Curriculum To Me…

To be honest my definition of curriculum is still very similar to the definition we created as a class. Not because I have not grown throughout the last two months, but because this isn’t an easy question. I will spend my whole career asking myself what this curriculum is (what am I teaching, how am I teaching it and why am I teaching it).

Before the class, I thought of the curriculum as a concrete document. I now see it as a guideline that allows for some teacher choices, even though the documents are official and from the Ministry of Education. I thought the curriculum would be my magic success tool; I would flip to page one and everything would go perfectly from there on out (okay that is a bit exaggerated but not far off; I really did think the curriculum would have all the answers). Sadly, I was wrong. I started to see the curriculum as an uncomfortable, almost scary document. I’m starting to see it as positive, uncomfortable document (for both my students and myself). The curriculum is not my one-way ticket to success but rather it will take my students and I through crisis’s – issues we will have to work through as a team.  Therefore, the curriculum will be impacted not only through the document, but through my own teaching style and background and my students’ learning styles and backgrounds. Teaching is more than just some words on a page; it is everything that happens in that classroom (and beyond, thanks to technology).

I’m starting to see that there are so many ways for students to meet the outcomes and indicators. Therefore, I can let my voice and what I think is vital/what I am passionate about shine through and guide the lessons.  Actually, my students’ passions really should guide the lessons.

What is my definition of curriculum? Well… I’m working on it (and will be for the next 30? 40? years). What I do think I’m starting to see is that good teachers think “what do I want my students to be able to do?” rather than “what does it say to teach on page 4?”

 

“Good Student”

The “good” student is someone who learns in traditional ways (Kumashiro 20).  They sit still, follow the assignments, don’t question the teacher and practice the behaviors that our society deems as “normal.”  They relay back information to their teacher the exact way their teacher taught it to them, without their own – or different – opinions or critical review. In my English class I learned about a scholar named Bourdieu who believes that students who get A’s share the same social economic class and background as the teacher; they get A’s because they share the same common sense and they have a better chance of telling the teacher what they want to hear or understanding what the teacher wants.  I think this is applicable because if I am being honest, a good student for me would be someone who resembles me: female, middle class, engaged, volunteers, etc.  I know this isn’t right or fair and I will have to work on it as an educator. This privileges students who can learn in traditional ways but it disadvantages kids who don’t benefit from the norm or who need to learn in a variety of ways.  It disadvantages kids who differ from their teacher.  It disadvantages students with a different perspective than their teacher.  This “good” student, “bad” student labeling also disadvantages the “good” student; they may be scared to fail or have unreasonable expectations of themselves.

Teaching through crisis means to me that learning should not be comfortable for the teacher or the students. Knowledge needs to be challenged. Also, learning incorporates the classroom and the larger society and therefore, nothing can be ignored.

As a teacher, I think I will need to challenge my commonsense ideas about the “good” or “bad” student. I think I should strive for uncomfortable learning, which the curriculum does not account for.  It will be up to me to find those challenging topics and allow my students to think outside the box. I think this involves not being afraid to be wrong and not wanting the ultimate control; this is easier said than done but it is possible to work on this.  If I see my students feeling uncomfortable, that is a good thing and it is my job to help them out!

Anything worthwhile takes effort; learning without effort is not worth our while.

Three Teacher Images

I think the University of Regina teaching program best resembles the “Learned Practitioner” image:

  1. We specialize in subjects (although it is impossible to know everything).
  2. We focus on learning theory.
  3. I am an Educational Psychology minor, which relates to this image.
  4. We focus on PDP’s, lesson plans, classroom management, teaching strategies, etc. through trial and error.
  5. We are made to be part of the system.

At the same time, many of my classes produce the teacher “as researcher” image through self-reflections, social media connections and research papers.  Furthermore, there is a large emphasis on lifelong learning (although many teachers do not do anymore formal education and often educational resources/journals are not available at schools).  We are told what not to do and sometimes are shown how not to do these things, for instance, how not to be exclusive.

Of course, our education touches on the “professional” image through certification, following the code of ethics/STF, talking about professionalism and mandating required courses.  I would say that our university education focuses the least on this area but we are warned to act appropriately etc.  This area can be very restrictive and also society does not always see us as the professionals our program tries to make us become.

All three of these images that Kumashiro describes are part of our education and teaching journey.  They have negative aspects but they help create well-rounded educators.

Curriculum as Narrative and Learning Community: Part 2

Brief Description of Poem

            I chose to look further into the Gregory Michie’s article “Teaching in the Undertow: Resisting the Pull of Schooling-As-Usual.”  The topic of my poem is about focusing on our teaching dreams even though there is pressure to conform to the mainstream practices.  I choose to create a sestina poem because of the intricate structure.  A sestina poem has 39 lines, with 6 main stanzas and an envoi.  A sestina highlights 6 main words, which are placed at the end of each line.  The ending words are dispersed in an ABCDEF, FAEBDC, CFDABE, ECBFAD, DEACFB, BDFECA, ECA pattern, throughout each stanza respectively.  My focus words are: “dreams,” “means,” “common streams,” “teams,” “oppressive regimes,” and “mainstream.”  The repetition of words makes the theme very prominent.  Each stanza represents a theme found in Michie’s article: stanza one introduces the topic, stanza two highlights our teaching dreams, stanza three outlines the importance of finding an ally, stanza four mentions the importance of starting small, stanza five talks about questioning our practices and balancing order and control, stanza six discusses holding on to hope and the envoi concludes the dream theme.  Specific quotes from the article are used in the poem to reinforce Michie’s main advice.  My main purpose for the poem was to focus on the complexities of teaching, while ensuring the reader that we can accomplish our dreams by following specific steps and focusing on our goals.

Keep Your Eye on Your Dreams

  • The undertow of teaching can tear you from your dreams.
  • There is so much to do when you realize what teaching really means.
  • Focus on your goals, lest you catch yourself in the common stream.
  • Make “dedicated, caring” and “visionary teacher” (45) teams,
  • that question schools that “[serve] as…  oppressive” (48)  regimes.
  • Hold on to hope and break away from the mainstream.
  • As educators we must do more than follow the mainstream.
  • “Active spaces,” (44) creative thoughts and inclusion are part of the dream;
  • create chances for students to “think critically” (44) and consider oppressive regimes.
  • As a new teacher, you may not have the means,
  • so “seek out allies” (45) and form community teams.
  • The undertow of teaching can be the stealthiest of streams.
  • Making connections allows you to diverge from the common streams.
  • You can even accept advice from “traditional” (45) teachers who follow the mainstream.
  • This allows for supportive, “[multi]-dimensional” (45) teams.
  • Yes, cynicism is “widely contagious” (45) but so is following your dreams.
  • Don’t use common excuses as your only means,
  • for being a “dead end… teacher” (46) who simply follows oppressive regimes.
  • “You can’t do everything you’d planned” (46) to combat oppressive regimes,
  • but starting small allows some divergence and variety in the streams.
  • Realize that you can control the environment, using it as a means
  • to value (47) all students’ thoughts and ideas and diverge from the mainstream.
  • Sometimes starting with the small things is an easy way to accomplish your dreams.
  • Decisions and representations (47) of all students create an inclusive classroom team.
  • “Question the value and effectiveness of what you are” (50) teaching as a team.
  • Don’t forget the content, the “larger context,” (49) that can support oppressive regimes.
  • The bias in textbooks and the null curriculum can destroy your inclusionary dreams.
  • There is a “premium of order and control” (48) on the common stream,
  • but “[obsessing] over order and control” (49) makes us stick to the mainstream.
  • Put “your own spin on things” (47) and question what you mean.
  • Hold on to hope and “appreciate the good moments” (50) for what they mean.
  • You may face “personal limitations” but “[work] toward something better” (50) as a team.
  • Explicitly teach children about the privilege of the mainstream (49).
  • Self-examination is the first step towards combating oppressive regimes.
  • There is no set formula for the non-status quo, so if you pick this stream
  • it will not be an easy go; but it’s quite a small exchange for accomplishing your dreams.
  • Consider what being a teacher means; it’s about combatting oppressive regimes.
  • You might stumble in the wrong streams but “forgive yourself” (50) and consult your team.
  • The undertow will push you towards the mainstream, but keep your eye on your dreams.

Curriculum as Narrative and Learning Community: The New Teacher Book Summaries

The New Teacher Book Summaries

Gregory Michie’s “Teaching in the Undertow: Resisting the Pull of Schooling-As-Usual” highlights the many demands that educators face and how we need to carefully pick our battles.  As a first year teacher, Michie realized that there was a gap between what he wanted to do and what he could do.  It is important to set reasonable goals and not make excuses because they are “the dead end for the committed teacher” (46).  New educators cannot solve all of the problems and injustices at once, but if they find an ally, question the content, examine their own privilege and “appreciate the good moments” (50) they will be able to win some of the battles.

Rita Tenorio’s “‘Brown Kids Can’t Be in Our Club:’ Raising Issues of Race with Young Children” outlines the importance of starting discussions about race at an early age and provides age-appropriate examples.  Students “mirror the attitudes of… society” (84) and adopt racist and exclusionary beliefs from an early age.  Talking about race allows students to realize their similarities and differences and it challenges their assumptions before they are too concrete.  Race is a potentially controversial topic but “address[ing] the issues head-on” (90) will create a more tolerant generation.

Sudie Hofmann’s “Framing the Family Tree: How Teachers Can Be Sensitive to Students’ Family Situations” outlines the importance of getting to know our learners.  We cannot assume that everyone has the same family situation.  Educators must accommodate many different family types by creating inclusive letters, incorporating diverse resources and visually representing diversity.  We often do not think about family situations when we make a unit plan, but it is important that all students are able to participate in the same activity without being alienated for not representing the “norm.”

In “Heather’s Moms Got Married,” Mary Cowhey talks about introducing young students to different family structures.  She encourages conversations in her classroom about exclusion, sexism, teasing and name-calling.  Furthermore, Mary states that it is important to include literature that highlights diverse families, for instance, same-sex or adoptive families.  Our “fear of raising potentially controversial topics, remains the status quo in many schools” (106) and can account for our lack of growth.  We need to discuss diversity so that our students can grow and learn to accept each other.

“Out Front” by Annie Johnston talks about creating a safe environment for all students, including gay and lesbian youth.  Educators play a vital role in advocating for students, creating an accepting environment and stopping bullying.  Schools should create and enforce a zero tolerance for bullying policy; inclusive language should be explicitly taught.  Furthermore, in order for students to realize that “gay people… are a normal part of our society” we need to include them in our curriculum from “elementary school on” (119).  Teachers need to be role models for their students and support one another in order for gay and lesbian youth to be included and feel safe at school.

“‘Curriculum Is Everything That Happens:’ An Interview with Veteran Teacher Rita Tenorio” defines curriculum as all of the positive and negative academic and environmental factors that kids learn from at school; curriculum includes “relationships, attitudes, feelings, [and] interactions” (165).  The curriculum is also impacted by the “larger social forces” (164).  Tenorio recommends getting to know your students, being open to learning, identifying your own stereotypes, questioning what is being taught, and finding allies.  She suggests that teachers must “find a way to go beyond what is being scripted” (166) because what is being practiced does not always foster multiple intelligences or allow for inclusion.

Bob Peterson and Kelley Dawson Salas’ article “Working Effectively with English Language Learners” describes how to make your classroom inclusive and beneficial to English language learners.  It is important to “speak slowly, audibly, and clearly” (185).  Using “visual cues,” small group work and “active methods of learning” (185) can help ELL students.  It is important to introduce concepts ahead of time and practice student-based learning.  Teachers should try to learn about their students and their cultures.  Furthermore, teachers must get their students the support they need; ELL learners may have other special needs and it is the job of the educator to realize this.

In the article, “Teaching Controversial Content” by Kelley Dawson Salas, she expresses the fears teachers have about teaching controversial topics.  Salas suggests that fear is needed for growth.  We have the greatest control over our classrooms and can take chances, as long as we follow the curriculum.  However, it is important to inform parents and administrators about controversial topics.  New teachers should not ignore potentially controversial topics due to their fears because it is important to start conversations at an early age.  As a new teacher, you can research social justice lessons to get started but these topics cannot be ignored.

Bill Bigelow’s “Even First-Year Teachers Have Rights” describes a time when he taught a book that had controversial topics.  A parent complained to the principal and this resulted in tension between the administrator and Bigelow.  The administrator made him scratch out the swear words and “limited… the inventiveness of [this] new teacher” (210).  The book was a curriculum text and therefore, Bigelow did not do anything wrong.  Bigelow got support from the union and a veteran teacher and realized that he actually had a lot of freedom.  In the end, he realized that parents are not always the enemy but they do need to be included in their children’s learning.  It is important that first year teachers realize what their rights are so that they can handle conflict appropriately.

“Unwrapping the Holidays: Reflections on a Difficult First Year” by Dale Weiss outlines the struggles that he had as a first year teacher when he tried to implement change.  In a staff meeting, Weiss proposed that the library should have Christmas decorations, as well as, decorations from other religious holidays.  The other teachers took offense to this; they said they were uncomfortable teaching what they did not know about, they were more experienced than Weiss and that they were “used to doing the same things every year” (320).  Weiss learned that he should have approached the controversial Christmas topic differently; he could have brought it up in another season or waited until he had been in the school for more than a few months.  It is important to critique our own schools but implementing change needs to be approached in a very cautious manner.

Teaching Treaties

The article “Teaching Treaties as (Un)Usual Narratives: Disrupting the Curricular Commonsense” describes the curriculum as the “collective story we tell our children about our past, present and our future” (p. 560).  If the curriculum is a story, why do we always pick up the same book?  Furthermore, why do we always pick the story about the past when there are new stories being stocked on the shelves?  Stories about treaties are largely part of the null curriculum in Saskatchewan schools; they are the stories collecting dust on the shelves. Treaty education should not simply be a book that never gets picked up and when it does get picked, it should focus on the present/future, as much as, it does the past.

In my first year at the University of Regina I took a native studies course.  It was very informative and I was surprised by how little I knew  about Saskatchewan’s history (OUR history).  It baffles me that most students in Saskatchewan do not learn about treaties.  Instead, we learn about some queen in England. I think this speaks to the impractically of the curriculum: learning calculus before taxes, WW2 before Canada’s own racist/genocide stories, reading Shakespeare before we can even write, etc.

Teaching students about treaties might be hard to do considering I am white. Who wants to be the nice white lady? But when it comes down to it, I will just have to suck it up and do it. No one ever died from reading another story (right?).  In my opinion, it will be important to pick “books” from both the past and present that will allow students to learn about themselves and others, acknowledge different perspectives, learn about race/racism and engage in critical thinking.

If our government/schools/curriculum/current environment/etc. tries to throw different stories/perspectives to the side… well, there is always a way to get into the restricted section. 🙂

Painter Article

Well, that was quite the read.

The author compares students to seeds.  We know that seeds can grow into trees if they are in an environment filled with sun and water.  If students are the seeds, then we can compare education to the water/sunlight.  So far, so good. Until you read on and find out that only SOME seeds can “result [in] a noble manhood, whose highest exemplification, the ideal of all culture, is Christ” (p. 2).  Children whose branches bend a different way are obviously “others” and uncivilized.

The author describes China’s education system in the most stereotypical and racist ways. He describes the entire group of people as “destitute of deep moral convictions,” “tyrannical,” and “cruel” (p. 10). Apparently everyone there is also patient and economical. Oh, and the “Chinese for many ages made little progress in civilization” (p. 10).  WHAT!? ONE WORD: PAPERMAKING!

When describing India, the author states that their educational system is more important since they are “of the same blood as ourselves” (p. 15).  We start to see that race is obviously hierarchical.  White, Christian males represent the trees without bent branches, people from India represent trees with some bent branches, people from China represent trees with many bent branches, and uncivilized groups represent seeds that didn’t even break through the soil because “their education is thus too primitive” to even be considered (p. 8).  Furthermore, woman are ignored and not even mentioned until page nine.  People from India are all apparently gentle, polite and ungrateful (p. 17).  Their educational system fosters an outdoor aspect and children start school at six or seven.  The author describes this system as “defective” because the “children make but little progress; they take a month or more to learn the alphabet, a year or two to learn to read, and still longer to write” and they focus on “useless arithmetical tables” (p. 19).  These students do not study physical education because “this is a blessing reserved for the hardier children of the West” (p. 20).  All I can say to that is, where are you getting your information from? Obviously, this author is unable to consider more than one perspective. Commonsense views about education are definitely at play here and this shows how oppressive commonsense can be.

The author states that “education is not creative” (p. 5). Following these beliefs about education and cultures, education truly is not creative. Did the author just get something correct? If teachers practiced these ideas education would be closed-minded, exclusive and only favor one way of thinking. Did people truly believe articles like this? If so, this makes me question what we are doing/believing now and teaching our students that will make future generations cringe when they read about it.

Well, I best stop now because I think my blood pressure is getting a bit high.

Types of Curriculum

It is easy to see how commonsense influences our curriculum.

The written /mandated curriculum is obviously influenced by commonsense.  Those in power decide  what knowledge is important and what should be taught. Keeping in mind that not everyone would share the same ideas, the written curriculum can offer one singular view of what commonsense is.  For example, only one worldview is often expressed due to limited resources. The written curriculum is oppressive or exclusive to some people.  The written curriculum shows us what we should teach.

The hidden curriculum (what students learn but isn’t part of the formal curriculum) contains commonsense elements.  The first thing that comes to my mind as a future inclusive educator is segregation! What are we teaching students if we segregate those with different learning needs? Students will learn that those students are different or do not belong and soon enough it becomes a common/shared idea.  Once exclusive ideas are formed they are almost impossible to change.  Actions are more powerful than words.

Curriculum as a place can involve the commonsense of a specific community, culture, religion, etc. This shows that there is not one commonsense idea and that it changes from place to place.

Furthermore, the null curriculum (what we leave out or do not focus on) shapes what kids believe should happen or is important.  For example, I am telling my students that race doesn’t matter if I never teach them about it, whether I believe that to be true or not.

Since we are surrounded by commonsense ideas everyday, it does not surprise me that or class definition about curriculum largely reflects a commonsense view. As future teachers, we have the power to reshape ideas of commonsense through our words, but more importantly, through our actions. We need to consider who our resources favor, how our actions may exclude a group or person and the message we are sending our students when we don’t teach something.  If we think about those things and critically look at our teaching we will be able to offer an education for our students that goes past the basic status quo.

Commonsense

Kumashiro defines commonsense as the routines and traditions of our culture that are imbedded into our education system.  Commonsense is rarely ever questioned because it is hard to recognize; it is what has surrounded us our entire lives and what we have grown up subconsciously knowing and learning.  In saying that, these surroundings that we take for granted might seem very peculiar to others.  If a teacher from another part of the world came into our schools, he or she may take a while to become accustomed to our everyday routines.  For instance, in North America we usually organize our education system into a few main subject areas where students are grouped based on their age and/or abilities. We do this without much thought or critique but a teacher from another part of the world might be accustomed to completely different educational practices; they may have a completely different idea about the way things should be done.  I would personally consider commonsense to be the hidden curriculum because we are constantly teaching commonsense to our students, whether we know it or not.  Kumashiro states that “common sense does not tell us that this is what schools could be doing; it tells us that this and only this is what schools should be doing” (2009, XXXV).  The problem with accepting commonsense and not questioning our surroundings is that we may fail to recognize oppressive practices.  Therefore, we need to work hard to examine what we take for granted and challenge the status quo.  This often means breaking away from our comfort zone to examine our believes.

It may seem like challenging commonsense is an impossible task for teachers – among the many other tasks teachers have including, assessing students, preparing students for an unknown job market and including all types of learners in one classroom – but “the fact that the classroom is fraught with challenges and constraints is not an excuse for failing to grapple with social justice issues and anti-oppressive pedagogies” (Kumashiro, 2009, XIX).  There is an ideal notion “of what teachers should be” and I believe it is our job to create our own goals and definitions (Kumashior, 2009, XVIII).  “What is your ideal?”  “What kind of teacher do you want to be?” “What does commonsense look like to you?”  We must ask ourselves these questions and many more. These goals and definitions should always be changing because as we learn from our students our own perspectives should adapt.  I do not think we can all become the textbook “ideal” teacher but we can work towards meeting our own goals and becoming our own ideal.  For me, being an ideal teacher is being inclusive.  An ideal teacher builds a “network of trust with the parents and community members” (Kumashiro, 2009, XIX). The teacher gets to know each one of their students and creates appropriate goals and assessment opportunities based on the needs and strengths of all the learners in one classroom.  As I continue on this teaching journey, my definition of the ideal teacher will evolve.

I am completely shocked that in the States they make schools compete like business, in hopes of “motivate(ing) educators to work hard to do better” (Kumashiro, 2009, XXII).  This ignores social factors and I think it is morally wrong to learn only for competitive reasons.  Since the research suggests this causes further racial issues and social problems I cannot believe they still follow that model.  Sadly, I can see our Canadian schools also following this trend in regards to our marking system and segregated schools.  I think this is a prime example of where the commonsense needs to be challenged!  We need to consider that the “curriculum standards reflect what some in society believe are the things that students should know and be able to do” (Kumashiro, 2009, XXIV).  We also need to consider what it means to learn and why we value learning; I hope that we would not consider competition as one of those values.  I believe that we need to adapt the curriculum based on our student population and their needs.  It should only be a guide and it should include more than just one definition of commonsense.