Thursday, October 25, 2007

Negotiating the Curriculum

Learning is a process to deepen personal understanding or skill. This is best achieved with the assistance of a learning 'mentor'. Such a 'mentor' negotiates learning with the learner, aways leaving the 'power' to learn with the learner.

In the book 'Negotiating the Curriculum' 82, Edited by Garth Boomer, ( reprinted 92) four steps are suggested to negotiate a study with students applicable for any level of schooling. Essentially it is an inquiry model that emphasizes valuing the 'voice' of students in the their own learning. It is very much in line with the 'co- constructivist' teaching philosophy

The four steps outlined below are premised that the study has not yet been widely accepted by the students. In this situation the teacher and the learners should ask four questions and together negotiate the answers. This is essentially about power sharing leaving the agency for learning in the hands of the students.

So concerning any topic.

1 What do we know already?
(Or where are we now and what don't we need to learn or be taught about?)

The very act of asking what we know tends to expose what we don't know and so raises questions to be answered. Often one question will lead to another. This approach develop student's ownership and collective understanding.

2 What do we want and need to find out?
(Or what are our questions, what don't we know, and what are our problems?)

At this stage students can list things they already know and things the want to find out about. Students can provide the best answer to their own questions and pool their ideas. By the use of this process a set of key or powerful questions will develop - these are best kept to three or four so as to focus the students studies. Other questions can be studied by groups or by individuals if time allows. There may also be some things that the teacher may need to ensure are covered - students will accept that sometimes learning has to accommodate such curriculum 'restraints' or requirements.

3 How will we go about finding out?
(Or where will we look, what experiments and inquiries will we make, what will we need, what information and resources are available, who will do what, and what should be the order of things?)

The students will by now know what is to be done and why. From the ideas generated tasks need to be devised and assigned for all to complete, individually or individually. These tasks should be displayed on the whiteboard and resources gathered. It is a good idea to develop some sort of group rotation programme ( as seen in many reading programmes) so as to make use of limited resources and to allow the teacher space to move around and assist as necessary. As students sort out their draft idea the teacher needs to be able to challenge their ideas to ensure students gain deeper understandings. Assistance may also need to be given to help students present their findings.

4 How will we know, and show, that we've found out when we have finished?
( Or what are out our findings, what have we learnt, whom will we show and for whom are we doing the work, and where to next?)

Students through such negotiations will have in their minds what it is they are to achieve ( criteria may well have been 'negotiated' to allow students to continually assess their progress). During steps two and three the audience for the research will have been defined and ideas to make a wall display ( or web pages) to celebrate learning discussed. A good idea to have a parents evening to share completed work and this could involve a range of creative activities . ICT media will naturally be included.

The questions represent a logical approach to tackling a problem in nay area of the curriculum. The scientific method is - problem, clarification, hypothesis, test, conclusion - is embraced within them. In a sense all students are at best scientists - seekers of understanding, problem solvers, people who need to satisfy their curiosity about things they want to know about.

The four questions outline a basic approach but with experience students will become skilled in negotiating a range of activities for the class to consider. If negotiation , or inquiry learning, is a new experience for the students the teacher may need to step in and make suggestions but only as a last resort.

One way or another after the the four questions have been negotiated the students will clear about what is expected and will be clear about, what they are to do, why, how, and how the work is to be shared, assessed and evaluated.

With experience students will become expert in planning and undertaking all aspects of any study and teachers role will increasingly be one of ensuring students are gaining in depth understanding and gaining in 'learning how to learn' skills.

The earlier such independent skills are developed through negotiated learning the better.

With such experiences students will become 'seekers, users and creators' of their own knowledge as is suggested by the New Zealand Curriculum


Anonymous said...

If a class followed this approach you wouldn't see so many projects where students seem to 'cut and paste' ideas that they have little real understanding of.

Bruce said...

You ares so right.I always make it a habit to read what students have written up on their study charts. All too often it is material copied from another source with no real input from the learner.

You can always tell if students have done some original thinking by noting such comments as: 'I thought that..', 'I have found out that...','I have not been able to find an answer to my question'... , my best idea is...','I wonder if....', 'There seem to be different answers to my question..' etc. And the language used will be in ther own words at least.

Anything that reflects the learner's 'voice' indicates thinking, not just copying out of information.

Anonymous said...

Excellent material Bruce