It is odd to hear public education leaders speak about moving focus to learner-centered or student-centered models in our schools. You would think that would have always been the focus, but somewhere we got off track. With policies to “leave no child left behind,” we double-downed on the target of getting all students to the same outcomes and measuring rigorously those outcomes. In doing so, we lost focus of the individual. Dr. Yong Zhao gives a wonderful comparison for our school’s current model to making sausage. We place all students into the school grinder and force them through with the hope of equitable outcomes.
The meaning of curriculum has narrowed under the focus of standardized tests. For many, curriculum is now content to be packed and delivered to students with the efficiency of Amazon, with students being able to regurgitate what they have consumed. Or at best, curriculum is a script used by teachers to synchronize to standards to prepare students for a test.
We will not come close to learner centered models until we redefine curriculum.
Curriculum originates from the latin word “curre,” to run. The word “curriculum” evolved from a course or path for racing chariots (curricle). It was adopted into academia in the mid 16th century and also tied to the idea of a course. Curriculum is the path of learning.
My daughter’s path of learning
My daughter, Amelia, is on a path of learning music. Specifically, she is studying vocal performance. Maybe her love of music began with her mom and I signing to her as an infant. As a hairless toddler, she would watch Moulin Rouge all the way through from her bouncer. Many bath and bedtimes involved me singing to her “Your Song.” Recently, I watched her high school performance in Addams Family and realized how rich this path is and how many people help her along the way.
At some point, she decided to make music a focus of study. Her curriculum is guided by parents, teachers, mentors, and friends. Amelia is not alone, I see other students engaging in similar knowledge and learning experiences combining technology and community.
Here are brief highlights of her path of learning and the people contributing:
- In elementary school, Amelia enjoyed an excellent teacher Mr. Morgan. It was amazing how he could get K-2 students to perform for a gym full of parents and family the music they learned.
- In second grade, Ms. Towle led the whole class in a performance of Beauty and the Beast. Amelia portrayed Mrs. Potts. It was a great introduction to theatre and performing a production.
- During middle school, Mrs. Fugate went above the expected curriculum and directed the class in performing The Little Mermaid. The attention from the music to the costumes, thrust this into a top performance level performance for middle school.
- Sara Jane Baldwin, a friend with background in musical theatre, is a patron to Amelia. Sara offers advice as well as encouragement to Amelia to view a diverse range of shows. (And helping her to get to them.)
- In high school, Mr. Hanson shared his deep appreciation for music as well as a professionalism. He helped Amelia overcome performance anxiety and instilled a gravitas.
- Choosing to invest more time in music development, Amelia was counseled to take piano lessons. Joni Chan is brilliant and patient in her instruction, helping Amelia in reading music.
- For several years, Dr. Meredith Schilling has coached Amelia. The depth of knowledge and controlled technique are obvious effects of their work together. Meredith has also taught her much about performing and resilience. She provides the right balance of encouragement and pushing Amelia to do the hard work.
Amelia engages in communities both physically and virtually. The local community theatre has given her experience in many productions and currently she is the musical director for the upcoming show. Youtube has also been an invaluable resource, providing musical performances, interviews, and coaching. Through this medium she shared with me a lesser known, but not less wonderful, musical “Ghost Quartet” by Dave Malloy. In the following video she performs the song with two of her friends. (Amelia is the piece of toast.)
Curriculum, as a path of learning, is dynamic with the development of knowledge, skills, and dispositions. It does not solely derive from policies, textbooks, or industries. It is not fragmented. Curriculum is a path of learning chosen by the student and supported by community.
To move to learning centered cultures in schools we need to focus on:
- Seeing the student and their learning holistically
- Allowing teachers autonomy (How will students have it if teachers do not?)
- Moving away from the disposition of equity of outcomes to one focusing on equity of opportunity
- Modernizing approach to curriculum
- Changing learning models used in schools
Meredith Schilling lives in San Antonio, Texas and is currently taking applications for voice students. She also does this work via video conferencing.
This article first appeared on LinkedIn Pulse