Last week, I discussed how staff at my school were able to “find” the Habits of Mind in the curriculum, as well as in their big-picture visions of student learning. By doing so, they realised that far from being something new or “extra”, the Habits of Mind simplified their view of teaching and learning. They also gave staff a powerful shared language so they could talk about their common learning goals for students.
However, the curriculum was much larger than the Habits of Mind. Certainly, the Habits were a part of our curriculum, but so were the nuts and bolts of the content and learning objectives of each subject area.
And what of the big-picture values we’d also identified as important? How did they relate to the rest of the curriculum? In short, how did it all fit together?
To understand the links between these different aspects of the curriculum, I generated the following infographic.
This infographic allowed us to recognise the critical contribution of each subject area. At the centre were the broad objectives of our curriculum. While there was general agreement our curriculums tended to be over-crowded with content, we all agreed there was “stuff” students needed to know! Beyond the basic skills of literacy and numeracy, we recognised the importance of learning about key moments in history, the scientific method, the impact of technology on society, the Arts, and so on.
But our curriculum was more than a collection of facts and information. We needed students to be able to interact with that content. We recognised there was a set of skills, tools and strategies that allowed students to manipulate and understand the content. These included traditional thinking skills, such as analysis, questioning and creativity, as well as “modern thinking skills”, such as Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats®. However we termed them, these tools, skills and strategies gave students increased power to interact with the content they were learning about.
In the next layer of the curriculum were the Habits of Mind. Beyond “thinking skills”, the Habits were dispositions for learning. They gave students the inclination to pick up their thinking tools and act on the content. In developing students’ Habits of Mind, we nurtured their commitment to becoming more efficacious thinkers as well as helped them recognise the benefits of engaging in the Habits.
The final layer of the curriculum involved purpose. It represented a set of values, ethics or virtues we felt were important for students to develop. While the inner three layers of our infographic developed knowledgeable, effective and capable thinkers, this final layer recognised the need for schools to develop purposeful individuals who were able to contribute to society in positive and constructive ways.
It is important to note that our curriculum documents tend to be filled with the two inner rings of the diagram. These are the “nuts and bolts” of day-to-day teaching and learning. However, when you talk to parents, think about your own children or envisage the types of students we want graduating from our schools, we tend to focus on the two outer circles. These are the most important and enduring parts of the curriculum.
This highlights perhaps the most important lesson of this infographic: that our curriculum is far more than a collection of facts to be covered. As Art Costa says in his introduction to Developing Minds: A Resource Book for Teaching Thinking (2001):
Content, selectively abandoned and judiciously selected because of its fecund contributions to the thinking/learning process, becomes merely the vehicle in which we experience the joyride of learning. The focus is on learning FROM the objectives instead of learning of the objectives.
Beyond this, we must also select and present our content in a way that allows us to teach students a broader set of values that are important to leading a positive and productive life.
When a student challenges us and asks, “Why am I learning this? I’m never going to need to know this again in my life,” they might be right. But our answer cannot be, “Because it’s in the curriculum.” We must respond with something more like this:
“You may or may not need to know the content of this particular lesson. But that fact or skill you just mentioned, that’s only one layer of what you’re learning here today. You’re also learning how to think with and about it. Your developing ways of thinking, including Habits of Mind that apply to whatever you do. And, importantly, by learning about it in this context, in this classroom and in this way, you are learning how to grow as a person and to become a positive, contributing member of our community.”
Succeeding with Habits of Mind: Developing, Infusing and Sustaining the Habits of Mind for a More Thoughtful Classroom (James Anderson, Melbourne, Victoria: Hawker Brownlow Education, 2010).
Thinking in the Curriculum poster (James Anderson)