Sunday, October 12, 2008

Creating Curriculum

It was in exploring the information available on Curriculum Writing and Instructional Design, that I came across too much information! It is difficult weeding through all of the information, which is my main problem when planning curriculum- figuring out what NOT to teach!

My philosophy of good pedagogical practices arose during my 4 years of training at Ryerson. We practiced our craft, Early Childhood Educators, in a center which was Piagetian-based in the Early Learning Center (children ages 3 to 7). As I have taught at increasingly higher grade/age levels, and met with an increasingly limited teacher resource pool and students with increasingly more complex learning problems, I have begun to rethink my Curriculum practices. I found that the Constructivist theory, as delved into in my last assignment, fit wholeheartedly with my belief systems.

Constructivism - a self- discovery approach, based on independent, individualized activities, expectations and facilitated learning, unfortunately, has not seemed to work and my students have not responded well to open-ended tasks requiring initiative, insight, self-control and taking responsibility for their learning. (Course notes -1999) I decided to go with an approach that was quite a bit more controlled, demanded some differentiation of the activities and tried to break the project down into manageable tasks.
Instructional Transactional Theory is concerned with the WHAT and the HOW. (Course notes -1999) I have decided to take a Transactional approach to this unit, within the larger structure of ID. I remember reading Merrill (1999) in class and being so incredibly shocked at the outline. It seemed cold and unfriendly. To be learning your craft on a computer simulation seemed to be not quite right. It took me back to my behavioural psychology course for my B.A.A.(ECE), when we had to break down child observations into separate events and in which we learned to objectively observe and create timed observations of very young children. ( They are incredibly busy!)

In my searches I have found numerous references to this type of approach, (Merrill 1999) mostly for workers, as opposed to training learners. After a bit more research (Kasowitz 1998) and (Battistini 1995) they convinced me that the kind of instruction I would like to accomplish uses tools and rubrics that could be placed on a LAN and circulated amongst students in that fashion, technology I do not have access to, which would encourage the kind of learn, practice, correct design that Merrill (1999) has written about. It’s not such a bad thing for my needy students!

I needed to locate a structure and frameworks, as many of us do. It is the organizers that most interested me. Simple checklists that require the teacher to make sense of her curriculum, to aid in the planning and organization of her work. The ADDIE Instructional design model (Fardouly, 1998) is a nicely tailored, systematic approach to the design of learning materials and activities.

1. Analysis
2. Design
3. Development
4. Implementation
5. Evaluation

I have chosen to organize my work according to this structure, to practice, I suppose, what I’ve learned and hope to remember.

1. Analysis

Farouly (1998) says that:

Instructional design aims for a learner-centred rather than the traditional teacher-centred approach to instruction, so that effective learning can take place. This means that every component of the instruction is governed by the learning outcomes,which have been determined after a thorough analysis of the learners’ needs.
Farouly (1998) suggest that we do an extensive analysis of learner needs before we begin establishing outcomes.
She suggest asking these questions:

Who are your learners?
Find out:
• who your audience is;
Context: A group of grade 8 learners, varying in age from 13 to 14.
• what they already know;
They already are familiar with graphing, research skills, mapping skills, data processing skills. In September I taught them how to use a Compare & Contrast chart to analyze information. They have some computer technology skills, in a limited amount, but a great deal of enthusiasm for the tool. Some have never done a research project, having been in self-contained special education classrooms.

• what are their learning characteristics;
Most lack organizational skills, they have difficulty listening, following directions, working together and co-operating. Most, not all, are self-absorbed, inattentive, unmotivated teens with limited exposure to general background knowledge! (I still love them all!)
• what they need or want to learn;
This is the problem! The MOE curriculum means little to these young people who are more concerned with establishing their sexual identity, finding a peer group, maintaining a social life, and going out and play basketball at recess.
They need to develop some vocabulary related to Human Geography, and to establish co-operative learning skills, in order to equitably share the limited number of geography texts and atlases in our classroom.
I have a very few who want to learn and are motivated simply by Level 4 aims, primarily one ESL student and 2 (of the 3!) girls in my class. They will undertake any task I set them and work hard to achieve a Level 4 mark. The others are unmotivated to do homework, keep notebooks in any semblance of order and achieve anything, other than a pass. My one identified gifted learner is underachieving at a great rate. He lives for hockey. (Am I whining about this?!)
• why they need it;
These skills will be necessary to further their education. It will be necessary to master geography outcomes at this level, as in the math programme, for example, in order to go on to the next level of learning. They need it because the MOE has identified these content areas as grade 8 curriculum expectations and their grade 9 level work and achievements will depend on learning this information and developing these learning skills.

I believe it is a frame work for learning how to learn, no matter what the content and I am hoping that I can design an enticing enough unit that they will achieve some measure of success, at whatever level they are capable. I am hoping to help them achieve their potential and to have some measure of success in producing a product at the end of the assignment that resembles at least a level 3 piece of work.
• in what environment will they apply the learning.

We will be working one day per cycle in the computer lab, and 3 days per cycle in my classroom. I am hoping to buy (!) some library time, although in our crowded school the library is used for some language classes.

• What are you trying to achieve with your instruction?
Overall Principles: in accordance with Constructivist theory (Course notes 1999), learning is co-operative, active, social, and requires that the learner make choices in the learning process, which empowers them to place value and deposit an investment in the learning process. I am allowing them to choose a goal they feel they can manage: the number of sources they can find, the level they are aspiring to (across the Rubric- levels 1 to 4). I am not limiting their research work and hoping that some will achieve more than the minimum. We shall see!

It is my belief that no matter which outcomes we pursue, at MOE dictation, I can achieve the kinds of goals necessary to help these students become successful learners. I hope. I am trying to create authentic learning activities which will make some cognitive demands of my students and help them strengthen their brain cells. I am frustrated with inadequate support systems: the inadequate technology and special education service cutbacks, but I am going to take a step-by-step, Transactional Approach which will ensure some success in at least assisting students in putting together an assignment which will expect that they will fulfill higher-level thinking goals in pursuit of the completion of the project. I am trying to build in some space for students going as far as they want to in finding more and better resources in an unlimited internet search.

• Define the need for, and the general aim or purpose of, the course/subject/lecture(Learning Activities).
Generally, my goal is to help the students become better researchers and writers. For this reason I want to help them establish learning strategies: how to find information, what to do with it when gathered, how to write jot notes and create good paragraphs, skills that will carry them on into their high school years. I hope to give them some structure to become independent learners.

Task: To improve student performance on a complex curriculum outcome.

• What knowledge, skills and attitudes need to be taught?
It is in facing a student population that spends more time and energy in front of their TV’s, computer games, or surfing the net at lightening speed, that I have begun to realize that I must stand on my head in order to entertain them, while trying to achieve objectives set by the Ministry of Education (MOE 1998).
My particular charges do not have much access to the internet, I think only one student regularly mentions being on her computer, I do know that peer pressure plays a strong role in their lives. Numerous kids leave school property at lunch time and many do not spend much time after school doing school work. Many wander the malls and just hang out with each other.

For these reasons, I decided to attempt, yet again, to include internet research in this unit of study. These are skills that should be taught using an authentic task: in this case a research project.

Canadian students are weak in problem-solving techniques and strategies (Barlow & Robertson, 1994). I have seen this in my classroom when teaching a particular math concept, division, for example, and they simply cannot translate a simple word problem into a mathematical equation and just try it. My partner was supervising two fellow engineers, he is their manager, and they are designing software to provide communication links from a trucking fleet to its headquarters. Fairly complex stuff. These two design engineers have 4 degrees between them and they were analyzing what they thought the problem was with the code they were writing. Engineer 1 suggested it was problem “X” and engineer #2 responded that it might my problem “Y” and neither of them decided to jump in and prove that either problem should be checked out. They just couldn’t get themselves going and start somewhere. My partner did over time hovering over their shoulders, guiding them to just engage somehow. He was absolutely amazed. Even those with numerous brain cells, in working order, they couldn’t take the initiative to take responsibility for a decision. I thought it a prime example of how we do not tend to encourage those around us to engage, independently, in a process. Teachers are so very much concerned with delivering an education to the lowest common denominator, which is why I have had limited success with Constructivist Theory in my classroom.

Reigeluth (1997), talks about a paradigm shift from Industrial Age to Information Age thinking. It is purportedly the move from standardization to customization -flexibility in learner outcomes, that has demanded this shift. He believes this shift, to provide unique experiences for learners, is driven by information readily available to the learner. I believe that this is why our Ontario Curriculum is so very difficult to deliver to our students. With major cutbacks in educational services, especially in Special Education, we are finding the traditional “rich get richer, the poor get poorer” cliché comes true. Some students are so very seriously behind others in terms of the technology available to them (my school has great trouble maintaining an internet link), as well as the necessary prerequisites for being a Constructivist learner: the knowledge, skills and values necessary to be an independent, self-starting learner. The MOE, in its wisdom to create ways to test teachers and make educational institutions accountable to taxpayers, with little vested interest in developing individuals capable of independent thought and creativity, wants to churn out workers, not learners. We are teaching to the masses, as is done in China (Barlow & Robertson, 1994), and everyone is required to learn the same facts and figures. I am finding it most difficult to achieve!

I think of my students as clients: I am serving the taxpayer who is paying for me to provide quality curriculum to our children. “It takes a whole village to raise as child”, as traditional cultures are wont to say. My clients are the sons and daughters of white collar workers, blue collar workers, an African diplomat, and those who have fled from civil war in Arabic countries. There are families with more education and richer (spiritually, emotionally, economically and technologically) environments than others. I am most worried about my kids who cannot keep a note book organized, who can’t sit for 40 minute periods without flirting or hitting one another, who are seeing psychologists, who should be seeing psychologists, who hate teachers, lose their notes, don’t do homework, are apathetic (self-defense in order to mask disabilities and weaknesses - if you don’t try and you fail there is no loss of face) and would rather play on a video or computers, poke and push and pull each other in the computer lab, rather than take advantage of the data and information available to them.

It is my belief, then, that I had to create a curriculum unit that would break down the tasks for my special learners, as well as being open-ended enough for my Level 4 self-starters whom I would prefer to engage in the learning process is a Constructivist ID manner, and ensure a modicum of success for all of my clients.

Reigeluth (1996) believes that learning should be based on authentic tasks, with the student constructing their tasks, the teacher playing the role of facilitator. I agree with all of this! I just can’t make it happen with many of my learners.

• Set the scope of the content to be covered in terms of time required, number of lessons and topic areas.

We will need approximately 3 cycles of four periods each to achieve all content goals. (I am playing this by ear!) They need to be (re)taught graphing, charting, summarizing skills. Vocabulary must be established, some topics refreshed: jot notes, taking out important details, language skills: reading, writing and oral (many are ESL students).

2. Design & 3. Development

• What are your objectives?
Learning Outcomes
MOE Curriculum Expectations (1998):
Patterns in Human Geography: Human Settlement Patterns
By the end of grade 8, students will:
-construct a variety of graphs, charts, diagrams and models to organize information
-communicate the results of in queries for specific purposes and audiences, using media works, oral presentations, written notes and reports, illustrations, tables, charts and graphs.
-compare the characteristics of developed and developing countries.
• What knowledge, skills, and attitudes are you trying to develop?
Charting, writing, research, oral skills and an understanding of various cultures and lifestyles from around the world.
• What resources and strategies will you use in your instruction?
The MOE web site materials
Clarisworks spreadsheets
Clarisworks word-processing
Compare & Contrast chart: food, water, shelter, tools, climate, education, work, technology, communication
Canadian Geographic Atlas
Canadian Geographic Atlas Teacher Resource Binder
Families of the World Editions I and II-describes family life in various countries

Questions for the learners:

During the educational process the teacher will circulate around the students, provide resource suggestions, computer technology support and encourage students to go further, farther and in a direction that interests them. The “What about this...?” mind set. When using computers with my students I find it fairly easy to motivate them, the internet demands exploration, interaction, creativity and cognitive growth.
Role of the Facilitator:
The teacher will encourage dialogue between students, encourage them to reflect on their thinking, transform their research into a new format (transfer new knowledge) and to present his/her research by guiding their explorations and learning activities.
The teacher will encourage the application of Bloom’s taxonomy to encourage independent thinking and to challenge the creativity of their responses to the artist and their work.
The performance levels of students would be easily guided by the facilitator. The support for the students, in order to get the very best from them, would include a Rubric (I have found this an excellent way of stimulating excellence), brainstorming sessions as a group, and I find that computer work enhances their motivation, stimulates their thinking skills and encourages the learner to move beyond the easy to the challenging.

Possible Questions: based on learner abilities/disabilities...
Can you find alternate resources that interest you?
Show me... What about....? What led you here?

4. Implementation
• How will you structure the content of your learning material?

1. Provide world statistics and develop a chart of information.
2. Computer lab time in order to prepare a spread sheet, charts, graphs- as well as time to explore internet resources.
3. Generate questions to be answered within the body of the work.
4. Help them prepare a written Compare & Contrast report.
5. Preview written work.
6. Provide charts and organizers (see Appendix)

I was reading the work of Carol Ann Tomlinson (1999) and found a most intriguing method of presenting the information the student has learned.

The aforementioned tasks, while required by MOE direction, does not require that they prepare meaningful information about the countries studied. She advocates gathering the data and then organizing it into a detailed information sheet which presents an accurate, interesting and detailed schedule a person would have in one of these countries. It would include what s/he would wear, eat, live, how s/he would be treated by the law, what kinds of problems s/he would face in getting an education, finding work or other challenges. We have just been reading an account of female infanticide under the communist regime (Canadian Atlas: Teacher Resource Binder), another country in which women are paid to be sterilized.

Differentiated work: I have tried to do this by presenting a rubric from which students will choose the kind of level they are capable of achieving. I will be providing lunch recess time for those who simply have never written a project and those who can’t keep and maintain a notebook!
I thought that it might a good strategy, in order to build some success into this learning unit for all students, to provide a highly structured, transactional approach -in order to develop small milestones, at a slow pace.

5. Evaluation

• How will you assess the learners’ understanding and whether or
not they have met the objectives of the instruction?

I will collect work as it is produced and evaluate progress step-by-step. This weekend, for example, they are to produce the chart which compares the information of 3 countries. I will ensure that small steps are made by all learners.

Informal evaluation, to keep kids on track, would be subjectively based on teacher observations of knowledge, skills and values during the networking experience, comments on individual pieces of work. It will require a write, evaluate, rewrite/correct the draft process for many of them. To ensure success on small steps.

Formally, there will be a final peer/self/teacher rubric to evaluate the written work, as well as the optional classroom presentation. This will include vocabulary, content, mechanics of the writing, as well as the quality of the graph work.

Evaluation will be based on the MOE Achievement Levels, as printed in the Ontario Curriculum Document, as required by the MOE, as summed up in my Rubric (see appendix).
Evaluation of my learning:
I have found the research to be interesting. I have used the assignment to improve my curriculum strategies and come to terms with being, not who I want to be (Constructivist -it was easy practicing it when teaching Kindergarten!), but becoming more practical and structured, to ensure that most students get the most out of the learning experience. You have to make decisions based on the good of the whole, rather than the highly motivated, independent learner or teaching to the lowest common denominator. I think I have found a balance, as well as mastering some requirements of the MOE: those objectives set out as required for my grade 8’s.

Evaluation of the Activity:

Strengths: The student can aim for whichever level of achievement s/he feels comfortable with -whether they know they are only capable of doing a limited amount of research and writing or whether they want to broaden the assignment and go as far as they are able: further research and information-seeking activities, to improve their knowledge, skills and values as well thinking skills.

Weaknesses: Our school phone lines are terrible, the computers limited in their abilities, library time is limited to the afternoon, when our librarian is present, and I can get help supervising them and encouraging (threatening them?!) to stay on task. My kids are more interested in many other things, rather than human geography and they are frightfully unmotivated in taking the data and information available to them, via the internet and libraries and other forms of information bases, and synthesizing this information and using to improve their knowledge, skills and values. They are teenagers!


i. Bybee, R., (1999) of the Biological Science Curriculum Study,, as of 10/24/99
ii. Barlow, M. & Robertson, H., (1994) Class Warfare, Key Porter Books
iii. Battistini, J. (1995) From Theory to Practice: Classroom Application of Outcome- Based Education, ERIC Digest: ED 377512
iv. Canada’s Schoolnet, Visual Arts Learning Resources,, as of 10/24/99
v. Canadian Geographic Atlas
vi. Canadian Geographic Atlas Teacher Resource Binder
vii. Course notes: (1999) CTL 1002
viii. Fardouly, N. (1998) Instructional Design of Learning materials, The University of New South Wales, Faculty of the Built Environment,, as of 0112/00
ix. George Washington University, Constructivist Theory, 1997,, as of 10/24/99
x. Kasowitz, A. (1998) Tools for Automating Instructional Design, ERIC: EDO-IR-98-1
xi. Merrill, M.D. (1999), Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional Transaction Theory: Instructional Design Based on Knowledge Objects, Instructional Design Theories and Models, vol. II, p. 397
xii. MOE, (1998)Ontario Curriculum Document, Social Studies/History/Geography: Grade 8, Grades 1 - 8,
xiii. OCDSB Web Site:
xiv. Reigeluth, C.M. (1996) A New Paradigm of ISD?, Educational Technology, (36)3,13-20
xv. Reigeluth, C.M. (1997) Instructional Theory, Practitioner Needs, and New Directions: Some Reflections, Educational Technology, (37),1,42-47
xvi. Tomlinson, C.A., (1999) “Mapping a Route Toward Differentiating Instruction”, Educational Leadership magazine, p. 12-16, Sept. 99
xvii. Le H. (199X) Families of the World Editions I and II

Questions to Answer:

1. What would a person wear in this country?

2. What would a person eat?

3. How would they live their daily lives?

4. What kind of family life would they have-extended family?

5. How would a person be treated by the law?

6. What kind of an education would they get?

7. How would they communicate with others?

8. What kinds of problems s/he would face in getting an education?

9. What kind of work could they expect to find?

10. What other challenges would they expect to meet?

11. what kind of current events would interest people in that country?

12. Any other questions you think you can answer about the country/people in it...

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