Our school and a bunch of our super-dedicated teachers are deep in the midst of preparing for a curriculum overhaul next year. There is a lot going on, and a lot of moving parts that we’re working with, but one of the most exciting is our new Global Citizenship curriculum that is currently in development. Proposals from grade leaders should be rolling in over the next couple of weeks before summer break, and I’m keen to see what everyone has come up with.
The push to include global citizenship in our curriculum stems from the unique situation that we find ourselves in at my school: teaching English to Korean students through a content-based, partial immersion approach. The standards that we are basing our curriculum around are awesome: the new BC curriculum standards. They were just released in 2016 and are great and forward thinking. The one issue that we encountered in dealing with them, though, was that the social studies standards are very Canada-centric content-wise. In many of the years there isn’t much of an issue, but in some of the upper elementary grades so much of the content involves specific Canadian history that it would be of little use to our Korean student body.
In order to provide a social studies-esque education that holds some value to the students, we decided to take on the subject from a global perspective. Developing global citizens is a part of our school’s vision, and our push to break down the walls of our classrooms using blogging and technology may find our students engaging with the world at large. Learning how to participate in a global community will be valuable to our students now, and most certainly in their futures as the world gets smaller due to developing technologies.
Research led us to two potential sources for standards: Oxfam and UNESCO. After a happy debate over an hour or so, we came to a consensus that the Oxfam global citizenship curriculum suited our needs best. It outlines 7 understandings, 7 skills, and 7 values that students should develop and learn. The 21 topics are addressed differently across a number of age levels and standards are provided. In addition to the standards, Oxfam also provides some brief but useful documentation outlining teaching strategies that educators can use to approach the subject.
It excites me to be building a curriculum in our school that will provide our students with the skills they will need to engage in the global community today and in the future. Combined with the digital citizenship curriculum we provide our students, we’re set to foster learning that will provide our students with the skills they will need to lead! We’re only just beginning, but I can only imagine how far we can expand our global citizenship directive in the years to come.
One of the most powerful changes I have made to my teaching in a long time has been quitting a number of textbooks this year. While my classroom is not ‘textbook free’, my reliance on them on a daily or even weekly basis has ended.
Now, instead of feeling beholden to the pages in a book written years ago and a world away, my students source information on their devices to solve the problems that they encounter, or receive custom-curated resources created to see to the needs of our particular projects.
The following are some of the reasons that I have chosen to quit my textbooks and change my practice for the better!
Textbooks can be a useful resource, especially to new teachers still becoming comfortable in their classrooms. However, over-reliance on textbooks can hold back your ability to engage students in authentic learning activities.
My classroom isn't entirely textbook free yet, but my goal is to get there soon. Have you ever considered quitting your textbooks? Did it work out? Share your ideas in the comments!
I’m really excited to be starting a new novel study class about “The Giver” by Lois Lowry. It’s a book I’ve read many times for pleasure, both as a teenager and as an adult, and this will be the first chance I’ve had to teach it.
This semester, I’m experimenting a little bit in my novel study class with technology and student autonomy. Here’s the course syllabus I’ve posted on our Classting safe social media platform for my students:
I’m providing homework resources to my students for self-study as they pre-read chapters before class, but am not enforcing their completion for homework. Students will have choice in how they wish to use the worksheets as a study guide. In fact, I’m posting the answers online for my students a few days before we meet in class so that they can check their learning.
Another way I’m supporting student autonomy is by allowing students to select their own way to reflect on the reading they do each week. They can post an audio or video response online, share their thoughts as a reflective blog post, or share an image of a sketch quote on something they read in the chapter that interests them. Here are some sketch quotes from this week’s class:
In addition to our Classting class social media feed, we’re using todaysmeet.com to run a backchannel discussion during Socratic circle question and answer periods each week. While one group of students debates and discusses questions orally in class, students in other groups can participate in the discussion by commenting on screen using their smartphone or tablet. Throughout the discussion students are given the chance to participate verbally as well. Here’s a screenshot of our most recent backchannel conversation:
After two classes together, the technology seems to be integrating well into the classes and the students are quite engaged for the hour-and-a-half we are together. I’ll update this post with more student work as we go through the novel.
Here is a free download of my vocabulary and comprehension questions and quizzes for every chapter of The Giver. Feel free to use my work in your class and share it with other teachers in your school if it is useful in your classes. The PDF file is 140 pages and includes answer keys for all of the worksheets and quizzes.
2) Coding is In!: Coding begins in the 6th grade in the curriculum. Students will also use digital media, manage their online image, and identify personal learning networks. I’m so glad that these necessary modern skills are intrinsic to the curriculum-as- written.
3) Metacognition as a Career Skill: The curriculum includes metacognition and emergent leadership skills. I look forward to seeing next generation's motivated leaders mentored up from elementary school!
4) Design thinking and Maker Movement: Learning includes market research, prototypes, and product iterations. It’s open-ended and flexible enough for the creation of both physical and digital products.
5) Competency-based: Focus is on competency growth to reflect needs in our information-rich society. This change fosters authentic learning experiences involving ‘doing’ rather than memorizing lists of facts and processes.
6) Sleek Website Interface: The curriculum is available online with mouse-over elaboration. The standards are neatly presented on about one page per grade! Working with this curriculum will be a dream, and I won't need to dog-ear tens of pages for reference.
BC’s New 2016 Curriculum is a great example of where a lot of teachers hope to see education going. There are also a lot of other great features that I didn’t have space to mention. I’ll keep posting about how using the curriculum pans out as our project moves forward!
Are you a teacher who sees something that needs fixing in your school? Do you have a great idea that you want to champion and have implemented? Worried that school administration hasn't the time or interest to do it for you?
Time for some teacher-driven change! Do it yourself!
I’m leading teachers in our school’s English program in a curriculum improvement project. In the coming weeks, I'll outline the steps we've taken already and the steps we will take in the future. I hope it can inform and inspire other teachers seeking to start change in their schools. Please share any of your tips and advice with me! I can use all the help I can get!
Step 1: Confirm the Need
Before starting out on a change initiative, make sure that change is actually needed. Perhaps someone else is solving the problem already. Maybe what you see as a negative is a positive to your colleagues and you've been looking at it the wrong way. Any broad change will involve your colleagues, too. You should find out their views on the subject.
Before our first meeting, I talked to teachers from each grade to make sure that others saw the same need. I made sure at least one teacher from each grade was willing to take part in meetings throughout the year. My informal discussions with teachers helped to confirm and define our needs. I moved forward once I knew others felt the same and would take part.
Step 2: Involve Administration
At some point you will need the support of your school’s administration to create the change you want to. It is important to keep school administration informed about your project and invite them to be a part of it. Whether they choose to take part is beside the point. It’s important to communicate in case you need to change plans because of new information from the office.
Once I had a core group of teachers who agreed, I shared my idea with our program director. I described my plan to lead an initiative to realign our program's curriculum. I said that to maximize teacher buy-in it should be voluntary, collaborative and teacher-led. I asked to schedule a staff meeting during prep time for any teachers interested in coming. I made it a point to inform administrators and invite them to attend and take part.
Step 3: Frame the Issue
It is important that everyone understands and commits to a shared purpose. There may be knowledge gaps. Colleagues might be passionate about some things but disagree with the need for others. Framing relationships between issues in your project and defining jargon can ease progress.
I held a meeting and gave a brief presentation about the project. I defined key terms like standards, curriculum, and resources to account for knowledge gaps. I framed our problem and presented a basic vision of the curriculum I thought we should move towards. I reinforced that our goal should be process-oriented change and growing our skill. At the end, there was discussion and feedback.
Step 4: Get Data
Make sure to make decisions based on data and not just assumptions. Finding that key decisions are based on false assumptions could lead to loss of support. Base decisions on solid research and best practices. It’s important that all stakeholders in the change process have input in some way.
At our meeting, we decided administration, teachers, students and parents needed to have input. We scheduled further discussions to determine how best to get the facts we’d need. We decided to make parent and teacher surveys. We left it up to teachers how they wished to gather data from students. Some teachers held simple Q&A sessions, while others had lengthier discussions and surveys. A sub-group created the parent survey. I created a teacher survey and gave it in person to each member of our program staff and administration.
Step 5: Clarify Your Vision
A sizable change project may take years to complete. It is important that as team members come and go the project doesn’t derail or lose focus. A clear vision can ensure that the end result will meet the original goals.
To do this, we had a vision building workshop. I summarized and tallied survey responses for teachers and highlighted common themes. Teachers worked in pairs to create vision statements of 20 words or less on a worksheet. Pairs joined into larger and larger groups to combine and refine their efforts. When we had four potential vision statements, we wrote them on the board. Teachers took turns selecting words and ideas they agreed with from other teams’ statements. Finally, the group collaborated to combine the ideas into a final vision statement.
Step 6: Analyze and Research your Vision
It’s easy to come out of vision building feeling great about the high ideas in your shiny new statement. But, what’s more difficult is determining what exactly vision statements mean. It is important to make sure that team members are on the same page about what their vision statement means.
I made a pamphlet summarizing research about the key themes in our vision to help teachers. I met with every teacher and administrator to hand out the pamphlet and hear their opinions.
Step 7: Maintain Momentum and Walk the Talk
After creating a vision statement you need to actualize your vision over the long term. One way to stay motivated is to take small steps to operationalize your vision in the interim. It will help ensure that you walk the talk each day.
Taking action was the topic of our last meeting before summer break. We looked at the themes in our program vision and shared some ideas about how to 'do' each of them. We discussed Digital Citizenship Certification through Common Sense Education and professional development options. We made a timeline to break our large project into more manageable steps. I created a website to communicate, get feedback, host PD, and record our progress.
It has been a busy couple of months working on this project while studying for my M.Ed. and being a new dad! I can’t wait to see how far we take our project in the months to come!
Stay tuned for further updates! To be continued after summer break! And please share advice to help us move forward in the comments if you have any ideas! Thanks!
Matthew Boomhower is a mid-career educator with 15 years of classroom teaching and educational leadership experience. He is Head of Innovation & Learning at an international school in Malaysia and is a proud husband and father.