Is Co-Contruction a Misnomer?

Posted 12/03/2019

When I was a little girl, I bought a new wallet with my pocket money. When I got home I began, excitedly, to fill in the identification card – name, address, colour of hair, colour of eyes, etc. But, when I came to the box marked “sex,” I was perplexed and asked my mother for help. She said, “This is where you indicate whether you are a little girl or a little boy. And since you’re a little girl, you put female.” “Oh Mommy,” I said, “I know who I am; I just couldn’t think of the name.”

We all know who we are as teachers, but names are important and naming conventions are telling. If we are to be Co-Constructors of curriculum, then we need to be clear about the implications of that term and what it means for us and our students. Frances Edwards defines co-construction as “a dynamic process in which what is taught and learned (the curriculum) is negotiated between teachers and students, rather than being solely pre-determined by the teacher.”[1] With this definition I am left wondering just how much 'voice' teachers should expect students to have in the design and conduct of their studies. Is this meant to be more a conversation about method and expectation and less a "student-generated framework" for class objectives? If the former, then what should we call it? Maybe, “curriculum exchange” or “curriculum conversation…”? If the later, then this may call into serious question what we mean by the vocation of teaching.

I am reminded of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. As you likely recall, the allegory tells about a benighted people who see shadowy images on a wall as the only real things – but when they are liberated from the cave and see the light of day they are, at last, able to see things as they really are. That allegory seems to me still to be in the image of the liberating core of education – that before students can learn anything, they must be liberated from their caves of mistaken and misperceived ignorance. And, in Plato's story, remember that no one is able to free himself from the cave! 

That said, maybe there are unique characteristics among our students that modify their dependence on someone to help them out of whatever cave they're in and to distinguish between perception or propaganda and truth, or what we construe as knowledge – but I would have thought their dependence probably greater.

Perhaps what is “negotiated” is what we’ve heretofore labelled “differentiation” – the way that students will learn; perhaps even engagement with some of the ordering of what is learned (like Takeaway Homeworks, for example). Taking part in this process can increase students’ motivation and engagement with learning. “The idea is that dialog will encourage learners to understand their responsibility in their own learning process, motivating them to engage positively in its activities so that they can accomplish the objectives they have helped determine.”[2]

So, while looking through some of the steps to take to include students in conversations about the construction of the curriculum, keep the following in mind. The Exam Boards have laid out the objectives and content. You, as teachers, know how best to order this content and teach to these objectives. But, involving the student in your process of determining the what, how, and when of the parts of the curriculum that will be taught, gives students a greater understanding of the learning process and, probably, a greater investment in their own part in that process.

 

Start Small – Experiment

  • You could start by planning your unit as usual, but leave a few areas open for discussion/student voice.
  • You could start by negotiating just a few assignments. Takeaway homeworks are great for this – they allow for student choice and give teachers valuable insights about how students differentiate for themselves.
  • You could simply dip in with a group activity that engages students in open-ended, collaborative problem-solving and decision-making that relates to your course content, but has nothing to do with your course requirements. [3] While not strictly “co-construction,” this will allow you to experiment without affecting students’ final grades. It will prepare your students – and yourself – for sharing opposing ideas, thinking outside the box, making joint decisions, and defending choices. (ibid.)

 

Take the Plunge (ibid.)

  • Give your students a heads-up that they will have a voice in the design of the next unit they’ll study.
  • Discuss learning objectives and outcomes as a class. (This will be mostly informative, but can get creative. There may be tangents of interest to students you can work in, if they don’t take too much time in the curriculum.)
  • Converge idea categories and priorities to create a framework that is integrated into your required list of objectives. Remember that while students need to know that their input is highly valued, it is the teacher that has final authority over all aspects of the course.
  • Repeat the first 2 steps for assessments. Students need to consider how they’ll demonstrate their learning (knowledge and skills).
  • Once the unit assessments have been decided, activities need to be designed to equip students for attainment and achievement in their assessments. Differentiation is a must, here.
  • Throughout the unit, student reflection on the quality of their learning is imperative. Students must recognise that they are all on their own individual path of improvement. And, because leading curriculum conversations may be themselves a learning experience, teachers should take time to reflect, as well.

 

Most of us do a little “co-constructing” already. Think about the possibilities for engagement if a faculty-wide or school-wide mission to “co-construct” could involve your most recalcitrant or vulnerable students. We know who we are as teachers; but maybe it’s time to broaden our students’ understanding of who they are as “students.”



[1] Edwards, F. (2011). Teaching and learning together: Making space for curriculum negotiation in higher education. Waikato Journal of Education, 16(3), 143-156. Retrieved from http://researchcommons.waikato.ac.nz/handle/10289/6121

[2] Harris, H. (2010). Curriculum negotiation at NHK: Meeting the needs and demands of adult learners. The Language Teacher, 34(6), 22-26. Retrieved from www.jalt-publications.org/files/pdf--‐article/art3.pdf

[3] Hunzickler, Jana. “Co-Constructing Your Course Curriculum”. Seminar handout, St. George's - The English International School Cologne, Germany 2018.

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