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The River - a Complicated Metaphor for Education

Reform needs Team

I was in a staff meeting the other day, the start of which focused on auditing the curriculum in regards to a whole school initiative that had been progressively implemented over the last few years. The task was divided into year levels. As staff all sat down together, many looked at each other wondering who had sufficiently incorporated the different modules in their planning. There were a few cases of 'it doesn't fit into our learning in ...' and 'I just did it informally', while others simply had a blank look of 'what are we talking about here'. The one thing that did become apparent was the necessity to work as a team, crossing all learning areas, focussing on the student at the centre.

The River of Education

Being in a somewhat unique situation of having both 'Primary' and 'Secondary' classes in the same school - and having taught in traditional 'Secondary' schools in the past - it can sometimes give you an insight into the different ways things work (and sometimes don't work). For example, in my view, it is often easier to implement a cross-curricular program in a primary environment as there is usually a core group of staff responsible for the majority of the learning. Juxtapose this with the Secondary scenario where students can have anywhere up to 7+ subjects, creating a sense of consistency across the board becomes a more fraught process.

To me, this whole difference in structure is analogous to the path of a great river. Initially students feed into the main stream from different points, with different backgrounds, different interests, different experiences. More often than not though they are progressively consumed in the main current that slowly meanders its way to the sea. This has its benefit with all students presumably benefiting from the same learning opportunities. However, something happens in the Secondary situation where the once uniform river starts to spread out into a delta where students are invited to start choosing divergent pathways as they make their way to the sea. The problem that arises in this situation is that sometimes, some things are missed out, overlooked, forgotten about. They start becoming somebody else's problem. It is in this scenario that having a strong sense of team and support is so important, where everyone works together, picking up what the other might have missed, so that no student is missed.

Complicated or Complex?

I guess this leads me to a greater concern though, where to now? In thinking about this whole scenario, I can't help but think about Sir Ken Robinson's many discussions about 21st century learning. It makes me wonder, is this it? Is continually auditing, reviewing and managing curriculum really reforming learning or is the idea of a river not some slight more organic portrayal of the age old mechanistic factory line? I have been reading a lot recently about different models of curriculum reform from around the world. The one thing that seems to jut out is glaring problem that to fix many of the problems involves finding a complex solution. +Peter DeWitt suggested in talking about Common Core's attempt to solve the poverty issue in the USA: "Poverty is a complex issue and it needs a complex resolution". Continuing with this, it makes me wonder, are our solutions really that complex or are they just more complicated versions of what we have done in the past?

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