The Ontario Curriculum

A Breakdown of the Ontario Elementary Curriculum

How can I access the curriculum?

You can easily access any of the Ontario Elementary Curriculum books for Grades 1-8

on the Ministry of Education’s website. Below are some quick links to the three specific curriculums that we will be examining specifically:

  1. Language
  2. Mathematics
  3. The Arts

You can access the curriculum documents either by subject or by grade level.

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Key Terms

Before you begin examining the Ontario Curriculum documents, here are some of the key terms that you should familiarize yourself with.

  • Note: It is important to remember that within each curriculum document there are also some more specific terms used, which are defined in the glossary at the back of the document.

Strand: the major areas in specific subject that the curriculum is organised around (Language, p.159). Typically, there are around 4 to 5 strands for each subject.

Expectation: the knowledge and skills that students are expected to be able to show across various assessed activities (Language, p.153). There are 2 different types:

  1. Overall Expectations: general description of the skills and knowledge expected by the end of each grade level (Language, p.153).
  2. Specific Expectations: a more detailed and specific description that includes examples and prompts for teachers of the expected skills and knowledge (Language, p.153).
  • The specific expectations clarify any uncertainties about the overall expectations for students.

Assessment: a process in which a teacher gathers work using a variety of methods in order to illustrate how well a student is achieving curriculum expectations in a particular subject (Language, p.15).

Evaluation: a process in which a teacher judges the quality of the students work based on predetermined criteria in order to assign a value (Language, p.15). In the Elementary curriculum, this is done using a letter grade (Language, p.15).

Achievement Chart: a standard template that is used province-wide by teachers to help them develop tasks and tools to assess their students, to make accurate judgments on their students work and provide meaningful feedback on students work (Mathematics, p.19). It contains following 4 categories that each provide clear criteria (Mathematics, p.20):

  • Knowledge and understanding: content acquired and its meaning in each grade
  • Thinking: the use of planning, processing and the critical thinking processes to generate solutions.
  • Communication: illustrating the meaning and an understanding through various means (i.e. Visuals, words, numbers, graphs, diagrams etc.)
  • Application: making connections with other contexts (i.e. knowing how to divide will help me determine how many people need to be on each team in soccer)

Levels of Achievement: Within the achievement chart, there are four different degrees of student achievement which are used to evaluate a student’s work in any grade level (Language, p.151). They are listed below (Language, p.151):

Level 1→ achievement is far below the provincial standard

Level 2→ achievement is approaching the provincial standard, but not quite there yet

Level 3→ this level is the provincial standard meaning that the achievement meets the expectations

Level 4→ achievement has surpassed the provincial standard (the student went above and beyond what was asked of them)

How are the Ministry Documents Organised?

The curriculum itself is organised into the following sections:

· Introduction

· Program Overview

· Assessing and Evaluating Student Achievement

· Considerations for Program Planning

· Overview of the Grade Levels

· Glossary

However each document is also organised in the following ways:

1. Strands

For example: The Language Curriculum has 4 strands (Language, p.9):

  • Oral Communication
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Media Literacy

2. Overall vs. Specific Expectations

For Example: In the Mathematics Curriculum for Grade 1(Mathematics, p.33-34):

- Overall expectation → "solve problems involving the addition and subtraction of single-digit whole numbers, using a variety of strategies (Mathematics, p.33)."

- Specific expectation→ "solve a variety of problems involving the addition and subtraction of whole numbers to 20, using concrete materials and drawings (e.g., pictures, number lines) (Sample problem: Miguel has 12 cookies. Seven cookies are chocolate. Use counters to determine how many cookies are not chocolate.)(Mathematics, p.34)."

3. Grade Levels

But what should be used from the Ontario Curriculum to drive our lesson design?

Overall and specific expectations along with the fundamental concepts that are listed in all of the Ontario Curriculum documents drive our lesson designs as teachers. Essentially, the specific expectations act as tools for teachers, providing them with detailed descriptions including several examples, teacher prompts and open questions to ensure that both the overall expectations and the fundamental concepts for that grade level are met within their lesson plans.

For example: A teacher prompt for the Language Curriculum in Grade 2 where the overall expectation is Listening to Understand and the specific expectation is Active Listening Strategies is the following: “When First Nations peoples use a talking stick,* a person speaks only when holding the talking stick, while the rest of the group listens. Today we are going to speak and listen in a similar way (Language, p.50).”

In building lessons, teachers use their judgement to decide which specific expectations they will use in their instruction, assessment and evaluation of the overall expectations (Mathematics, p.19). In some cases, teachers may decide to cover specific expectations but not evaluate them to determine the level of student achievement (Mathematics, p.19).

How should our Students Learning be Assessed and Evaluated?

Student learning is assessed through various techniques and tools which are different depending on the personal preference of each teacher. The students work is then evaluated to determine their achievement level using an achievement chart. The four categories of the achievement chart are interconnected to mimic the learning process (Mathematics, p.19).

The achievement chart has a similar format across all curriculum documents however the specific criterion varies. Once the work has been assigned a level, a letter grade is given (Language, p.15). Students should be given several different opportunities over time in order to demonstrate their achievement equally in all 4 of the categories (Mathematics, p.21). Teachers must ensure that the activities that are being assessed and evaluated must be fair and accommodating to the individual needs of all students in the classroom (i.e. Exceptional Learners, English Language Learners, physical limitations, etc.) (Mathematics, p.18-19). Ultimately, the evaluation must provide directives for improvement on future academic works and foster each student's ability to self-assess their own learning journey (Mathematics, p.18-19).

Below is an example of an Achievement Chart from the Ontario Language Curriculum (Language, p.20-21):

How are we than expected to communicate student learning?

Teachers are expected to act as a two-way street for communication meaning that they open the communication with/between students and parents in which they share a student’s academic progress. Teachers need to facilitate opportunities for communication to exist within the classroom by modeling how activities should are done at different levels on the achievement chart, providing feedback, encouraging discussion of each students thinking process, by asking students open ended questions to clarify, and by encouraging students to seek out the help of the resources that surround them in the classroom (Mathematics, p.17). Teachers are expected to keep a respectful and welcoming classroom environment in a sense that everyone feels supported by their peers and able to be curious, ask questions as well as contribute to any discussion (Mathematics, p.17). Typically, student learning is expected to be communicated at the beginning and during various points throughout the academic year (Language, p.16). Teacher assessments should provide detailed feedback in order to aid students in their improvement (Language, p.17). The communication of a teacher's understanding of a student’s learning can be communicated to a parent through many means including a phone call, a note in the agenda, a meeting or an email. In contrast, communication of a teacher's understanding of a student’s learning can be communicated to a student through an achievement chart with plenty of feedback including evidence of their work.

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Meeting the Needs of Every Learner

Similarly across all curriculum documents, there is the expectation that teachers design their instruction to meet the needs of every learner. The primary goal for teachers is to recognize the diversity of their students in a respectful way, ultimately assisting each student in achieving independence in their learning (Language, p.24). It is expected that teachers use their own judgement to determine which strategies to use based on the activities and the learning needs of their students (Language, p.10-11).This can involve a support team within the school community and at times differentiated instruction however the overall goal should be an inclusive classroom environment (Language, p.24; Arts, p.38). Assessment is a wonderful way for teachers to determine both the strengths and weaknesses of every learner and how it could effect their achievement towards grade level expectations in any given subject (Mathematics, p.18). In turn, this allows teachers to determine the effectiveness and identify the need for modifications to their instruction in order to meet the individual needs of the learners in the classroom, subsequently fostering their success (Mathematics, p.18). Teachers are expected to determine whether students require accommodations, modifications, and/or modified expectations in order to meet curriculum expectations for their grade level (Mathematics, p.26; Language, p.25). If a student has an Individual Education Plan (IEP), it will list all of the accommodations and/or modifications for that student which are applicable for all subject areas (Mathematics, p.27&29). Due to the fact that every IEP is revised regularly, it should be examined closely by teachers when designing their lessons (Mathematics, p.27&29).

Some examples of IEP accommodations are instructional, environmental and assessment accommodations (Mathematics, p.27). If a student requires modified expectations, the specific knowledge or skills that the student will be able to demonstrate with appropriate accommodations will be clearly recorded in their IEP (Mathematics, p.29).

More information about planning programs for exceptional students can be found on pages 24-26 of the Language curriculum, pages 43-45 of the Arts curriculum, and pages 26-28 of the Mathematics curriculum.

But How Do We Create Culturally Responsive Learning Experiences?

Similarly across all of the curriculum documents, there is the expectation that teachers design learning experiences that are culturally responsive. The Ontario Curriculum documents support Antidiscrimination Education across all subjects and all grade levels (Language, p.28). Therefore an inclusive learning experience for all learners is expected of teachers across all of the curriculum documents (Language, p.38). This meaning that teachers should make all learning experiences respectful of the student and province-wide diversity (Arts, p.11). At times this could require that teachers build the background knowledge for students who lack the experiences required to comprehend a subject material (Language, p.10). For example in the Language Curriculum, it talks about using both male and female heroes that come from diverse cultural and racial backgrounds (Language, p.28). Also it suggested exploring the social and gender roles in our society, and looking at different groups of individuals including Aboriginals (Language, p.28). Another example can be found in the Arts Curriculum, as it talks about using a variety of art works from different artists, with different themes and from different time periods (Arts, p.38). Furthermore, it suggests exploring the biases, stereotypes and inequalities within our society (Arts, p.38). In using culturally responsive teaching strategies, teachers can bring awareness to their students, ultimately fostering acceptance and a discriminatory-free classroom environment.


Curriculum Documents:

Ontario Ministry of Education (2006). The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1-8 : Language. Retrieved from:

Ontario Ministry of Education (2005). The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1-8 : Mathematics. Retrieved from:

Ontario Ministry of Education (2009). The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1-8 : The Arts. Retrieved from:


Jessica Burns

An assignment for my PED 3141 Class