Saturday, April 30, 2011

Emergent vs Divergent curriculum

Early learning in Australia has a great focus on Emergent learning.  I know little of this idea but I see clear parallels between it and failed OBE approaches.  Yet those that go back three years in my writing know that I actually support the ideals of OBE, just not its implementation in WA.

If (as I suspect) emergent learning focuses on letting students travel in directions best suited to their current status as a learner, I would draw notice again to the frailties of this model.

  • In general, it is very difficult for any but a highly skilled practitioner to maintain an individual focus on a classroom of children - especially in the first five years of being a teacher.  The skills to diagnose, resource, devise, integrate and execute multiple programmes in a room is near impossible for a learner teacher.  It is a sure path to burnout and disenchantment with the profession.
  • Students resist learning in lieu of fun.  If left to their own devices they will not learn optimally.  Pacing a course at the speed requested by a student will ultimately fail the student.  A highly motivated student is a challenged student, not necessarily an 100% happy one.
I would be a poor educator if I didn't offer an alternative, especially for our practicum and graduate teachers.  I call it a divergent curriculum and again I don't doubt it has been suggested before, though it hasn't been brought to my attention.  If we want more teachers that can embrace the best of OBE or Emergent curriculums, then I would suggest this approach.

  • Create a baseline syllabus that dictates 80% of the course, when, what and how it should be taught for all teachers under 5 years of experience.  Have these teachers mentored, assisted and monitored by experienced teachers (5 years+) regularly.
  • In the remaining 20% allow for remediation and extension. 
  • The teacher must return to the syllabus each time a new topic is encountered.
  • Experienced teachers that embrace emergent or variant curriculums are reduced to .8, have increased pay, given EA support and set high performance metrics in order to renew courses.  If courses do not meet metrics teachers return to the syllabus.
  • Results are centrally coordinated and used to justify changes to the syllabus or suggested alternate programmes for special needs areas or developing teachers.
Thus the curriculum is only allowed to diverge by 20% unless the experienced teacher judges that more is necessary.  The load for curriculum design in the early years of teaching is reduced and by the end of five years the 20% "focus" becomes the resource for when syllabus restrictions are released.  Only teachers with experience to create emergent or purely outcomes based curriculum are allowed to do so (as they have a thorough understanding of what needs to be taught and a baseline for how long it takes to teach it) and it is closely monitored.

If we want to draw a line in the sand of where teacher pay rates should increase, it should be here.  Some might be cynical and say choosing five is because I am five years out.. but being more cynical, even if this idea was embraced, it would take another five years to implement and gain momentum.  I have no idea what I will be doing by then :-)

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