by Terry Heick
Curriculum maps are well-meaning and imminently practical documents that have guided educators–and education–for years.
How these documents function in classrooms, schools, and districts is highly variable. They can be general skeletons, common to-do lists, or the do-or-die, alpha and omega of planning and instruction, products of an education system rightfully seeking to establish some sort of common direction, pace, and coverage.
In his “What Works In Schools,” Robert Marzano explained the necessity of this kind of “commonness.”
“The first school-level factor is a ‘guaranteed and viable curriculum.’ I rank this as the first factor, having the most impact on student achievement…a guaranteed and viable curriculum is primarily a combination of my factors ‘opportunity to learn’ and ‘time,’ furthering explaining that “one of the most significant factors that impacts student achievement is that teachers commit to implementing a guaranteed and viable curriculum to ensure no matter who teaches a given class, the curriculum will address certain essential content (Marzano, 2003).
But while a common and viable curriculum–in many ways manifest in a curriculum map and then units and lessons–may indeed have the single-greatest impact on student achievement (debatable), this is assuming that what we’re after is test-born proficiency of academic standards.
Learners As Creators
The following presentation by Jackie Gerstein takes a slightly different approach, considering learners as “connectors, creators, constructivists.” In this context, the “web is curriculum,” forged by learners as teacher, access to experts through social media, open-access, and the learner-as-connection maker, something that spooks education today.
Education has long-sought to make students creators, but not necessarily the creators of their own learning experience. (Today’s Maker Movement is one example.)
Students “creating their own learning experiences” seems to fly in the face of both current academic standards, and the curriculum map itself. If learners are indeed creators of their own learning experience, then the “curriculum” becomes the networks, the access, and the endless modeling (good and bad) that these physical and digital networks provide.
Pushing the idea further, this kind of “new curriculum” would not simply some abstract matter of curiosity and whimsy, where we throw out any and all learning goals and let students run about, but rather a redefining of what students “study”–goals based on the student, their history, their passions, and their networks and native geographical communities.
Here, the curriculum is authentically personalized, based on thinking and making (which is internal and intrinsic) rather than an ability to parrot a carefully choreographed “performance” (which is not).
And the best part? For those worried about “what they’re learning,” it’s all entirely visible to anyone willing to pay attention.
How to reconcile this with the call by Marzano, Hattie, and other established experts in education to established standards, create common maps, and work together to push students through them as efficiently as possible isn’t entirely clear, though it may not have to be.
The Burden Of Reconciliation
The burden of reconciliation and proof–to marry the new with the old–has always fallen on those seeking substantial change, which implies existing efforts are strong and we need to defend a reason to change. Notably, disruptors in education (a few of which you can see here) don’t make this kind of attempt at all–and perhaps for good reason.
It’s often the awkward attempt to bridge new learning pathways with existing means of assessment, accountability, training, and other moving parts of public education that consistently defuse the potential in each. We “schoolify” all the best ideas and thinking until their magic and efficacy are gone.
So what would happen if our “common and viable curriculum” was, rather than content, instead a set of networks, tools, self-directed thinking habits, and accessible learning models?
Where “students” connected, created, and constructed their own pathways? Jackie–who you can find on twitter here, and her (excellent) blog here–explores these and related ideas in the presentation below.