Embracing the Transformed Curriculum Part 1: Thoughts from Drama Class
Drama is itself multifaceted and can be used to develop children’s expertise across a range of literacies. Literacy is not simply the ability to read and write, but encompasses all aspects of communication and understanding.
Baldwin & Felming 2003
Education in British Columbia is undergoing a significant shift and in September teachers may have the option to implement a renewed curriculum. According to the Ministry of Education “transformation in curriculum and assessment will help teachers create learning environments that are both engaging and personalized for students.” Does a renewed curriculum mean we are starting everything from scratch? Absolutely not, meeting personal student needs and providing engaging learning environments are already a significant part of effective teaching. The transformation is simply aligning what we know and already do with the curriculum and learning that is communicated to parents. The transformed curriculum is less prescriptive and allows teachers to tailor the learning opportunities they provide to meet the individual learning needs of their students. Although content knowledge is still important it is no longer the driver for instruction and planning. Through learning area content teachers build capacity for a deeper understanding of key concepts and facilitate growth across cross-curricular competencies that will foster life-long learning.
Although this sounds great I know many teachers are wondering how to make the transition? Especially since the curriculum is so new that there are limited instructional examples. In part 2 of this blog post I will describe my thought process in planning with the transformed curriculum as a guide. This is my first attempt mapping out the learning opportunities and assessment practices aligned with the renewed curriculum and since examples are scarce this makes me a bit nervous. There may be parts I have misinterpreted and I am sure I will overlook something. However, there is no innovation without taking risks and making mistakes. I believe in learning by doing (I was recently reminded of how powerful this process can be). I also believe in the power of collaboration and invite feedback. Perhaps if we all find a place to start, share our thoughts and allow others to reflect and refine plans to suit their particular context, the curriculum documents will begin to fill with instructional examples?
My Starting Point and Inspiration
This summer, as part of my Masters Degree, I participated in an intensive, one-week course, titled Drama, Literacy & Engagement. Honestly I choose the course because I liked the idea of completing my second elective and having most of the summer free from coursework. The word engagement also peeked my interest, as I strongly believe in the power of intentionally engaging students and empowering them to take an active role in their learning. After reading several articles on drama as a learning area and a teaching methodology, I realized how closely aligned the course content is with my teaching practice and beliefs about education. I did not anticipate how much the course would act as a springboard for my thinking about planning and assessment under the framework of BC’s Transformed Curriculum.
This image summarizes some of the key points I appreciated from the articles. Although I created this image as part of my first assignment I thought about it often during the course and how much the concepts and ideas parallel those of the transformed curriculum.
It was a powerful week where I found myself truly emerged in the experience as a learner. As teachers begin to transfer their practice to align with competency-based curriculum and explore meaningful assessment we will need to do just that; welcome the opportunity to learn with our students. What better way to do that than experience learning from the lens of a student? For the majority of the course we fully engaged ourselves in drama strategies and became part of the instructors’ carefully scaffolded lessons. Although we learned about some technical aspects of drama instruction, practiced and debriefed micro skills and even contributed to a group performance, the process was honoured and contributed to a rich learning experience. When we did take time out of our role as students to listen to a brief lecture or presentation we were grateful for the break and very engaged in the content. I was impressed by the pedagogy modelled and opportunity to be part of a diverse community of learners where I could see first hand the possibilities for personalized learning.
As with the vast majority of classrooms, our class was composed of a diverse group of learners with a wide range of skills, interests and comfort level. Rather than impose a set of expectations or learning objectives we were invited to set our own learning intentions, have a growth mindset, allow for vulnerability and take some risks. ~ A great approach to any new learning experience, like a renewed curriculum for example. There was no summative assessment to reflect our progress or level of participation during the week. There were no written responses due during the week or a test about the various strategies we explored. So how can I claim this was a rich learning experience? How do I actually know any learning occurred within such a diverse group? How can I measure the quality of my own learning? I ask these questions because I am interested in how this experience translates to a classroom where we have a responsibility to report on student learning.
In a society where technology is ubiquitous and information can be retrieved almost instantaneously, it is no longer about the answers. Learning is reflected in the questions and the dialogue. During the week of my drama course I watched and listened as my peers, and myself, constantly posed questions and shared insights about not only the content we were exploring, but also about the process we were engaged in. Conversations about personal connections to a particular exercise or discussions about how a technique might be adjusted to a different context continued over lunch and even after class. This is the level of engagement the more flexible curriculum is designed to activate. Although research suggests drama strategies activate student engagement (Cawthon, Dawson & Ihorn, 2011) and I have used many drama activities in my teaching practice it was inspiring to actually experience it for myself.
Again, I draw a parallel to the renewed curriculum and the transition teachers are faced with. Learning by doing, collaborating, sharing and reflecting. This will be my implementation plan and a framework for the learning opportunities I offer my students. In part two of the post I will describe what that might actually look like in a classroom.