My wife is a curriculum coordinator (and media specialists) of a vocational high school, so sometimes her journals and books end up on my radar screen. Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World, edited by Heidi Hayes Jacobs, caught my eye the other day. The slant in this book is certainly a bit different than I am used to – how to change curriculum to reflect 21st century skills, told primarily from the administrative viewpoint. Of the various contributors here, only one or two seem to have had any real classroom teaching experience. Most of the writers are administrators or keynote speakers at education conferences. Which is not to say the pieces are not valuable. I’d read anything by Tim Tyson and Alan November, and the themes of global connections, sustainable design and digital portfolios are very important.
I admit that I read this book through a certain lens: I am being asked to co-present a session on New Literacies this week before a conference of Massachusetts superintendent, curriculum directors and other administrators. My task is to talk about my classroom. I am so used to having my audience being teachers that I have found this book helpful to step back and look at the larger picture of systemic change and how that might happen. I went back in to my presentation, adding some ideas on how administrators can support classroom teachers.
Jacobs’ message here is that integration of technologies into existing curriculum is not quite the right approach. It can’t be an add-on. Or even a one-to-one replacement. Instead, we would be better off looking at the larger picture of curriculum, and our expected outcomes of learning, and then work to transform classroom practice to meet those learning outcomes. She suggests starting small, one unit of instruction at a time, but she urges us to move 21st Century skills to the front burner of our curriculum design or risk a generation of disengaged learners whose world will look nothing like the classroom.
There is a very valuable handout in the book called “A 21st Century Pledge: A Curricular commitment from Each Teacher” that encourages teachers to be reflective and forward-thinking designers of lesson plans. The pledge notes that the commitment is not using an LCD projector, or having students write on a computer as opposed to a typewriter, or using an interactive whiteboard. Instead, it is a pledge to thoughtfully use technology to enhance content that can be evidenced in student projects and performances. And while the subtitle of the pledge suggests this is for teachers, she has a long section on what administrators must commit to doing, too, including providing support for classroom teachers, tolerate some levels of frustration, and celebrate the victories.
Chapters in the book include examining how the structure of the typical school day and the design of our buildings and classrooms might inhibit students; considering trends in technology that are impacting learning in the lives of young people; understanding the growing importance of media literacy skills; using curriculum mapping to make sustainable change; and mulling over the shift of the classroom from teacher-centered instruction to student-centered learning.
The book ends with some thoughts on the “mindshifts” that will need to happen if we are to transform schools with 21st Century thinking. Again, it is not the tools.
We need to move from knowing the right answers to knowing how to behave when the answers are not readily apparent;
We need to shift from transmitting meaning to students to finding ways for student to construct meaning;
We need to move away from just external evaluations (by the teacher, of student work) to more self-assessment, which breeds improvement.
Peace (in curriculum design),