Journal Reflections:

Outline::

Journal Reflection -Studying Curriculum Classes 5 - 7

Journal Reflection--- February 29, 2000- Class 5

Overall, it is really interesting just how many connections and relationships that are possible between curriculum theorists, curriculum design, current teaching practice and learning theory. At the conference, I was really able to extend these connections to current theory on education. It was a great learning experience and I hope I was able to convey this message in my brief conference update report.

Again, we’ve got another two theorists to consider and to puzzle with. Donald Schon believes that we must learn from the study of our practice and that our learning is based on prior theories and used to construct new theories that can be used to test future observations. This idea of self - reflection is similar to Freire’s idea of praxis in that learning is the constant action-reflection- action cycle that leads to learning. I find myself doing this very often when I teach. After a lesson, I think about what I did that was beneficial to facilitate learning and what I did that barred the learning from occurring. From this reflection I take action by trying to make more appropriate choices in my instructional design. I would like to read Schon’s book "The Reflective Practitioner" to see exactly how he suggests reflection should be enacted by teachers.

 

In a way, I try to do what Barrie Bennett explains is part of becoming "Instructionally Intelligent". To be instructionally intelligent means to understand what approach you are using and understand why you are using it; to choose appropriate approaches you must reflect as much on yourself as you do when looking at student needs. Schon suggests that teachers get involved in seeking out the heart of the experience of teaching. Schon also stresses that as teachers, we must be able to learn together with our students. Freire stresses this as well in his Dialogical Method.

 

I like the idea put forth about ‘reframing’ problems. It is so easy to see the negative in everything that it takes work to actually rethink the situation and see it in another light. For my capstone project, I want to look closely at the dropout situation for Inuit in Nunavut. To do so, I have tried to look at the problem (or what I term, a problem) from all perspectives or from the point of view of all stake holders. This is a difficult thing because as a teacher I have trouble seeing anything but the negative, dark side of leaving school early. However, from my research, I can see that in some cases, leaving school prior to graduation may actually be a positive action to a negative situation. Schon invites us to reframe our thinking about problems, people, society, curriculum etc.

The battle metaphor is another interesting thing to come out of this discussion. I think many teachers on our staff think that they are indeed at war. Teaching, unfortunately, seems like a battle at times. Today, during parent teacher interviews, I was discussing with a parent how her teenaged son acts in the classroom; he is quite belligerent and often refuses to attempt his assignments. I explained to her how difficult it was to work with her son and voiced my frustration in this situation. Although the parent spoke of being supportive of school and wanting to help, she suddenly asked me if I enjoyed teaching. This really took me back and I had to take care that I didn’t get overly defensive. Of course, I love teaching! I have always wanted to teach! I explained to her that I don’t care so much about the money or the time I spend at work; I teach because I love to see the Ah-Hah look on the face of my students. I get excited when I see them understanding. Now that I look back at our conversation and her sudden question, I can see what she was thinking; all I spoke to her about were the negative things I have to deal with each day. To her, my job must be like a war and the classroom is like a battlefield. Is this the way teaching is portrayed to the public? All I know is that none of my students ever say they want to go into teaching; they all complain that it is too hard and too much work. Maybe we should do more public relations work to educate people about the joy of teaching -- the Ah-Hah experience.

Next in line was Michael Apple. For me, I was able to make quite a few connections with Apple to Freire. Both theorists believe that there is an unequal power division and that society is unequal in divisions of power (or the oppressed and the oppressor). Also, Apple and Freire believe that everything is political. They share the idea that education is a social equaliser because once the little people get educated they are able to create a revolution for change. Teachers really should know the political nature of their teaching. Like Apple, I think that the teacher proof packages have really deskilled teachers and limited teacher creativity; Apple blames Bruner for this situation. As teachers we really need think about WHAT we teach and WHY we are teaching it. This links with what both Barrie Bennett and Grant Wiggins said at the conference - Instructionally Intelligent and Understanding by Design.

Although, Apple makes the cry for teachers to get more involved in curriculum decisions, I worry about the extent of misinformed decisions that can come out if teachers just go any which way they wish with the curriculum. For example, we have a science curriculum set out for elementary teachers. It is pretty basic but it is important for students to learn skills for use in later classes. A teacher I knew decided that the curriculum was ‘not right’ and so he decided not to teach it at all and go his own way. As a first year teacher, does he really have the understanding of learning and the subject strength to make these decisions? I doubt it. I worry about this subversion and the idea that administration doesn’t know what is right. I believe it is wrong to act behind someone’s back. If I had a child in this class, I would be angry to find out that the teacher disregarded the curriculum just because he didn’t think it was ‘right’! Where is the accountability? Although I know a number of very good teachers who would be able to make such decisions, I also know number of weaker, less knowledgeable teachers who I would not encourage messing around with curriculum changes, especially behind the backs of administration. Maybe I was the only one to think this way but I was disappointed how our class conversation really seemed to encourage this disregard for curriculum without research and study and solely on the subjectivity of a teacher. If one really wants to make curriculum change, do it in a way that is up front and well researched. Not just on a whim.

 

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Journal Reflection March 7, 2000 - Class 6

 

Deborah: One member did his presentation first. His book was entitled Who Killed Canadian History? by Jack J.L. Granatstein. He started with a corny Canadian unity song (which he played twice, I might add) Granatstein's big idea is that with all the division in geography, language and other factors, the only hope we have for Canadian unity is a common history. He believes that Canadians are extremely ignorant about Canadian history and he blames a lot of people and institutions for this problem. His list of culprits includes: ineffective teachers of history; education bureaucrats and school board trustees who promote a "dumbed down" , "whole - child" and "politically - correct" focus; the media’s obsession with scandal and injustice in Canada's past, federal multiculturalism which is to be all inclusive and offence free, and the federal government’s unwillingness to impose standardised national history curriculum. In fact, his list is so all encompassing that our group thought the book should be renamed "Who DIDN’T Kill Canadian History?".

Granatstein’s great ideas to solve all problems are to pressure school boards to improve teaching, use standardized testing determined by a Centre for Canadian History (which he should run - I might add) and award more scholarships for historical excellence. His ideas are good BUT what about every other subject taught at schools? Has he considered that ALL subjects need at least the same amount of attention? It certainly doesn’t look like it.

In fact, his whole premise bothers me a bit -- this idea about having a common history which "can unite us all, native born and recent immigrants." (Granatstein,1998). The clause "native born" is especially noted; does he mean those born in Canada or is he referring to Native Canadians (Indian and Inuit) or both? From his list of causes, I would think that any time taken to teach cultural inclusion or to celebrate Native ancestry would be time wasted and lost from the time that should be spent on teaching history.

When I was in Newfoundland during the Cabot 500, we celebrated along with the others whose families derived from countries across the pond. When we watched the opening ceremonies, the chief of the MiqMaq (spelling?) Tribe reminded us that although this seems like a great celebration for non-Natives, in reality, Cabot’s arrival was a disaster for Native peoples all across Canada and we should consider this perspective carefully as we celebrate. This teaches us that there are many sides to history and we must be respectful of the various perspectives when teaching historical information. Granatstein seems to think that by simply knowing our history better (dates, names, places etc) that Canada will be ‘saved’ and unified. I wonder. I wonder if this knowledge will not further divide us - or at least force us to become more of what we are now - humbled and sometimes ashamed.

When my friend first started speaking, I had to remind myself that Granatstein was talking about Canadians and not about Americans. He seems to have an Americanised view of unity and a limited understanding of the values that many Canadian hold dear like the multiculturalism mosaic which celebrates differences. It is no wonder than that Granatstein’s biography reveals that he was born in Columbus, Ohio -- in the States! Ironic, he?

Now, as far as I know, this book is not one that is listed in the Curriculum chapters bibliography. I’m not sure I agree that Granatstein fits as "curriculum theorist" although he does theorise about a particular curriculum - history. He differs from Fullan and others we have discussed because they have given us a wider view on curriculum theory; Granatstein only shows one element under the umbrella. This is just a subjective thought and I haven’t decided what I think yet. Maybe I need to review the definition of a "curriculum theorist" before judging Granatstein. Thoughts?

 

The second presentation was What’s Worth Fighting For in the Principalship? by Michael Fullan. Again, the presentation started with a song - Bob Dylan on ‘change’. Jacqueline Taylor when through each section of the book giving quotes from Michael Fullan to illustrate her points. I would have liked to spend longer on the Guidelines for Action section of the book instead of the first two sectionscult job; what we need to hear are things that can help us fulfil the requirements more effectively. Unfortunately, my friend ran overtime and did not get to the good stuff. which seemed to dwell on all the hardships of being a principal. We know that being a principal is a difficult.

One thing I did pick up was the quote: "The starting point for what’s worth fighting for is not system change, not change in others around us, but change in ourselves." (Fullan, 1997). Wow! Easier said than done - I’m sure. From reading the handout I understand that Fullan's thrust is that fact that if you wait around for external change to happen, you risk further dependency. Instead principals are encourage to take action in themselves; although, I’m guessing ‘action’ would mean learning (?) and not armed revolution (ha!). We’re not told. Even though the book is intended for principals, how different would the theme be if it was to be intended for teachers, or for that matter - anyone? Sergiovanni speaks of leadership density; so wouldn’t Fullan’s book be appropriate for all staff members beyond principals? From my limited understanding, I think so. According to Jacqueline’s sheet, to get the ‘Full’n idea you have to read the next two books. Maybe I will!

 

 

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Journal Reflection - March 14, 2000 - Class 7

Deborah: On Giroux. . .

Murray’s presentation of Giroux was very well done. As a system alternative proponent, Giroux reminds me of Freire and Apple. All three theorists would be very happy to start all over again with an entirely new model of education. Giroux is a post modernist and I never understood that term fully until I read Jacqueline’s reflection. She writes that "the idea of post modernism is that the advancing wave of the future in any society alters the beliefs and practices of the present until that wave, crashing on the beach of the present, becomes itself part of the present wisdom of society and thereby makes way for still another wave of the future." I’m not sure where the quote is from but it more makes sense for me to see post modernism using this metaphor.

 

Like Freire, Giroux believes that schools have done a disservice to disadvantaged groups and have actually perpetuated the oppression that these groups feel. He wants teachers loose our role from servant of the public and become more action oriented to make positive change. I like the idea that teachers must not only teach and role model acceptance of other cultures/voices but that teachers must make more attempts to make connections in the effort of understanding one another. Making connections is very important in my view and I try to encourage this type of thinking by my students: "What does it remind you of?, What is this like?" Soon, students see that there are more similarities between each other than differences. A true global world is created.

Deborah: On Curriculum Planning . . .

I don’t even want to go here because this is discussion that launches me on a guilt trip. I constantly fight with the idea that I don’t do enough ‘writing down’ of my lesson plans. I know what I have been taught and I know what is expected of lesson plans and I know what I need to be doing but I have trouble with it all. I have a good working knowledge of the Language Arts curriculum for my grade areas (4 - 12) and I understand the continuum nature of the skill objectives. But -- I don’t often write these objectives down for each lesson. For me, Language Arts is kind of like teaching piano or basketball. Students practice. They practice on the skills that are required for the activity. Some days they grow a great deal; other days, they plateau. The teacher’s role is to guide and coach their practice, to encourage their improvement in the activity. The final test is the concert or the game. Not each day will the coach come in with particular items to teach, sometimes they will have mini-lesson in mind, but most of the teaching is done by looking at the needs that exist for this practice. The coach needs to have the vision for the final product and needs to know the ways to get to that point. They must also know the child; for each child the strategy to success differs. The coach plans activities to get the student closer to the goal and may try many different things to see what works best. These activities provide practice and not all activities will result in growth for each student. Knowing the objectives is important as the basis for each thing that you do; the objectives are the vision. It is important to consider why you are doing what you are doing and if writing objectives down from each lesson encourages teachers to consider their actions, then great. New teachers or teachers who are new to the curriculum may have to do this but if you’ve taught the same grade levels and same curriculum for a period of time, writing down each objective is redundant. That doesn’t mean that you don’t know why you’re doing what you’ve planned.

When I do my planning, I start with a long-term plans that are based on thematic units. Usually I can progress through 9 themes over the year. The objectives that are listed in the curriculum are practised through these themes; however, some of the objectives are more particular to a certain topic than other. I use a Multiple Intelligences template to brainstorm the various activities for each theme; I believe that students learn in different ways so I must be able to facilitate that learning by giving them the opportunity for understanding in a variety of ways to match their styles. I know my students well, having taught them for up to three years in a row, and I know my curriculum well, having worked on the document in Language Committees. I complete individual student inventories on their skill development according to the objectives of the curriculum. When I start something new, I often start right back with writing each objective down for the lesson but usually I list the objectives for the entire theme as those that we will be working on over time. The students are aware of these as well because they often self evaluate their work according the listed objectives. Am I doing enough? I think so. I hope so. But if I had a student teacher under me -- I too would be sure they had the objectives written down first to demonstrate their awareness. And, when my principal visits my class for supervision, I have them written too. The guilt trip winds up again.

 

Deborah: On business . . .

Business interests in small, isolated schools in the arctic are welcomed. It is obvious that whatever influence may be gained through business advertising in our school, the profit measure is not that substantial for businesses. Businesses who offer things to a small school in a community of 700 hundred people are not looking to gain any huge profit in sales. So, at this point, we’ll take what they have to offer. However, I do get worried when a business takes hold of the critical thinking that goes on in schools. For example, if the new BHP diamond mine decides to help the school by giving them resources on diamond mining, I would not agree with any interference in how the information is used. What if the science teacher facilitates a discussion on the consequences of diamond mining and students discover the negative factors of mining? Should the mine get angry and stop their aid? I would hope not. One teacher in Yukon faced this same dilemma because her students went one step further and actually wrote editorials for the local paper. This woman had to take a leave of absence due to all the stress she encountered over the mine harassment. Such a pity. Where do we draw the line when it comes to businesses in school?