline of its own or does it draw on different disciplines? To say that curriculum theory has a normative role has two meanings.
One refers to the rules or norms guiding curricular design and practice and the other to the fact that education always implies some moral values about the good person and the "good society" - in other words what are we educating for? In this presentation I am primarily concerned here with the former meaning of "normative.
What is clear to me is that a normative view of curriculum theory becomes a form of technicism - telling teachers what to do - if it is separated from its critical role. Likewise, it is difficult to see the purpose of a critical role for curriculum theory that is detached from any normative implications - critiques cannot be ends in themselves.
In my country, the government is making big changes in the school curriculum - it is disturbing that the voice of curriculum theory is heard very little.
A glance at the history of the curriculum field suggests that critical and normative goals have been sharply separated to the detriment of both. For example, those who prescribe models for "better" curricula rarely engage with critical analyses, which might force them to examine their assumptions. They assume that no one would seriously disagree with their prescriptions, whether they emphasize outcomes, objectives, competences, or functional skills.
Key elements and relationships in curriculum
The assumptions underpinning such curriculum models are not seen as needing evidence or arguments to support them - they are taken for granted like people in the past treated Euclid's axioms; it is assumed that everything would collapse if they are not true.
My view is that if outcomes or competences or more broadly assessment drives the curriculum, it will be unable to provide access to knowledge; knowledge is about being able to envisage alternatives whether in literature or chemistry; it can never be outcomes, skills or assessments led. What then about a curriculum theory which adopts a critical role without feeling a need to develop its concrete implications?
Critique is seen as self justifying - speaking truth to power is a popular phrase - and critics object when faced with the question "so what? I absolutely will not play the part of one who prescribes solutions.
I hold that the role of the intellectual today is [ No teacher wants solutions from curriculum theory - in the sense of "being told what to teach. However, like any profession, teachers would be isolated and lose whatever authority they have without curriculum guidelines and principles derived from curriculum theory. In other words, teachers need curriculum theory to affirm their professional authority. A more extreme view adopted by some of those associated with the critical pedagogy tradition frees them from envisaging concrete alternatives by identifying with some hypothetical global movement of the dis-enfranchised, along the lines suggested by Hardt and Negri in their book Empire.
The implication of "critiques without alternatives" is to endorse what the distinguished sociologist and cultural theorist Stuart Hall once referred to ironically as a "curriculum of life"; in effect, unless life is itself a curriculum, this means no curriculum at all and by implication no schools either. Why then have we got this division of labor between critique and implementation or alternatives?
It is not a feature of other specialist knowledge in fields like health or engineering. It is partly our own fault - to go back to an earlier point, we have not agreed what the object of our theory is or even what are the limits of our theory, and so we search for critical concepts in Philosophy, politics, and literary theory even though they have never engaged with any educational issues, let alone curricula.
A recent paper in the Journal of Curriculum Studies - JCS - referred to this as curriculum theory's flight from the curriculum. I was sent a paper the other day about Derrida and Geography - it was an elegant and systematic "deconstruction" of Geography as having no kind of coherence - so how could you possibly teach it? The author did not follow through the logic of the argument and suggest we should stop teaching Geography - and it might have been History or Science.
Thinking About Curriculum
An undoubtedly brilliant philosopher. But does that necessarily mean he is a curriculum theorist? I don't think so.
I have not read much Derrida and his texts are not easy; what I do know I owe to the interpretations of the English philosopher Christopher Norris. Derrida's project, according to Norris, was a critical de-construction of the Enlightenment tradition philosophy initiated by Kant - a fine project for a philosopher but not for a curriculum theorist; again, I don't think so.
In searching through such texts, I think curriculum theory is in danger of avoiding two related but crucial issues.
The first issue is that Education is a practical activity like health and transport or communications. It is not like Physics or Philosophy or History - fields of enquiry that search for truth about us and the world and the universe we inhabit. Education is about doing things to and with others; pedagogy is always an authority relation remember Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development - the gap between what the student and the teacher knowwhich we have to accept responsibility for - and that is where, I would argue, the curriculum comes in.
Education is first and foremost concerned with enabling people to acquire knowledge that takes them beyond their experience, and they would be unlikely to acquire it if they did not go to school or college. Curriculum theory's role, I suggest, must be to analyze this knowledge - largely, it is existing school knowledge - and to come up with the best alternatives to existing forms that we can.
The second issue is that education is also a specialized activity. In the days when most people did not go to school, education was a simple matter that was undertaken by parents and older people as a natural extension of the rest of their lives. It did not require any knowledge beyond people's experience and memories of growing up. As societies became more complex and more differentiated, specialized institutions developed - schools, colleges and of course, universities -so education, though still a practical activity, has become increasingly specialized.
Curricula are the form of this specialized educational knowledge, which largely defines the kind of education people, get.
We need to understand curricula as forms of specialized knowledge so that we can develop better curricula and improve learning opportunities.
It is such goals that give purpose to curriculum theory just as it is better treatment and better medicines that give purpose to medical science. So, back to the curriculum as an educational concept. No other institution - no hospital, no government, no corporate office, no factory has a curriculum in the sense that colleges, schools and universities do. Educational institutions all assert and assume that they have knowledge which others are entitled to have access to, and they employ people teachers who are specialists in making this knowledge available - obviously with varying degrees of success.
If you want to acquire specialist knowledge, you may start with a book or the internet, but if you are serious you will go to an institution with a curriculum that includes what you want to learn and teachers who know how to teach.
Topics - Common Core, Differentiated Instruction, 21st Century Skills
This leads to the crucial question "what knowledge should make up the curriculum? The reality is that we do not know very much about curricula, except in everyday common sense terms such as timetables, lists of subjects, exam syllabuses and increasingly competence or skill statements.
In developing an argument about what we might mean by the idea of curriculum, I borrow an idea from a recent paper by my colleague, David Scott. His starting point is not curriculum as such but learning as the most basic human activity.
What makes human learning human, he argues, is that it is an epistemic activity - in other words, it is involved in producing knowledge.
Why else would we learn if not to find out something or how to do something - thus "producing knowledge"? It is useful to take Scott's idea a bit further by seeing learning on a continuum in two senses: So think of a continuum of learning in any modern society - there are the myriad forms of learning that make up our everyday lives.
In these processes of learning we produce knowledge all the time, mostly tacit, rarely codified or written down and sometimes remembered, sometimes not. This "everyday learning" is closely related to the everyday common sense knowledge that each of us builds up during our lives. In the broad sense of the term these forms of learning are epistemic or knowledge producing activities, although the knowledge they generate is always tied to specific places, contexts and people.
Thinking About Curriculum
It is useful, even necessary knowledge, to carry on our lives, but it is not enough in modern societies; that is why we have schools and curricula to store and make available specialist knowledge that our ancestors did not need and had not discovered. At the other end of the continuum we have the knowledge producing activities undertaken by researchers at the leading edge of disciplines, mostly but not only in universities.
They are engaged in producing new knowledge, and having it tested, criticized and evaluated by their peers; it is highly specialized and involves languages and symbols like mathematics that most of us do not understand.
Somewhere in the middle of the continuum are a range of types of knowledge including the specialized of many occupations as well as curriculum or school knowledge that makes up the educational programs from the early years to masters degrees. Curriculum knowledge is basically specialized knowledge organized for transmission, usually but not always from one generation to another; I use the term transmission without assuming that it is the one-way process that the metaphor implies.
We could describe curriculum theorists as specialists in a particular form of applied knowledge - knowledge that is "applied" in ways that make it both teachable and learnable for students at different stages and of different ages.
Curriculum knowledge is always specialized knowledge; it is specialized in two ways: The knowledge produced by the disciplinary specialists - History, Physics, Geography. Disciplinary specialists do not always agree or always "get it right," and although their purpose is to discover new knowledge, sometimes they are influenced by factors other than the search for truth.
However, it is difficult to think of an alternative and better source of "the best knowledge we have" in any field. Definitions of these aspects are given below: To teach is to engage students in learning; thus teaching consists of getting students involved in the active construction of knowledge. A teacher requires not only knowledge of subject matter, but knowledge of how students learn and how to transform them into active learners.
Good teaching, then, requires a commitment to systematic understanding of learning. The aim of teaching is not only to transmit information, but also to transform students from passive recipients of other people's knowledge into active constructors of their own and others' knowledge. The teacher cannot transform without the student's active participation, of course. Teaching is fundamentally about creating the pedagogical, social, and ethical conditions under which students agree to take charge of their own learning, individually and collectively.
The artistry of discussion leadership. Roland Christensen, David A. Garvin, and Ann Sweet. Harvard Business School, The following description is useful: