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school-based curriculum

02 Oct Meeting the Challenges of a School-Based Curriculum

By Amanda Scott, Casablanca American School

When teachers make a step forward in designing, conducting, and evaluating the curriculum as well as revise it, they are practically moving towards extending and developing themselves (Fat-hi Vajargah, Koorosh, 2008).

Yes!, we exclaim, and yet creating an organizational framework with all the supporting structures that  teachers need to become ‘extended professionals’  is one of the challenges that brings us together time and time again at events like this Curriculum Summit in Tangiers.  Asking the right, and therefore often difficult questions about curriculum development has been a constant driver and motivator in my work as teacher, administrator, and researcher. The aim of this roundtable is to provide a forum for practitioners to also raise questions, identify our challenges, and, especially, to share emboldening practice.

This blog entry is a selection of extracts from an investigation conducted recently as part of my own study. These ‘prompts’, a patchwork of research claims and observations will serve as a backdrop to our discussion, which will no doubt generate its own unique line of inquiry as we exchange rich narratives from our experience. 

I invite you to take a moment to read and react to the claims, identify your own beliefs and standpoint, as well as those that are promoted in your school.

In developing a school-based curriculum, the process and the result are equally important. In other words, the aim is to promote professional growth in teachers and development of school, so that students can learn more effectively. School based curriculum emphasizes participation, is grassroots’ in nature and is sensitive to the local contexts (adapted from Education Bureau of Hong Kong website, edb.gov.hk)

The weightiest caveat for success that recurs in case study research is that in order to orchestrate and sustain the recognized benefits (of a school-based curriculum), the leadership team must commit to providing ongoing, relevant and rigorously relevant professional development. Schools must also nurture an open climate for research and experimentation and ensure that protocols are in place to facilitate effective collaboration. Experts must be identified and timekeepers appointed at all stages of the curriculum development process as a guarantee that the benefits of responsiveness and creativity do not get squandered away by unresolved disagreement and indecision. In so doing, a school may satisfy, at least to a degree, the major principles of school-based curriculum development: the school acts as a social institution that is responsive to its environment, there exists a large measure of freedom for the teacher with high emphasis on the examination of research and there is appropriate provision of professional development to support the effort.

Overall, a school-based ‘organic’ approach to curriculum decision-making, development and reform is recognized as a good thing. Teachers have a voice at multiple entry levels through a process that meaningfully connects daily practice to the formal curriculum. Teachers grow through their interaction with theoretical frameworks and research as well as through the collaborative work with their colleagues. A benefit for students is that the school-based curriculum is more likely to be situated in meaningful and relevant contexts, an important factor for student motivation (Little, 2002). Student voice is also heard through the many discussions that take place about them as learners in the consideration of curriculum revision.

Teachers create the real curriculum, every day, and most agree that teachers are best when they are creative, ‘not technicians serving daily portions of someone else’s goods’ (Christensen, 2006). It makes sound educational sense for schools that have the option to involve and support their teachers wholeheartedly in the curriculum development process.

Interestingly, a review of the research concerned with local curriculum models revealed that whilst many reported support for pedagogical expertise and content knowledge, few studies paid attention to curriculum design expertise. It appears that this might be the critical component with important implications for practice. Without adequate investment to provide teachers with the relevant skills for curriculum design, it may only be possible to view the teacher as a ‘technician’.

Whereas the expert researcher constructs theory and design from a wide range of experiences from which he is distanced, by comparison the teacher’s view can be considered limited, but compensated by detail, depth and continuity (Stenhouse, 1985)

Fullan (1993) who writes extensively on change management asks the question: as teachers do not disseminate curriculum change effectively, why not involve them in the change?

Kelly (2004) suggests that one way of measuring the organizational health of a school is in respect to its likely receptivity to change and development, and “teachers, not curriculum packages, are the agents of change […]”

It is possible to overlook one important assumption when discussing the nature of teacher involvement in curriculum development. This is that the implicit collaborative process will be efficient and effective whereas in reality, it is often wrought with tensions and power struggles (Petrie, 1995)

Share you reflections with us at pd@rubicon.com!

After packing her bags and heading south to France to savor the delights of the Mediterranean climate and lifestyle, Amanda began her teaching career in the French national school system. It was here that Amanda discovered her passion for developing curriculum as she worked with local teachers to design foreign language programs for young children. Many hats and a few international schools later, Amanda likes to be a part of the constant buzz created by our global learning communities that are always questioning and on the move.

school-based curriculum

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