Big edunews last week (at least in the UK), was the leak of some details of a large-scale overhaul of secondary education. @TeachingOfSci has a bettter write-up of it on his blog (Edit: and some more here: Gove’s Resit), but in nutshell Conservative Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove has suggested plans to return a model not unlike the old O-Levels (hence the #GOveLevels hashtag).
One proposal suggests that the National Curriculum will be abolished. As @TeachingOfSci notes this will not be entirely true. With just one exam board (and therefore one terminal exam) for each subject, there will be one specification, one syllabus. This might address the current issue of the race to the bottom between competing exam boards, but the notion of curriculum as a larger snapshot of culture might be reduced to a series of content-driven, disconnected syllabus statements. This might be easier to teach and learn, and may even give the impression that students are learning (remembering?) more, but it will do little to make connections and develop higher-order thinking skills.
The #GOvelevels example really delivers the message that in many situations, curriculum is something which is done to the stakeholders. Teachers are
curriculum syllabus delivery bots, test-prep devices; there is little autonomy allowed for the teacher in the class and therefore probably none for the students. So who owns their education?
At the other end of the spectrum are eduvangelists: big thinkers whose ideas light up the stage at TED and other conferences. I would name Sir Ken Robinson as leader of this pack (partly being reminded of this in following #ISTE12 conference tweets). When I first heard his TED Talk “Are schools killing creativity?” I was impressed; it made me question my thinking, teaching and curriculum. I’ve embedded a shorter animated version below.
But then I thought about how easy it is to criticize the current broken systems from the luxury of being outside them. Sure, standardized testing, production-line education and prison-like schedules (and buildings) do little to inspire learning, but what are the real, pragmatic, workable solutions?
Although occasionally you do meet a teacher who prefers the old ways: the mechanistic approach to content delivery and standardized testing, they seem to be few and far between in the IB schools I’ve encountered. Is this because we’re more enlightened? I doubt it – I bet most teachers are in it for the right reasons, though we might have more of a global context. Is it because we have more freedom and autonomy? I suspect so. Is there room for more creativity, inquiry and student engagement? Always.
I certainly feel that as IB educators we have little excuse to be stifling genuine learning.
Teachers and Curriculum in the MYP
Whatever the state of the curriculum, it is the teachers who will make or break learning; who will inspire students or crush their interest in a subject. Are teachers more likely to inspire in a curriculum framework which facilitates their autonomy or and if so, how do we create that framework?
Current developments in the MYP are going to lead to interesting times for its schools as the Next Chapter is rolled out. Subject guides are becoming somewhat more prescriptive than in the past, with assessment at the older end becoming more streamlined (and reliable) in a bid to gain greater credibility with OFQUAL and other recognition bodies. This might be a double-edged sword, though I do support the changes.
On one hand, the greyer areas are being addressed in assessment and concept-based curriculum is becoming a real focus. The oft-forced connections to Areas of Interaction will make way for more realistic Global Contexts. Interim criteria will be published for years 1 and 3 in each subject, reducing a lot of the headaches teachers experience in trying to develop their own. On the other hand, this may lead to a greater perception of the curriculum being ‘done to the teachers’, reducing their autonomy.
I would argue that it is more the former and less the latter. IB teachers can get involved in curriculum review in a number of ways, either online or as part of pilot schools testing new subject guides. More importantly, I feel that what the IB are achieving is a more efficient division of labour. By publishing documents such as prescribed interim MYP assessment criteria and student learning expectations for Global Contexts, they are removing a lot of the bugbears of MYP curriculum work. I can only imagine how many thousands of teacher-hours have been spent in the past on writing these documents, to wildly varying levels of quality and buy-in. This should allow teachers to focus more clearly on what goes on in their classes.
One important point to recognise is that although a lot of the mundane work will have been done for teachers, the opportunities to be creative and design the curriculum will remain. As long as key concepts are addressed in the subject area, the syllabus content is up to the teachers (one hopes – it is possible that school districts or external pressures exert control). Syllabus is still up to us, even if we do need to adapt to local system requirements.
Leading for Change
What will really be needed is high-quality professional development for teachers in schools as they get to grips with the Next Chapter and designing their curricula. Teachers need to be aware that they retain control of much of their curriculum, though will have clearer guidelines on how to design and implement them. Many will need PD in concept-based education, unit planning and assessment.
It will also take a great deal of open-mindedness and risk-taking in our leadership as we learn to adapt to new ideas and a new curriculum framework. If we really want to inspire students, we need to be inspired ourselves. What little differences can we make to really make it work?
As the real pedagogical leaders behind the Next Chapter, I’d love to see the IB really make the effort to seek out excellent examples of their ideals in action and make sure these are available to teachers all over the world: to make sure PD is affordable and high-quality, to encourage local networks of teachers, to enhance the pedagogical content in their conferences and workshops, to make unit plans, lesson plans and more readily available and get them into classrooms. Essentially, to build upon their existing structures of workshops, conferences, the OCC, networks, Teacher Certificates and publications.
So are schools really killing creativity? Not unless we let them.
Some factors that might make the Next Chapter a success:
- High-quality concept-based curriculum PD
- Autonomy to design curriculum
- Support, imagination and role-modeling from school leaders
- Sharing between colleagues and schools
Some factors that might limit the success of the Next Chapter:
- High-quality concept-based curriculum PD
- Autonomy to design curriculum (more work!?*)
- Leadership or systems which reinforce old models for old models’ sake
- Isolation, or a lack of facilitated connections between colleagues (either in-school or beyond)
*I’ve honestly met teachers who have been in the business for decades who had never written a unit plan.
A lot of news this week! ISTE12 conference tweets, #GOveLevels news and Bath MA International Education readings on “Approaches to developing the curriculum” and “Teachers and the Curriculum.”
Thank-you for your comments.