You Get What You Design For: The Core Curriculum

Licensed under Creative Commons

Licensed under Creative Commons

Where did the curriculum used in the US for the last century plus, and now also in most of the rest of the world, come from? What were it’s goals? Why are the study areas so siloed and non-representative of the way the world works and of how we learn? This discussion in Marion Brady’s What’s Worth Learning adds fuel to the fire for why it needs to be re-examined down to its roots, not just retooled:

Schooling in America produces successes, but the general education curriculum doesn’t deserve much credit. What’s taught—the actual content of the lectures, books, instructional units, films, videos, subjects, courses, programs, and all the rest—isn’t a product of a comprehensive, rational theory or plan. It’s not a systematic sampling of humankind’s accumulated knowledge. It’s not the result of a thorough, current analysis of the needs of individuals or the larger society. It’s not a grand design worked out by our best minds. Incredible as it may seem, American education, this vast institution which consumes so much of our wealth, time, and energy, offers the young not a coherent, logically organized structure of knowledge but a random heap fashioned by ancient concerns and assumptions, political expedience, accident, intellectual fads, hysteria, special interests, and myriad superficial views of the purpose of educating.

[…] the so-called “core curriculum”—the familiar mix of math, science, language arts, and social studies disciplines now in near-universal use in America’s schools—was recommended by the Committee of Ten, appointed by the National Education Association. The Committee didn’t discuss the organization of knowledge, didn’t talk about learning theory, didn’t reflect on the needs of the Republic, didn’t speculate about the trends of the era, didn’t warn of the dangers of adopting a static curriculum in periods of rapid social change. Those and other matters relevant to what schools should teach never came up. Primarily concerned with simplifying the selection process for college admissions officers by standardizing the transcripts of the tiny percentage of students then graduating from high school, the ten met for three days in Saratoga, New York in the fall of 1892, made their recommendations, and the following year the curriculum that still shapes education in America and much of the rest of the world was adopted. Multi-layered bureaucracies quickly froze the committee’s work in rigid place.

Diigo for Language Instruction

Read on for a way language learners and teachers can use Diigo in a way that can seriously jumpstart authentic language learning exchanges.

I recently taught a course to masters students in the GSTILE (Graduate School of Translation, Interpretation, and Language Education) TFL (Teaching Foreign Languages) program at Monterey Institute of International Studies. We did much, MUCH more than explore specific tools, but more on that later (and more on how incredibly powerful it is to co-design and teach with another teacher). One of the tools that I discovered as a language learner, and that I shared with my students, to great excitement, was using Diigo’s annotation features (specifically highlighting and sticky-note comments) in language learning and instruction. Continue reading

Reflection on Persuasion – Teacher Edition

This post relates to an exercise we did in the Communication and Media Literacy course I offer to new students at my high school. We are beginning to look explicitly at persuasion, and began by discussing persuasion in general, using these prompts:

Why do we try to persuade people?
Who do we want it for?
What do we want to persuade people of? (to do something [policy], to believe something [fact, value]). Examples of each type? Examples of people trying to persuade you?
Examples of you trying to persuade other people?

I then asked that each of them reflect on persuasion in their ePortfolios, using this prompt:

On your ePortfolio, add a page: “Reflection On Persuasion”
Post link to Forum by next class.
200-400 words
Share something interesting about persuasion in your life.
Link to something interesting related to persuasion, and relate what important ideas it brings to mind for you.

I offered my own reflection on persuasion as an example, which I link to here, the same place I sent the students. I explicitly put this on my own blog and directed them here in order to pierce the veil between the real world and school; to demonstrate that there is real value in the thoughts we have.

Reflection on Persuasion

This reflection on persuasion was done by me as part of an exercise in my Communication and Media Literacy class.  (You can find the Teacher Edition here).

“On Persuasion”

When I think about persuasion, I realize that we are always trying to persuade people to either do things or believe things. Often, it is ourselves we are trying to convince. And people are always trying to persuade us to do or believe things as well. What strikes me is that we need to be careful — to be full of care — by being clear on why we are trying to persuade people of things. Often, when we are trying to persuade others of things, it is for our own selfish benefit, even if we habitually try to persuade ourselves it is for the benefit of the other person. So we must take care. When we try to persuade others for our own benefit — which is okay, by the way; it is not something to be ashamed of in and of itself — we do need to be careful that we are clear to ourselves who we are doing it for, and to be ethical in our methods. Persuasion can fast become manipulation if we are not ethical in our methods. What are some guidelines to keep us from moving into manipulation territory? Well, I have a few ideas, but I decided to look into what some other people think on this, and found this post by Jonathan Fields, that I thought discusses the line between persuasion and manipulation pretty clearly and insightfully. According to the author:

The difference between persuasion and manipulation lies in:

1) The intent behind your desire to persuade that person,

2) The truthfulness and transparency of the process, and

3) The net benefit or impact on that person


I’ll definitely ponder this further, and examine some of the “persuasion” situations in my life. I’m hoping the audit is favorable to my character :-)


Measuring the Impact of Technology on Learning

Another post prompted by a query from a colleague at another school, who was looking for information on how to demonstrate the impact of technology on learning. Below are my thoughts

To measure the impact of anything, benchmarking of pre-defined metrics is critical. Here are two primary areas where I think technology impacts learning, and within which I recommend defining some measurable outcomes to track. Continue reading

Technology Idol Worship

A tech director colleague posted to a forum recently inviting feedback on whether or how he should re-institute a tech committee at one of his schools. Teachers there had requested it, but his trepidation is understandable, and here’s why: tech committees are part of the wrong paradigm. Focusing on technology is educational idol worship—it is confusing a physical form for the ideas and beauty and power—for the spirit—represented by that form.

I’ve coordinated or sat on tech committees of various ilks and intents, and they always feel like a failure because they are doomed to failure—by design (except for those focusing on how to improve access to technology, or those described below…).

If we need committees at all, then what we need are communication committees; or information committees; or literacy committees; or learning committees; or better yet, we need to just do real learning in the real world, and then any technology that can help you will become part of what you are doing, and people will be—communicating; and informating; and becoming literate in critical skills including all of those that technology can be involved in; and learning; and doing.

When the printing press was revolutionizing and democratizing education, the powers that be’ed were afraid not of books, but of what books represented—of knowledge and therefore power in the hands and minds of the people they had so long controlled. Those in control of books and literacy held power because they controlled access to information, and communication. And that is what we need to be focusing on—information and communication, and learning the tools while we do that.

Our students and our teachers need to focus on the powerful things that technology allows us to do; on the spirit contained therein, and not on the body, or conveyance, of that spirit.

I’m constantly endeavoring to mediate that struggle, to get people using the tools they need, but try to re-route the conversation path so that it gets there through the lens of learning, and not through the lens of technology. For instance, in a course I teach for masters candidates for foreign language teaching, which is ostensibly about technology, we approach the conversation not through tools but through the essential components of learning, how those components manifest in language learning, and then on supercharging learning experiences to intentionally and explicitly leverage those components, through technology and otherwise, as appropriate. We also talk about the critical skills and attitudes that come with a healthy and productive use of technology, and how those are the same attitudes and skills that all of our students in every discipline need to develop so they can leverage technology in their lives in intentional and productive ways. In other words, we talk about 21st century skills, and 21st century learning environments, and try not to talk about technology as a specific thing unless our reaching towards a goal would be helped by it. And then we practice, and iterate, and share.