Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Content or skills?

Should we teach content or skills?

My first impulse is to opt for skills. Teach the same skills to the students at a particular level. We must do this to make sure they can proceed to the next level and be on track with course requirements and their learning.

Part of the mantra at our school is 'Guaranteed Viable Curriculum'. I agree. We should aim to guarantee the learning. But I disagree with its interpretation at ours. And I suppose at many secondary schools. (It was on my list of reasons to leave the last private school at which I taught.) Guaranteed Viable Curriculum has been interpreted, in my words, as everyone lift your left bum cheek and fart at the same time. Crude and basic, I know, but not an inappropriate analogy.

It's about 'auditing' the curriculum - like accountants, no less - on a 'Scope and Sequence' grid. Thanks for that one assessment authorities. I can't even bear to hear certain people say it aloud with its Gollum-like sibilance.

Auditing is about filling in boxes on the Scope and Sequence grid, treating each AusVels outcome as a discrete entity then signing off, assuring 'prin class' that all elements of AusVels are accounted for.

Thus, every teacher at every level provides the same teaching materials in the same weeks as every other teacher, preferably on the same days. Thus, we are organised. And I've just remembered a few lines from Blake. He used the word 'charter'd' and was talking about something else, I suppose. But here it is, powered by Safari:

I wander thro' each charter'd street,
Near where the charter'd Thames does flow. 
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

Certainly fits my mood in regard to our Guaranteed Viable Curriculum. 

Look, I totally get it. I'd say most teachers prefer this method of curriculum design. There's safety in numbers. And sharing; collegiality. Nothing wrong with that. It also works for those who like to be given a sheaf of materials - digital or otherwise - to deliver to their students - especially if they haven't read the book. (I kid you not.) Working on a 'team' designing such curriculum materials is mandated at our school. Means another hour meeting every week, of course. In an ideal situation, with abundant time that wouldn't be bad. Seems to me, though, that the only way to accommodate all these meetings is to continue working on one's own time. Which most of us do.

And therein lies the rub. The GVC is designed, amongst other reasons, to foil those teachers who err on the slack side in class. If they can be forced to attend meetings, forced to write each teaching unit according to a specific framework, forced to write their Learning Objectives on the whiteboard, forced to deliver uniform teaching materials to their students and forced to assess their students on a common rubric, then they will be better teachers.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work like that. They continue along their way while others work even harder to meet the accountability requirements at their schools.

Meanwhile, creativity and spontaneity is stifled. Well, mine, anyway.

I actually like a couple of common texts to be taught at each year level in middle school. Wide reading, of course. Then I prefer to research widely to find appropriate curriculum material; content that inspires me so I'll be inspirational and fresh when I teach my students. As long as I'm teaching the same skills as my colleagues, what does it matter if I use different content? 

Fraud or maverick? Whatever. It's hard work.

My hope is that by thinking out loud I can stop worrying about it and get on with my job.

So content or skills? On reflection, special combo.