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Curriculum Studies

‘Curriculum is above all a human undertaking. You, as a teacher, do not just ‘deliver’ the curriculum. In a very real sense, you are the curriculum (or at least a very important part of it) for the students in your class.’ Malone, R. (2011, p.74)

In light of the statement above, how has the Foundations of Education module helped support the development of your professional identity as curriculum developer.

‘A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.’ (Adams, cited in Palacio, 2014). Among the catalysts for my choice to embark on a career in primary education, was the time spent volunteering in two locations, my children’s Educate Together Primary School, and my family’s Montessori based After School centre. Both experiences afforded me a glimpse into the unique development of each individual child, and triggered a longing to be part of the world that not only educates, but offers a child ‘continued capacity for growth’ (Dewey, 1916, p.173). However, what the Foundations of Education module has afforded me is a rich understanding of the theoretical and practical bedrock in which the Irish education system and curriculum is rooted.

Malone’s statement reflects a key strand of a primary teacher’s role and tenets of the obligations communicated to us during the Foundations of Education module. In order for primary students to optimally benefit from the curriculum, and indeed the school experience, a teacher must be aware of the individuals in the class, and the general class profile. The Adams citation above gestures to the potential of each teacher to shape the future, through the guidance and opportunities offered to each student. The three general aims of the curriculum, as outlined in the introduction to the 1999 NCCA document, highlight the teacher’s role in enabling the realisation of each child’s unique potential, the development of social conscience and identity, and finally the preparation of the child for further education and lifelong learning (NCCA, 1999). In my view, a teacher can best achieve these aims if broadly educated and informed on the historical, philosophical, sociological and psychological frameworks upon which the curriculum is based. While Looney refers to recent criticisms of theoretical perspectives and paradigms which claim that the latter ‘do violence to the practical essentials of curriculum as conceived of and realised’ (Looney, 2014, p.8), I disagree with these criticisms. I would argue that not only do such paradigms help to frame curriculum and unveil potential areas for change, but that they also inform the teacher as curriculum developer, especially in times of social or political change. What seems imperative and will inform my own future teacher identity, is the concept of curriculum as social construct and the division emphasised by Looney: ‘between the written curriculum […] and the enacted curriculum.’ (Ibid., p.8).

Wonder‘ by R.J. Palacio. A tale of a boy, his difference and a teacher whose approach made a world of difference. Image Credit: Amy Devlin-Fox.

The Adams citation chosen to open my reflections is drawn from a collection of ‘precepts’ that forms a companion piece to the novel Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Central to this novel is Mr. Browne, a teacher whose curriculum design and delivery creates an inspiring and diverse learning environment in which marginalisation is overcome by kindness. At the core of this classroom journey is a stimulus chosen by Mr. Browne, the precept. At the beginning of each month a new precept is placed on the board and becomes the stimulus for a variety of lessons and subject strands. The written curriculum is adhered to, but the enacted curriculum, and choice of stimuli, allow for the needs of the class profile and the individual students to be met.

Respect for diversity stands at the centre of several module strands covered in Foundations of Education. In studying the history of our nation’s education system, I was struck by the complexities surrounding questions of national identity, and curriculum as a response to society. Today’s curriculum is shaped by respect for the diverse backgrounds of children in our multicultural communities, with principles relying on ‘due allowance for individual difference’ and the celebration of ‘the uniqueness of the child’ (NCCA, 1999, p.8). Such values seem particularly resonant in the light of the sensitive history of church-state relations in this country and the biased nature of the language policy adopted under the 1922 Free State Constitution (Drudy, 2009). The sociological study of language and equality has also afforded me a renewed understanding of the manner in which a teacher’s (a) commitment to equity and (b) concern for social justice, can have implications that transcend the boundaries of the classroom environment. The five key dimensions of equality identified by Baker and Lynch should, in my view, inform each teacher’s approach to curriculum development. These dimensions are: resources; respect and recognition; love, care and solidarity; power; and working and learning. (Baker et al, 2009) Awareness of each one can not only shape teacher identity in a positive manner, but can also be promoted amongst students to foster a positive classroom atmosphere and to shape fair, informed and considerate future citizens. Moreover, upholding such values in the classroom naturally generates a rich and fertile learning ground conducive to the flourishing of multiple intelligences, as outlined by Howard Gardner. (Armstrong, 2018).

The ‘multiple intelligences’ of each class profile should always be considered in both curriculum design and delivery. Video Credit: You Tube.

As student teacher, I have already witnessed the threads being drawn through various modules and across the subject area of inclusion and diversity. Sociology’s introduction to Bernstein’s language codes has been echoed in our discussion of diversity, inclusion and literacy, manifesting itself in our Pedagogy overviews and even shaping the ideas I have currently drafted for future classroom practice, classroom setup and English lessons. The significance attached to our understanding of such issues is clear on examination of curriculum material such as Teacher Guidelines and even the introduction, rationale and aims of the new Primary Language Curriculum (2019). Here, the NCCA addresses the developmental and cultural awareness that shapes a teacher’s approach, reminding curriculum developers of the need to be mindful of individual development as biological, intellectual and cultural: ‘Language learning is a developmental process in which the child engages at his/her own rate. […]. The range of abilities children bring to language-learning tasks and the influence of their environment, their homes and their early childhood experiences, contribute to the variation in children’s rates of progress.’ (NCCA, 2019, p.7) Here we also see the importance of dialogue, communication and context-sensitivity, vital tenets that draw us also to theoretical components of work by Freire, Dewey, Piaget and Vygotsky, introduced in our Philosophy and Psychology modules respectively. Freire (Leonard & Mclaren, 1993) and Dewey (Dewey, 1916) both emphasised democracy and experience, or constructive understanding, as key to the classroom and school community. Moreover, a practical and democratic approach can be optimised if a teacher draws on Piaget’s stage theory, observing when ‘readiness’ may suggest the need for further challenge in lesson planning. Vygotsky’s emphasis on environment and interaction (Long, 2010) has considerably shaped my professional identity, and I hope that by effectively focusing on learning in the zone of proximal development, I will be able to draw children to the task in an authentic way that maximises learning and enjoyment.

To conclude, the Foundations of Education module has offered me a rich and broad host of knowledge, that will help me to design my own curriculum in an inclusive, progressive and informed manner. Moreover, I now appreciate the focus placed by many on the ‘worldview of education’ (Sahlberg et al., 2017, p.5) and am eager to professionally engage, at micro and macro levels, with global education and curriculum trends.

References

Armstrong, T. (2018) Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom. Virginia, USA: ASCD.

Baker, J., Cantillon S., Lynch K. and Walsh, J. (2009) Equality: From Theory to Action. 2nd edn. Palgrave Macmillan.

Dewey, J. (1916) Democracy and Education, New York: Macmillan.

Drudy, S. (2009) Education in Ireland: Challenge and Change, Dublin: Gill Books.

Leonard, P. & McLaren, P. (1993) Paulo Freire: A critical encounter, London: Routledge.

Looney, A. (2014) ‘Curriculum Politics and Practice: From ‘implementation’ to ‘agency.’’ Irish Teachers Journal, 2(1), pp.7-15.

National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) (2019) Primary Language Curriculum, [Online] Available at: https://curriculumonline.ie/getmedia/2a6e5f79-6f29-4d68-b850-379510805656/PLC-Document_English.pdf (Accessed: 03 December 2020).

National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) (2019) Primary School Curriculum: Introduction, [Online] Available at: https://www.curriculumonline.ie/getmedia/c4a88a62-7818-4bb2-bb18-4c4ad37bc255/PSEC_Introduction-to-Primary-Curriculum_Eng.pdf (Accessed: 03 December 2020).

Palacio, R.J. (2014) 365 Days of Wonder. UK: Penguin Random House.

Sahlberg, P., Hasak, J., Rodriguez, V. (2017) Hard Questions on Global Educational Change: Policies, Practices and the Future of Education, New York: Teachers College Press.

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