How to change curriculum

4 03 2008

The following is a response I sent to a request for help on how to change curriculum to meet 21st century needs. It is nice to know that the work on the Classrooms of the Future project is having such an effect. But we are still faced with the question on how to implement large scale change. This reflects some thinking out loud with many areas to jump off and research. I should explore this topic in greater depth.

While there is no doubt that curriculum must be revised to meet 21st century needs and ways of working and thinking, I feel the place to start is really at the level of pedagogy. Without significant shifts in the way we teach, there will be little in the effectiveness of learning. We need to learn how to do new things in new ways, not old things in new ways. We need to see the teacher become more of a learner-a master learner in the same sense that a master craftsman works with an apprentice. I have found these changes to be very difficult. I believe that it first requires the vision and leadership from the head to start the movement of change. It needs to be an expectation.

I would recommend a formalized program of professional development based in the practice of action research. This is where teachers systematically make changes in their practice. These changes are based on the literature and are planned changes. Data is collected and analyzed. The teacher then goes through several cycles of changes, each time evaluating the results of their new practice. If this is done in the area of new ways to develop deeper understanding in a social constructivist environment, then you will see change that matters.

Of course, there is also the matter of high-stakes testing. While we are independent schools, I believe that we release much of our curricular independence to a national curriculum-Advanced Placement. This is not a very popular stance to take. However, I have not seen anyone who could explain how making AP exams so important a way of remaining independent. In a way, AP is the independent school form of NCLB (IMHO). Our kids are creative. We see this in their private lives, online and elsewhere. Learning can be assessed through portfolios that follow students through a program. These can become an effective means of monitoring growth as well as showcasing student’s abilities.

Create opportunities for faculty to collaborate. Metaphorically open the doors of the classroom so that teachers and students have a free flow of knowledge between domains. This collaboration can fit into a formalized professional development program.

Think of this change as a process, not an event (Fullan, 2001). I would recommend the book by Fullan “Leaning in a Culture of Change”. It is an easy read with some great advice. It provides a great starting point for those who will “lead the charge”. Remember that you are changing 100 years or more of curriculum and practice. This will take time. Persistence and patience is a must. Keep a vision that is fresh and challenging. Keep a vision that is progressive and ground in theory. Don’t be afraid to be different.

Change in incremental. Keep moving forward toward a powerful vision.

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