It’s no secret that I would love a career in curriculum development. Some educators complain about how it’s always changing, and mandates from above seem to disregard teachers’ needs, but I actually kind of love it. I like to think that curricula are modified according to the latest educational research, and that there cannot be a perfect curriculum because human societies are in a constant state of evolution, and education does not exist in a vacuum.
I am sure there are great (and not so great) examples of this kind of remodelling from all over the world, but for now I want to focus on the progression of learning prescribed by the IB’s Middle Year Program. The MYP’s revamped curriculum, dubbed “The Next Chapter” was rolled out at my school just a year ago, but it was already long outdated when it was published.
Here’s an excerpt from the MYP guide for Language and Literature:
As you can see, for three of the four criteria strands, the cognitive processes expected of students in 6th grade starts out at very low order thinking, and progresses up to higher order thinking by 10th grade. FYI, I use Anderson and Krathwohl’s revised taxonomy, not Bloom’s:
However, I’ve found that all of my sixth grade students can demonstrate higher order thinking when learning experiences are within their zones of proximal development. It is only when faced with brand new content that has not been connected to what students already know that these eleven and twelve year old students become incapable of higher order thinking. They are so overwhelmed and confused by this unfamiliar content that they can do little more than recognize and recall.
Don’t just take my word for it. Just the other day, Alex Quigley posted links to five fantastic readings on his HuntingEnglish blog (see his Top 5 Reads for Evidence Informed Teachers). So far, I’ve only read the shortest two: “Top 20 Principles from Psychology for PreK-12 Teaching and Learning” from the APA, and “The Science of Learning” from Deans for Impact. Both of these texts debunk Jean Piaget’s stage theory of cognitive development (but preserve the notion of schema). Although these texts only came out within the last fourteen months, most of the sources they cite were published between 2000 and 2010, years before the MYP’s “Next Chapter” was mandated.
Middle school students are not limited in their ability to reason. They merely lack content. If teachers can help students draw connections between what students already know and new content, using analogies and other scaffolding techniques such as graphic organizers, students should be able to implement higher order cognitive processes to develop new understandings.
So, why don’t the MYP criteria descriptors reflect this research?
Educators, sound off.