28. Building a Meaningful Subject Area Mastery Statement

Curriculum revision in the new learning infrastructure is not just a shuffling of topics, subjects, courses, and other traditional ways to reorganize the status quo.

That approach to school improvement was once common.

But revising schedules, organizational configurations, subject or course nomenclature, grade level patterns, and teaching staff realignment did not result in significant improvements in student learning.

Experiments focused on team teaching, interdisciplinary structures, elimination of grade-to-grade advancement, and other novel ideas rarely proved lasting success.  

The heart of the new learning infrastructure is a curriculum designed to be substantive in terms of student mastery. Mastery in the sense children and young people are prepared to be fully capable, successful adults in a 21st Century reality.

The language arts subject area committee’s challenge is to hammer out a mastery statement that reflects the more expansive way of thinking about what students REALLY need to succeed in life.  

Gaps between “what we do now” and “what we should do” will occur in two domains.

The first gap is associated with student skill/knowledge development compared to a way of how thoughtful students think and behave.

The second gap will exist in the use of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Specifically, the traditional view of learning that emphasizes remembering and understanding, compared to the contemporary focus on applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.

The first gap is essentially the difference between being a trivial pursuit expert or effectiveness as a member of society. Factual knowledge is useful and important, but being a societal contributor is much more significant.

As for the second gap, the two levels of the Taxonomy used in most schools today are remembering and understanding. While those levels are acknowledged in the new learning infrastructure, the other four are pervasive: applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.

Project based learning is becoming popular in the district. Essentially a resurgence of John Dewey’s concepts developed and widely implemented in the early part of the 20th Century. The growth of PBL started when NCLB driven dictates weakened in the last few years.

High stakes tests have become less important, while state standards are reworked and rephrased. Project based learning is dependent on local formative assessment.

The definition of teacher accountability has moved in a different direction. It minimizes the importance of student performance on summative assessments.

The growth of PBL benefits the new learning infrastructure in terms of meeting Bloom’s applying goal. It also carries over into analyzing, evaluating, and creating.

But much depends on the student’s individual effort as opposed to collaborative or interactive initiatives. Not bad. But not enough.

Collegial experimentation, development and application are important elements of the new learning infrastructure and how things work in real life. PBL may not emphasize that kind of interaction.

Barbara and Mary’s Story – Part 3

We know there will be disagreement among members of the language arts SAC when they try to balance what the curriculum is now with what it should be as outlined in a state-of-the-art mastery statement.

The mastery statement will be precise and written in a formal way. We do not apologize for that. But after dialogue within the committee, it can be modified in ways that make it more acceptable to those who disagree or are confused.  

We decided to schedule discussions leading to development of the language arts mastery statement in two parts. The first — a general review of the district’s mastery statement and the accuracy and appropriateness of the interpretations we created.

The second discussion will focus on creating a draft of our language arts subject area mastery statement.

Trying to create that statement from scratch could be time-consuming and difficult. So we decided to prepare a working draft for critique and modification.

To initiate discussion:

Students participating in and completing the district’s language arts curriculum will master outcomes corresponding with written intentions for learning at grade level.  Among those intentions for learning are these:

  • Defining reality in the context of decisions made valid through background knowledge and evidence.
  • Gaining insight into human interactions and behaviors as depicted in literature that discusses cultural influences, thereby gaining an appreciation and respect for diversity.
  • Interpreting problem solving as the ability of human beings to consider challenges, weigh the accuracy of options found in all types of literature, conduct trial and error tests, and work in teams to create and evaluate possible or probable solutions.
  • Establishing a working definition of creativity as being an authentic learning goal, characterized by the dynamic nurturance and acceptance of novel ideas, proposals, and behaviors that depict curiosity and devotion to some endeavor.
  • Demonstrating responsible behaviors in the context of what is read as valuable in terms of good taste, logical reasoning, and instructive to readers as guidelines for living and learning. Responsible behaviors are also manifested in written works reflective of the writer’s own creativity, ability to express ideas, opinions and factual information offered through quality syntax.  
  • Developing, through reading and writing, an appreciation for competition based on valuable insight, examples of moral/cognitive/physical self-improvement, and willingness to take risks for reasons other than self-aggrandizement. Accepting persuasiveness based on conviction and improving the common good as the appropriate model for entrepreneurial enterprise.
  • Accepting the idea that reading, writing, speaking, listening, and interacting through language is the basis of lifelong and worthwhile learning.
  • Using literature and other media as catalysts essential for making learning a conscious, intentional, and ongoing part of life.
  • Making curiosity a fundamental part of living and becoming, through reading or accessing diverse forms of media on a regular and ongoing basis.
  • Inquiring through the use of questions posed appropriately and regularly.
  • Participating in the interchange of vigorous and stimulating ideas in which feedback is welcomed.
  • Recognizing the acquisition of self-confidence as the result of taking initiatives in widening groups. Using insights taken from literature and other media, and applying skills in speaking, writing, and listening to the act of reaching out.
  • Placing oneself where encouragement of others is given and received.
  • Practicing the art of mindfulness by being sensitive to prioritize actions and responses, particularly through effective oral and written communication.
  • Articulating the meaning and practice of self-discipline and development of personal values, reinforced by the reading of quality literature, and the viewing of uplifting media.
  • Interacting with others easily based on the art of conversation by maintaining the habit of staying engaged with the world and listening carefully.    
  • Pursuing knowledge and sharing that knowledge with humility and sincerity through both speaking and writing.

We knew this draft of a subject mission statement would be hard for some to initially understand, and confusing for others. We also knew it could upset some teachers who held traditional opinions.

We had no idea how much heated discussion it would cause.

©2021 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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