The Ontario Curriculum

A Breakdown of the Elementry Ontario Curriculum

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Accessing Curriculum Documents

What is Curriculum?

The curriculum dictates what students must know and be able to demonstrate by the end of every grade in every subject.

All curriculum documents can be found online at:

Online, these documents are organized online by by both grade level and/or subject.

If you need a hardcopy, you can order these documents for free by following the steps on the following hyperlinked website:

How are these Documents Organized?

Each curriculum document is made up and organzied on the basis of three components (Ontario Ministry of Education)

  1. The front matter provides critical foundational information about the curriculum itself and about how learning connects to Ministry of Education policies, programs, and priorities.
  2. The curriculum expectations (overall and specific expectations) are the knowledge and skills that students are expected to demonstrate in each subject at each grade level by the end of the grade.
  3. Additional supports, glossaries and overviews are included to provide further guidance and information to support the implementation of the curriculum.

Key Terms Across the Ontario Curriculum

The following are terms found across all of the Ontario curriculum documents. These brief definitions will help will overall understanding.

Big Ideas- The understanding that students are left with and are able to retain from a specific subject even after small details are forgotten. Big ideas allow students to think across the disciplines in an integrated way (Ontario Curriculum, Social Studies-page 14)

Expectations- The knowledge and skills students are expected to develop and demonstrate through class work, tests etc.

  1. Overall Expectations- Describes in general terms the knowledge and skills students are expected to demonstrate by the end of a grade
  2. Specific Expectations- Describes the excepted knowledge and skills outlined in the overall expectations in finer detail. (Ontario Curriculum, Arts-page 11-12)

Strands- The major areas of a given subject into which the Ontario curriculum for that subject is organized. For example, the Ontario social studies curriculum is organized into two strands: heritage and identity and people and the environments.

Levels of Achievement/The Achievement Chart- A standard province-wide guide outlining grade specific performance standards. This system has four levels that demonstrate where a student falls with respect to provincial/ministry standards.

  • Level 1- Achievement falls below provincial standards but with a passing grade.
  • Level 2- Achievement is near the provincial standards.
  • Level 3- Achievement represents the provincial standards.
  • Level 4- Achievement surpasses the provincial standards. (Ontario Curriculum, Language-page 16-21)

Integrated Learning- The concept of cross-curricular learning. Students are given the opportunity to use skills and knowledge from one subject in other disciplines. For example, well-developed language skills often aids in enhanced learning in every subject. (Ontario Curriculum, Language-page 23-24)

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Development of the Ontario Curriculum

The Ministry of Education is responsible for the development of Ontario curriculum policy documents while schools are responsible for their implementation. Curriculum documents are constantly reviewed in an established review cycle to ensure information stays current and relevant to the subject areas.

Creating the Curriculum

Policy documents extrapolate information from experts, focus groups, consultations, research and benchmarking. Draft documents are created outlining new ideas or modifications to the curriculum document(s). Finally the draft is reviewed by experts on numerous occasions to ensure accuracy and relevance while guaranteeing the curriculum will uphold an all-inclusive classroom free of bias.

Following the release of new curriculum material, learning sessions are implemented in order to ensure consistency and common understanding of the material. (Ontario Ministry of Education)

How Overall Expectations, Fundamental Concepts and Specific Expectations Drive Lesson Plans

As reviewed above, overall expectations describe, in general terms, the knowledge and skills students are expected to be able to exhibit by the end of a given grade. It is important to remember that these expectations are general and can even be the same as the grades progress through a particular strand. It is the specific expectations that detail the extent of demonstrable knowledge and skills. Specific expectations are organized via number headings signifying their corresponding overall expectation. The two expectations, together, produce the Ontario curriculum. Fundamental Concepts, as can be seen in the arts curriculum (Ontario Curriculum, Arts-Page 18), also emphasize what areas need to be of focus in order for students to accomplish specific and overall expectations. As the grades progress students build on acquired knowledge and skills from previous grades.

Specific expectations aid teachers in preparing lesson plans that ensure all students are capable of reaching provincial expectations. This is accomplished through examples and 'teacher promts' that follow the majority of specific expectations (usually written in italics and/or in parenthesis). For example, under the grade 2 oral communication strand in the language curriculum, the specific expectation corresponding with the first overall expectation is written as follows:

1.1 identify purposes for listening in a variety of situations, formal and

informal, and set personal goals for listening, initially with support

and direction (e.g., to acquire information from a presentation by a guest

speaker, to exchange ideas in a small-group discussion, to enjoy and

understand poetry) (Ontario Curriculum, Language-page 50).

This format provides teachers with specific ideas and an enriched understanding of what exactly the expectation requires.

Curriculum expectations demonstrate the provincial standard for Ontario. Therefore all expectations must be accounted for in instruction. In essence it is through expectations, overall and specific, fundamental concepts as well as examples and teacher prompts that lessons are created and implemented by educators. These lessons should provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to be evaluated and assessed via provincial standards.

Evaluating and Assessing Students in Ontario

The primary intention of assessment and evaluation in Ontario to to gain an understanding and improve student learning. Assessment gathers information from assignments, day to day activities, projects, performances, tests etc. to conclude the degree to which a student's work reflects the expectations in a subject area. Evaluation focuses on the quality of a students work based on established criteria. In Ontario, assessment and evaluation are based on the provincial curriculum expectations and achievement levels which were describes in the Key Terms section. (Ontario Curriculum, Language-page 15-16). Some of the strategies that teachers must use in assessment and evaluation in order to ensure it is valid and reliable include:
  • adress both what students learn and how well based on the categories discussed below
  • fair to all students
  • accommodate students with special education needs or language barriers
  • ensure students receive feedback
  • use work of students to display their achievements
  • expectations are communicated clearly to students, parents etc.

Each subject utilizes the following interrelated categories which aid teachers in focusing on students' development of thinking skills, communication, application and overall knowledge and skills:

  1. Knowledge and Understanding
  2. Thinking
  3. Communication
  4. Application

*Students should be given numerous and varied opportunities demonstrate their skills in each of the four categories (Ontario Curriculum, Social Studies-Page 29-30)

Achievement Chart

Each curriculum document contains an achievement chart. This chart is comprised of the four categories mentioned above and four levels of achievement (levels1-4). Each Level of the achievement chart uses the following 'qualifier' or word to describe student performance:

  • Level 1-limited. Level 2-some. Level 3-considerable. Level 4-High degree/Thorough

The Achievement chart provides a framework for teachers to assess and evaluate the work of students based on provincial standards. Teachers are able to utilize this chart to make clear judgement on the work of students collected over time (Ontario Curriculum, Arts, page 29-33).

How a Teachers Understanding of Student Learning is Communicated

There are many ways that teachers communicate the achievement level(s) of his/her students learning throughout a school year.
  • Formal report cards

-There are 3 reporting periods per school year providing grades for student

achievement as evaluated by teachers. Report cards keep parents updated

on their child's achievement level.

  • Conferences between parents, students and principals

-Updates in the form of interviews, meetings, phone calls & informal reports

are commonly used between reporting periods to keep all parties updated

on student achievement levels.

  • Feedback

-Teachers constantly provide ongoing descriptive feedback in a clear,

meaningful and timely manner to aid in improved learning.

It is through these forms of communications that students can work to set goals while keeping parents and other members of the school community involved.

Meeting the Needs of All Learners-All Inclusive Classrooms

"Teachers are the key educators of students who have special education needs" (Ontario Curriculum, Language-page 24).

All students learn differently and at different speeds. In most classes, a number of students may require learning programs tailored to their needs and strengths. In planning subject specific programs for students with special needs, teachers need to review curriculum expectations and the needs of the individual student to determine which of the following is best suited for them:
  • Accommodations only
  1. Instructional accommodations-changes in teaching strategies (i.e. use of technology)
  2. Environmental accommodations-changes needed within the classroom (i.e. different lighting or preferential seating etc.).
  3. Assessment accommodations-changes in assessment procedures (i.e. additional time for tests, oral answers to tests etc.).
  • Modified Expectations with possibility of modifications

-The student requires expectations that differ from the provincial standard outlined in the curriculum. Modified expectations reflect specific, realistic, observable and measurable achievements. If this applies, the student's achievement will be based on the individual Education plan (IEP). On report cards the IEP box must be selected to illustrate that the student has modified expectations. (Ontario Curriculum, Social Studies-page 38-40).

As Ontario classroom are becoming increasingly diverse, it is imperative that modifications are made in order to uphold all inclusive classrooms. For many, English is not a first language, and these students may need an IEP. Many resources, such as resource and special needs teachers, are at the disposal of classroom teachers and can greatly benefit students needing special attention. All students have the right to learn!