Curriculum As Outcome

Standardized Testing…where to begin. There has been some talk as to incorporating standardized testing into Saskatchewan’s education system. I am not sure why anyone would see this as a useful approach to educating our students except for drilling the same equal knowledge into each and every one of them. That still, to me, is not a positive teaching strategy.

In Alfie Kohn’s video he shares that teachers can achieve much better testing if we avoid using a Provincial test, that when we rely on such accountability we are undermining the quality of instruction we could potentially provide our students. Teachers become controlling and will dumb-down the learning if we assume everything can be measured.

This is proof that everyone is harmed; yes teachers may feel proud or successful when their class reaches high standards, but their teaching abilities are being ignored. Students are not able to learn as much as they could and teachers are unable to address our lived curriculum, making those connections between real life and written curriculum to further their students’ knowledge. These tests measure information that has little to no importance. It suggests things like how affluent their families are or how skillful they are at testing. Standardized tests even make excelling students less successful as their way of understanding is too advanced for what is expected.

From experience writing CAT tests, there was always exam anxiety attached when writing but when we would ask our teachers if the marks we got on the exam went onto our report card, he/she said no, then we wouldn’t try as hard. The test was used to see how well the teachers were meeting their expectations, not how well we did individually. Then marks would return and be publicized, which was humiliating for students who did have to try really hard to pass and still did not do very well.

In the words of Kohn, “We need an approach to education that is about learning, not testing”, I could not agree more. We should be opening the ‘curriculum’ and opportunities for our students to learn, not narrowing it down and teaching to a test. Saskatchewan will make a huge mistake for our future children if we do not continue providing them with a much more successful educational approach.

Curriculum as Inequities and Privilege

Curriculum, such a broad term used to categorize expectations of what teachers must teach their students. Its assumption by society is that it is a collection of documents, data and/or information set out as an outline for what students will learn while enrolled in a specific course. This basic definition of curriculum almost always leaves out the possession of the hidden curriculum as well, what is not explicitly taught or what happens in our everyday life. Thus curriculum is everything students experience, learn or think while in a classroom, even what they don’t experience, learn or think.

We as educators need to do our best to stray away from sticking to the guidelines, “hit this outcome using this indicator; incorporate three indicators into this one lesson to make sure everything is covered”. Limiting ourselves to these expectations will potentially set us up for failure and hindering our students of their exceptional learner abilities. Should the formal written curriculum be ignored? Absolutely not. But we need to be those teachers who can incorporate troubling knowledge, the ‘on-the-spot’ teaching depending what’s going on in the world around us, situations in our schools or even as personal as in the classroom environment.

Learning through crisis provides ourselves and our students to be more aware of the binary logic, where one societal norm cannot be better or higher up in importance without the other present to be classified as wrong (or queer). I cannot see this being an easy approach, but evidently the more we address the uncomfortable situations and troubling knowledge as a class the less chance those harmful situations will arise and cause problems. Whether its in-school bullying, cyber bullying, community shootings, or basic labels being thrown on their peers, if these crisis’ are addressed throughout an entire course (as all other guidelines in the curriculum) students will have the knowledge to better treat others while in school and take that behavior into the community as an adult.

Curriculum as an Online Community

The use of technology and creating these online communities is extremely important in today’s learning. Researching through textbooks at our local library is not wrong but accessing the large amount of information the Internet provides us offers us endless possibilities. Social justice issues can be addressed through this new learning by allowing students to watch videos, find thousands of research articles on specific situations or even contact people across the world to discuss this issue where they live. Anti-oppression can be achieved by creating online pages, blogs, videos of your students working together, practicing equality and strengthening relationships among each other. On the other hand, not all students are able to afford Internet or phones/computers to access this incredible source (will work great if schools can provide the necessary devices for in-class work).

What is made possible through these personal networks our students create is everything. Their assignments/files can be organized simply through Google Drive, they can be shared through this app as well or by writing on a blog. Twitter and Facebook allow them to connect with others in their school or across the world; proper use is essential. Presentations can be made to be more engaging, creativity levels are limitless and provide students with multiple ways to express their ideas (and come up with new ideas by viewing others’).

A few things made impossible through this approach can be less one-on-one interaction. Yes we are able to reach people via Skype, Google Hangout, Twitter etc, but we lose that physical interaction compared to if they were standing in our classroom. Students may not learn how to look up books at a library as everything is so accessible online. However, the pros definitely outweigh the cons in this situation. Online networks are extremely useful to introduce in our classrooms and I plan on doing my best to do so.

Preparing Teachers For Uncertainty

From reassessing my autobiography (the story I told to share my influences and experiences throughout my life) I have noticed I took particular qualities about myself for granted. I mentioned my inexperience with multiculturalism in my primary and secondary schooling but I never made it notable that I am white. I was raised in a white, middle class home, and community for that matter, where seeing ourselves as having a higher rank than others was never an issue. I grew up viewing all my friends and classmates as equal. I was not introduced to the diversity nearly as adversely I’ve never felt to put emphasis towards that quality of myself. In all honesty, the awareness that others are worse-off and better-off than I was evident, but I have never thought about stating those differences as a way of introducing who I am. I understand now that that ‘ranking’ effected situations I did and did not go through; tons of extracurricular activities were handed to me, I didn’t suffer in poverty and I received new clothes regularly, a cellphone and car once reaching a specific age, but I never thought bragging about or announcing such luxury was important.

That being said, looking at this again with a broader perspective and announcing that I am a white, straight, middle-class may say a lot more about me than what I realized. By being white I automatically walk into more societal acceptance than a minority group, being straight helped me avoid the name calling or bullying in high school, and being middle class allowed me to participate and ‘fit in’ with the majority of my community; I just never thought twice about it. This is where the discomfort is reiterated, I would hate to have that my opening line on ‘who I am’, especially in front of individuals who are neither of those qualities and have suffered from being treated wrongly as a result. This judgment is not necessary for someone to share who they are and how they have got this far unless it has had a significant impact. I suppose if you read between the lines, my gender, race and sexuality have contributed to the smooth sailing of life, but I do not base my experiences solely on these characteristics being present.

I did not choose to highlight my race, sexuality or gender because I subconsciously chose not to flaunt it, or use them to highlight I had little struggles because of them. But at the same time, because I wasn’t raised in a lower socioeconomic household, because I am white and have always been treated with such respect, and yes because I am straight have all ‘secretly’ influenced my life. It is these hidden facts, similar to a hidden curriculum, that influence how people view us or what they learn that without explicitly stating so.

‘Good Student’… ‘Good Learning’…

Common sense gives the impression that in order to be classified as a good student you must behave properly and think certain ways. Schools and educators emphasize what ‘good’ expectations are by based on what a ‘good’ citizen is in society; with potential these students will be those people one day. This usually reflects students’ ability to listen, show respect to their teacher and peers, sit silently, punctuality, completes tasks on time and follows their instructions correctly. That being said, the student who is more rambunctious than others, or the student who constantly talks to their neighbor during an independent assignment may not deserve the title ‘bad student’, their learning methods just aren’t being met. Allow group work often, some students learn better by sharing or reteaching a concept to their peers. Provide a time for them to be moving around, sitting in desks all day is dreadful so we cannot blame them for being restless during fifth period lecture.

As for learning for crisis, I completely agree. Students should not come to school each day to be reaffirmed that what they already know is correct. Should we ignore their present knowledge? Absolutely not. But we are placed in these classrooms to further their learning, expand their range of knowledge. However, this requires stepping out of our comfort zones, or common sense areas, and confronting the difficult topics to teach; social justice or oppression for instance. We cannot resist change, change is where these new occurrences and teaching moments happen. The crisis, or unexpected event, initiates these challenges to better everyone’s knowledge. This discomfort will allow ourselves and our students to focus on how they feel about a particular situation or topic and decide how they want to go about solving this. Whether it be a difficulty with a new method in math, or even the topic of race and discrimination in social studies, crisis can benefit how we internally make decisions. That being said we still want to practice a safe, comfortable classroom setting, but the involvement of crisis here and there should never be avoided.

When these issues arise in the classroom, we may or may not have planned for them to happen. It may freak us out at first too but we cannot hinder our students’ learning by choosing not to expand on the topic. Be there for guidance or assistance when they are uncomfortable, but do not have a crisis-free classroom to potentially make your life easier. We must embrace these moments to strengthen their awareness of challenging situations.

Three Teacher Images

Kumashiro introduced three different images of teachers: 1) Learned Practioner 2) Researcher and 3)Professional. I truly believe that the correct image is Learned Practitioner because we learn different ways our students will learn, knowledge of various subject matter, classroom management skills and most importantly how to teach. As future teachers we definitely touch base with the researcher and professional, but we like to get our hands dirty more and experience our learning more deeply. We can be handed a thousand different certificates for passing classes, or continue to read books and write papers on what we find, but in all actuality, teaching is learned so much better being out there in the field, working with students.

From personal experience, I’ve had a dozen different education professors all lecturing their way of teaching or spouting out suggestions on what we need to do, when we do it and how students ‘should’ react. These ideas are extremely useful and I have certainly learned a lot through these courses, but as soon as I entered the classrooms in 100 and 300, you learn an unreal amount more; on the scene type work. Field experience and internships are the outmost important, not to mention successful, times in our university years. Studying can only be good for so much, so using the image for teachers as a learned practitioner is beyond accurate.

How Stories Shape Our Lives – Part 2

I chose to go about things a little differently in this part of the assignment. Two of the readings specifically caught my interest so I wanted to elaborate on them first through writing but decided to use artwork to represent my written feelings as well.  The articles I will be focusing on are “Framing The Family Tree” by Sudie Hofmann and Dale Weiss’s “Unwrapping the Holidays”. These two hit home for me most because it made me realize how unaware I am of those around me which, in all honesty, saddened me a lot.

I am particularly grateful for having both my parents together by my side to this day. By having straight parents I never had to face the extra stresses involved with having homosexual parents. Along with the status quo of how families should be brought up, I was raised to celebrate the ‘common’ or ‘normal’ holidays. Decorating, planning, gathering, you name it, I look forward to it all for any holiday during any season. Whether it be January for New Year’s Day, February for Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day in March, April having Easter, May it’s Mother’s Day, June is Father’s Day, July Canada Day, summer long weekends in August and September, Halloween in October, Remembrance Day in November, and of course, Christmas in December. These traditions are commonsense to me; I don’t think I could see my months without these significant celebrations. Well believe it or not, this will not always be the case for our students. Some may not be Christian and celebrate Easter; some may be strong Christians and only express Easter through Jesus’ resurrection and no bunny rabbits. Others may not have someone to spend Mother’s or Father’s Day with, and could significantly be secluded by the fuss about Christmas.

We can constantly discuss the different types of holidays in our society, but do we ever take into consideration those students raised by diverse ‘parents’ during these seasons? What about the boy whose mother passed away, or the sisters who have two dads? Have we planned our activities and letters around those students whose parental figures are grandma and grandpa, or auntie and uncle? Not all students are able to participate during a simple, specific holiday such as Christmas, but even more so on parental acknowledgement days. Inclusive language must be initiated through letters sent home, through activities and assignments; try ‘Dear parent or guardian’ or even ‘Guardian Appreciation Day’ so they can choose if it goes to mom, dad or grandma.

As a future educator, and speaking to all the future teachers out there, make these realizations of diversity quickly, preferably before entering the field. We need to be sensitive of these differences and accommodate all various traditions into our classroom instead of only sticking to the ones that we’re used to. In Weiss’s “Unwrapping the Holidays” for instance, the school only wanted to decorate for Christmas, the December holiday that they were used to. When Weiss suggested incorporating Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Winter Solstice, the experienced teachers shut down the idea, uncomfortable with this change. By doing such an action is not implying that Christmas is wrong and believers should change, he’s emphasizing the importance of incorporating and joining other traditions together to show equality.

Again in “Framing the Family Tree”, not all of our parents will be present, straight or still together. The chances of having gay, lesbian, single, or extended family members playing the role of parents is highly likely. Acceptance, appreciation and a sense of being welcome are essential gestures towards all diversities encountered in our classrooms and society; which until now, I was guilty of being unaware of. That being said, I don’t feel the need for parents to wish such holidays did not exist in our school. For example, removing Father’s Day would hinder the children with male parents to showing them their love and appreciation; we’re then back to step one of deciding which students should be left out. The desired answer here is none; we must strive for inclusion in every way possible.

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To enhance my feelings written above, I chose to combine these diversities into one IMG_0218whole, accepting collection. In my picture you’ll see a Christmas tree, the one holiday most commonly celebrated in our society and the one most talked about in our schools. Within this tree are ornaments (symbols) representing the many other holidays that occur during this time of year, addressing the importance and existence of these around us. If we look even closer, inside these symbols are various representations of family structures; mom and dad, two dads, two moms, grandma and grandpa or just one parent. Each tradition (Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice) should be given the same amount of importance, even if there is one holiday that holds a slightly larger meaning around where we live (Christmas). Every parental structure should be welcome to participate and celebrate these various traditions together too! In closing, the bright shining star at the top of the tree will entitle my, ‘Miss. Stein’s’, future class; welcoming and encouraging such diversities.

 

(Side note: not saying families who celebrate Hanukkah only have gay parents or guardians, or that straight parents only occur if they celebrate Kwanzaa. Just showing diversity in two different ways.)
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