Week 5

Ontario Curriculum - Present and Future Directions

Overall Connections

All three of the readings for this week discuss ideas for the Ontario curriculum moving forward. This ranges from character education, to Métis curriculum, to professional learning communities. Although these topics are quite different at face value, overall they connect with the idea that our current curriculum does not suit the citizens that we are hoping to produce. Many of us have said that we teach these necessary topics in our classrooms, whether they are in the curriculum or not, however we are seeing that the curriculum needs to catch up with us, especially to assist with assessment (whether this be assessment that includes grades or not).


I have included a fifth discussion thread on our board for this week, so there is room for a discussion on where we feel our curriculums need to move; recognizing of course that we are all in very different places with different curriculums and different expectations. Please look over the article summaries, and I look forward to facilitating our discussion this week!

How to Integrate Character Education Into the Curriculum

Jane Gilness (2003) found herself asking “how can I use my position as an instructor to imbue my students with a strong sense of moral awareness, and still commit to the job of teaching content at the same time?” To assist her practice, she created her ideal “character cocktail”, which consists of the values she deems crucial for creating a student with moral awareness. This cocktail consists of community, manners, and ethical decision-making.


Gilness (2003) gave several suggestions for developing students who possess each one of these traits. She suggested that teachers cannot begin to teach character to students if there is not a positive classroom environment, where students feel a strong sense of community. Gilness taught integrated teaching of community to her high school English students using eulogies; students assumed it was a lesson on vocabulary, and an icebreaker, however at the end of the unit, there was a stronger sense of community and camaraderie (Gilness, 2003). Gilness (2003) also suggested that to develop community within the classroom, it is important to invite students to take ownership of the curriculum, this allows students to feel empowered. Finally, Gilness developed classroom rituals with her students (for example, giving out a candy whenever she mispronounced, or forgot a student’s name). These rituals required students to be attentive, which in turn strengthened the classroom community.


To develop manners in the classroom Gilness works to treat students with the same respect she would give another staff member. Gilness states that “while [her] classroom is a dictatorship, it is a benevolent one” (Gilness, 2003). Gilness also integrates s unit on manners into her interpersonal skills curriculum, using a book that teaches manners to teens, “How Rude!”. Students complete critical analysis papers, and present on the chapters (Gilness, 2003).


Finally, Gilness attempts to teach her students ethical decision making. She claims it is partly selfish, as these students are the people who will someday be making the decisions for the world. Gilness also admits that it is easier to assign readings with trivial questions for follow-up, however suggests that if we do not help students to develop these critical thinking skills, they will only be scratching the surface of a story (Gilness, 2003). Gilness uses different novels in her classes, to discuss and teach different themes; she also asks students to write reflections in a journal, and then responds to each in turn. Gilness suggests that the more she writes personal responses, the more effort students put into their writing. Finally, Gilness uses Dilemma Cards from a Milton Bradley game called A Question of Scruples (Gilness, 2003).

"To educate a person in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society"

-Theodore Roosevelt

Character Education
Question 1: We are starting to see character education emerge within the education system. Do you believe that character education is important to add to our mandatory curriculum, or should it be a choice for educators?


Question 2: If you believe character education should be added into our curriculum, should it be integrated into all subjects, or should it be taught directly on its own?


Question 3: Do you have an answer for Gilness' (2003) question "how can I use my position as an instructor to imbue my students with a strong sense of moral awareness, and still commit to the job of teaching content at the same time?" Do you have any experience integrating these topics into the curriculum?

What is a Professional Learning Community

I was all set up to find this article very interesting, as I have been working with a Professional Learning Community (PLC) all year, however I actually found I disagreed with some of the views shared. Not to say that they are inherently wrong, however many of the concepts were not things I agreed with for my particular school. Hopefully we will have a good discussion of some of these points!


Richard DuFour (2004) suggests that developing professional learning communities has become a popular, but often-misinterpreted concept in recent years. He suggests that the term is now being used to include any possible variation of individuals with an interest in education, instead of a community that focuses on three specific ideas.


DuFour (2004) states that professional learning communities must focus on ensuring students learn, building a culture of collaboration, and focusing on results. It is stated that teachers are focusing too much on whether or students are taught, rather than whether students learn (DuFour, 2004).


DuFour (2004) suggests that often teachers teach a unit, test students on the content, and find several students have not learned the intended concepts. Teachers are then faced with an issue of what to do next. DuFour suggest that PLC should be designing strategies for these struggling students, rather than leaving the decision to the discretion of the teacher. DuFour states that these interventions must be timely, based on intervention rather than remediation, and directive.


It is suggested that educators working collaboratively is best practice, despite teachers’ insistence on working in isolation. DuFour believes that often teachers are collaborating on issues that do not truly create a professional learning community.


Finally Dufour (2004) believes professional learning communities must focus on results. Instead of choosing new initiatives, educators should be focusing on specific data goals (i.e. Raise the percentage of students meeting ____ to 90%). Professional learning communities should be tracking data, and sharing results with one another, for specific concepts, so that teachers can see who is effective. DuFour suggests that educators should actually be creating assessments together so the results are completely comparable.

Question 1: Recently we have discussed standardized testing, and the negative repercussions. Would a focus on comparing data in professional learning communities create the same type of repercussions? Would comparing scores between grade level classes, solely create recognition for effective teachers, or could it also increase negativity towards teachers with lower achieving students? Would a focus on results help create a strong professional learning community?


Question 2: DuFour (2004) states that “despite evidence indicating that working collaboratively represents best practice, teachers in many schools continue to work in isolation”. Have you found this to be the case in your own school? Have you been involved in a Professional Learning Community? Have the results been beneficial for your own teaching, and for the school?


Question 3: DuFour (2004) gives several examples of teachers working collaboratively to design their lessons, programming, and assessment, stating that “each team must have time to meet during the workday and throughout the school year”. DuFour also states that educators must stop making excuses for not collaborating, including using the excuse of too little time. Have you found lack of time a barrier to your own collaboration? Do you think teachers are given enough time to actively engage in collaborative planning?

Metis Curricular Challenges and Possibilities

Kearns & Anuik (2015) conducted a research study to examine teachings on the Métis. They found that Indigenous peoples are often taught solely in a historical context, rather than contemporary people. In 2007 Ontario created a document called “Ontario First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework” designed to encourage educators to include programming on FNMI peoples, instead of relying on special courses to teach these topics. Kearns & Anuik (2015) found that only a small amount of Ontario school boards were actually using these initiatives, and following the Framework.


Educators often find themselves teaching curriculum that puts a higher value on Western ideologies than other cultures (Kearns & Anuik, 2015), this has created a lack of awareness of Indigenous people. Kearns & Anuik (2015) posit that if students learn about Métis, they learn solely about Louis Riel and his influence on Canada. Often this is through assignments designed to create controversy in the class; asking students to either condemn or validate Riel, as though there is a choice of whether Riel was right or wrong. Students are unaware of the diversity of the Métis. Often this problem is compounded by lack of resources on the Métis; even when educators try to include Aboriginal perspectives into their teaching, they are unable to find resources that examine the role of Aboriginal people in a more deep way (Leblanc, 2012).


When conducting their study, Anuik & Kearns found that often Métis are not given their own separate identity. Métis was removed from the census in 1906 (Waiser, 2005); often, qualitative research lumps Métis as Aboriginal. This gives students the impression that all FNMI groups have the same histories, language and experiences (Anuik & Kearns, 2012).


As educators attempt to introduce more knowledge of Métis into the curriculum, so students can make greater connections, several initiatives have been found that have worked well. Schools have displayed Métis signs and symbols, and included Métis resources (for example the TDSB’s Do’s and Don’ts in Aboriginal Education Guide) in the classroom (Kearns & Anuik, 2015). It is also crucial for staff to develop their critical awareness; teachers must consider how Métis history is presented within their classroom, and to detect bias (Kearns & Anuik, 2015).


Several schools have been successful in integrating knowledge of the Métis into their character education, using the book the “Seven Sacred Teachings”. This requires educators to have a strong knowledge of the material; otherwise the resources remain unused (Kearns & Anuik, 2015). In order to ensure that this information is included in the classroom, educators’ confidence of the material must be build (Kearns & Anuik, 2015). In order to be truly successful with these initiatives, Métis curriculum must be developed and taught to all students, Métis or non- Métis (Kearns & Anuik, 2015).

Question 1: Have you had any experience teaching students about Métis knowledge, or experiences? Are there specific resources that have helped you with your teaching? If not, how would you think we best approach the exploration of Louis Riel's role?


Question 2: Kearns & Anuik (2015) suggest that often Métis lose their identity as they are grouped together with other Indigenous groups rather than identified as a separate group. Have you seen evidence of this in society, in the classroom, or in resources? What could we do to stop the erasure of Métis?

References

Gilness, J. (2003). How to integrate character education into the curriculum. Phi Delta Kappan, 85(3), 243-245.


Kearns, L.L. & Anuik, J. (2015). Metis curricular challenges and possibilities: A discussion initiated by First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Education Policy in Ontario. Journal of Canadian Association of Curriculum Studies, 12(2), 6-36.


DuFour, R. (2004). What is a “Professional Learning Community”? Educational Leadership, 61(8), 6-11.