Monday, December 04, 2017

Approaches to the Revised Curriculum

The path by which BC has arrived at a new curricular landscape for Social Studies is neither straight nor intuitive. Many teachers have expressed concern over the loss of Social Studies 11, considered a "flagship" course due to it's emphasis on the world wars, a changing Canada in the 20th Century, and meaningful exploration of politics, government, climate change, and global population and development issues. Other teachers have expressed concern over the elevated status for history and historical thinking within Social Studies and the resultant (perceived) demotion of geography in particular -- in my opinion it was not embedded strongly to begin with. Teachers are also not clear on whether the curricular competencies are skills or concepts meant to make the job of exploring content more purposeful, or whether they are ends in themselves, and thus a direct focus for assessment. Delays to implementation have caused frustration (how many times can we teach SS11 to students who have already sat the same material in SS10?), as have the confusion over whether electives should be designated as Grade 11 or 12 or both. The proliferation of choice and flexibility, once touchstones for the BCED Plan, are now seen as fragmentation and indecision. By accounts from curriculum team members (and pundits who make assumptions about these things on twitter and elsewhere), some feel they had too much freedom to make decisions while others feel they had too many constrictions imposed by the Ministry of Education. The very fact that the curriculum across the disciplines so strongly reflects the personalities and projects of individual members is itself a source of interest. Is it even possible for the curriculum to be free from the stamp of individuals? What would it have looked like if others were involved? Whose feedback made it to the top of the pile?

So what do we do about it? It is my belief that the chaos introduced by the planning and implementation process over the last few years, and the resultant curriculum documents, will amplify some of the strengths and weaknesses that currently exist in BC schools. We have teachers unprepared to teach their subjects, who have come to rely on worksheets and modules (usually not their own) or a series of disconnected projects. We also have teachers who have intense passion and knowledge for certain topics or methods, some of which were closely tied to pre-existing course structures and titles, some of which were never fitted to the courses to which they were assigned. For better or worse, the revised curriculum offers a window of time in which teachers may indeed write their own narrative into the curriculum, to shape the very contours of their teaching practice, and define big ideas, competencies, and content in a way that resonates with their core values as educators. This is, of course, both dangerous and exhilarating, and will result in as much bad practice as it does success. If this opportunity is combined with a commitment to take our respective disciplines and our own teaching craft seriously, to hold each other accountable, and to be willing to share our curricular decisions and classroom results with other teachers, then the experiment can be a positive one.

Take it for what it's worth. Along with so many other teachers, I intend to drag as many Social Studies teachers from the unprepared, uninspired side to the knowledgable and passionate side. Trust me, I know both sides personally, and have in fact built many snow-storms of worksheets that have blanketed students over the years.