Effective curriculum requires an approach to teacher learning that takes into account several aspects such as the needs of the students, teachers, and the society. The process of curriculum development and improvement of pedagogy should be maximal effective and efficient. It is important that this process is built upon prior observed practices as well as documented literature. An effective curriculum, pedagogy and assessment strategy that improves the students’ outcomes is one that has the following three dimensions: intellectual quality, quality learning environment, and significance.This dimension expects students to communicate the things they learn and requires them to involve higher order thinking. In addition, it also tends to treat knowledge as something that needs active construction (Anderson, 1984). The second dimension is quality learning environment and it involves creating a classroom environment primarily focused on learning where both the teachers and students work together productively. Such a focus is important since it enables creation of positive relations among students and between teachers and students. There are a lot of high expectations set by the method. The third dimension is significance; it is all about bringing meaning into the process of learning and making students understand the importance of what they are learning. This dimension helps students to make connections of several important aspects of learning. They make connections of the previous learning and knowledge, connections of the contexts outside classroom, helps them to be culturally sensitive and have multiple ways of knowing.
There are certain issues that have to be taken into account when strategizing the curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment. The first issue is the focus by many teachers to teach to the test (Bretag, Horrocks, & Smith, 2002). Teachers have in many cases been observed to teach to the test. There is evidence that most teachers fail to teach content that is significant for a student to apply in his or her immediate environment. The kind of pedagogy strategy used by teacher is one that focuses on students passing exams and not being able to apply the knowledge gained in life. This approach can be attributed to the improvement in students’ performance over time. The most important aspect of such an approach is that when the curriculum is driven by valid and reliable tests, then such an approach will necessarily not be useless. However, if the test and assessments can be deemed invalid and unreliable, focusing on the ‘teaching to the test’ approach is less important (Carlson & Heth, 2010).
In the same manner, the third dimension of effective and efficient pedagogical practice requires that the content be significant. This means that the learners have to be able to relate the content with background knowledge, and cultural knowledge. There has to be connection in the minds of the students with what they already know. Therefore, teaching to the test may not be the right pedagogical approach that brings out the best learning outcome from students.
The other issue involved is learner motivation. Certain forms of assessments have been regarded as having effect on learner motivation depending on the ability of the learner (Linn, 1991). Summative assessment affects learner motivation differently. In as much as summative assessment is mainly used to test the amount of knowledge gained after a period, it creates a large gap between high achievers and low achievers. This gap is likely to affect the low achievers by reducing their self esteem. As their esteem is reduced, it is likely that their future performance be affected negatively (Parsons & Ward, 2011).
Another issue on assessment is on multipurpose testing. The main goal of assessment used in the process of teaching and learning is to advance learning and support the progress of students in learning. There certain instruments of assessment which work perfectly well on individual students and not collectively as a group of students. Therefore, the use of high stake assessment tools has the potential to detract people from the real purpose of assessment (Parsons & Ward, 2011).
While in classroom, knowledge is considered to be deep when the primary focus is on the central ideas topic or subjects. When knowledge is considered crucial to a particular topic, subject, or level of learning, then it is important for classroom practice. The students demonstrate evidence of deep knowledge when they are able to provide ideas, arguments, and information which touch on the central issues of a concept (Linn, 1991). Similarly, the teacher is also expected to present content of this nature to the students in order to ensure they focus on deep knowledge. However, not all classroom circumstances can support provision of deep knowledge from both the teacher and the learners. For teachers, there are specific circumstances where they are forced to rush content in order to complete syllabus. In the process, it becomes difficult to provide reasoning and arguments which touch on the most important and central issues of an idea. In such circumstances, the knowledge presented is fragmented and disconnected from the central idea. As a result, learning outcomes are affected (Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation, 1994).
In order to improve classroom practice, it is important that the teacher provides deep knowledge while the learners demonstrate deep understanding. At the same time, teachers have to cover a substantial content of syllabus in order for the knowledge presented to be sufficiently deep. Despite the need to rush and complete syllabus, the knowledge presented has to be deep enough to enable deep understanding on the side of the students. Quality is of the essence when referring to deep knowledge. The content has to be relevant and organized in a manner that one concept builds another. This enables students to make connection of new content with prior content to create coherence.
During assessment, the teacher has to test for deep understanding. Assessment can either be summative or formative. Despite the form of assessment used, the students have to demonstrate understanding of the central idea of a topic, subject or level of learning. While demonstrating understanding, students will be able to explore relationships between concepts, draw conclusion, construct explanations, and solve problems in a complex and systematic way.
Student learning outcome is improved by encouraging high order thinking. Higher order thinking requires that learners be able to work around ideas in a way that transforms their implication. Normally ideas are transformed when they are analyzed, synthesized and generalized. In this way, students are able to create understanding, meaning, and to solve new problems. They are also able to identify new problems in the process and attempt ways of solving them. The bloom’s taxonomy provides teachers with the guideline of forming high order thinking questions (Bloom, 1986). Such questions are also important for assessment as they help students to construct meaning from the information they already know (Bloom, 1986).
Teacher can also encourage interactive lessons in order to have substantive communication. Substantive communication helps to create a two way interaction between the teacher and the learners. The interaction is primarily focused on the substance of the lesson. Substantive communication helps to avoid certain scenarios during classroom practice which are considered to contribute to poor learning outcomes (Banks, 2007). For instance, a scenario where the teacher only acts as an information delivery tool and the students are hardly involved in the process of learning does little to bring the best learning outcomes from students. The students are expected to be giving detailed answers and be able to engage in substantial communication where they are involved in explanations of ideas and concepts. It is not sufficient to provide short answers. In addition to gaining a deep understanding of the content, students are also able to develop communication skills which they use to express themselves (Bretag, Horrocks, & Smith, 2002). Substantive communication therefore can take any form including oral communication, written, or symbolic communication. At the same time, substantive communication is sustained and goes beyond to using communication as a line of reasoning.
The quality oflearning environment matters in improving pedagogy, curriculum, and assessment. This is because both students and teacher need to work in a productive environment that focuses on learning. As earlier mentioned, such an environment is important in developing positive relationships students and among students and between teachers. The learning environment also needs to enable students to be engaged in the process of learning. Their engagement is important to their learning and it is the duty of the teacher to ensure that the students are engaged in the process of learning (Charkins, OToole, & Wetzel, 1985).
The teacher should also try hard to create a learning environment that encourages social support for the students. The necessary climate is one that creates mutual respect among students and between teachers and students. Such an environment makes students to try hard and avoid failure. Providing social support requires that the actions, comments, and behaviors of both teachers and students encourage free expression of one’s point of view, participation, and effort. Since it is hard to avoid disagreements, what matters is how they are resolved. An environment that encourages social support helps to resolve disagreement in a constructive way for everyone involved (Carlson & Heth, 2010).
Social support is necessary in pedagogy and curriculum development since it encourages the right attitudes for student learning. If comments made by an instructor are negative and belittling responses made students, learning support will be undermined by discouraging students’ effort and participation. Similarly, other students can also participate in creating an environment of low social support in class. Students can make efforts which prevent other students from seriously participating in classroom activities (Manning & Baruth, 2009). This undermines learning as the discouraged students will fail to participate in classroom activities or make an effort in learning.
In most cases teacher will always find students who are most engaged in learning activities and those who reluctant or disengaged. There is a tendency for teacher to only direct the positive comments and behaviors towards those mostly engaged in classroom activities and forget the disengaged (Banks, 2007). However, as teachers it is important to ensure that social support is not mildly positive or neutral. The supportive comments and behaviors should be directed to all students and there should be clear attempt to support the disengaged students. In addition, it is the responsibility of the teacher to note any negative effort made by students towards their fellow students and discourage it. The classroom atmosphere has to create mutual respect among the students and between students and teachers.
In regards to the content materials presented to the students, significance is of the essence. Students have to show evidence of background knowledge. This implies that they have to make connection between the lesson content and their previous knowledge and experience. Background knowledge refers to the earlier school knowledge, popular culture, knowledge from media, personal experience, cultural knowledge, and local knowledge. The teacher is expected to establish the entry level of students before addressing new content or topic. This will give the teacher an idea of the amount of prior knowledge the students have with regards to a particular topic. As a result the teacher will be able to know whether student’s understanding of the new content will be enhanced (Banks, 2007).
Curriculum and pedagogy is further enhanced when there is recognition of diversity. In a classroom environment students come from different cultural background. There are various social groups involved in the classroom. This is characterized by gender, age, religion, language, disability, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and social economic status. The content presented to students must therefore be significant and sensitive to the diversity present in the classroom (Manning & Baruth, 2009). Similarly, inclusivity should be evident. This is where all these diverse group of students are included in the process of learning and each of the students actively participates in classroom activities. The contribution made by students should be valued irrespective of the cultural background, gender, or race. A sense of negativity towards a particular culture, race, ethnic group, gender, or religion should be removed in order to encourage students to fully and freely participate in the lesson (Banks, 2007).
Some classroom activities require students to work together as a group and in these small groups, a sense of mutual respect should be encouraged at all times. It is therefore the responsibility of the teacher to create this sense of mutual respect by valuing all genuine contributions made by students and by ensuring all students are included in classroom activities. Therefore, in addition to valuing knowledge from various cultural backgrounds, it is also important to value the students from these cultural backgrounds. The teacher should avoid focusing on stereotypes whether positive or negative (Banks, 2007). Positive stereotypes will tend to exalt other social groups and undermine the others, while negative stereotypes generally undermine the targeted social groups. Therefore, in as much as the teacher is required to value knowledge of different cultural backgrounds, he or she should be sensitive of stereotypical implications (Banks, 2007).
Another important aspect to improve pedagogy, assessment, and curriculum is knowledge integration. There has to be meaningful connections between various topics and disciplines taught in class. For instance student should be able to relate mathematics as a discipline with other disciplines such as science. Knowledge integration will be high when students are able to solve problems that require knowledge from multiple disciplines or topics. This also implies that the students have to make meaningful connections between various topics. The manner in which topics are arranged should enable students to make connections and the arrangement is normally done at the point of curriculum development. Since there is need to constantly evaluate the curriculum, changes are therefore made where necessary based on the result of the assessment. Also during classroom practice, teachers are expected to help students make the necessary connection between topics and disciplines. Assessment of students learning needs to test the ability to make this connection.
Students are therefore given questions which will stimulate higher order thinking according to the bloom’s taxonomy. This implies the ability to analyze and relate different topics and draw conclusion from the analysis.
Significance of the content material is also demonstrated through the ability of the students to connect it or create meaning that goes beyond the classroom. This aspect of significance is important during curriculum development since it allows students to use the knowledge gained in classroom to handle real life situations in their immediate environment outside classroom. As curriculum developers form the syllabus, one thing they must have in mind is the connection of the content to real life experiences of the learners. The fact that students have issues to confront beyond the classroom has to be taken into account. As the curriculum is constantly evaluated for improvement, a critical concern is how the students will use the knowledge learnt at home and during their ‘out of school’ interaction with friends in various social settings. As curriculum is developed, the needs of the society have to be considered in addition to considering the needs of the students and the teachers. This means that the work of the students should not only be centered to their personal development and level of competence. It should go beyond to impacting and serving other members of the society.
During pedagogy, teachers are also expected to help student create this connection that goes beyond the classroom. This can be achieved in various ways including communicating knowledge beyond the classroom and advocating solutions to issues and problems affecting the society. Classroom activities become less significance is they are only regarded for school work success. They have to be related to other aspects of life as well. During assessment, it is important to evaluate students’ ability to connect classroom knowledge to societal problems and experiences outside classroom. The high order thinking questions in the Bloom’s Taxonomy help in testing the ability of students to relate content beyond classroom scenarios. They help students think how they can address problems they confront in the society using the knowledge and activities done in class
In conclusion, improving pedagogy, curriculum and assessment requires approaches which focus on three dimensions. The first dimension discussed in this paper is that of intellectual quality. It involves creation of deep knowledge, deep understanding, high order thinking, and substantive communication. The second dimension is quality learning environment which involves creating a learning environment that encourages student’s engagement, social support, and student direction. The third dimension focuses on…