What drives curriculum

Mary Beth Hertz (@mbteach) wrote here about #ISTE10′s “Dissecting the 21st Century Teacher” panel. I commented on a few of the lines that caught my attention regarding curriculum and a teacher’s role in maintaining and delivering content. I’m torn there. There’s so much discoverable content maintained out there that it’s useful for a teacher to organize some of it somehow for class, but I think kids should to that, too. I think it should be a DIY process so we avoid delivering content organized for profit by companies packaging blended learning.

An audience member said “curriculum needs to drive technology.” I asked what should drive curriculum. Dan Fink responded in good humor.


Dan’s response evoked some energy for me, so I want to paste my reply to him here; I think it’s a statement worth taking accountability for, and I don’t want to give the impression that I’m willing to let it sit on Mary Beth’s blog, but not my own.

I hear you, and I’m grinning, but I’m not convinced we can’t get away with greater flexibility and student choice. I think we self-limit here.

There are compromises we can make in how we choose to use class time. Google time is a possibility (say 20%). Negotiating state curriculum with students is a possibility (you give me three standards, and we’ll get you a blog and a trip/Skype call to the aquarium for or action research). Subverting the state curriculum is a possibility (A People’s Textbook of Algebra, anyone?). Ignoring the state curriculum is a possibility (gulp).

I feel keenly the conflict between my vocation as an educator to help others learn and my occupation as a public school teacher to cover state curriculum in such a manner that students recall it for an end of course test. I have positive evaluations, but my test scores have dropped since I stopped obsessively teaching to the state test. People walk through my classroom a few times a year and offer me a few complimentary generalities about what they see. Then, at the end of the year, people talk to me about all kinds of numbers in great specificity. I am confused in so many ways by this, but remain convinced that leaving public education to escape this confusion is self-serving. I recognize why I get talked to about numbers and I acknowledge the effective job people do in working with them – I value their efforts on our kids’ behalf and their work with me to push my teaching. I am lucky to be so supported in my work by my division.

My point: if we’re willing to dwell in ambiguity and take year-end commentary on our tests scores as feedback from adults with different priorities rather than as judgment from our betters – our approvers, our gatekeepers, even our mentors – then during the year we have a lot of wiggle room in covering “the” curriculum.

I worry that the easy answer is an easy target for our complaints and thus helps us be complacent in sitting in judgment without acting in accordance with what we know about learning, child development, and human motivation.


I would add that there are fantastic administrators out there ready to partner with teachers and students in negotiating curriculum and establishing more targeted power standards embedded in powerful project- and service-based learning. I won’t name anyone in particular as I don’t want to suggest that this post speaks for him or her, but such administrators know who they are, and so do their teachers.