Wednesday, June 21, 2006

More from Mr Beane! Democratic Schools

  Posted by Picasa A bit more from Mr. Beane!

Beane is interested in what a curriculum would look like that transcends the current standardized ones – you know the ones with all those strands, levels and learning objectives.

He wants to know what a democratic curriculum would look like – one that provides ‘common good’ to all students; one that sees students as creators rather than ‘consumers’ or ‘customers’ – and most of all one that treats teachers as professionals.

Beane believes students need to be brought together to develop their own curriculum by combining their concerns and self interest with 'common good' in a collaborative and democratic way. For such a curriculum to be worthwhile he believes it must both address significant issues and engage students in an active and meaningful way.

After the two key questions have been asked (1. ‘What question or concerns do you have about yourself?’ and 2.‘What questions or concerns you have about the world?’) students gather in groups to discuss the questions and then work with their teachers to help them group common concerns into themes.

This would also allow the current curriculums ‘big ideas’, or strands, to be covered if this was felt important. The themes that the student's develop also cover over time the main strands that are included in the 'official' curriculums.

For example a set of questions framed a theme called’ Living in the Future’ which included, health issues, aging, planning healthy life styles, environmental concerns, study trends and graphs, looking at past trends ,the role of technology, future problems, and the need to get along and live with different cultures.

Another theme that was developed was ‘Show Me the Money’ arising out of questions about where money came from, history of money, ancient civilizations and money, budgeting, wealth distribution, poverty, and so on.

Other themes developed from students questions were: ‘Conflict and Violence’, ‘Outer Space’, ‘Isms and Prejudice’ - the possibilities are infinite.

After the theme has been selected students research their own questions, share and debate findings, prepare reports, interview community members and develop a parent evening presentation night to share findings with the wider community.

A full range of information technology and creative arts are naturally integrated into the learning experience as are a full range of appropriate thinking strategies – anything that allows the student to inquire deeply and express their ideas with imagination. It is essentially a problem solving approach.

The themes involve real work by the students often with no correct answers. Students have to come to consensus, handle differences, respect each other views, make decisions, contribute to group tasks, and find resources ( although teachers assist in this).

All this activity demands more time and intellectual energy that is usually expected. Students in this rigorous process pick extensive meaningful content knowledge as well as using higher order thinking skills- all qualities that will be useful if they are to live and contribute to a democratic society.

At the school I visit, which uses this approach across all children from year 1 to 8, the parent sharing evening have become a major highlight attracting a large number of enthusiastic parents.

It is important, according to Beane, not to ask the children simply what they are interested in and what they want to study. The broader based questions asked are concerns about themselves and the wider world and relate the studies to the 'common good'. Broader questions usually raise questions of wider social and worldwide issues .It has been found that students in widely different communities raise similar issues.

Perhaps the simpler questions might be the basis for work in the younger classes?

The deeper themes developed often involve issues of race, gender, class and wider society issues that encourage students to tackle more meaningful ideas.

Although the entire class decides on the theme the school I visits involves the entire school in this theme development using cooperative learning strategies – the older working with younger children. As the theme develops there is time for small groups, or individuals, to follow topics they feel important and that need not concern the whole group. If the whole school is involved the theme moves from family group to the class and individual levels but everyone contributes to the school wide presentation day.

Such a learning approach creates the school as a true 'learning community' where all work together to create what individuality they could not do alone, and where every persons individuals creativity is valued if it adds to the total picture of learning.

At the school I visit it has made a real difference, not only to the students, but their teachers who now work together for a common cause, and to the parents and the wider community who are as exited as the childrenare with what is being achieved.

Exciting stuff!


Anonymous said...

This is so much like what we used to do -particularly the idea of the 'emergent' curriculum! I still however like the idea of every learner their own IEP but this does not preclude students achieving things in groups, or working within negotiated themes. It is the 'love of the learning' that counts!

Bruce Hammonds said...

I still like the idea of the 'emergent' programme - or as one writer (Peter Ellyard) calls it - 'just in time teaching' as against the traditional 'just in case!' one.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it strange that schools are not often 'learning organisations' let alone democratic.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Developing a school system aimed at developing students with democratic blood in their veins, ready and willing to enter the world to make it a fairer place, would be a great vision. Possibly sounds like the ideals of John Dewey.

This was an idea provided to me by a UK teacher by e-mail in response to the 'blog'.

Anonymous said...

Beane is 'talking ' about a personalised curriculum, as well as a democratic one. I have never seen a truly democratic school. I guess you find them in practicing democracies!