Some teachers involved in the Learning by Design project discuss some of the ways in which they design curriculum:
‘I have been teaching for twenty years … I don’t write down what I am doing. I have an order of things … a lot of it is in my head, I don’t write it down anywhere’. This is what Ambrose told us.
His colleague Shirley said, ‘I write the plan down but then I forget about it.’
This prompted Dave, also in the conversation to say: ‘I am the other way round. I write everything down.’
Ambrose responded, ‘every teacher’s planning reflects their personality … we all plan in different ways. In my first years of teaching I wrote everything down … but now, when I am teaching in the direction I want, I don’t care which path I take … sometimes I just hand it over to a student and let them take over’.
Mary, a principal from another school, and a very hands-on and involved leader and pedagogical-mentor, explained how things were done in her school: ‘we spend a lot of time planning. We capture what the team is doing and then we document it … we write it down. Our teachers ‘work in cycles … we say this worked, but this didn’t … We are always revisiting our plans’
‘Here’s one that took ages, and you can see this was very deliberate, very carefully designed. We started with the learning outcomes we were after and then added specific strategies to achieve these outcomes’.
Mary then shared a detailed plan that she had designed with four of her teachers. The strategies she shared from her plan included experiential, conceptual and analytical activities as well as activities that required the children to apply and demonstrate what they had learnt. Amongst the many strategies that Mary shared from her plan was the following:
‘Students will explore concepts relating to healthy ecosystems. They will work collaboratively to investigate the local creek and draw conclusions about the creek’s health for the wildlife. They will gain an understanding of the links between animals and their environments. They will engage in a variety of data collection strategies to research different types of animals from the creek and human impact on. They will prepare a brochure on the animal (information report) for the local Tourist office, and a video for Prep – Year 3 students to encourage them to participate in Clean-up Day along the creek.’
‘This will probably sound strange, but I don’t think we really know what we are doing’ said Paul, a mature-aged and experienced teacher.
‘I mean we know what we are doing but we don’t …’ he quickly continued, ‘we have trouble identifying what we do and sharing this with others … .’
Fatimah agreed. ‘I think that’s because when teaching practice becomes fluent you are proficient you don’t recognise what you are doing … you draw on whatever you can. You don’t need to explain it to anyone else. You just do it.’
‘But this makes it really it difficult to identify and talk about what it means to be a good teacher’, replied Paul.
‘I mean, what it is about your practice that makes it effective?’ he asked.
‘It probably comes back to a lot of assuming on our part … we assume that our colleagues are doing similar things so we don’t really need to explain.’
‘We have developed a kind of short-hand … a short-hand of practice,’ he added.
‘Yeah,’ said Fatimah, responding to her teaching partner, ‘there are moves that you make that you haven’t given names to … .’
Burrows, Peter, Bill Cope, Mary Kalantzis, Les Morgan, Kieju Suominen and Nicola Yelland. 2006. ‘Data from the Australian Research Council Learning By Design Project.’ Unpublished Manuscript.