American University of Beirut

Education 326

Book Report

On

Book: "TOWARD A COHERENT CURRICULUM"
ASCD 1995
Edited by James A. Beane
 

Report submitted to:
Dr. R. Ghusayni

By:

Mireille Mahfoud

Spring 2001

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Summary:
There was once a radio program who’s ‘host was talking to a woman who had received a grant that allowed her to purchase video camerasto be loaned to urban youths so they could "photograph their lives". The photographer described an African American teenage boy who was having a marvelous time with the video camera. He took video footage of all his relatives, plus his friends, the men at the neighborhood barbershop, and people from his church. When he went into his school, however, he turned the camera off. When asked why he did that, the young man replied, "You asked me to take pictures about my life. School is not about my life!"’ (p. 158).

‘School is not about my life’: a small negative sentence that expresses so much. If we take the average time that a child spends in the school, 7 to 8 hours per day, and the average time a child sleeps, 8 to 9 hours per day, what is left is between 7 to 9 hours that this child spends outside of school. Comparing those figures, we realise that the child spends half of his waking time in the school, and if during this time, he considers that this is not his life, we are wasting half of his life away.

‘Toward a coherent curriculum’ says it all. This book has many writers, most of the chapters are written by single writers, some others by more than one. But they all talk about the sanme thing: what a coherent curriculum means, how to plan for one, what should be taken into consideration meanwhile, what is the purpose of the education, and many other issues that are related to the student.

The main idea in all the chapters is the student and his own experiences. In order to understand why things are being done the they are, why they are being taught what they are taught, the student should see the bigger picture, he should feel the connection between different parts of the curriculum, life in school shouldn’t be disconnected from life out of the school. In order to do so, disciplines should be clustered into one, i.e.: social studies = history, geography, civics, … There should be correlation between 2 or more discilplines, and integrate the curriculum on real life issues where knowledge and skills are in the context of one theme. And finally let the young people identify the issues and problem areas.

All of this is very nicely put; it is not as simple as this. The background of each student should be taken into consideration; is he black or white, is he asiatic or indian, does he come from a poor or a rich family and neiborhood, what are his needs and concerns. The focus should be on the intent and the competence of the students instead of the curriculum, which can change many times during the year, depending on the needs. For example: let’s say the theme of alcoholism isn’t the prepared curriculum of this year. You have a student who arrived into your classroom with an excellent grade report, but during the year, his grades are getting lower and lower, he’s absent minded during the class hours, and he is starting to hit his classmates during ressessions. As a teacher, your duty is to find out what is wronng in the life of this student. You do a small investigation and you find out that the father of this student is becoming a drunkard, and when he comes home he started banging everything and everyone who comes his way. One way to help this student is to talk about it in the classroom as a new theme to be discussed. Research will be done, presentations presented and class discussions will be held. This new theme is part of the life of one student that you found out about, but it could include many others also. So this change, even if not planned, will be helpful to many, and a guideline to others, if they are faced with this problem one day. Plus, it is a social problem that affects a lot of communities.

Some of the writers gave aproaches concerning what the integrated and coherent curriculum should have. Ernest Boyles suggested that the curriculum should consider the human condition and make the students see the relationships and patterns between the disciplines. In order to do so, he wrote 8 commonalities: the life cycle, language, the Arts, time and space, groups and institutions, work, natural world and search for meaning. Stephen Tchudi suggested 2 approaches concerning languages: whole-language (for elementary grades: cutting accross disciplines through topics such as family, mythology, world geography,…), language across the curriculum (for secondary and college: team taught courses by teachers of english, social studies,…).

Others talked about maths, science and technology, like Andrew Ahlgren and Sofia Kesidou. They talked about mapping at the same grade level multidisciplines that don’t seem to connect, and which are the bases for the upper grades. The mapping should be done by blocks, and each block, to make coherence, should have one of these purposes: description and explanation, design, issues and inquiries. The same topic with a different purpose will produce a different outcome. Knowledge should be used to make sense out of the experiences.

Pate, McGinnis and Homestead said that in order to creat coherence through curriculum integration, there should be curriculum themes, an advisor-advisory relation to talk about the needs and concerns of the students. The components of a coherent curriculum are: identifying goals, creating a democratic class, interpreting content, making connections, using traditional and alternative assessments, determining an appropriate pedagogy, personalysing learning, enhancing relationship, communicating, developing effective scheduling and organizational structures and reflecting.

Some of the requirements of graduation of Central Park East Secondary School are a postgraduate plan, school and community services, projects involving ethics and social issues, and demonstrations of high-order thinking skills in various disciplines. The final portfolio will be evaluated upon the viewpoint that encompasses wide knowledge and deep understanding, the ability to draw connections among information and ideas, appropriate use of evidence, an engaging voice and awareness of audience, and the use of proper conventions.

These are some examples of coherent curriculum, but we should stop and face reality. All of the approaches are coherent, integrated in the life of our students, but if they are not supported, they’re doomed. If the textbooks that are published and approved by the states don’t serve the purpose of the new coherent and integrated curriculum, the teaching-learning process will be hard to implement. Further more, if the administration doesn’t approve of the new methods, nothing can be done, or very little.

In conclusion, we should change the old curriculum, which is based on accumulating disconnected information, into a curriculum that has a ‘unified sense of meaning and significance’ (p.173). Connection between previous experiences and new ideas gives context and meaning to what is learned. The learner’s experiences, what he wants to learn and his aspiration should be taken into consideration in order to make sense out of learning.

In the end, 3 matters should be taken into consideration: understanding the consensus (common agreement), the interest of the state (common good), and the capacity to articulate and refine the fundamental principles.


Reflecting:

I always thought that the present curriculums are only accumulation of information; the methods used to download this information are old, based on the memory of the students. We were, and still are, producing encyclopedias. Our students get out of school having no idea what is going on around them, except for their own experiences. They are lost in the world of adults, follow the crowd, and try to survive in a world that doesn’t give a chance to a slow person. I had revolutionary ideas about what should be taught in school, and how it should be done.

After reading this book, my convictions only got stronger, but I got scared too. What are we doing to our students, can we remedy to the mistakes we already done, and will the community around us accept such new ways of education? These are only the easy questions. How can we really create a coherent curriculum, especially in Lebanon? Can we apply all the approaches suggested in this book?

In my humble opinion, it is a little far fetched. Based on the book, all the writers agreed that we should connect the learning to their past experiences, and take into consideration their cultural background. But if we had 25 kids in one class, each of them from a different neighborhood, different cultural background and different social status, creating a coherent curriculum for this class, without leaving anyone out, will be a very difficult task. Avoiding the cultural part is ignoring their past, and how it affects each one in their thinking, their actions, and their social life in the school. By doing so, we turn the page on a big part of their education, then we’re back to point zero. If we group all similar kids in one class, we are putting the idea of discrimnation in their minds, and they won’t be interacting normally with each other. Adding more teachers, with fewer students in the classrooms, will be costly.

So the coherent curriculum is much more thought, harder to implement, and always full of surprises, since the teachers should be ready to make changes any time during the school year, even if not planned. Applying all the approaches in the book will be impossible, and most of them apply to secondary schools. What about the elementary schools? These are the bases for the secondary school. And if our students arrive to secondary school not understanding what they’ve been doing up till now, they’ll be septic in what concerns the rest of their school years. The lower classes should be coherent to our students too.

But this is not all, we want to get out of the accumulation of information, and make a coherent curriculum to our students, which should connect all disciplines together, and with their lives. If we take a closer look to the approach of Ernest Boyler, his approach is connected to real life, but we end up also accumulating information. If we don’t have a purpose in what we’re teaching, a long range, a view of the future, without forgetting that this purpose should be the student’s, we’re back to point zero.

All in all, I go back to the beginnig of the report, and conclude that while working on a coherent and integrated curriculum, we should keep in mind that "school is about the student’s life".


Page created on April 18, 2001 | Last updated on April 18, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Mireille Mahfoud & Nada AbiSamra
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