Is Curriculum Thwarting Transformation?

My province is currently taking a very close look at curriculum. The reason for this is to ensure that the Program of Study remains responsive and relevant to students as our world continues to change.  Policy makers are committed to designing “Engaging curriculum that inspires every student, every day.”  They are also calling upon teachers to include learning experiences that build important 21st century competencies such as those I have outline in earlier posts. “These competencies enable students to understand their world, engage fully in their education, relate well to others, manage their lives wisely, and contribute positively to their communities.”

So here’s my take on our curriculum. If teachers are being asked to build relevant learning experiences while still meeting curricular outcomes we are going to have to make our curriculum more manageable.  Yesterday, I took some time to count the specific outcomes for each subject area in the K to Grade 6 Program of Study. Although there is some flexibility when it comes to the outcomes, any good teacher would endeavor to cover as many of them as possible.

Now take a look at this next chart that breaks things down a bit more. (and the 850 hrs is generous)  I wonder how easy it is to go deeper into each outcome and engage students in experiences that call for higher order thinking, inquiry, collaboration, self-direction, global awareness, etc., etc. I would say that it’s a lot to expect of any teacher in a system where school and student success is measured by standardized test results that are connected directly to hundreds of curricular outcomes.   

I think educational transformation would move along more quickly if teachers were not forced to skim the surface of curricular outcomes just to get them covered.

The amazing thing is that I see many examples of competency based teaching and learning every day, right in my own school. I also hear about many forward thinking practices regularly through my PLN.

Just imagine what educators could do if our curriculum wasn’t getting in their way.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , | 12 Comments

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12 thoughts on “Is Curriculum Thwarting Transformation?

  1. Great post? How can leaders (principals, teacher-leaders, & others) promote the type of learning you envision? Too often the testing becomes an excuse to set aside effective instructional practices and adopt a content coverage mentality.

    You may enjoy my recent post regarding engaging young people in transformative work.


  2. Franklin

    Good thoughts; I’m curious about the time you post; Alberta Ed says minimum of 950 hrs instruction for K-6, FSL outcomes aren’t mandatory, and most ICT outcomes can be acomplished while meeting core outcomes, so they really aren’t separate.

    How do these 3 changes affect your premise?

    Part of the underlying rationale for project-based learning is the ability to meet several combined outcomes in more authentic activities, rather than the 1+1+1 approach you describe. That means teachers who are already teaching this way might be getting a lot more time per outcome than the minimums we might otherwise calculate – another vote for good teaching as a way to ‘find’ time to do important things!


    • Thanks for your comments. Yes, I agree that good teaching means touching on many outcomes at the same time. In my experience, the problem lies with those who have not naturally changed their practices yet. More than ever they are being called upon to teach differently. If the P of S was pared down they would be much more willing (and able) to try new things.

      Also, the numbers might not be exact but they are close. Not matter how you slice it, it’s a lot.


      • I think the premise for the post is the same, even if the details change slightly in the mathematics. By being able to go deeper into curriculum with fewer outcomes, we could engage in some really powerful learning opportunities for students. Not to say that isn’t happening in classrooms right now but if we could have fewer barriers in relation to curriculum, I think we could see even more powerful learning for students in even more classrooms. Regardless, this mathematical breakdown is great fodder for analysis and conversation. Thanks Greg! I have already passed this on to several colleagues 🙂


  3. Charlene

    Way too many, isn’t there?!
    I think, if you look at some math outcomes, you would have even more as many operations and concepts are grouped, especially in the Number unit.
    The process, attitudes and skills objectives increase numbers even further.
    In PSD70 we are working much more purposefully on skills in processes. I think this allows us to focus on the bigger pictures in most subjects.
    I also integrate more than half my LA work into other subjects. Any way to stretch our time to make more meaningful experiences for kids.


    • Thank for this comment, Charlene. I agree with you that there are probably a number of more specific outcomes I missed in my charts. The chart was a quick tally the night before I wrote the post. The bigger point is that our province needs to take a close look at what teachers are expected to “cover” in the Program of Studies. If we want our teachers to try new things and experiment with the kind of competencies based learning that Inspiring Action on Education suggests, we need to give hem a better track to run on. Integrating subjects to cover outcomes more effectively is what all great teachers do. I just think we could magnify their results with a smaller curriculum.


  4. We have taken the time to tease out what we think the essential learning outcomes for languages and are working on the other three core. That way we can focus deeper on key concepts. The other outcomes will be either covered in other grades or along side of essential outcomes. This helps us focus on the most important concepts


  5. Pingback: Is Curriculum Thwarting Transformation? « The Learning Principal

  6. Pingback: And So Test Prep Season Begins | Principal Greg Miller

  7. Wow. Great post. I think that this should be particularly eye-opening to parents… teachers already know there aren’t enough hours in the day to cover what we are expected to cover. I especially struggle with this because when a teachable moment presents itself, do I abandon the curriculum and seize the moment? A moment in which I know students will be engaged and more likely to absorb what is being taught? Yes, I am a good teacher. Yes, I am able to teacher across the curriculum. Yes, I will continue to meet more than one outcome at a time. However, I believe that this is where project-based learning will serve its best purpose. In teachable moments and across the curriculum. Yet, teachers don’t feel like we have “permission” to do this because we are told to teach to certain, very specific learning outcomes. Students have a test to take with a pencil and paper. That’s what teachers feel like they are up against. Thanks again for this post, it encourages me as a teacher to continue addressing more than one learning outcome at a time and to take advantage of every single second I have.


  8. Trustee Hibbs

    Great post. Something disheartening I read recently. At least one PC leadership candidate was suggesting to halt all curriculum reforms. Obviously he needs to read this blog. I should send him a link. Alberta students deserve a smaller, more relevant, curriculum that allows them to truly explore and learn.


  9. I enjoyed this post. I’m coming to it later than others, and as an “outsider”, layman if you will.

    It seems like an age-old balancing act: wide vs. deep.

    Another thought, maybe obvious one to others, is this: The quantity of the outcomes is different than the quality.

    Generally I’m a proponent of Project Based Learning or cross-disciplinary lessons. But reading this post forces me to question how deep the learning is on the multiple “outcomes” addressed by one project. I suppose one discipline being placed in the context of another can allow for a deeper understanding of each? But is that deeper understanding, or those “connections” being made by the student, something that’s assessed? Or just the individual outcomes?

    Thanks for the article!


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