Every educator across levels has their own understanding and views about curriculum and pedagogy and these may be based from personal and theoretical knowledge and from their own experiences both as a student and educator. An educator in the conduct of his or her profession in actual practice would be guided by his or her perspective on what curriculum is and should be. Curriculum studies and development had become abstract and highly theoretical and curriculum inquiry is a difficult and perplexing area of study which many educators are not comfortable with.
However, the beauty of curriculum inquiry is that it enables educators to come to terms with their own beliefs and interpretation of curriculum. The exercise can be quite painful and revealing to educators as it makes them realize their biases and preconceived notion on what education should be and how lacking or adequate their approaches and philosophies are. It is in this context that I begin the process of self-reflection on my own beliefs and perspective on curriculum-based pedagogy and the theories and personalities that have influenced me as an educator.
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I do not intend to justify my beliefs or educational philosophies but rather I attempt to expound on what I think are effective practices and curriculum theories that I have embraced in my profession as an educator. I know that theories are not infallible and some may generate more questions and criticisms than answers but I do believe that it is still a good practice to anchor one’s beliefs in a certain theory or perspective as it provides a guide and substance to what I do as educator.
In this paper, I try to make sense of my own realities and how it has affected my work and my personal life. There are two kinds of educators, those who follow curriculums strictly and those who adopt curriculums to their own realities and learning environment (Eisner, 1998). I would like to think that I belong to the latter. I had always thought of curriculum as a guide, as a framework and as an evaluative tool in how I conduct my teaching. I do not adhere to a specific curriculum nor do I force curriculum to a learning environment if it is not suited.
I have nothing against those who use curriculum religiously because I have seen it to be effective in some schools however, in a diverse learning environment, one has to adopt and adjust the curriculum to meet the needs of all learners. I still see this approach as curriculum-based because I follow the instructional models that the curriculum provides; the changes I make are still based on the given curricula and basically teach the same thing and arrive at the same learning goals but in a slightly more appropriate way for my set of learners.
I may not always interpret and apply the lessons and approaches provided for by the curriculum accurately, but I always see to it that every lesson is a learning experience for my students. There are different reasons for adhering to a curriculum approach, one can be an implementer, a developer or a maker and the choice would be dictated by one’s personal experience and perspective.
I view education as a complete process that mirrors life and teaches students the skills and knowledge that they need to live this life. On the other hand, I also acknowledge the great impact of learner characteristics to the effectiveness of education, thus, curriculum-based pedagogy should not be viewed as a narrow and constricting approach to instruction but as a democratic and deliberate artistry that will lead to a more practical and appropriate learning process (Feden & Vogel, 2003).
I know of some educators who had adhered to the curriculum they had been trained to use and apply for the longest time, they were experts in that certain curriculum and have produced learning and knowledge for their students to absorb and assimilate, but they had refused to learn anything else. I don’t blame them, comfort and familiarity is a much safer terrain than change and innovation. At a certain point in my profession, I had also gravitated towards curriculum fidelity wherein I did everything by the book and relied on what curriculum experts deemed as true and correct and most effective.
However, when one immerses oneself in the filed and puts the curriculum to practice, it is a different story. There were instances when I was left hanging and felt inadequate about my teaching even when I did everything that was asked by the curriculum, I thought I was not being a good teacher, I took me some time to realize that the curriculum I was using was not meeting the needs of my students.
The curriculum was not at fault, nor was my teaching the problem, the problem was that I restricted my creativity and artistry in interpreting the guides given by the curriculum; I was not confident in my own abilities but relied on what was prescribed and suggested. The obsession with following curriculum guides, lessons and content led me to become a curriculum transmitter. I was focusing on what was in the book, in the unit lessons and had very few attempts at augmenting the lessons through additional research or innovative strategies.
The lessons I was teaching was only based on the prescribed textbook and I followed it unit by unit even though I noticed that some units were not relevant or applicable and that some units were not in the right order of presentation. I thought I was being a good teacher by following closely what was demanded of me based on the curriculum. My principal and supervisor approved of my teaching and the system that I followed, it was in those times when curriculum was the be all and end all of pedagogy.
Why would it not be, when it was assumed that the prescribed curriculum was the best and that the teaching strategies and unit lessons covered all the things that students are expected to learn? Moreover, the curriculum was designed by curriculum experts who were knowledgeable about student learning and effective instruction. As I gained experience as a teacher, I begun to notice things, that sometimes the content covered in the curriculum was not developmentally appropriate because students were not absorbing it, that sometimes the lessons were too long for something that was easy and sometimes it was too short for a difficult concept.
It was at this point that I became more aware of my students needs and how the prescribed curriculum was not really bringing out the desired learning from the students. I started slowly, at first I felt guilty about skipping some units but then I found out that the amount of learning students gained was not affected by the skipped units.
I also tried little by little to introduce new information from other books or materials and made use of different strategies in presenting the lessons and student became more interested, in the past I was labeled as a boring teacher, but when I made the changes, I became a little popular and students started greeting me in the hallways. But I did get in trouble for those changes, my principal was alarmed at why my previously quiet classes were becoming noisy, and why were my lesson plans not in accordance with the content in the book.
I was told to revert to my old teaching strategies and to continue using the prescribed textbook only. And as I was an obedient teacher then, I did as I was told, however the seed was planted. I was wondering whether other schools followed the curriculum closely and whether there was some other way of teaching the same content. This is when I decided to find answers to my questions and I pursued higher education to augment my knowledge and understanding of educational practices and curriculum. I guess I have gone back to school full of idealism and the hope of finding the answers to my questions.
When I went back to school I was eager to prove my supervisors wrong and that I was correct. It was only when I had started reading the course materials and the papers given to us in class did I realize that curriculum-based pedagogy is more than an approach, more than a theoretical concept. At first I had difficulty reconciling the fact that there are a number of curriculums that different schools adhered to and that effectiveness is often measured in terms of student outcomes and achievement of learning goals. At best the course was an eye opener, but sadly after two courses I decided to go back to teaching full time.
I thought that I could better apply my curriculum perspective in real classrooms and students than simply learning it in class. I decided to become a curriculum developer in the sense that I would try to adjust and modify the curriculum I was working with. I guess I was too adamant for my own good, because I found myself half-baked, wondering whether the strategies I was using was correct or not and not knowing how to derive feedback from my colleagues or my students on the quality of my teaching. I found myself using one strategy after another that often left my students confused instead of gaining understanding.
I begun to read about curriculum theorists and I was enlightened by their conceptions of what curriculum should be and how it is applied in actual teaching. However, some were too theoretical for me, it was too abstract and complex that naturally I gravitated towards the theories that were more practical, more realistic and more applicable to my present reality as a teacher. But I knew that whatever practical understanding I have of those curriculum theories, I was sorely lacking in the theoretical aspect and could not distinguish one from the other.
Thus, I knew I had to go back to school, this time with a more open mind and a desire to learn. In the next part of the paper, I will outline the different perspectives of the curriculum theorists and educational figures that have impacted my own professional life as an educator and how they contributed to my own conception of deliberate artistry. John Dewey and the Social Curriculum John Dewey is one of the pioneers of curriculum development and in his pedagogic creed he outlined the nature of education and what its subject content should be (Dewey,1897).
I read Dewey’s creed as part of our course readings and I readily found his perspective to appeal to my own sense of educational focus. Dewey argued that children develop through social interaction and the social environment that the child is situated in. Thus, to him education should reflect the social life of the child, he pointed out that schooling should be a life itself and not as a preparation for future life (Dewey,1897). I think what Dewey was arguing was for educators to make their lessons and instructions mirror reality and actual life relationships and processes instead of some abstractions.
It is very easy for us to teach mathematical concepts and relationships in algebra and trigonometry without placing those relationships in actual experiences or realities. In this case, the teacher should be able to make the connections between algebraic relationships to objects and concepts that are real to the student. Who would have ever thought that mathematical concepts could be used to predict the number of baseball homeruns? Math becomes more real to the student when it is explained in terms of baseball, a sport that most students play or know about and are very real to them.
Dewey also said that there are two aspects of education, psychological and social, wherein the intellect and development of the child’s psychological processes serves as the starting point for which education and learning should be based (Dewey,1897). Dewey recognized that the child in the course of his or her development has the capacity to make sense of his or her social interactions and will learn from it. The sociological aspect of education is to place into context the psychological attributes of the child and to ascribe meaning to his or her capacities in relation to his or her social reality.
It is important for both the psychological and sociological aspect of education to be aligned as it would benefit the child and lead to optimum learning. For example, providing psychological stimulation without social meaning will result to superficial learning while focusing on the sociological without considering the psychological would result to developmentally inappropriate content and instruction. In this respect, Dewey advocated that education for it to be effective; it should be cognizant of both the intellect and development of the child and the social environment of the child.
It makes perfect sense to me that Dewey strived to communicate such practice because we now know that learning and instruction must be synchronized and aligned for effective learning to occur, but he was ahead of his time. At present, the curriculum standards of most states dictate that at a certain grade level and age, a child must be able to master and learn a set of skills and information that are appropriate for their age. However, what is problematic about these so called standards is that it does not take into account the variation of human development; some children develop faster while others appear to lag behind.
On the other hand, children who do not perform at par with the given standards are labeled slow learners or have learning disability which strip them from their self-confidence and diminishes their self-worth. In an age where we know more about cognitive development than ever before, we fail at incorporating that knowledge to the social institution that is responsible for educating our children and our future. Dewey was correct when he said that education should be focus on the total development of the child or student in relation to his or her social activities.
But this is easier said than done, when accountability issues and achievement scores dominate the educational system, it is very difficult to honor Dewey’s recommendations. Dewey postulated a curriculum that would allow for the social development of the child, for schools to become social institutions and for educational content to become the social life of the child (Dewey,1897). In this way, the child becomes more in touch with his or her nature and the social context in which he or she engages in a daily basis and which constitutes his or her life. This would imply that lessons taught should be through the experiences of the child.
For example, a kindergarten teacher who wishes to introduce her students to counting and numbers would be more effective if she uses blocks, balls or candies that children are familiar with and have come across it through their social interaction. On the other hand, it would not make sense to teach a historical event to students without connecting it to their present realities. For example, if I teach children about some ancient civilization and not connect it to the present realities in our society and culture, then I would have failed to impart to them information that had mattered and that would have shaped their own learning.
In terms of curriculum content, Dewey had said that every lesson, concept and skill should be taught in the view of the social activities of the child. He had identified a number of subject matters that should be taught to children and this includes the arts, literature, language, culture and science as it encompasses the essence of human life. However, he cautioned on the mere teaching of science as an objective subject as it limits the experience of students in terms of how social lie is shaped by scientific developments.
Dewey also stressed the importance of literature and language studies as the expression and cultivation of life experiences (Dewey,1897). It is important to study literature as it provides children with an unrestrictive medium of self expression as well as an understanding of the social realities of the past and the present. Language should not be taught only as a series of sounds, phonetics words or even grammar but as a form of communicating and the medium wherein knowledge is transmitted, ideas are shared and emotions are expressed.
The problem with being too curriculum oriented is that we tend to rely on what is prescribed and live out our own creativity. Language instruction should first focus on the expression of experiences, the learning of grammar rules, tenses and subject-verb-agreement would then follow because the student has found that language is an effective agent of expressing ideas and experiences. In the classroom, this would mean that importance should be placed on developing students’ language skills such as speaking and then motivating them to become more effective communicators through the learning of correct grammar and pronunciation.
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