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2011-10-03 Steve Gardiner Book Review: Curriculum 21

As educators look at what needs to happen in today's schools, there are many decisions that need to be made. Heidi Hayes Jacobs, in her book Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World (ASCD, 2010), has brought together many authors with great ideas about where we are going and how we should get there.

Hayes contends that teachers want to do what is right for their students, but simply may not know what that is. She examines, for example, assessments, and recommends that teachers look at the tools that are available today and upgrade their assessment to more closely fit what students will face in the real world. By upgrading one assessment type per semester, a teacher could soon make a difference in how students are learning and responding to the class.


She does caution teachers who are interested in making changes to avoid the All-at-once Syndrome. Changes may be made in increments and may be more effective if each step can be controlled and analyzed rather than having a large scale change which may overwhelm everyone involved. She wrote, “The deliberate and formal work of identifying new options and working to target replacements is a sensible place for a faculty to begin.”


To make changes in content, Hayes recommends looking at global concerns as well as placing an importance on the whole child's emotional, academic, physical, and mental development. Technology and media may play into this as well as career plans and real-world practices.


Hayes includes other writers to develop an understanding of the changes in our world that support changes in our educational system. Stephen Wilmarth writes about socio-technology trends that will have a large impact on what we do. He notes that we once depended on domain experts to make decisions for us. Now we have so much information we have to sort through it on our own. “The power of the digital disorder that arises out of all knowledge being everywhere at once makes the human capacity for pattern recognition, for critical thinking, for nuanced perceptions, and for dealing with ambiguity far more important than the search for certain outcomes,” he writes.


Vivian Stewart explains how the global perspective is changing classrooms. Economics of China and India are having more impact that ever before and students need to understand the changing nature of the world and international relationships. Languages, cultural information, geographical understanding, and world trends will all affect the world our students live in.


Frank Baker writes about the importance of understanding media literacy in today's world. He write that there are five core concepts of media literacy that students must understand including, 1) all media messages are constructed, 2) media messages are constructed using creative language with its own rules, 3) different people experience the same media message differently, 4) media have embedded values and points of view, and 5) most media messages are organized to gain profit and/or power.


Alan November adds comments about digital learning. The students of today have access to and knowledge of many tools that are foreign to their teachers. Using the skills and attributes of those tools could “create a more balanced vision of teaching and learning. The real problem is not adding technology to the current organization of the classroom, but changing the culture of teaching and learning.”


This collection of ideas by talented writers gives much for us to think about as we consider what our schools should be and do to help our students gain the most.

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