The importance of education in the globalized society has made a curriculum the heart of any educational institution providing formal education since it defines all aspects of the learning process and reflects students’ experiences. Furthermore, the notion has come to designate not only a set of standards but also a dynamic process because modern society is changing rapidly (Tyler, 2013).
Curriculum development is a purposeful, systematic, and highly organized process aiming to improve the quality of education. Regardless of the content area, for which curriculum is designed, it must be responsive to all changes and developments happening in the educational system. Any curriculum must encompass theory, philosophy, and instructional models to be profound and comprehensive. Thus, the process of its development consists in (Tyler, 2013):
- establishing clear and consistent philosophy, values, and goals that will determine the direction of the learning process;
- elaborating sequences and transitions within and between levels to ensure a smooth progression from one level to the next one;
- outlining a general framework of activities, ways to perform them, and timelines;
- developing interdisciplinary approaches;
- choosing proper assessment tools to track achievements and provide regular revisions;
- providing proper direction of resources procurement (including financial, material, and human resources) and their distribution.
The paper at hand will present a curriculum design for English Language Arts (ELA), containing a description of school needs and suggesting curriculum models that can be used to satisfy them. Evaluation techniques of the curriculum content will also be provided.
School Needs in Terms of Philosophy and Ideology
Before developing the curriculum, it is important to identify what needs an education institution has in terms of its philosophical views and values for them not to be contradictory. Moreover, regardless of the discipline, the philosophy must reflect national and global trends in education, relying upon the most effective practices to enable students to succeed in the 21st-century environment (Noddings, 2013).
The program at hand is aimed to develop successful, creative, informed, and active individuals having profound knowledge and advanced skills in English Language Arts. In terms of ideology and philosophy, the school needs to:
- give all students a solid foundation in background theoretical knowledge and practical skills that will path their way to the future;
- foster students’ creativity allowing them to translate their innovative ideas into practical application;
- develop students’ general capabilities in terms of analytical thinking, the ability to cooperate with other learners, and to acquire diverse experience moving across various subject disciplines.
From the ideological point of view, the curriculum plays a decisive role in shaping the worldview of young citizens that determine the future of the whole nation. To play their role efficiently and be able to push the nation forward, students must have an opportunity to satisfy their intellectual, social, educational, creative, and personal needs in the changing and evolving society of globalization.
As any 21st-century curriculum, English Language Arts will need to take into consideration the nature of the young generation, their values, and views, as well as obstacles and challenges that will be encountered in the process of teaching and learning. Since expectations of the society are changing and accumulating rapidly, young students will need not only to develop an abstract philosophical perception of life, education, and communication but also receive an adaptive set of practically applicable skills to be able to answer modern expectations and make their contribution to the creation of a more sustainable, diversified, and supportive community.
High-performing countries must be able to set high levels of expectations and meet them in all subject areas of education through high-quality teaching, strong leadership, collaboration with families, social agencies, business, and industry activists, etc. Implementation of a successful English Language Arts curriculum largely depends upon the support of school administration, parents, and all those stakeholders fostering a favorable learning environment for literacy development (Pinar, 2013).
Curriculum Theory Addressing the Needs of the School
The major theory underlying this curriculum is constructivism (or meaning-making), which is based on the assumption that learning occurs only when students actively participate in the process of generating new meanings and knowledge instead of the unidirectional transition of information from teachers to learners. The above-enumerated needs of the school for creating knowledgeable, responsible, diversely educated, creative, and active citizens can be satisfied only under the condition that students are allowed to become the makers of meaning and provided with a variety of activities to achieve this (Pinar, 2013).
The advantage of constructivism over other educational theories consists in the fact that it is not just a philosophical position but rather an epistemology and a pedagogical approach (Noddings, 2013). Yet, no matter under which category it falls, the major premise remains the same: Knowledge should never come as a result of passive perception since it can be effective only if it is constructed.
The theory traces its roots to Jean Piaget, who was striving to find out what structures of the human mind determine cognitive behavior and how its characteristics change at each state of mental development. Piaget focuses on an individual student leaving social aspects of learning unattended. On the contrary, social constructivists emphasize that learning is a collaborative effort. These different understandings of the theory should not hinder educators wince only the most preferable practices can be adopted without any necessity to accept extremes of the philosophy. This particular curriculum will use constructivism as a way to acquire knowledge from interactions between already learned facts and new information.
One of the major goals is to foster critical thinking and learning experiences for students to be able to open new boundaries instead of unquestioned acceptance of common knowledge. The key idea of the theory is that knowledge cannot be neutral. On the contrary, it is dynamic, which implies that the ways of creating it are no less important than knowledge itself (Noddings, 2013).
Although many scholars indicate that constructivism is typically applied to mathematics and science education, there is still evidence that the theory is also quite influential in the teaching of English Language Arts and its presence in ELA classrooms is on the rise. The suggested curriculum recognizes that although a teacher may decide what issue, problem, topic, or question is going to be addressed, students should always have an opportunity to enact conversation domains, dispute, collaborate, disagree, and give their interpretation of the information received. Teachers and students must be able to get engaged in a meaningful conversation, read, discuss, write, and come out with their conclusions together.
This allows making independent decisions and thereby construct an experience-based, student-oriented curriculum that will not only meet educational standards but also appeal to learners making them more interested and committed. They learn how to use their existing knowledge on any topic to transform new information in such a way that it will be directly applicable to their personal experience (Deane et al., 2015).
Another reason to opt for constructivism is that the theory supports linguistically and culturally diverse learning environment. All students are perceived as people with different and unique social, intellectual, and cultural backgrounds, each deserving separate attention and respect. Teachers do their best to incorporate knowledge about students in their daily classroom practices. It is a deeply constructivist idea to believe that learners’ cultural identities and life experiences must be included in the classroom, changing traditional approaches to ELA curriculum development (Deane et al., 2015).
Curriculum Design Model
The English Language Arts curriculum will be developed based on the Know-Do-Understand design model that promotes a competency-oriented, concept-based approach to teaching and learning experience. The model includes three major elements that work together to ensure deeper learning (Serbati, 2015):
- Content (Know): The first element identifies learning standards and identified what topics are to be studied at each level. Content decides what knowledge will be acquired at each grade in ELA for the student to be able to master Curricular Competencies. Each topic included in the Content can find practical application in Competencies. The student continues building on their knowledge passing from one grade to another and studying particular texts, in which they find required topics, some of which may re-appear at the next level since they require more thorough studying. Yet, in a case the identical topic is studied several times, it means that Content has to be elaborated to make these topics deeper and broader.
- Competencies (Do): The second element encompasses all strategies, activities, and skills that students have to cover for a certain period. The Curricular Competencies determine how learners must implement the knowledge that they have gained, which is highly significant for ELA since this area of learning is action-driven. The initial goal of every ELA student is to become efficient and competent in the generation of oral and written texts on a variety of topics. Students must be able to present their ideas clearly and confidently to ensure meaningful communication. Competencies are built on successively while students are moving through grades.
- Big Ideas (Understand): The third element of the design model includes principles and generalizations that students have to develop. In general, it implies what students will understand when they complete the curriculum for their level and how their knowledge will contribute to their future studies. Some such ideas become deeper and more complex over time whereas others may remain unchanged.
The major reason to opt for this model is that it supports and reinforces competency-driven, concept-based curriculum–the two features that are indispensable to 21st-century education that must provide multi-faceted theoretical knowledge that can be applied in real settings. These two approaches perfectly complement constructivism as they are both focused on engaging students in the process of active knowledge (“doing”) rather than passive perception. When learning is competency-driven, it ensures that students will perform authentic tasks teaching them to link abstract learning to the real settings (Joyce, Weil, & Calhoun, 2015)
Organization of the Curriculum
The curriculum will be organized around the following guiding principles:
- English Language Arts are aimed to encourage independent thinking as well as interactive and collaborative learning when appropriate.
- An effective ELA curriculum is organized in such a way that it ensures the development of students’ literacy and an oral speech by creating conditions for challenging learning experience.
- A variety of literature of many genres, cultures, and periods are to be used within the framework of the curriculum to promote diversity and reflect students’ common heritage.
- Writing must be emphasized as an essential skill needed to communicate ideas in any type of discourse (narrative, expository, expressive, or persuasive).
- En effective curriculum involves all types of media in education as it makes the learning experience diversified.
- Students are to receive explicit and precise skill instructions in all competencies.
- All kinds of students’ personal experiences must be included in the curriculum to make them more involved and motivated.
- ELA curriculum must include strategies for gaining knowledge and meeting standards while preserving learning individuality and creativity.
- Each student must be able to develop his/her writing and speaking style.
- An effective curriculum promotes respect for representatives of all backgrounds and nurtures the sense of commonality of purposes and values.
The curriculum will offer a set of units and lesson plans, including tasks on speaking, writing, listening, and grammar. The following goals are to be achieved:
- reading a wide range of print texts (fictional and non-fictional), understand them, and select new information;
- reading various literature works belonging to different periods and genres;
- applying strategies to understand, interpret, and assess texts relying on personal experience;
- communicating effectively with different audiences adjusting personal language style and vocabulary;
- using writing process elements to reach different readers;
- using grammar conventions, media techniques, and figurative language in discussions and writing;
- conducting research, generating ideas, and solving problems;
- using all modern educational technologies and information resources to collect, generate, and transfer knowledge;
- participating in active discussions and group projects;
- achieving personal goals through the effective use of language.
As far as an instructional model is concerned, it would be reasonable to choose the process model as the most action-oriented of all. The model suggests that the curriculum should be limited by studying units and lesson plans and is not determined by texts. On the contrary, it encourages language processes that enhance competencies, in which students and teachers are interested most. This means that instructions on writing, reading, listening, and speaking will differ considerably across classes and will be personalized to the maximum.
The use of the process model requires a non-traditional approach to the assessment of curriculum success. The major rule of such classrooms is the authenticity of evaluation methods since real language work cannot be objectively estimated using classical formal tests. Since the process model makes the curriculum more varied and flexible, it implies that assessment tools will also differ across classrooms.
The model does not allow rigid and unresponsive methods that do not acknowledge students’ differences. Traditional tests may still be applied for evaluating students’ competences in grammar and essay writing but they cannot be decisive in determining how advanced a student is in terms of his/her ability to establish successful communication and achieve communicative goals. In the world of information sharing, it is the major competence that should be evaluated using practice-oriented tasks.
An authentic assessment is a form of evaluation where students are required to cope with real practical tasks that show that they can properly apply their skills and theoretical knowledge. Their performance is graded by a rubric. The curriculum also allows changing tasks according to individual peculiarities of students (Pinar, 2013).
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