Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The new curricula – from text to classroom practice

Teacher training workshop
The new Finnish curricula came into effect at the beginning of August. It’s been a three year process including endless discussions, commenting rounds, writing regional and local contents, teacher training and coordination of the local process. However, at the moment, I only see half of the process accomplished.

550 pages of the national core curriculum + additional 300 pages of regional and local content is not an easy task for any teacher to read, think through, comprehend and put into practice. Only the volume of it is overpowering. And when each sentence is loaded with multi-layered meanings, it becomes a mission impossible. For the ordinary teacher the natural solution is to go on as nothing had changed and hope that nobody will notice. The final source of confidence are the text books. To rigorously follow text books equals following the curriculum, or does it?

One of the basic changes in the new school culture (defined in the core curriculum) is to strengthen students’ engagement in and ownership of their own learning. In practice this means more individual learning paths instead of the old way of everybody trying to learn the same content the same way and at the same pace. Students search, produce and present texts, photos and videos that they find interesting and valuable. They become conscious of their strengths and thus build their confidence. The ultimate goal being a self-sufficient and self-regulated learner, who can set realistic goals for her/his learning, works responsibly towards them and is willing to take on challenges. I’m afraid text books or exercise books or rigorous anything are really not a way to go.
Students creating "dream school"

In the new curricula the emphasis is not in the “what” but in the “how”. If learning skills, achieving competencies and learning to learn are the main objectives of learning processes or activities, student-centered learning methods are admittedly superior in efficiency. This often requires cross-curricular and real life approach. So, instead of dividing the learning content into 45 minutes long subject based units in which things are learned separately (and chronologically), real world problems or phenomena are studied in their natural environment from many different perspectives. This way, many skills and contents are learned simultaneously and in such context that is natural and comprehensible to the students.

As for the students, even the very young, teacher has to trust and appreciate their creative abilities and own way of seeing things and help them to recognize and use their talents and strengths.

To put the 800 pages of curriculum into a nutshell:

  • from what to how
  • from performance to interaction, team work, and collaboration
  • from assimilation of knowledge to critical analysis of, constructing and presenting knowledge
  • from text books to authentic materials and problems and phenomena in real life context
  • from isolation and alienation to engagement, active citizenship, global networks and connectedness
  • from tests, (sticks and carrots) to continuous feedback, self-assessment, learning to learn, self-regulation

For the majority of teachers this means a giant step outside their comfort zone and a leap to unknown. It won’t happen without the unconditional support of the head teacher and the cooperation of the whole school community. And, fortunately, in black and white in the core curriculum, we are all, both teachers and students, given the right to make mistakes and learn from them. Experimenting and failing are inherent parts of a learning process.

1 comment:

  1. I've been there when it started. It's a wonderful project and I'm glad it's being finally put into practice.
    PS: I'd love to see a visual representation of all the layers in the curriculum, something that truly shows how the competencies interact.