What Role Should “Curriculum” Play?

This is a blog post that I’ve been thinking a lot about writing in the past couple of weeks. It’s not an easy post to write as I still continue to work through my thinking on this topic. There are many blog posts and Twitter discussions that centre on topics that are currently big ones in education:

  • Gaming (And Minecraft)
  • Coding
  • Maker Ed (Making)
  • Inquiry

I’m sure that there are many more, but these are the ones that have populated my streams lately.

  • I think that everything on this list can engage students in learning.
  • I think that everything on this list has the potential to help with developing critical thinking skills.
  • I think that everything on this list can help address many — if not all — of the learning skills that we assess on our report cards.
  • I think that everything on this list can help students meet curriculum expectations.
  • But I think that even when exploring the topics on this list, the expectations still need to be at the forefront.

I understand the argument that many curriculum documents are outdated. I completely agree that we should never treat the curriculum like a checklist with the need to cover every expectation: we want to go deep. There is a lot of value in looking to the overall expectations and the big ideas. The process expectations — in subjects like Math and The Arts — also provide ways to deal with bigger concepts and greater learning. I know that there is the argument that in our changing world, students need to know more than what’s addressed in the curriculum documents. In many ways, I agree with this statement. But how can these other skills be addressed under the umbrella of curriculum expectations?

I thought about this topic during a planning meeting this morning. On Wednesday, I’m presenting at the Rewired Conference with Jo-Ann Corbin-Harper and Kristi Keery-Bishop. We’re talking about inquiry in the classroom from three different perspectives: a classroom teacher’s perspective, an instructional coach’s perspective, and an administrator’s perspective. As we were planning, we looked at how often inquiry is mentioned in the curriculum documents: from FDK-Grade 12. It’s in all of them! And that got me thinking that even my list of topics can still connect to the expectations, no matter how outdated the curriculum documents may be. Maybe gaming, coding, making, and inquiry can all be vehicles for addressing expectations instead of learning in their own right. I can’t help but think back to a conversation I had with our Arts Consultant, Karen, a couple of years ago. She spoke about, “using The Arts an as instructional strategy.” Could this hold true for areas beyond The Arts?

I think that this is often how these topics are being addressed in schools. And I love that! Yes, we need to give students a chance to explore these areas and/or initially teach some skills or concepts so that students can use these “vehicles” effectively. Hopefully soon though, the topic of discussion will not be as much about gaming, coding, making, and/or inquiry, but instead more about the linked curriculum area. Plus, if we do see these topics as vehicles for learning instead of the learning itself, then the students can start to choose the vehicle that works best for them and/or works best for the subject area. I think there’s a lot of value in this student choice. 

Is there additional learning that can be done around the “vehicles” themselves? Absolutely! But does this learning have to happen at school? Not necessarily. Maybe interested students can pursue these topics more at home, through clubs, or with friends. Or maybe this learning does happen at school, but is connected to applicable Language, Math, Science, Social Studies, Physical Education, and/or The Arts expectations. Maybe the more that we know the curriculum, the more that we can make connections between expectations and topics of interest.

I love the changing face of education. I know that the more that it changes, the more that educators are reconsidering what they’ve done before and what else they can do to support and engage students. I also think that’s wonderful. At the same time, I’m believing more and more that all of this can be done while looking at student needs and curriculum expectations first. Am I missing something though? What do you believe? How do you consider both curriculum and tools/programs when planning for students? I would love to hear more about what you do and the reasons behind your choices.


10 thoughts on “What Role Should “Curriculum” Play?

  1. Hi Aviva,
    I agree with your ‘vehicle’ approach, making connections between expectations and student choice. I believe that the overall curriculum expectations and the best classroom tools need to be considered for lesson planning.
    Something to consider… moving forward in educational change, we also need to consider the power of curriculum ‘specialist’ teachers who can actually bring curriculum to life with their passion, dedication and understanding of content….that’s true teaching which can impact student engagement and learning.

    • Thanks for your comment, David! I’d love to hear more of your thinking behind “curriculum specialist teachers.” While I understand their huge passion for certain subject areas, I wonder about the impact that having specialist teachers may have on scheduling and digging deeper into certain topics. I wonder about the impact on inquiry. I’ve seen the benefits of large blocks of time on student learning, and if students are moving to multiple teachers, what impact will this have on these large blocks of time? How could we address this? Thoughts?

      Thanks for the good discussion!

      • Aviva, I believe that the ‘specialist’ teacher can help students learn more during the inquiry process e.g. the specialist teacher can guide the students to make better question and form better answers.
        I have experienced the advantages/disadvantages of rotary ‘specialist’ programming teaching at a middle school vs large blocks of time schedules vs current balanced day approach. In all timetables, having some ‘specialist’ staff teaching their knowledge of specific content in the classroom or during volunteering activities e.g. coaching, music choirs, clubs…. all students can benefit!

        • I can see your point, David, but let me push back a little bit. Are specialist teachers better at getting students to ask good questions? How could a strong team environment help specialist teachers even share their knowledge with other teachers so that everyone benefits? And if there are specialist teachers and a rotary environment, how can teachers work more together to still provide these bigger chunks of time? What impact might this have on kids? Thanks for the great conversation!


          • Aviva, a ‘teaming approach” is very important for a grade team, extending this collaboration to division teams and school teams is the ideal environment. For big blocks of time…time on task should be one very important goal for programming effectively.

          • Thanks David! I definitely agree about the power of a team and the value of time on task. If engaging in inquiry though, I wonder if 40 to 50 minute blocks — even with students on task — is enough time to engage in rich learning. How can we extend this time?

            Thanks again for the great conversation!

  2. Thanks for these thought provoking comments. My bias is from the perspective of an Instructional Leader. The province provides the curriculum for teachers in Ontario so this must be the key source for all planning. I really believe in a backward mapping approach. Given that, you must teach the students who are in front of you, so that requires your experience to adjust based on your students needs. Since we do have big ideas in a number of our subject areas we can now see what students need to walk away with. The curriculum document helps us to determine the skills, knowledge and understanding that students need as they move forward in their learning.

    • Thanks for the comment, Byron! I totally agree with what you’re saying here. I think that there’s a lot of value in starting with the expectations, coupled with the students and their needs, and then using these different “vehicles” to help meet the different needs of the children in our class. I’m curious to hear what others say, and why they choose to do what they do.


  3. Hi Aviva:
    I love the integrative approach suggested in your blog entry.
    I wanted to respond to David’s comment to your words. He reminded me of a workshop I went to last year in which a secondary school teacher called elementary school teachers “generalists.” As an elementary school teacher, I never thought of myself as a generalist. Gaining another perspective (be it only one) can sure be enlightening!

    • Thanks Herman! I think that this approach has a lot of potential. I wonder what others have tried and how it works.

      That is an interesting comment about elementary teachers being “generalists.” I guess in many ways, it’s true. I’ve worked, and continue to work, at school with teachers that have specialized skills in Visual Arts, Music, and Phys-Ed. Could I teach these subjects? Yes. Do these other teachers come with more background knowledge and skills in these areas though? Yes. I can definitely see the potential positive impact for kids. That being said, if all subjects are being taught in isolation, it’s harder to find the bigger blocks of time to delve deeper into any given area. Maybe if there are these different subject teachers, everyone needs to find a way to work together, share ideas, and find links so that students still have this additional time to “dig deeper.” Having worked closely with the Phys-Ed teacher this year to make that happen, I think that this is definitely possible. What do you think?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *