Developing Concept-Based Curriculum Galvanises Teacher Agency

Teachers’ involvement in the curriculum development process inspires deeper commitment and meaning-making in the teaching and learning process (Ben-Peretz, 1990; Connelly & Clandinin, 1998; Doyle, 1992). However, teachers’ commitment and meaning-making process become more evident when they emphasise concept- focused learning in the discipline, both during the development and implementation stages. When teachers develop concept-focused curricula, they are personally faced with the task of retracing how the facts in the discipline are aligned together with the abstract concepts. They then actively experiment with instructional strategies, determining how they can get at the learner’s background knowledge, tacit understanding and misconceptions in the discipline. At the same time, teachers would need to consider a wider range of affective, cognitive and metacognitive skills and dispositions amongst their learners as they select instructional practices and formative assessment tools to ensure that learners make conceptual links in the discipline. In short, by designing concept-based curriculum and adopting concept-focused learning, the teacher can help to nurture a broader and deeper appreciation of the discipline. This moves teachers away from being transmitters of curriculum (Brady, 1995), and instead they become the meaning-makers of the discipline. Furthermore, a focus on conceptual understanding ensures that the technical, practical (interaction) and emancipatory knowledge—interests that should guide fundamental human learning (Habermas, 1972)—are realised, so that teachers can realistically and reasonably prepare learners for life-long learning.

However, whilst concept-based curriculum can offer a more realistic way of preparing learners for life, traditionally, teachers have acted as curriculum implement- ers and knowledge transmitters. This lack of acceptance of the curriculum developer and learning facilitator roles is compounded by the depth of deliberation and work that is needed to develop concept-based curricula. Moreover, teaching conceptually may sometimes mean that the learner will leave the lesson with more questions than answers. Leaving learners in a place of doubt is often seen as the antithesis of good teaching and can put teachers in an uncomfortable place, especially if the existing social and cultural norms of education rest on giving learners the right answer. Given such complexities and the daily grind of working with so many learners, teachers will need to find the mental and physical energy to exercise their knowledge authority and thought freedom and feel confident about teaching the discipline conceptually whilst meeting the needs of the prescribed curriculum.[1] When teachers do exercise their knowledge authority and freedom to develop concept-based curricula, they arguably exercise agentic behaviour to become active advocates for how to (re)represent the discipline to their learners’ in situ. Teachers’ work in concept- based curriculum development is therefore dependent on the delicate relationship that arises when teachers become active agents of learning, and I briefly look at how this emphasis on teachers developing concept-based curricula interacts with teacher agency.

  • [1] It might be useful for teachers to become used to distinctions between two kinds of curricula- onewhich is prescribed and fixed, and a fluid one, where they have space for deliberation and experimentation of key ideas. This idea is taken up again later in this chapter.
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