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Schools plan curriculum overhaul
Louise Brown Toronto Star
Ontario's government is conducting a sweeping review of curriculum from Grades 1 to 8 to fix what educators charge is an overcrowded jumble of disconnected facts that fail to prepare the province's 1.4 million students for the future.
Based on tough input gathered this fall from teachers and school boards, Queen's Park says it will start clearing the clutter by the fall of 2011 with leaner guidelines, fewer checklists of facts and more time for deeper learning.
It is the first overhaul designed to weed out some of the staggering 3,400 "expectations" built into the new curriculum designed 10 years ago when Grade 13 was abolished.
A special advisory group is expected to propose a new blueprint by February, based on such input as a tough-talking missive from the Toronto District School Board that called the curriculum "a series of overly robust subject-based documents which are disconnected, overwhelming and full of content reflective of 20th century knowledge. "The curriculum does not engage students within their own realities, nor does it integrate the skills society hopes to see in a 21st-century learner," said the recent submission by a group of principals, teachers, superintendents and trustees.
Karen Grose, the board's system superintendent, said it no longer makes sense to try to cram piles of facts into young minds.
"Our kids live in a world where they are immersed in content through things like Twitter and Google, so we don't want them memorizing facts they can access easily, but we want them to think about how to apply that knowledge, and how it affects how they live as citizens and workers," said Grose.
"We're not saying we don't want kids to study the War of 1812, but let's lift that subject to the `big idea' of war in the current global context," she said.
Education Minister Kathleen Wynne said the review was sparked by years of complaints she has heard that the curriculum is overcrowded with material teachers scramble to cover.
"School shouldn't be just about `covering' content, but about giving students the time to practise what they've learned and gaining a deeper understanding," said Wynne.
"The quality of curriculum isn't tied to the number of `expectations' you cover," Wynne said. "It's about making sure kids have time to get a handle on the skills we know they need."
Thinning out the curriculum does not mean dumbing it down, said Toronto trustee Cathy Dandy, one of the authors of the TDSB's submission.
By spending less time teaching the small details of individual wars, said Dandy, it frees up more time to "weave it into a larger discussion of war and peace and conflict and even bullying.
"We're not at all recommending we get rid of rigorous learning – but we want time to make sense of the volume of knowledge that is out there."
Many teachers already are doing their own streamlining, Grose said.
"It's not all these tiny little pieces," said Grose, "but more about the big idea.