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.’

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

The Foundations of Education (FOE) module has greatly influenced my developing teacher identity by supporting me to understand the depth of my responsibility and what I value and hope to achieve as an educator.

Previously, I assumed the curriculum was a set of requirements and criteria I needed to tick off in the school year. However, on reflection over its development, philosophies and my own perspective I’ve realised that it is a living document. I see it as an experience between student and teacher.

I gained a greater sense of responsibility in studying the development of the Irish primary education system and its curriculum. From looking at the ambitious reforms that Commissioner Starkie attempted in 1900 it surprised me that the child-centred curriculum did not take effect as righteously as it could have, however, having analysed the history of education it is clear to me that the lack of teacher collaboration and consultation resulted in its untimely demise (Walsh, 2016). The lack of teacher input in The Revised Programme of 1900 made me aware that I must not abscond my own views when education reforms are underway. I must make an effort to make my input heard.

This description from Hyland (cited in Walsh, 2016) of the Revised Programme of Instruction of 1900 sums up that the lack of collaboration with teachers was a weakness of the programme.
(Credit: Siobhán McHugh via PowerPoint)

The friction between teachers and policymakers of the Irish Free State regarding the Irish language in the First National Programme of 1922 further asserts the importance of teacher involvement in policymaking (Bennet, 2006). I realise I have a major responsibility as a policymaker of the curriculum, as it was denied of teachers in the past. I had not realised the gravity of such undertaking but I look forward to being an active and engaged participant in any future developments regarding the education system and the curriculum. This will be ambitious, particularly as I gather my feet as a newly qualified teacher but I hope with experience and perseverance I can hold true to this commitment.

Within the FOE module, I benefitted from understanding the different philosophies of education and developing my own philosophy. Looney (2014) informs us that the curriculum is a social entity, comprising of a set of documents but also an enacted curriculum that is experienced between students and teachers. This resonated with me as I realise the curriculum is more than a set of boundaries laid out by a politician or a political party, although in the past it has appeared that way, for example, the nationalistic policies requiring the Irish language to be taught (Bennett, 2006). Yet, in fact, there are voices behind the guidelines of teaching children about their local community and the discovery learning methods recommended in the curriculum (NCCA, 1999). I hear echos of Dewey’s philosophies that focus on creating an engaged, participating community of inquiry and discovery; a philosophy which I personally subscribe to (Dewey, 1916). The FOE module further opened my eyes to the voice of Freire (1970) who calls for the oppressed, those being the people who have been put down and exploited by people in power, to be part of education and curriculum development. With this in mind, I further reflected on who will I be delivering the curriculum to? Who are the students that will be experiencing the enacted curriculum in my classroom? Will they be part of the oppressed?

This quote from Jenkins (cited in Looney, 2014) is referring to the English education system, but it shows how there can exist political agendas behind curricula, and it is now my responsibility to ensure that I engage with the curriculum and become active in developing it so that my teacher voice can be heard.
(Credit: Siobhán McHugh via Canva.com)

Understanding that I will not only be part of my students’ lives but their families and their communities, has given me a greater perspective of what might be required of me as a curriculum designer. Learning about the different influences in a child’s development outlined in The Bronfenbrenner Bioecological Model of Human Development, coupled with Epstein’s Spheres of Influence reiterated the huge role I will play not only in my students’ lives but their families and communities (Guy-Evans, 2020; Epstein, 2018). I had the tremendous fortune of being born in a very secure family setting, however, I realise that not everyone has that same safety net in life, as an educator I must prepare for those who do not. A report from the House of Oireachtas (2019, p.120) calls for curricula to ‘be designed in such a way that it reflects the different affinities of the pupil, takes into account different starting points, and is adapted to pupils ambitions’. This new perspective of my role and influence beyond the classroom, along with my heightened awareness that education is not as easy for some as it was for me, will help drive me to ensure that the curriculum and the lessons I deliver are accommodating to all of my students. I hope to engage in meaningful dialogue with the families and communities I will be working in.

This is my own visual representation of Bronfenbrenner’s model of human, I highlighted ‘Teachers’ as it highlights how close an influence I will be in my students’ lives.
(Credit: Siobhán McHugh via PowerPoint)
This is my own visual representation of Epstein’s Overlapping Spheres of influence where I have highlighted my place as a teacher.
(Credit: Siobhán McHugh via PowerPoint)

This new perspective of mine has led me to value the importance of understanding motivation and encouragement as I deliver the curriculum to those students. Studies from Dweck (Guy-Evans, 2015) and Claro, Paunesku and Dweck (2016) look at the growth mindset theory of motivation and the presence of fixed mindsets in children from low-income households. Along with understanding Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I’ve seen that it might not be applicable to be focused on teaching students about carbohydrates and proteins, or obtuse angles or the location of volcanos, sometimes I might have to take a step back from the curriculum and attend to the needs that may not be met outside the classroom and understand that those students might need a different type of motivational encouragement and praise. Some students will not remember anything I teach them, but they will remember how I made them feel in my classroom. I can aim to do this by providing specific, personal words of encouragement towards process-related activities in an effort to create a safe and enjoyable learning experience for all students in my classroom.

In summary, having examined the history of education, looked at the philosophies behind the curriculum, taken on a new sociological perspective and analysed different theories of motivation I see that the curriculum is much more than a criterion to be completed but a human encounter between teacher and student and with this I am eager to bring my sense of responsibility, empathy and encouragement to my teaching.

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References

Bennett, J. (2006) ‘Curricula and primary education in Ireland, north and south, 1922-1999’, Oideas, (47), pp.7-31. 

Guy-Evans, O. (2020) ‘Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory’, Simply Psychology,  09 November. [Online] Available at: https://www.simplypsychology.org/Bronfenbrenner.html (Accessed: 30th November 2020).

Dweck, C. (2015) ‘Carol Dweck revisits the ‘growth mindset’, Education Week, 22 September 2020. Available at:

https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/09/23/carol-dweck-revisits-the-growth-mindset.html (Accessed: 26th November 2020).

Claro, S., Paunesku, D. and Dweck, C. S. (2016) ‘Growth mindset tempers the effects of poverty on academic achievement’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. [Online] Available at: https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2016/07/13/1608207113 (Accessed: 26th November 2020).

Dewey, J. (1916) Democracy and education: and introduction to philosophy of education. Reprint, Auckland: The Floating Press, 2009.

Epstein, J. (2018) School, family and community partnerships, preparing educators and improving schools. 2nd edn. New York: Routledge.

Freire, P. (1970) Pedagogy of the oppressed. Reprint, London: The Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005.

House of the Oireachtas (2019) Report on education inequality and disadvantage and barriers to education. [Online] Available at: https://data.oireachtas.ie/ie/oireachtas/committee/dail/32/joint_committee_on_education_and_skills/reports/2019/2019-06-05_report-on-education-inequality-disadvantage-and-barriers-to-education_en.pdf (Accessed: 25th November 2020).

Looney, (2014) ‘Curriculum politics and practice: from ‘implementation’ to ‘agency’, Irish Teachers’ Journal, 2(1), pp.7-14. [Online] Available at:  https://www.into.ie/publication/irish-teachers-journal-2014/ (Accessed: 25th November 2020).

National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) (1999) Primary school curriculum. Dublin: The Stationery Office.

Walsh, T., (2016) ‘The national system of education, 1831-2000’ in Walsh, B. (ed) Essays in the history of Irish education. London: Palgrave Macmillan.