Curriculum design for inclusive practice is central to effective learning and teaching. This essay will focus on discussing the statement above, critically analysing the concepts of curriculum design, inclusive practice and effective practice. Curriculum design will look at the formal and informal elements of the curriculum and the learners’ own expectations of what their learning experience will do for them. Inclusive practice will show how I endeavour to ensure my teaching is personalised to individual learners, my own definition and experience of inclusive practice is, in turn, linked to my own cultural context of learning.
Effective practice will include how a wide range of individuals, each with different expectations in terms of the outcomes of teaching, have on what ‘defines’ effective practice. For me, teaching is all about the positive experience for the learner, however the influences of others within the teaching environment cannot be ignored. There are numerous definitions of curriculum, and the concept has evolved over the years, influenced by the political, economic and social environment at the time. It has its origins in the running/chariot tracks of Greece. It was, literally, a course.
In Latin curriculum was a racing chariot; currere was to run. A useful starting point for us here might be the definition offered by John Kerr and taken up by Vic Kelly in his standard work on the subject. Kerr 9quoted in Kelly 1883,10) defines curriculum as: “All the learning, which is planned and guided by the school, whether it is carried on in groups or individually, inside or outside the school” From my experience, both as a pupil within the educational establishment and as a teacher, this is the definition, which aligns most closely with my own first hand experience.
I see curriculum more than just the scheme of work or the set syllabus by the awarding body. It’s about the overall educational package and facilities offered by the establishment. Beyond that, it’s about the wider range of life skills that students gain from engaging in a course, which can provide routine and structure. My own definition of success and effective practice, which I shall go on to define in greater detail later on in this essay, is aligned with ensuring that learners gain skills required for successful progression in their career, discipline and relating to their peers and the wider community.
Teaching, in terms of the product or content model of curriculum is just a part of this. The concept of curriculum design and the impact this has on effective teaching and learning is a relatively new concept. There are four generally accepted models in common usage but it is an evolving area. The product model is closely associated with the work of Ralph Tyler (1971). It is the earliest, having been formulated by Frank Bobbit with his work ‘The Curriculum’, as early as 1918. It is a learning cycle focusing on behavioural targets for learning.
Often found in military teaching as it breaks jobs into processes purposely not allowing room for thought. The content model focuses on the ‘what’ of learning and was developed by Paul Hirst (1974). Hirst believes there are key areas of mathematics, physical science, knowledge of persons, literature and fine arts, morals, religion and philosophy. The prime aim becomes a transmission of wisdom. Most of us have been through the O level or GCSE syllabus at school where we are asked to undertake a range of key subjects in order to achieve what is deemed to be ‘a balanced curriculum’.
This process can be seen in the curriculum I teach as there are definite areas which are key to learning and which have to be covered by students in order to complete the course. Of course there are many different ways of getting this information across to ensure learning takes place. The process model was developed by Stenhouse (1975) where he produced the following definition: ‘A curriculum is an attempt to communicate the essential principals and features of an educational process in such a form. It is open to scrutiny and capable of effective translation into practice’.
More simply, the learner develops processes and procedures of learning, which they can develop. I am encouraging my students to take more responsibility for their learning by providing more opportunities for them to contribute to lessons and scaffolding my questioning to ensure all students can be involved in discussions. Malcolm Skillbeck (1976) and Dennis Lawton (1983) are linked to the fourth model: the situational model, which focuses on the cultural context of learning. The curriculum is a praxis and can be considered a development of the process model.
The curriculum is not simply a set of plans to be considered but rather is constituted through an active process in which planning, acting and evaluating are all reciprocally related and integrated into the process. This model is one which I perceive us all moving towards so that the teaching process is an ever evolving progressive action and not stagnant. Interestingly most students studying city and guilds qualifications are assessed primarily focussing on the product and content models. All systems need some parameters as a base level against which to measure achievement.
However in using ILPs with the students I am able to gauge students’ abilities and personalise targets accordingly, relevant to the capabilities and commitment of each individual. This is probably most evident in the workshop situation where quality of work varies considerably according to individual skill and also the amount of effort an individual puts into the job. Here it is much easier to set individual goals for students and by using photographs to document progress the students are able to track their achievement over time.
I attempt to introduce a process model of curriculum, tied to their own cultural contexts of learning (situational model) to allow for inclusive learning. Herein lies a common ‘tension’ in the system – balancing the course measurement system, which is geared towards the outcomes, rather than what I use as a measure of success – which is equipping my learners with the skills and confidence and interest to tackle challenges in their future working life. It is about the rounded learning experience – which brings me back to Kerr’s definition of curriculum.
It’s also important to make the distinction between what constitutes the formal curriculum – with the informal (or hidden) curriculum – as well as the psychological expectations – or learner motivations – which are specific to each leaner. Each will have their own expectations regarding what the course can do for them. It is these motivations that I need to tap into as a teacher. I am endeavouring to have more in depth initial assessment on a one to one basis with students to hear from them what their expectations are. How do they rate themselves? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
In this way it is hoped that we will both gain a greater understanding of each other and the curriculum can be adapted more to individuals. The situational model has particular relevance with my ACE group learners. Often coming from an unhappy home life, lacking motivation and a good parental role model has had an impact on their focus in the classroom. Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ theorises that until their basic psychological needs, security and love and belonging are satisfied, the learners will struggle to move on to the higher order levels of esteem and experience culminating in self-actualisation.
I attempt to make the classroom feel a welcoming and friendly environment to try and satisfy some of the lower order needs. To overcome the lack of a role model at home, I continuously explain and reinforce with how the course can lead on to further education, and possibly a career where they could support themselves. I give a different example of where the course could lead them, tied into real life experiences as often as possible. It is important to remember the focus of education is the learner.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to curriculum; each learner is an individual. It is important to put their needs clearly in your sights, and with my learners, getting them to college is the first challenge. In this way, the formal curriculum may be about the “what” of learning through the City and Guilds syllabus; but the equally important informal curriculum is about ensuring that they get to college on time with the necessary tolls required for the session. A curriculum or syllabus, on paper, could be deemed as objective, as it is a list of learner outcomes.
However, curriculum delivery is always going to be subjective because the teacher brings to the classroom situation their own cultural context and situational factors and moral beliefs. After 3 years of teaching, I am developing my own beliefs and ideas that I am ready to stand by and discuss with more experienced colleagues. This was reflected recently during a short course I have been running in the evenings. Among the group there are members of teaching staff from other departments who have considerably more teaching experience than myself and who hold higher positions within the college.
I have been challenged on a number of points, particularly in the first few sessions, but because I am now more confident in my teaching abilities, together with my extensive industry knowledge, I felt more than competent to respond to the challenges and as a result have earned respect from colleagues who are now more open about approaching me about any problems which may arise during the course. An inclusive curriculum is a curriculum that is designed to ensure that all unnecessary barriers to student success are removed. At the centre of inclusive curriculum are clarity and flexibility.
We must have clarity regarding the outcomes and objectives of modules before the parameters of flexibility can be ascertained. Furthermore, we must be aware of the skills, knowledge and competencies required in a student in order to ascertain what constitutes an unnecessary barrier to learning. Therefore, it is essential to consider from the off what is essential and non-negotiable in a module or programme of study. Flexibility is of great benefit to many students and the scope for flexibility will clearly vary from course to course and will depend on learning outcomes, professional standards, and limitations to space and time.
I consider myself flexible in the use of teaching materials e. g. audio-visual materials, text books, PowerPoint etc. , we also offer the students the opportunity to study part or full time, there is some flexibility in the ways od students demonstrating acquisition of learning outcomes e. g. exams, practical sessions, journals. Other instances of flexibility at alternative establishments include the use of pod casts for students who cannot attend on-campus lectures, e-learning, online journals. This flexibility mans that more students have access to the curriculum and therefore the curriculum is made increasingly inclusive.
Of course not all modules and programmes of study can be inclusive of everyone there has to be flexibility on both sides. We all have limitations to what we can expect to be able to achieve and providing every opportunity has been given to an individual to achieve their expectations we should be satisfied with the end result. As Government introduce more cuts and class sizes rise together with staff losses additional pressures are placed on us all and catering for everyone on an individual basis is going to get harder and harder.
To conclude, I feel the aim of curriculum design should be to focus it to fit the learner. However, as I have argued, effective teaching and learning is not just about the design of the formal curriculum, or syllabus. Equally important is the design and delivery of the informal curriculum – including a safe and comfortable learning environment, ‘targets’ which are appropriate for the learner, systems which don’t punish ‘failure’ and meeting expectations, motivations and needs which are aligned with the individual’s own cultural context of learning.
Inclusive practice means understanding learners’ needs and then personalising both the content and process (or delivery) of the learning. At all times, we should be striving for inclusive practice to be continuously and relentlessly built into the curriculum. Every lesson of every day has to be structured to be adaptable to meet the ever-changing needs of the learner.
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