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Reader Response

The following is a reader response for my Curriculum Theory course.

As a former student of the Ontario Secondary School system during the “Harris Era,” I have become a teacher fascinated by educational change.  During my secondary school education, we had a strike (which to my grade nine peers was great fun), multiple ‘work to rule’ restrictions, a few report cards without any comments, and the eventual demise of OAC/Grade 13 which brought along its friends: EQAO and community service.

I graduated the year before the implementation of the double cohort.  Many of us ran out of school at graduation laughing at our younger peers, thinking that we had avoided the big changes to obtaining a secondary school diploma. Figuring that I was done secondary school forever, I gave little thought to what was happening within our schools.  Oblivious to previous educational reforms, the chaos I experienced in the late 1990’s was not the first reform to shake the core of education in Ontario. Five years later, while attending a “Foundations of Education” course at the University of Western Ontario, we discussed how the school system in Ontario has developed and changed. It was intriguing, to examine the progression of education, especially with my background in Geography.  There are similarities between education and urban housing in relation to societal change. Who knew that society had that much influence.

While reading From Hope to Harris: The reshaping of Ontario’s schools, I developed a deeper sense of curriculum and policy change in Ontario. Within the discussion, one can see the bits and pieces of the educational puzzle of our current system discussed in several large reports written in the 1950’s to mid-1980’s. In the Hope report, there was a recommendation for mandatory schooling for ten years, and for Kindergarten to be offered in every school board (Gidney, 2000, p. 23).  The Robart plan suggested that universal education be available for every single student up to Grade 12, breaking the system down into streams (Gidney, 2000, p. 48).  However, the Living and Learning document was a completely different approach to education.  This report stated that education was about self-realization and recommended that schools have a more community feel (Gidney, 2000, p. 72).  Progressing into a system that was familiar to me, Ontario Schools: Intermediate and Senior (OSIS), put forward the “30 credits to graduate” program which is still in place (but within four years).    One common bit really stood out: every report recommended the abolishment of Grade 13.  Although with the creation of OAC’s, OSIS retained Grade 13, the removal of the fifth year was still discussed (Gidney, 2000, p.101).  It is stunning that it took nearly fifty years for the last Grade 13 class to graduate.  Along with amazement of the long death of Grade 13, I developed several other questions.  Has the debating back and forth between political parties, school boards and teachers about what constitutes an education made a difference? What have we accomplished?  Is our educational system better than what it was in 1950?

I am currently in my fourth year of teaching. During this time, I have experienced at least one major change in policy, late mark deductions and zero-grades.   When I started my teacher’s education we were told that as teachers we were not to deduct late marks and assign ‘zero’ as a mark. Instead we were asked do a series of steps to ensure that students succeed in completing their assignments.  This completely shocked the beginning teachers in 2007 who were used to late mark deductions of 10% or more in University.  The policy did not last long. This past summer we were given a new Assessment and Evaluation policy where (as the last resort) teachers could once again deduct marks for tardy assignments.  Some teachers I work with argue for late marks. While others, argue against it.  What are the possibilities and limitations of each system for assessing the quality of student work?  Some students genuinely need more time to complete assigned work (as evident in almost every IEP for students with a learning disability). For example while writing this paper, I needed more time to complete this discussion.  So therefore, should I not be sympathetic to student’s needs? However, the continuous struggle of ensuring that fifty-six students in my courses hand in their work can be a very draining and frustrating pedagogical task.  But is deducting late marks the answer? The Living and Learning document, reminds us, that education for some “was about ‘self-realization’ and not about fitting individuals for predetermined economic or social roles” (Gidney, 2000, p. 72). This specific statement causes me to question my current role as an educator and how I encourage students to learn.  So does it really matter if Bobby takes an extra night to finish his work?  Most of my colleagues say no, we just do not want to be taken advantage of. Respect has historically been and continues to be a key issue for teachers.  In the past year I have been sworn at, had my handouts/lessons dumped on the floor, and been lied to (however, to be fair, I have had my share of experiencing the great accomplishments of many students).  The words “professional judgment” are written on many of our policies for a good reason:  situations and students change.

As I read through From Hope to Harris and continue to learn more about curriculum theory, I am starting to question how I would like to live the curriculum in my classroom.  So far my influence has come from my educational experiences both as a student and a teacher-in-training. Another question comes to mind: why do we have shifts in the educational system?  Why do we plan and change curriculum if things will change in the future?

Education has always been a reflection of society’s values and changes.  The influence of the late 1960’s had brought forth a particular report suggesting that schools should change.  Students were discontent with the educational system and wanted change.  Gidney (2000) describes the major development of Ontario Curriculum and the suggested way that schools should operate in detailing Living and LearningLiving and Learning, as explained by Gidney (2000) was created within a committee chaired by E.M. Hall and Lloyd A. Dennis, and was produced in a more ‘coffee-table’ book style with plenty of pictures (p.72). The report, Gidney (2000) suggests, challenged the way schools traditionally taught. No more spelling drills, teacher as guide not authoritative leader, report cards turned into learning profiles and ‘ungrading’ (Gidney, 2000, p. 74).  Ontarians were open and enthusiastic about the proposed changes as there was growing agreement that schools needed to be changed and something needed to be done.  The report led to changes in HS1, the manual (or curriculum) that described the Ontario secondary school system.  Not all groups were enthusiastic, explains Gidney (2000), especially secondary teachers “who thought its approach was suited perhaps to the elementary schools” (p. 75).  Eventually, it switched with the introduction of Bette Stephenson as Education Minister. “She buried,” Gidney (2000) tells us, “the permissive era in the province’s high schools” (p. 102). Despite the changes being brought forth, there was still no complete consensus.  Gidney  (2002) asks us to consider the following question: “Was the public hopelessly disenchanted with the schools?” (p. 102). Can we ask this same question today?

It seems that with every new introduction of  larger educational reforms, there are critics.  From time to time, I myself have criticised new policies that have been put in place.  But do I and my fellow teachers know the perfect way to teach?  Are deductions for being late the only way to encourage students to do their work?  The simple answer is no. In discussions with my current collegues we recognize that students learn and preform at different paces.  At another school, an administrator asked why do we have time limits for exams, and whether or not we should allow the entire student body extended time.  If students are truely trying their best why should we penalize them for taking extra time to complete a task.

Education is not a static entity.  In turn, educational policies will continue to evolve as society in itself as it is contiously evolving.  The best we can do, as teachers, is use the most effective resources we can to reach every single student. As I finish this discussion, please ponder the following questions:  1) Within the readings, you will notice how many changes in curriculum were established.  Many changes involve restructuring of courses, new textbooks and new assessment and evaluation policies.  As an educator, do you feel that the multiple changes effect the quality of education?   2)   Even though some of the changes detailed in From Hope to Harris were made for budgetary reasons, some changes were to enhance education for every student.  Are the changes improving the Ontario school curriculum, meaning, are we producing better students?  Which changes do you feel have benefited students the most?  What does a ‘better student’ even mean?

Resources:

Gidney, R. D. (2000).  From Hope to Harris: The reshaping of Ontario’s schools.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

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