Posted by: Principal/Editor | September 17, 2013

The Curriculum in Education

Film: The Ron Clark Story

This film is based on a true story of Mr Ron Clark, a teacher who teaches in one of Harlem’s toughest schools. Mr Clark’s personal curriculum drives his students towards success, and won him the American Teacher of the Year Award in 2000.

Watch 2 excerpts of the film:

Ron Clark Story section 4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ErxFe-NOSs

Ron Clark Story section 5: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbkaxTbQNZA

Q1: From the film, identify the following:

·         Total curriculum of the school & Mr Clark

·         Planned curriculum of the school & Mr Clark

·         Formal curriculum of the school & Mr Clark

·         Informal curriculum of the school & Mr Clark

·         Received curriculum of the students

·         Hidden curriculum received by the students

 

Q2: Reflect on your own institution. Can you identify the above types of curriculum at your institution?

According to Prevedel (2003), there are three main approaches to curriculum:

·         Traditional approach

·         Learner-driven approach

·         Critical approach

(Read her article online: http://www.ncsall.net/index.php@id=190.html)

Q3: Which approach do you prefer?

Q4: Which approach is/should be adopted in your institution?

Q5: What are some further thoughts you have about curriculum?

 

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Responses

  1. In the film, the total curriculum of the school includes the planned curriculum according to the syllabuses which involves the formal and informal curriculum, which incidentally to a certain extent, involves the hidden curriculum. This seems to be stemming from the philosophy of Idealism which is concerned with cognitive development and viewing the function of school as an intellectual institution. The curriculum of the school was heavily influenced by the philosophy of education. This was portrayed in the conversation between the Principal and Mr Clark when the Principal told Mr Clark that his job was to make sure the pupils pass their exams.

    However, Mr Clark’s total curriculum seemed to be of a wider scope than the school’s. He wanted the pupils to not only pass their exams but do more. He does not want his pupils to be just mediocre but believes his pupils can do better. As such, his total curriculum not only includes the planned curriculum but he relies heavily on the informal and hidden curriculum to ensure the pupils get the most out of education. His total curriculum is influenced by his philosophy of education of realism and pragmatism where he wants his pupils to gain knowledge to succeed in life and to grow and direct their own life and not just passing exams and getting grades. Pragmatism was prevalent in his teaching methods when he sought social consensus when he said the class was like a family. He tries to build a bond with his students in order to gain their trust.

    The planned curriculum of the school and Mr Clark was quite straight forward, which is the official curriculum stipulated by the syllabuses. This would include both the formal and informal curriculum and the hidden curriculum. Components like grammar and American history were part of the formal curriculum while having break time to allow pupils to skip and interact with one another made them learn how to socialize. However, one thing that was not prevalent in the film was the hidden curriculum of Mr Clark was a planned or an unconscious working.

    The formal curriculum of the school and Mr Clark were aligned as both had to cater to the ultimate end, which is the exams. Pupils were assessed on the amount of content knowledge they have acquired. However, we know from the film that although the curriculum is the same for both Mr Clark and the school, the means of which this was achieved could be varied, ie. the teaching strategies. Mr Clarks uses teaching strategies which are closer to the heart of the pupils like raps and issuing challenges to them in order to better engage the pupils.

    The received curriculum of the students seemed to be of a larger extent as intended by the planned curriculum. This was in part due to the planned and hidden curriculum of Mr Clark which in turn is influenced by his philosophy of education. If the pupils were just exposed to the planned curriculum, many of them would not have received much of it at all. However, due to the efforts of Mr Clark, the received curriculum of the pupils is much more than what was intended. They not only learnt the formal curriculum, they have also learnt several other values like empathy from the hidden curriculum. The girl who provoked Mr Clark learnt to empathize with his anger when she felt guilty after making Mr Clark angry. The class also learnt to gel and developed a sense of belonging when Mr Clark tried to develop a sense of social cohesiveness among them. When there is cohesiveness, the class felt a sense of ownership and responsibility in terms of their learning.

    In my school, the 6 aspects of curriculum are prevalent. The school follows the over MOE’s guidelines on total curriculum. The planned curriculum and received curriculum are highly correlated due to assessment requirements. The formal and informal curriculum is set up according to MOE’s guidelines. Informal curriculum takes the form of learning journeys and CCAs and schools have more leeway in planning for informal curriculum. However, in resource-limited Singapore, much of the curriculum is structured and systematic so as to reduce educational wastage and to maximize learning for the pupils. The school takes the more traditional approach in terms of the coming out of the structure of content knowledge acquisition but it also incorporates elements of learner-driven approach in terms of teaching strategies. Much of the curriculum is planned and structured so it leaves out very little room for the hidden curriculum. However, one cannot deny the fact that once in a while, the hidden curriculum will crop out and provides ‘teachable moments’ for the pupils.

    In all, I felt that there is a very strong correlation between philosophy of education and curriculum. The former influences the latter and in turn affects the teaching strategies to be adopted.

  2. I find Mr Ron Clark very inspiring, and I believe there are teachers in Singapore who would do or have done the same or at least in similar ways. Seeing how Mr Clark puts in effort to “reach out” to his students lead me to see how much a teacher can influence the students – the way they view school and studies (regardless of any discipline).

    A teacher, I thought, seems to be the major link between the students (the “who”) and the content (the “what”) – I’m not referring to the delivery of content but the power of influence the teacher can make. We cannot always assume that the students will like or take wholesale of what they are required to learn as stipulated by the planned curriculum given them but a teacher has the power to “adjust” the formal curriculum as he/she plans the lessons as allocated by the school timetable so that the received curriculum by the students will be enriched. And, the degree of enrichment of received curriculum is very much dependent on how the teacher integrate the stipulated syllabus with what the teacher deems as essential (affected by his/her educational philosophy). Very often, the hidden curriculum (driven by the teacher’s beliefs and values) will manifest through the formal curriculum in class or informal curriculum outside class. One example of informal curriculum is when Mr Clark joined his students in the rope skipping activity voluntarily during his break time. I believe the lesson that he wanted to let the students know that if they are determined to do something well, they will be able to do it surely and definitely. Two scenes in the excerpts draw me emotionally: 1) when Mr Clark wanted his students to pay attention to his class and he promised them to drink a small carton of milk for every 15seconds; and 2) he lighted a candle as his promise that he would relentlessly support his students in their learning journey and invited them to go forward to light a candle as an act of consent and willingness to go through the learning process together and do well. Those two “activities” are evidences of hidden curriculum though it is shown through as a planned curriculum. Mr Clark obviously knows that if he “wins” the heart of his students, he would then be able to influence them positively and guide them to achieve the learning goals set for them.

    Seeing how much effort Mr Clark puts in to let the students identify with him, reminds me of how teachers deal with misbehaving and rebellious students. Nowadays, it is common to find students from broken families or do not come from supporting home environment. Some students might not fare well in studies since young and are “labelled” by many adults as being dull and hopeless. For these groups of disadvantaged students, an inspiring teacher will make a big difference. When a child does not perform well in school, some teachers will claim that the child is not ready for school. Is that really the case or is it the reverse that the school is actually not ready for the child? A teacher who only uses traditional approach to curriculum is akin a fisherman casting a small net for he will only be able to reach out for just that few who happens to fit in the net. To develop 21st century competencies in students, a 21st century teacher needs to be flexible to weave in learner-driven approach and critical approach to curriculum. If a teacher is able to integrate the three different approaches, he/she will then be able to cast a bigger and wider net to reach out to greater number of diverse learners in a heterogeneous classroom in today’s context. It is definitely not an easy task to move out of the comfort zone through traditional approach curriculum; it will take a teacher’s conscious and effortful work to deliberately move towards learner-driven and critical approach. Whether a teacher will do so will depend on whether he/she believes that it is worthwhile, which also ties in closely with the educational philosophy(ies) that he/she holds.

    -Constance

    • I liked the part you mentioned whether a School is ready for disadvantaged students. We heard often that ‘every school is a good school’. Indeed if this is the belief, then perhaps every school needs to have the capacity to handle disadvantaged students amidst the advantaged. In reality, do we have that in our schools at present with the education philosophy that ‘every child is a good child’?

      • Hmm… good educational philosophy there. Maybe we could add that to our personal educational philosophy that ‘every child is a good child’.

        I do see some schools have philosophies like “every child is unique”, “every child needs to reach to his/her fullest potential” and etc. Could that be their definition of “good child”?

    • Hello Constance, I really like the way you described Mr Clark’s role in the film. He is indeed someone very inspiring and reaches out to his students. One of the issues that I am facing now is non Chinese parents expecting their children to master Chinese. This means, they hope that their children become trilingual. Traditionally, we only speak Mandarin during Chinese class and we believe that it helps non Chinese children to pick up the language as they immerse themselves in the environment. However, this method doesn’t work and the non Chinese children are still lagging behind in their learning. After watching how Mr Clark used rap to reach out to his students, while integrating the content, I reflected and think that we should change our method. Perhaps, it’s time for us to learn to speak in their languages and translate those words in Mandarin so that they can relate better.

      • Hi Veron, are you a Chinese teacher? I don’t know what is the best method to teach Chinese. But every time I pass by Berries where parents send their children to learn Chinese, I can’t help noticing that they are speaking to their children in English. To me, the only way to effectively learn Chinese (or for that matter any language) is to speak to them at home, or simply use it, regardless of whether the parents are good at it or not. So, not sure whether the expectations of non-Chinese parents in your case is realistic, unless they themselves are Chinese speaking.

  3. Curriculum is a result of the belief system of society. In the 1980s, Singapore needs engineers and skilled technicians for economic development, hence the curriculum is one of hard sciences and vocational skills. In the 2000s, when the country has attained developed country status, the focus switched to the liberal arts, where the increasingly sophisticated society demanded more voice. This was explained as the levels of curriculum in the article by Tan Charlene (2006): Curriculum. Hence, I felt that curriculum is more top-driven rather than bottom-up.

    • Hi Lam, I believe due to social and political reasons, many countries (not just Singapore), will have policies to guide the direction of education. To think of it, it is essential for all countries to do that if they want to survive and maintain competitive. It has a bit of “pragmatism” educational philosophy somehow but whether that is the major philosophy that drives the whole educational system, it will depend on the assessment methods because assessment drives pedagogy. In Singapore, many teachers have lamented that only if less focus is placed on high-stake examinations, then the education system will be better and etc. One model that has always been cited is the one in Finland. It is like a heaven to teachers… haha.. at least that is how I feel.

      Recently, there is a local newspaper article on the education system in Finland and the public responded like, “Wow… why not we follow? Why they can and we can’t?” They only see the results but they neglected the process and cultural context. Education system differs slightly in different countries due to the cultural difference — this has a lot of effect on the success or failure of any system. So, if Singapore were to adopt or model after any of the education system, culture here must change first before we can see similar results shown by that country. The changes must take place slowly though, and effects can only be empirically measured in a longitudinal study in about 10years later when those children grow up.

      With regard to your statement of “curriculum is more top-driven rather than bottom-up”, I agree only if the curriculum is crafted by the MOE, and if teachers take it wholesale and deliver it as a package. However, most of the time, a teacher can (or should) take the prescribed curriculum and adjust to the needs of his/her students. In that case, it will no longer be top-down driven. Well, the curriculum is static and it can be wonderfully written but without a teacher who can bring out the essential understandings for students to grasp, it would just be a nice paperwork to be added to the portfolio.

      -Constance

      • I certainly agreed that teachers played an important part in the education of a child. It is lucky that we have many dedicated and selfless teachers in our Schools. From the Finland article, it seems that all their teachers have a master degree. I noted that MOE is encouraging all our teachers to do likewise to beef up their skills. That is a positive move. I hope the take up rate is good and over time we could have more and better qualified teachers to educate our young.

      • Hi Lam and Constance,
        Interesting, there is another article in Sunday Times (6 Oct) on the increasing number of teachers taking on a masters’ degree as they see it as a natural path of progression. 🙂
        Personally, I find the discussion on ‘curriculum being top-driven’ quite thought-provoking and to a certain extent, I wonder if the level of education plays a significant role in influencing the adopted approaches by schools.
        At a primary or secondary school level, it can be seen as a top-driven or traditional approach because certain curriculum has been prescribed and it is mandatory for students. On a positive note, this is necessary because they might not know what is beneficial to them yet. And I agree with Constance that it is up to a teacher to adjust this prescribed curriculum to suit the needs of the students.
        When it comes to the tertiary level, the challenge lies in getting their ‘buy -in’ for curriculum that we, as educators, deem as ‘being useful’ to them. To overcome this, we will establish focus group discussions with our students to better understand their needs and to design the curriculum in accordance with it. This method is largely influenced by the learner-driven approach because students help to plan the curriculum and it is relevant to their real-life experiences. Even at the tertiary level, there are directives by MOE to implement certain curriculum, but I believe educators are also empowered to develop strategies and to customise it to suit needs of the students.

      • Hi Constance, the part that you mentioned “a teacher can (or should) take the prescribed curriculum and adjust to the needs of his/her students”. I’m not sure whether you’re actually referring to pedagogy? As long as a school is a government school, I believe it will have to follow MOE’s curriculum. You can’t change the curriculum unless you decide to go against MOE and not teach maths, for example.

      • Hi Poh Yeen, with regard to my statement that “a teacher can (or should) take the prescribed curriculum and adjust to the needs of his/her students”, I am referring to the way the curriculum is structured or designed.

        For instance, a teacher gets MOE syllabus of what has to be covered for Mathematics, but do not just teach didactic manner. He/she can use different curriculum approaches to achieve those same learning outcomes. In my opinion, it’s more than pedagogy (which I think refers to the way of teaching); it’s how the teacher redesign the curriculum but still effectively achieve the MOE required standards. I don’t see MOE gives curriculum, it merely provides the standards to be met.

      • Ok, I see what you mean. I saw curriculum at a higher level, perhaps that more philosophy. Thanks.

    • Almost all over the world the curriculum is “top-down” unfortunately , and sometimes even are not related to the ground. As well the teachers, which should implemented it in the class usually faced difficulties like: lack of information, training and resources. As an educator I wish that one day, before the ministry design curriculum they will “come-down” to hear the voices from the ground,

  4. Q1: What do you think is the curriculum implemented by Robin Hood for his people?
    Robin Hood implemented the Curriculum as student-centred experiences. He encouraged the people to not only question authority but also challenge it. He uses both the people negative experience by the Sheriff and their emotions to learn the ways to hurt the Sheriff. He also taught them how to live off the forest so that they can survive the cruelty of the Sheriff on them.
    Q2: What is ‘curriculum’ to you?
    As an educator in a post-secondary institution in Singapore, I believe that curriculum should be the means of transmitting knowledge about life per se and skills needed for my students to survive in the highly competitive working world. I teach in a trade school as such most of the curriculum is focused on vocational training. Nonetheless, we do have Lifeskills as part of the academic curriculum and at the same time teachers would also share their work experience in order to prepare our students to join the workforce.
    Q3: Can you identify the above definitions of curriculum from ‘Robin Hood’?
    It is quite obvious that he implemented the student-centred experiences. The main example would be how he asked the people to question and challenge the authority of the Sheriff when he had been cruel to the people.
    Q4: What did you learn about ‘hidden curriculum’ from the clip?

    Hidden curriculum exists intentionally or unintentionally. For example teachers may perceive that good students sit quietly in front whilst playful ones makes noise at the back. The teachers may either put all the good students in front so that she can focus on them or put all the naughty ones in front so that she can keep an eye on better. One of the most glaring hidden curriculum in Singapore’s government primary school would be the almost equal number of girls and boys in a every class and also the almost proportionate percentage of the different ethnic group in all classes.

    Q5: Do you think the various types of curriculum at your organisation/unit/department are aligned?

    On paper, they are definitely congruent. Each module builds upon one another. The students are also exposed to problem based learning situations and also have the opportunity to experience Global Education Programme. What may differ may be the classroom delivery. As this depend heavily on the teachers experience and philosophies. Some teachers are more assessment centred as compared to others who are more experience

    Q6: From the film, identify the following:

    • Total curriculum of the school & Mr Clark
    School – focuses on results and grants based on exam results as said by the Mr. Turner
    Mr. Clark – A mixture of planned + formal + informal + received

    • Planned curriculum of the school & Mr Clark
    School – Classroom schedule
    Mr Clark – Teaching of grammar

    • Formal curriculum of the school & Mr Clark
    School –
    Mr. Clark – Teaching of History

    • Informal curriculum of the school & Mr Clark
    School – None
    Mr Clark – Playing double dutch

    • Received curriculum of the students
    School –
    Mr. Clark – Teaching about the US Presidents using a rap song.

    • Hidden curriculum received by the students
    School – Putting all worst students in one class
    Mr. Clark – Making deals with the students

    Q7: Reflect on your own institution. Can you identify the following types of curriculum at your institution?

    Yes. But I’d rather not share this matter online.

    Q8: Which approach/approaches do you personally prefer?

    Learner-Driven approach. This way, students learn both theory and application of the knowledge learned in a real work situation.

    Q9: Which approach is/should be currently adopted in your institution?
    I believe we try to apply the Learner-Driven approach. However, it is difficult even to fully use this approach in a post-secondary trade school like mine. Exam orientedness is too entrenched in our education system.

    Q10: What are some further thoughts you have about curriculum?
    The concept of Teach Less, Learn More or Thinking School, Learning Nations are all fine on paper. However, the implementation as at now is far from ideal. Our education system is still too focused on assessment and exams. One case in point is the School of The Arts. It was supposed to be an alternative schools for students who are good in Arts. However, at the present time the students are expected to excel in both academic subjects and the arts. This cannot be right!
    Additionally, there are still many educators who were brought up and trained in such an approach. We are definitely on the right path but it may take another 1 or 2 generations to see any significant changes.

    • Hi Zaidi,

      I agree with a few points mentioned by you with regard to the “Teach Less, Learn More”.

      Teachers are to focus less in drilling the students for examinations and tests, instead, they should facilitate the students’ learning through questioning, discussions and exploration. It is not easy to prepare for such lessons as it can be ‘out of control’ if the teachers are not confident and too busy with other school duties.

      Moreover, the current measure of success is still largely based on examination results. It would take a while for the the change of mindset (in terms of the definition of success) and truly student-focus school culture.

      Shirley

      • Hi Shirley, I agree that we should be less exam-focus, but I don’t think that schools and even parents are able to change that mindset alone, otherwise we won’t be stuck in this situation for so long.

        I believe it is both a cultural and societal issue (I won’t call it a prob). We’re naturally competitive and it is a survival syndrome left down from the earlier generation. Singapore has no natural resources or depth to fall back on, so to survive (in the face of cheaper labour surrounding us), the only way is to be better than them, which also means reinforces the competitive behaviour in us.

        So sadly even if we remove exams, we’ll find ways to out-compete each other.

      • Hi Shirley and Poh Yeen,

        I’m glad to read that you agree that we need to be less exam centred. I do see steps in the right direction within our education system but I believe it is moving at too slow a pace and rather too cautious. In my opinion, we are looking at the “band-aid” approach to changing the situation by introducing piece-meal solution. The core of the issue is that in Singapore, being number one especially in terms of economy is the central policy. This policy drives everything else including the education system. It even shapes our society and our mindset. At the international level, there is a constant need to compete. This then cascade down to every level of our society. Every Singaporean wants to be successful and unfortunately the yardstick of success is material wealth. Even our sports stars and cultural icons are not measured just by the trophys that have won but also how much money they have earned over the years. As a result for the masses that has limited sporting abilities or talent, the best way to achieve success in Singapore is via education. Therefore, education becomes the dividing factor among Singaporeans. We all compete to be the most educated and the best way to show that is by getting better results in exams. And as such, the focus is always exams and to do well in them. Only when we are confident of ourselves as a nation and say that we can move away from the policy of having to be number one all the time, can we then see real changes happening.

  5. ‘The Ron Clark Story: To some extent, the school’s total, planned and formal curriculum is a means by which the students can achieve high test scores requisite for school funding. Yet what is most illuminating about the film is the hidden curriculum where in this case, despite the children coming from ‘disadvantaged’ ethnic backgrounds and labeled as those ‘at the bottom of the barrel’, Clark believes that they are competent in attaining higher educational standards with his guidance. It is indeed heartwarming to see how his educational philosophy at play in the way he motivates the students to acquire content knowledge within a context of mutual trust and respect by harnessing the informal curriculum- be it in trying to identify with their likes (learning to jump double dutch) or at the risk of appearing to be a ‘deuce’ (rapping in class, drinking chocolate milk to the point of ad nauseum). Clark who is well attuned to their fears and insecurities as low achievers astutely crafts his curriculum to meet their needs accordingly (the received curriculum) and challenges them to make the decision to achieve more academically/ non-academically.

    Thoughts on curriculum: Educators will have to bear in mind that ultimately, how and what they teach and learn is dependent on their convictions with regards to their concept of curriculum and their own personal educational philosophy. Thus, amid a local high-stakes testing exam-oriented culture, with Curriculum 2015 (C2015) in place to better prepare students to be imbued with 21st century competencies (such as critical thinking, collaborative skills and technological literacy), educators keen on utilizing a learner-driven approach might have to reflect on the type of curriculum which might be the most apt in fostering active global citizens. Instead of teaching and learning relegated to subject specific domains, an inevitable and radical shift in school curriculum towards a more interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary one (central to the tenets of Progressivism and Reconstructionism) would be requisite in order for students to be technologically savvy, collaborative critical thinkers who are adaptable and adept in problem solving multifarious issues.

    • Hi Karen, on your comment “…astutely crafts his curriculum to meet their needs accordingly (the received curriculum) and challenges them to make the decision to achieve more academically/ non-academically”.

      I thought he is adjusting pedagogy? Curriculum would mean that he will teach something else that the school prescribes.

      Sorry if I get this wrong, there are too many terms…

      • Hi Poh Yeen,
        Sorry for the late reply. You are right to some extent in pointing out that the term curriculum more often than not refers to the explicit curriculum that reflects the school’s philosophy as well as various educational stakeholders. For me, I perceive how Clark’s instructional curriculum (Tan, 2006) in the classroom reflects his own conviction and personal philosophy of education via the pedagogy he uses.

    • Hi Karen,

      I like the fact that you mentioned about interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary curriculum. While it seems that many would agree that we should now move away from high stake exams to developing 21st century skills for our students, we are constantly met with a force field where there are legacies that we have inherited that we cannot let go. It would be best if a balance can be made but we are all aware there would be many challenges before we can really come to a point where learning is seen to be more important than just having out students scoring in the exams and become high achievers.

  6. Ron Clark
    Truly, Ron Clark has a very strong conviction in wanting his students to learn. He has an obligation to deliver the planned and formal curriculum of the school, for example, Grammar and History. He has to ensure his students pass the examinations. His challenge is to make a class of totally disengaged and difficult students to be interested, engaged and learn. He has to think of creative ways to build rapport with his students to gain their trust. Through his perseverance, he has been successful in his endeavor.
    From the clip, the hidden curriculum in his class would be equality, spirit of resilience as displayed by the teachers, Ron Clark. He influenced his students to change their attitude towards learning and no one was left out.

    Curriculum at my current institution
    Although MOE has moved away from the traditional approach towards the learner-driven approach, a number of teachers are still adopting the traditional approach of mastery through drill and practice. I believe it could be the emphasis on examination results and the tight schedule to complete the syllabus and complete the sets of practice papers before tests and examinations. The outcomes of the students’ results may also affect the teachers’ appraisal.

    My personal view
    The world has evolved rapidly and globalization requires different sets of skills and competencies of the students beyond good grades when they enter the work force. The curriculum and approach of delivery need to evolve as well to prepare the students to meet the challenges of the 21 century. The design of the curriculum needs to address the greater needs of the society.
    The government has to manage the delicate balance of meeting individual and societal needs. The current meritocracy policy has caused a fair amount of stress for the students to perform well to gain head start in life.
    I support the move by MOE in the changes towards a learner-centered curriculum. However, the learner-centered curriculum would require a broader definition of success. The support and change of mindsets of parents and educators are major concerns for the successful implementation of the learner-centered approach.

    • Hi Shirley,

      You mentioned that “…a number of teachers are still adopting the traditional approach of mastery through drill and practice…”

      In your opinion, how do we overcome these “traditionalist” and convince them that we need to move away from exams results orientation?

    • Hi Shirley,

      I agree with you that teachers apply the traditional approach to help students gain mastery of subject matter. However, I feel that it is done more deliberately to prepare graduating students for the national exams. As for other levels at secondary and JC levels, our teachers have tried the critical approach to inspire curiosity and cultivate critical thinking skills in our students. For instance, students are involved in planning for travel plans for their families where they need to do research, analyse different packages, consider budget constraints etc. This is done to apply Maths learning in real life examples and concurrently infuse ideas of financial literacy. With new assessment methods expected to roll out in coming years (Use of ICT already allowed for MTL subjects from next year in O and A Levels), I believe schools will move from just using traditional approach to curriculum but venture more in learner-driven and critical approaches.

      • Hi Zaidi,

        Thank you for the question.

        In my view, the government (MOE) have to take the lead to make some radical changes to the current system before we can move away from the exam oriented culture. I understand that the policy makers face challenges at large as there are many factors in the society to consider .

        The changes are taking place slowly as the steps taken are cautious and calculated. Parents and students are worried about the their future and they will chose to secure good results until measures of success are re-defined and broadened.

      • Dear Ghim Chee,

        Thank you for your response.

        I am not sure of the situations at the secondary and pre-u levels but I am glad that the teachers are trying out learner-centred approaches.

        At the primary school level, we will likely to work towards building strong foundations in literacy and numeracy. this will help the students to engage in more independent and collaborative work as they progress.

      • Hi Ghim Chee, you said, “Use of ICT already allowed for MTL subjects from next year in O and A Levels” What do you mean?

  7. Q1: What do you think is the curriculum implemented by Robin Hood for his people?
    Robin Hood’s primary concern was to raise the spirit of the people so that they could start believing in themselves and fight against the oppression they were facing. To sustain this spirit, the people needed to be equipped with the abilities to defend themselves and to go on the offence wherever necessary. As such, his ‘curriculum’ includes the following:
    1. Instilling values of freedom, unity and self-esteem;
    2. Training on shooting arrows and using the swords;
    3. Finding ways to be self-sufficient; and
    4. Providing opportunities to apply what were learnt.

    Q2: What is ‘curriculum’ to you?
    I used to think that curriculum is the ‘what’ to teach students. These could cover both academic (English, Mathematics, Science, Mother Tongue, etc.) and non-academic subjects (Music, Physical Education, Art, Health Education, Social Studies, etc.); skills such as ICT, leadership and communication, and values.

    Q3: Can you identify the above definitions of curriculum from ‘Robin Hood’?
    Robin Hood’s curriculum does exhibit elements found in the four definitions of curriculum.
    Curriculum as academic subjects – Shooting arrows and sword wielding are like core subjects – functional to serve the intent of self-defence and even for offensive purposes.
    Curriculum as planned learning – The people were given prescribed training on using the swords, shooting arrows, and they needed to make the bows, arrows and swords as well. These were deemed necessary by Robin Hood. No input was sought from the people.
    Curriculum as learning for the attainment of skills and knowledge – Besides being equipped for self-defence skills, the people had to find ways to provide shelter and food for themselves through using the resources found in the woods.
    Curriculum as student-centred experiences – Robin Hood challenged the people on their self-belief and made them questioned their dire situation and experience. He also scaffolded their training, considering that they were non-soldiers to being with.

    Q8: Which curriculum approach/approaches do you personally prefer?
    A combination of traditional and learner-driven approach. Primarily, the learner-driven approach puts students’ perspectives, their interests, needs and abilities in the design of curriculum and this could essentially enhance students’ motivation to learn. The traditional approach allows students to systematically gain the necessary knowledge which is a prerequisite to understanding different learning context. Applying the learner-driven approach, it could further lead to enhanced students’ understanding through meaningful social discourse, thus promoting a deeper appreciation into the process of solving real-life problems and even life-long learning skills. Such an approach makes learning relevant to the students.

    Q10: What are some further thoughts you have about curriculum?
    An understanding of the different aspects of curriculum has been helpful. However, I am in cognizance that there is not much I can do about what would constitute planned and formal curriculum, after all, these are set by MOE (though there are school-based curriculum innovations in some schools but by-and-large, all schools are aligned to MOE’s prescription). It is understandable that there is certain bias towards the learning of some subjects by virtue of their economic and social values. The number of periods allocated to a certain subject is a clear indicative of MOE’s emphasis. Nonetheless, as Ron Clark would do, I think it is more important (not that the planned and formal curriculum are not important) that I be proactive to discern the hidden curriculum as well as the received curriculum (and perhaps informal curriculum too). I think these are fundamental and certainly doable, very much within my control.
    Considering the proposition of hidden curriculum, I am now made aware that my own philosophy of education and values play an important role in influencing what my students would and could learn. As such, I would need to be conscious of my words and deeds in the course of my teaching so that these will not unwittingly become causes that demotivate my students to learn. While a positive learning experience and environment are vaccines for a healthy hidden curriculum, this will never happen without the positive relationship between the teacher and his students.
    As for the received curriculum, like most teachers, I know that having taught a student does not mean that the student have learnt. It is therefore necessary for me to know the learning experiences of my students. These would mean finding out ‘what they understand’, ‘what they don’t understand’ and ‘why they don’t understand’. Another perspective would be to know my students well individually such that I would be able to customise my teaching methodologies that cater to their learning needs.

    • Hi Cheng Leong,

      You mentioned “…However, I am in cognizance that there is not much I can do about what would constitute planned and formal curriculum, after all, these are set by MOE (though there are school-based curriculum innovations in some schools but by-and-large, all schools are aligned to MOE’s prescription)…”

      MOE are made up of people and most of these people are like you and me. If we believe that there is a flaw in the system that needs to be corrected, shouldn’t we try to change it? Weren’t the system made by people like you and me. MOE is not a living entity on its own. If people like you and me created the MOE system in the first place, why can’t people like you and me make those changes now?

      • Thanks Zaidi.
        You have a point that we, as part of MOE system, can certainly advocate changes. So, since we are in the system, we should also think systemically – how a change would affect others within the system, and if we do change, what would be the long-term impact. To me, systemic issues, like any ecological issues, can be rather complex and require ‘deep and broad’ thinking to resolve.
        The planned and formal curricula, being very much prescriptive, remain necessary for our current emphasis for both economic and social impetus.
        I am comfortable to flow in tandem with the current curriculum intent even though these are not the ideal (not flawed). Perhaps, I choose to focus on what I can have influence on – Received and Hidden Curricula, rather than on what I have little (not no) influence. For now, I think this is a pragmatic approach unless I have a better alternative to put forth. As Randy Pausch (Last Lecture) says, “It’s not about the cards you’re dealt, but how you play the hand”.

  8. Q8: Which approach/approaches do you personally prefer?

    I may sound undecided but I actually prefer a combination of all 3 approaches, because each approach has its own strengths.

    While we can say that “every child is a good child”, I’m a realist and I believe that that statement is overly idealistic. By the black swan theory, the statement can be easily proven false.

    So there must be the traditional approach to lay the foundation to bring students out of the “don’t know what they don’t know” box to the “knowing what they don’t know” box. Only then can the learner-driven approach be applied. And after “knowing what they need to know”, the critical approach can be then be used to encourage the students to create new knowledge.

    • Hi Poh Yeen,
      I agree to your resonse on the approaches . No One approach could cover the entire spectrum of the student types at primaty or secondary level. “No one size (approach) fits all “.

      From my point of view for primary/secondary school level- no one approach can be adopted as no child /student is same. Each of these approaches has their own pros and con. We have acknowledged that the Singapore school system is segregating the students based on the academic results or marks, however I suggest that we could arrange students according to their learning needs and design the curriculum with accordance to the three approaches ie. Traditional, Learner- driven and critical for them. (each topic/lesson wlll have different pedagogy prepared for delivey which is in accordance with these 3 approaches).
      And students are given the flexibility to experience all these approaches till they find the best/ comfortable approach that suits them. This is what the private tutors and tution centers are leveraging on ( providing personalised attention to the needs of the student)

      • Interesting. Though I suspect to have 3 pedagogies will require a overhaul to the teachers’ training first, which is a great challenge. And also, how do we separate the child? I’m sure parents will want a say, and when that happens, the system will not be true to its intent anyway. Frankly, I have always found parents to be the greatest obstruction to any reform, though they are the ones that “complain” the most 🙂

      • Thanks Poh Yeen,
        I agree with you that parents are challenging. However, the good thing is that today’s parents are more involved than ever and want to be even more involved with their children’s activities. With MOE also emphasizing on holistic education, we will have to involve all the three ie. teachers, parents and students in this activity to make it really holistic education for our students. To help the student self- discover himself this method could be useful. We will all agree that all the three approaches will have different assessment mode. So, a child could be given opportunity to sit through the different ways of lessons conducted (traditional/ learner- driven/ critical approach) and get assessed at regular intervals on the lessons he has taken. These assessments could help us to know which approach is best suited to the student.
        This is something similar to what parents try with tuition …they will try different tuition set ups like tuition center in big size group, small size group, home tuition , 1-to-1 tution, SINDA/ MENDAKI tuition. They try out what suits the child the best or in other words the learning is the most.

  9. I I think both the school and Mr Clark essentially adopts the same formal curriculum, such that the ‘what to teach’ is in agreement. However, the juxtaposition is in the ‘how to teach’ in the planned curriculum. Apparently, the school follows a rigid and traditional way to teaching whereas Mr Clark plans differently to deliver the formal curriculum.

    Another juxtaposition appears in the informal curriculum. By setting low expectations, the school is signaling to the students that they are and will always be low achievers. Mr Clark however, through his words and actions, signals the direct opposite, and believes that every child can succeed.

    The received curriculum of the students, is then an amalgamation of the school’s and Mr Clark. In this instance, the pendulum can swing both ways. What tips the scale then is the level of influence. Overtime, Mr Clark has successfully engaged the students hence the received curriculum of the students is overall positive.

    The hidden curriculum however is interesting as it is what is unplanned yet received. I believe that neither the school nor Mr Clark have intended to teach values through the planned academic curriculum. However, the school and Mr Clark has actually successfully modeled values to the students.

  10. To ensure that this program will be significant it is important to enable teachers and students to choose the subject and the teaching method which would they like to use. This can lead to higher motivation and participation. It is important to view their collaboration less as a risk but more as an opportunity for a long-term change in the educational processes.

    • I agree, at the individual level. However, as a system where there are thousands of teachers with different qualities and attributes, how do we ensure “quality control”? Some methods will be very innovative and helpful, some probably not. Unfortunately, we’ll only know after a period, and nobody wants to be on the receiving end on a method that doesn’t work. So students and parents who wants “innovative teaching methods” will probably have to be cognisant of what they are going into, and chances are, they will be the private schools. As a system, therefore public schools will always be seen as “trailing” private schools. I suppose our difference in perspective stems from whether we see ourselves as a teacher or as an education administrator.

  11. A few things came to my mind while watching the film. First, the students didn’t see the purpose in learning in schools as they are deemed to be below average students. (how worst can they go lower) Next, the treatment students received in schools due to teachers’ stereotype them. Just like most schools, academic performance seems to be the only measure that School Leaders are concerned of. Lastly, a genuine heart to care and to help will overcome all the obstacles that teachers encounter with their students.
    Building rapport with students has not always been an easy process. This requires time, effort and patience in gaining the confidence and trust of the students. As teachers, the most important is not to give up on them and believe in their ability. Don’t let our mental model cloud us with our actions. I always remember this sharing by one of experience teachers in my early days of teaching. “Even if you can only manage to impact and influence one student in your class, you would know that you have made a difference in one person life.”

    • Hello Steven, I totally agree with you that teachers can and should build rapport with the students. I remember when I was in secondary school, my chemistry teacher chided at me sacastically in front of the entire class saying that probably, I think I am too smart and that is why I purposely left the entire section blank. Little did she know I was really working hard on other subjects such as Accounts and Maths and my learning strategy was different. I was so upset with her, but eventually I still gotten a B4 for my O’level Science. But can you see, it leaves an impact in me even now that I am an adult!

  12. what is curriculum to you?
    Curriculum to me is all the definitions read so far . In my opinion, although imparting the theoretical knowledge with its application in the real world and relevant skills is curriculum, it still needs to be coming from the educator as to what the school has to offer to the students.

  13. In the preschool sector, how funny it seems, when a friend once told me that a principal must be able to run the center’s operation (business, parent relationships and enrollment etc.), and it is OK if she is not well versed in the preschool/kindergarten’s curriculum. To me, the statement sounds like it is more of a ‘self comforting and feel better’ approach to cover up a school leader’s weaknesses than anything else. A school leader has to be well versed in the curriculum. Otherwise, how is she/he going to guide the teachers in delivering the curriculum to the students? This course has really benefited me a lot in understanding the history and philosophies of curriculum and how education needs evolves with the change of time.

    • Perhaps your friend is looking more from the business perspective, in that knowing business operations but not curriculum development, the centre can probably still operate. But if the principal knows only curriculum development and not business operations, the centre may just fold. In the end, it must be a team effort.

  14. Out of the three approaches to curriculum, I personally prefer the Learner-Driven Approach. I noticed that students performed well when they have interest in an area and vice versa. They are also more keen to learn about a topic if they see the relevance to them. In my institution, I conduct a workshop on essay and report writing. The first time I conduct it, I ran through the ‘boring’ but essential information that they need to know about essay and report writing. While I do not see immediate results from the workshop, my evaluation score tells me that they are bored and uninterested. For the subsequent workshops, I adjusted the content and relate it back to their assignments for the modules they were taking and suddenly, I get questions during Q&A, students were seeking clarification on what they should or should not do for their reports that they need to complete for their assignments. From this incident, I know that relevance is an important factor. I also got a low score for one of the categories in the evaluation form of “Lecturer relate the topic to the working environment”. Despite the fact that they are full time students, they do see the need to prepare themselves for the working world after they graduate.

    Currently, in my institute, we are adopting both traditional and Learner-Driven Approach. While the overall curriculum structure is still set in the traditional way of textbooks and the ‘expected’ learning outcomes, we have infused some flexibility into the assessment components. The students are required to complete a written assignment for each module, doing research and presenting it in a report format. While the topic and the report requirements are dictated for them, they have the flexibility to select from a list of relevant topics and also the organization or context that they would do research in. Having a choice, there is an increased in participation in deciding their own topics, students are more enthusiastic and keen in completing their assignments.

  15. The learner-Driven approach to curriculum gives power to learners and is life-centered, task centered or problem-centered orientation to learning but emphasis is not based on subject-matter. Moreover, the basic skills acquired are iterative rather than sequential.
    The strength critical approach to curriculum lies in its literacy learning used in transforming students’ lives and communities. It is used to gain political power with words that translate into personal power to make changes in the word. The disadvantage in this approach is that teachers need a particular set of facilitation skills in addition to the skills needed to teach reading and writing.
    The traditional approach is more content, skilled-based or competency-based than the other two approaches. It really tests the knowledge quality of the students, tutors and teachers. As such, it is the best approach among the three in terms of quantifying students, tutors and teachers’ progress, which is certainly motivating
    (The Singapore time is 11pm)

  16. The disadvantage of the traditional approach is that the teacher controls what is taught and not the student. Nevertheless, what matters most is quality achievements for both teachers and students in terms of subject matter, which truly reflects their valuable progress in knowledge, and it is a good thing, as such approach is modelled after that of Confucius and Socrates’, which is to cultivate a lifelong pursue of knowledge . (11.11pm)

  17. Some thoughts on Curriculum
    Q8: Which approach/approaches do you personally prefer?
    I think I am more inclined to the Learner-driven approach though I would think that some elements of the critical approach is necessary in a pragmatic education. A learner-driven approach allows the school to leverage on the socio-emotional states of the students and make the leanring more relevant to them. This not only improves engagement, it also facilitates retention of what we hope they learn for KSA. My take for the critical approach stems from the general sense I get that out students being unable to reflect and articulate their thinking and this is an important skill for them to have so as to make meaning of the changes around them and act sensibly.

    Q9: Which approach is/should be currently adopted in your institution?
    We are and still traditional in our approach in curriculum. We still teach in certain ways and uses textbooks and guides and we expect that such guides lead to better achievement in tests. I think MOE’s move towards the Learner-driven approach is evident in the 2012 “Student-Centric, Values Driven” Education and again in the “Every Student an Engaged Learner”. Nevertheless, better engagement inevitably leads to happier learners, better learning and likely better achievement in the traditional subjects.

    Q10: What are some further thoughts you have about curriculum?
    I think that it is necessary to develop literacy in the topic of curriculum in the teachers. With a better understanding of what kinds of curriculum exist as well as the approaches to curriculum, the teachers become more attuned to the fact that the curriculum steers the learning of the students and has a great impact on the eventual outcomes of education (C2015 outcomes). We cannot depend on a hidden curriculum to ensure learning nor can we say that every teacher will be able to use a certain lesson package and deliver it equally effectively. Though there is a centralised curriculum rolled out by the Ministry, the school has the autonomy to exercise certain flexibility in the school-based curriculum and how that plays out in the classroom will make a great difference in achieving the nation’s DOEs.


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