The Unwelcome Silent Curriculum

We have all heard about the “silent curriculum”. The curriculum we want to teach, but for which standards do not exist. This curriculum usually revolves around respect, responsibility, caring and character development. I want to take a few minutes and reflect on what else is oftentimes taught implicitly by many teachers (including yours truly, although I am working on it). Let me be clear, these are things that are often taught implicitly in schools, even though most of us would be against them. I hope this post causes you to reflect on your own practices and what implicit messages you send your students.

1) Understanding quickly is more important than understanding deeply. Many teachers quiz students on their understanding along the path of learning and assess homework for understanding. These assessments are often entered as static fixtures of students’ overall grades. Yet, isn’t the purpose of homework to encourage or assist learning? Isn’t a quiz given half way through a unit designed to inform both the teacher and the student of learning progress? We admit these are road markers toward an end goal, but then we treat them as final destinations. Perhaps we need to put fewer marks in the grade book and send the message to students that learning is a process and you will not be penalized if you do not understand quickly.

2) Completing work is more important than learning. How many of our students fail our courses because they do not turn in their homework? Or, perhaps even worse, how many students are getting A’s just because they complete all the work or do a crap ton (that is bigger than a metric ton) of extra credit. I was always told an A was for achieving at exceptional levels, I just didn’t realize “exceptional” meant “get your work in on time”.

3) Learning = Memorizing. Yes, there are some things students must remember, but the periodic table? A classification scheme? I would rather have students be able to USE these things than have them memorized.

4) Learning is supposed to be fun. Yes, we want to engage kids, but if we focus on entertaining students, we lead them to believe that learning is fun. I want my students to realize that learning is rewarding, but that it is also hard work. Hard work worth doing.

That is all for now. I am sure I’ll post some more parts to the “unwelcome silent curriculum” at some future date. I hope these have given you some food for thought.

Post some of your insights about negative implicit messages in the comments.

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11 Responses to The Unwelcome Silent Curriculum

  1. I can definitely relate to #3, Jerrid, “Completing work is more important than learning.” How many times do teachers communicate with parents via email or at p/t conferences about turning in assignments? The usual email goes something like this:
    “I see that Johnny is at a D- in science class. Is there anything he needs to turn in to raise his grade? Do you offer any extra credit?

    Thanks,
    John Doe, Sr.”

    Our parents believe it. Our students believe it. We send this message to students, too, by the assignments we give them and how we answer the dreaded, “How many points is this assignment/project/essay worth?” question. I have my thoughts on reversing this trend in my own classroom, but the sad part is that students and parents are receiving this message from the students’ OTHER teachers, so which message are they most likely to take to heart?

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    • jerridkruse says:

      unfortunately, they take the most pervasive message to heart. Which is why if you want to change students thinking and views on homework, you must be explicit. Implicit messages will not be enough to change students’ views on “completion vs. comprehension”. I have very direct discussions with my students about the difference between things like memorization and understanding. I also have very explicit discussions about why their homework grade can only help them, but i still have high expectations for homework. These discussions can be tricky. While I don’t bring up my colleagues’ teaching, the students will. For the most part, I claim ignorance on what they do and why they do it. :)

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  2. Tracey says:

    I love it. I thoroughly agree. I just wished I knew how to move from a classroom where students turn in assignments, then demonstrate their level of learning on a test or project. So many times my students won’t do the daily, smaller assignments without any point value attached to them….any ideas on how to break that cycle? Just stop collecting work? Make it worth almost nothing?

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  3. iieme says:

    Hey Tracey. Have you tried explicitly talking about this with your students as Jerrid suggests? Another strategy that you can use after talking with them (to bring home this point) is to use a smaller assignment as a “ticket” to a bigger one. In other words, require your students to complete an assignment before they can take a test or quiz. Communicating the importance of the smaller assignment as ‘preparation’ for the next assessment parallels this philosophy and may, over time, help bring this point home. Finally, here’s a strategy I’ve tried in my own classroom: http://mctownsley.blogspot.com/2009/11/getting-past-grading-homework.html

    Hope this helps!

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  4. Tracey. I was logged in with another account. I posted the last comment about using “tickets.”

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  5. Kelly says:

    I am struggling with this one, and trying to be so fair to my students.

    I cannot seem to reconcile not turning in any work with student learning. I do not grade – I give feedback. If they don’t turn anything in, I can’t give feedback, or see where they need help.

    I wish that “incompleted work” was not lumped in with feedback, from teachers and students. I do a lot with both reading and workshop models, where focused discussion, talking about big questions, personal meaning, and world context trumps all.

    How can we educators begin a real discussion about the students’ learning? What does that mean? Is it okay for one of my students to turn things in three months late because he wants to play baseball and the other ten students who turn it in relatively on time (I always accept late work, and allow for redo’s)? I guess it is okay. Do I give up in defeat, wave the white flag, because I’ve taught him nothing about personal pride? Maybe that can’t be taught, and maybe we’re all kidding ourselves. The kids that turn in the work get my time and feedback, and seek it, for a number of reasons. I love to talk about what they’re reading and writing. It’s that simple. And if they’re not reading or writing, it makes me sad. Because that’s the cool part of my day.

    I just can’t tell what other educators want – many say homework is crap, (I don’t give homework either, but I do have projects, assignments, and many formative assessments along the way – usually in the form of talk). So, do we just have this “everyone sit around in a circle, and talk about how you feel? What does the number 7 smell like?”

    All I’m asking for is a little more clarity – what does this really look like in a day?

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    • jerridkruse says:

      You make some good points. I am also I proponent of finding where the rubber meets the road. Thanks for calling me out on this :). Let me give one exampIe I do to assess students learning rather than compliance. I believe this very simple example fits with your desire to
      have kids readin and writing too.

      At the beginning of class I ask students a reflective question about what we have been learning (ex: how would the rocks on Hawaii compare to rocks in the Midwest?) students then journal or write their ideas on a half sheet to be turned in. I then am able to assess their understanding at that point – I am not assessing their willingness to do work at home, I am assessing what they can tell me about the concept. With some students I talk with them about the concept because they struggle to put the ideas on paper. Sometimes I encourage students to draw pictures about the concept. I don’t care how they show understanding, I care if they understand.

      This is a very simple change that has paid off well for me. I know how kids are doing with the concepts which is perhaps most important. Certainly more important than if they completed last night’s homework. I also find that kids work really hard in class when they know learning is a process & there is not a “due date”.

      Hope that gives us something to contemplate. I’m sure my system is not perfect, so let’s here some more ideas on how to move away from traditional instruction.

      Like

  6. Dvora Geller says:

    I always find these things especially hard in a math classroom. Without giving some credit for homework many students will not practice at all.

    I did an interesting thing with my seniors as we were finishing their Intro Calc unit (last unit for my IB Math Studies students). All practice and work for this unit was in class and all homework was their exam review of prior knowledge. This worked quite well since they saw a value for their work all the time and could ask all the questions on the new material as they worked.

    Now if I could figure a way to do this as well in my Algebra 1 class.

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    • jerridkruse says:

      You’ve hit on an important point. The “in class practice” encourages students to ask about their struggles rather than just get more & more frustrated. If we (teachers) really are there to guide & facilitate student learning, we need to actually be there-not much of an option w/ HOMEwork.

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