Getting on top of the 07 Draft Curriculum (4)
By Kelvin Smythe
At last, something of utility – the overview of the curriculum areas, but first I want to consider the achievement objectives, and some of the statements leading up to them
In this posting I will consider the achievement objectives and some of the statements leading up to them, but not the overview of the curriculum areas. The next posting (5) will consider this overview and suggest it has some utility. This posting argues that the listings of achievement objectives in the 07 curriculum is an improvement on the previous curriculum, but the problem with graded progressions outlined in an earlier posting (2) still remains, as does the numbing effect of the technocratic language in both the listings and explanations. And once again, as for values, the writers just won’t let go, the same ideas are returned to time after time. The result is the same, bewilderment and confusion.
I will jump over the overview of the curriculum areas to page 24, headed ‘Effective Pedagogy’. This is neither an effective description of effective pedagogy or effective communication; it is a bland use of education abstractions signifying nothing to teachers. If curriculum writers have something to say, then say it straight, teachers deserve nothing short of that.
Designing a School Curriculum (p.26) has one brilliant paragraph, which schools have already latched onto: ‘Different schools will organise their learning programmes in different ways’ and it proceeds to set out some of those ways. This paragraph will be something of a saving grace for the implementation of the curriculum. Well done! Then everything, from my point of view, turns to custard. The writers say the curriculum lends itself to themes, and suggest: Sustainability; Citizenship; Enterprise; Globalisation; and, Critical literacies. I dislike broad themes like this, they encourage abstract studies focused on adult-style outcomes. They squeeze out more child-centred approaches based, say, on a group of people, the arts, or the local natural environment. But a closer look at the description of the themes makes this problematic approach even worse. If you must have themes, I suppose ‘Sustainability’, and ‘Citizenship’ pass muster. However, then ‘Enterprise’ is described – it is not about showing enterprise in something artistic or altruistic’ – Oh no! – it is about being (you guessed it) entrepreneurial and running a business. ‘Globalisation’ is then described. Apparently, it is not a geometrical globe, because the only example given is Asia. There is a good case for giving attention to Asia, ranging from the economic to the cultural, but you sense the economic case is the reason for the example being put forward. After all, ‘globalisation’ is an economics term. But hold on, here is the curriculum suggesting globalisation as a theme, while in the social studies overview (p.22) it is made very clear that ‘the focus of the curriculum is on New Zealand’. ‘Critical literacies’ is then described. The example given ‘is financial literacy in which students build personal financial capability so that they are able to contribute to New Zealand’s future economic well-being’. For goodness sake! Bring on KiwiSaver and drop this overboard. Look, I don’t mind a bit of this kind of stuff, but this is too much. How about political literacy, or artistic literacy, or scientific literacy, or mathematics literacy contributing to New Zealand’s well-being? How are we letting them get away with this kind of imbalance?
Pages 27-28 are about ‘Planning with a Focus on Outcomes’; ‘Planning for the Development of the Key Competencies’; ‘Planning for Purposeful Assessment’; and ‘Planning for Coherent Pathways’. I read the statements but the meaning slipped away like sand in my fingers. The language, the abstraction, the redundancy, the going on and on. Curriculum writers must learn to be confident enough in what they are saying to say it once and to say it in plain English. The curriculum writers play it safe by coming at every idea in such a way to make it difficult for the reader to fix meaning, indeed drains the will to do so.
I do not intend to spend much time on the achievement objectives. As I have explained in previous posting, I find the graded progressions, distracting and bordering on farcical. The curriculum writers are to be commended for both reducing the number of achievement objectives and graded progressions. Also, to be commended is the simplifying of the English strands to two. Graded progressions, though, do work for one curriculum area: mathematics. It is largely the nature of mathematics, helped on by the skill of the mathematics writers, but the achievement objectives are clearly stated, and the progressions make sense. (Some of the progressions in English also make sense.) For most of the other curriculum areas, the suggestion is to choose, say, the Level 3 objectives, and use them as aims for all the children’s learning in the primary school. (I do suggest, though, considering all the levels, and some of the ideas from the curriculum area overviews.) By the way, a number of schools are using the designation ‘learning intentions’ in their planning - a euphemism for ‘aims’, but quite an acceptable one.
As for the language of the achievement objectives (that is, leaving aside my concerns about the graded progressions), I found the social sciences achievement objectives clunky and bland. And continuing a theme of my own, why is economics granted a world of its own (The Economic World), and all the other parts having to put up with the messy reality that is life and living? The English achievement objectives are technical, but mainly excusably so. There is an engaging simplicity to the arts and to the science achievement objectives. Perhaps the health and physical education objectives are a bit stiff, but they communicate their message reasonably well.
(Please note: The document being referred to is the draft curriculum.)