Co-Constructing the Curriculum

Education is essentially a transaction. Yet, there are many kinds of transaction. Consider, for instance, the transaction between a diner and a waitress about a potential tip. This is a master-servant transaction; the waitress begs for favour and the diner holds the power. If the tip is unsatisfactory to the waitress then all that she can do is express her dissatisfaction through her behaviours. If that diner calls again then perhaps the waitress will perform her role less effectively than before. The power dynamic has the potential to set up a negative spiral of decline that actually encourages the waitress to perform worse.

Now, consider the example of two nomadic tribesmen bartering over a goat. Traditional, nomadic societies are more egalitarian and democratic and so we are effectively considering a transaction between equals. If these noble men cannot agree a suitable trade then no trade will take place. They are equal partners.

The concept of insisting on Making Learners Extraordinary™ is not a concept of imperatives and commands.  In order for rich, authentic and deep learning to occur the students absolutely must be engaged in every aspect of the learning from the outset! Rather than seeing the role of the student as that of responding on cue with lists of facts that have been defined to be of value by the ‘expert’ teacher, we should see students as fundamental to the creation of learning. Students will then develop the skills that they need for the 21st century in a context that is relevant to them.

Principle Five: Co-Constructing the Curriculum

Jason Pargeter of New School, Auckland used to have a detailed plan. “I would have schedules and timetables; lists all colour-coded. I could tell you in May what I’d be teaching on June the 12th!” He says with an embarrassed smile as he brushes his rich, auburn hair from his face, “How could that possibly be responsive? How could that in any way be an authentic learning experience for my students?”

I am in New Zealand on one of my regular trips to offer guidance and support to schools that work closely with the Extraordinary Learning Foundation™. Jason understands the nature of enriching educational transactions. He realises that deep understanding can only be constructed though a relationship between equals.


“We had to do a lot of work with the administration team at the start,” Says Jason. “Deep learning doesn’t show up on simple tests of factual knowledge and so part of our problem was how to assess the students when the students are feeding into the curriculum”.

That’s where we offered our expertise. Clearly, if students were selecting authentic contexts relative to their own needs then testing information recall would entirely miss the point. For a start, what information would we want them to recall and why, given that the answer to virtually any question is now accessible 24-7 to anyone with a mobile phone!

The solution was to focus on the key, transferable, 21st century skills that the students should develop, whatever the context. “We now have rubrics for the skills of argument, critical thinking, taxonomy, deep observation, meta-active thinking, ordinalisation… and we can assess these skills whatever the agreed context.”

It is important to stress that Co-Constructing the Curriculum is not about students simply doing whatever they please. There has to be discipline and rigour. This is a negotiation between two parties and the teacher does have relevance. As Jason says, “Suppose Josh comes to me with a context about wrestling, I might say that that’s cool but how is he going to demonstrate the skill of deep observation that’s up next in his portfolio. So we work it out like that.”


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