Living a Responsive Curriculum

My son Jacklayinginthegrass and I set off on one of our many adventure walks, taking advantage of the quickly diminishing summer days. Suddenly, Jack veered from the footpath, ran to a patch of lush green grass, and laid down with a giant grin. He yelled, “momma, come lay on the grass with me!” I couldn’t help but laugh with the energy of his spontaneity and quickly joined him. I looked up at the perfectly blue October sky, felt the soft grass tickle my skin and I smiled at the simplicity of our shared moment. My son is only three and yet emits such a wonderful wisdom on the art of enjoying life, of feeling life and of living every moment.

When approaching my second toolkit challenge, for my “Designing Inclusive Learning Environments” grad class, I felt it was necessary to discuss the concept of supporting an inclusive learning environment through a responsive curriculum. I wrote a post recently titled Learning to “leave” the classroom : Differentiating School Programming, discussing how I see Education should provide students with multiple pathways to learn and ultimately choice in their learning continuum. And in order to support multiple learning pathways, teachers need to connect curriculum in a responsive way to the students.

Why a responsive curriculum?

If I acknowledge and firmly believe that every student who enters a classroom arrives with their own past experiences, knowledge about the world, interests and curiosities, and varying areas of understanding, in order to best differentiate for them I need to facilitate the curriculum to meet their individual learning needs. Doing so honours each student as an individual human being. Not trying to fit human beings into a curriculum. I am teaching students before me today. Not students from last year, five years ago, or students in the future. So then the challenge lies in how do I create a Responsive Curriculum for my students?

Imagine going to see a physician for a leg pain, and then arriving and the doctor already has a prescription in hand before even knowing asking you about your experience in the first place. How often have I planned a Unit, or a lesson plan or thought I had a great inquiry challenge for my students, but had first started with looking at the curriculum. Then later wondered why the students just weren’t hooked? I assumed I should start with the curriculum and then adapt it to meet my learners. Teachers are here to teach the curriculum, right? However, I had it backwards. Instead, I should be asking: how do I help foster a learning experience where the students inform the choices that develop the curriculum of the year?

Because ultimately I need to honor the learner and where they currently are in life’s continuum.

So when does the curriculum come into play? 

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Learning to “leave” the classroom : Differentiating School Programming

I was challenged to select and share a “tool” for assisting with differentiation within a classroom. I planned on writing about an Aurasma technology app I’ve used successfully in the past and then I thought about writing about collaboration as a resource. However, more and more the concept of “what is the purpose of school?” and the concept of the  traditional “classroom” taught by a “teacher” have been pulling at my thoughts. I believe the physical concept of “school” as a place in which learning occurs should be a significant tool for differentiation that must be examined, questioned and challenged, if as Educators, we are to foster creativity in our students and hope to meet the diverse range of needs for all our students. My “tool” is providing a multitude of alternative pathways and experiences for learning beyond the classroom. Thus, differentiating our programming and how students can choose to learn within the framework of “school”.

I have taught Art and Humanities in a windowless classroom for the past six years. My students and I try to spice it up by painting the walls and cupboards. I’ve added a couch, stools and a fuzzy carpet to provide alternate spaces for focus and collaboration. Students take ownership by choosing the layout of the tables and decorating the room with their visible learning. We have had flexible seating arrangements that shift based on the challenge at hand and we move and filter into the school spaces such as hallways or the forum. However, what what I am realizing more each day, is that I can make a room as physically flexible as possible and provide a multitude of tools and accessibility to technology as possible…but it is not enough. What I believe truly needs to change is how our schools provide pathways to learning for our students. What I mean by pathways is options for students to decide how they learn best. No longer must school be a building where students must drive or walk to in order to “receive” their learning from a “teacher”. Instead, students can meet at a community hall, online, a library, a farmer’s field or perhaps an Art gallery and not just for field trips. Why not take a Fine Arts stream, if learning through the Arts is how he or she learns best? To differentiate better, we must look at our school design and differentiate beyond classroom instruction. Continue reading