Friday, August 03, 2007

Considering the importance of Content or the Method

An article in the Melbourne Age inspired me to blog today. I'm still 'on holiday' in sunny Coolangatta, 2 more left weeks before we leave for Qatar.

The article, Plans to Halve Core Subjects a Concern, talks about the proposal to reduce the number of core learning areas in Primary school education (children up to about the age of 12). Currently there are eight key learning areas including Arts, Health and PE and SOSE (Studies of society and environment). The four core learning areas proposed are: English, Mathematics, Science and History (Australian emphasis). Australia is very similar to some other western countries in that it does not have a federal curriculum, despite much talk and good will in that direction. Therefore each individual state decides on the curriculum direction, coming together through national associations for discussion and comparison of objectives. The Australian also ran an article on the same day, Primary school to focus on the basics.

The Principals of Primary Schools in Australia talk about a 'cluttered curriculum' and want to reduce the stress placed on teachers that occurs when the curriculum is too broad.

I get goose bumps when I read about plans for a 'core curriculum'. In fact I get a little stressed thinking about the way the wheel is reinvented when it comes to curriculum aims. It was only 20 years ago when the VCE (Grade 11 and 12) was introduced in Victorian secondary schools that Australian History was made a compulsory subject. Great idea! But it did not last. Was it not engaging enough? Was it too difficult? Did it alienate non-Australians? Talking about Australian history, the first payout was made this week to an indigenous Australian who was a victim of the 'stolen generation'. In the 40's and 50's and beyond Aboriginal children were taken from their families and given to white families to raise. It has taken until now for claims to be made to the government for compensation.

My feeling is that we should be talking about the
method of education and not so much about the content. Content will come and go, history will be written and rewritten but HOW we approach learning in the classroom is the key issues here. Yes, we can build a content-rich curriculum or we can 'narrow' it down to four key areas if necessary but the important idea is to promote engagement and motivation. Every subject or curriculum area can be inspiring and can promote independent learning but where are the page 3 articles about classroom method?

I am heartened once again by reading David Warlick's blog today, he writes:

"....generate the energy that we need to drive learning in flat classrooms, turning them into learning engines.

Those elements are:

  • We are preparing children for a future we can not describe
  • We are preparing children, who as a generation, are enjoying a rich information experience outside-the-classroom.
  • We are preparing children within a new and dynamic information environment with new qualities that seem ready made for teaching and learning."
David's message at the end of his post is about encouraging learners to learn how to teach themselves. Yes, learning to teach themselves is the message, learning to be independent, creative, free-thinking, risk-takers, collaborative, and all the other learner profile words that we all use. Content as an aim in itself pales in comparison to these higher order educational objectives. Thanks David...and this has been my 2 cents worth to add to yours.

OK, back to the beach!

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Anonymous said...

Hi Julie I agree with what you have said. I wonder though whether the problem is the very distinction we keep making between content and method? In the 21st century they are very much intermingled and I think that the Govt is simply not prepared to risk that modern delivery might affect content! In other words they are trying to stop the constructivist revolution that has already happened and will of course continue to happen no matter what they regulate.


Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you. If anything we as future or current educators should be worried about accommodating more knowledge into the curriculum not shrinking it. My only concern though is on of the pints you mentioned. "We are preparing children for a future we can not describe."
Let us not ignore the fact that in some officials’ eyes some knowledge is "more" important than others. What I mean to say is that a CEO of a Fortune 500 would hire a student that just graduated in accounting and business administration than a student that graduated in the Arts as a Linguist. It angers me that we say we want broader teaching but there is a clear spotlight put on certain subjects that we deem are necessary in life. By doing this we alienate our students and put forth further insecurities to learning. Also while we put certain subjects on a pedestal we forget the fact that knowledge as well as our world is always changing. Who knows tomorrow we could wake up and all computers would be obsolete. And then where would Computer Sciences be? These are just a few things that I have found.

Shavon Coleman