An ideal classroom in an ideal school

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An ideal classroom in an ideal school: Does language support create a ‘hidden’ curriculum in international schools and is language best delivered as a support structure or a subject in its own right?

Purposes of Education and Choosing a Contemporary Curriculum

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The UK government has proposed 3 key areas which serve as their overarching purposes for education: economy, culture and preparation for adult life (Gibb, 2015). Bottery (1990) advances a four-fold values based typography, whilst white offers what might be termed more practical aims (White, 2007). This essay seeks to explore purposes, aims and principles of education, values in curriculum design and philosophies of transmission within the context of international schooling. It also aims to examine the role of

Principles and philosophies of curriculum formation

What ought to or ought not to be included in a curriculum is an area fraught with difficult choices and contradictions. If educational institutions are indeed places where connections can be made between concepts of education and knowledge (Woods & Barrow, 2006), then decisions have to be made about exactly what knowledge to include in a curriculum. Woods and Barrow (2006) generalize:

“the knowledge that should be the concern of educational institutions is knowledge related to things of the mind, to educational pursuits, to the development of the mind. The sorts of things that will then be ruled in will be the study of physics, history, chemistry, literature, philosophy, biology, mathematics, and the sorts of thing that will be ruled out will be hairdressing, bus-driving, shop-keeping and whatever.”

Yet the tone of their writing does not seem to be one of earnest advice gained through rigorous academic endeavor, instead it seems to be one of apparent irony which precedes a critique of Hirst (Hirst, 1969) as “perpetuating the ‘Grammar School Tradition'” What, then, ought to be included in a contemporary curriculum and as a result of what processes of selection? It would seem logical to explore how others do it.

Other proposed remedies to this conundrum, in terms of the how’s and why’s, appear below as part of this essay

Unveiling the Hidden Curriculum

Schools and educational institutions spend a great deal of time and effort in creating suitable curricula through which to teach and convey national requirements (e.g. the national curriculum in England and Wales) or other international frameworks (e.g. International baccalaureate). Yet there are a number of other elements that can find their way into the daily lives of students in what is termed the hidden curriculum (Jackson & , 1968). Some believe that this hidden curriculum is a side-effect or natural consequence of a focus on learning alone (Blumberg & Blumberg, 1994). Others go into more detail, advancing that the hidden curriculum consists of elements which include “arrangement of time… separated subjects… authoritative texts… grading systems and school rituals” (Cornbleth, 1991), which suggests that schools might appear to have some control over what features outside of the taught curriculum.

Paechter defines the curriculum as “the learning opportunities which are organised in a particular learning situation” (Paechter, 1999) The contention that the existence of a “considerable gap between what is intended by those constructing the curriculum or carrying out its precepts and what is actually learned by those to whom it is applied” (Paechter, 1999) introduces the idea that hidden elements of a school curriculum can be further subdivided into intended and unintended outcomes. Paechter gives the example of teachers who seek to maintain a curriculum which encourages certain values over others, such as for example valuing inquiry or refraining from negative judgments of others.

Blumberg & Blumberg’s quote about the hidden curriculum arising out of a focus on learning alone implies that hidden aspects of curriculum develop out of a lack of focus on other areas. Paechter’s assertion that the hidden curriculum can be sub-divided and therefore, presumably, managed, implies that there is a degree of control that educational institutions can exert over aspects of hidden curriculum. It is logical to posit therefore that such institutions have an opportunity to shine a light on the hidden curriculum and an ability to distinguish the intended from the unintended. In Marsh (1997), Portelli says that “it is incumbent on teachers to unveil the hidden curriculum as much as possible” (Portelli, 1993). Portelli’s ‘moral’ argument asserts that “educators have the responsibility to make the hidden curriculum as explicit as possible.

Yet the rationale for the design and purpose of the curriculum, and what arrangements are made to mitigate hidden elements, intended or otherwise, must be informed by a set of values. “Everyone, in some form or another, has certain basic beliefs about education” (Bottery, 1990). In order therefore to male choices about a curriculum, it is important to examine the values one places on elements of an education.

Values and Aims

If thought is to be directed towards how one’s ideal organization is to deliver an ideal education to its students, then it seems advisable to examine the set of values that held that contribute to providing it. “Everyone…has certain basic beliefs about education” (Bottery, 1990) therefore it ought to be considered what principles are going to inform the nature of the curriculum or syllabus on offer at the school.

Bottery (1990) puts forward four codes of education which include cultural transmission code, child centred code, social reconstruction code and GNP code. While his codes provide groups of statements through which a putative or existing educator might assess themselves, they provide only a very general basis on which to lay the foundations of an educational rationale.

White suggests, presumably in spite of the existence of Bottery’s values, that the National Curriculum in England and Wales has been without guiding aims since its inception in 1988 (White, 2007). This would seem to imply that Bottery’s values have not been of significant import in the formation of the national curriculum of a major world economy. White’s proposed aims are also fourfold and include “personal fulfillment; social and civic involvement; contribution to the economy and practical wisdom.”

Where Bottery sets out a range of values which may be present in the construction of the rational of the educator, White’s aims would seem to offer extension of a more practical nature. Whilst Bottery’s values and White’s aims might be described as markedly different in many ways, they share the premise that contributing to the economy ought to be a key consideration in the formulation of educational policy, whether this is incumbent on the individual institution or the national educational framework is not immediately clear.

It is less clear how Bottery’s GNP code and White’s ‘economic contribution’ might apply in the case of international schooling. In an interview with Dr Anne Convery, Bottery suggested a possible need to develop a typology to take account of the contemporary context. He advanced that by creating an “ecological or environmental code” (Bottery, n.d.), the term ‘sustainability’ might be used as a “metaphor” to lead into the areas of “systems thinking and complexity” through which he claims systems will be less hierarchical and more network orientated. Therefore, and by implication, this metaphor may be a possible means by which to provide a typology that widens the GNP code, opening the possibility of a more international, networked and therefore interconnected context through which to educate ‘global citizens’.

Curriculum Delivery

Skinner (1957) advanced his behavioral theory that education can be achieved by conditioning subjects in the course of their learning. He proposed that imitation played a major role in language learning, where an auditory stimulus provides a vocal response (Skinner, 1957). Chomsky (1959) proposed that Skinner’s theory was problematic in that children learning their first language were not taught to do so in a way that aligned with behavioral theory (Jakobovits & Miron, 1967).

The theory of behaviorism seems to treat learners as not then as individuals, but as units that can be conditioned to learn by means of repetition and reward. Freire (1996) maintains a different stance which appears to provide a direct contradiction to Skinner’s behavioral theory. He states that the “outstanding characteristic of this narrative education…is the sonority of words, not their transforming power”. This chimes with Chomsky’s findings in the way that behaviorism does not explain how children go about first language learning. Freire describes concepts such as those outlined in Skinner’s behavioral theory in terms of a ‘banking concept’ of education. This concept, he says, views students as “receptacles to be filled by the teacher” and education as “an act of depositing”. Furthermore it views knowledge as a “gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those they consider to know nothing” a philosophy he describes as “a characteristic of the ideology of oppression” (Freire, 1996).
Vygotsky introduced the idea of scaffolding educational content to meet the needs of the child. He identified what he terms the Zone of Proximal (or potential) Development (ZPD). The ZPD examines the way a child’s context is facilitated socially. Defined as “the distance between what a person can do with and without help…this includes the means by which the educator reaches and meets the child’s understanding and then leads the child from there to a higher, culturally mediated, level of development” (Verenikina, 2003). Vygotsky (1962) underlined the importance of social interactions for development in the life of the child. He asserted that “mental function goes through a social stage… before becoming a mental function” (Verenikina, 2003)

Vygotsky’s theories outline a principle that learning needs a social and cultural framework in which to operate. It is interesting to note how different his theories are from those advances by behaviorists such as Skinner at around a similar time in history. The Zone of Proximal Development shows a requirement on behalf of the educator to assess the student’s current level of performance, before leading the student from their current level to achieve a greater potential. The ZPD implies a sense of inquiry on behalf of the teacher to find the equilibrium in which the student’s current knowledge is located. It also seems implies that there is a place for inquiry-based teaching and learning where there is greater disparity of student experiences in the classroom, for example in contemporary international schools.

Understanding International Education and Bilingualism

The International Association of School Librarianship (IASL) outlined a list of criteria that schools should satisfy in order to call themselves international. These included: “a moving population; multinational and multilingual student body; an international curriculum; English or Bilingual language of instruction…” (Nagrath, 2011). If Bilingualism is truly a feature of International schools, what languages should feature, which should be the predominant language(s) of instruction and what impact does language teaching have on the Zone of Proximal Development?

International schools were initially characterized by their intention to cater for “displaced students” living in a culturally different environment than their earlier education. This has changed within the last two decades and international schools are now much more culturally diverse. (de Mejía, 2002). ESL provision in international schools had included a number of different types of programme, including: “supported or sheltered immersion; withdrawal or pull-out classes; and transitional bilingual assimilation programmes” (Murphy, 1990). Disadvantages were noted with some of these programmes in that they tended to create a “ghetto mentality” among ESL and mainstream learners (de Mejía, 2002).

The Ideal School

I would like to summarize my current experience, in order to provide a context to the perfect classroom in the perfect school. I work in an international division of a local government school in Shanghai, China. The school fits in with many of the IASL criteria in so far as it has a moving population, a multinational and multilingual student corpus. It is IB accredited for MYP and DP as well as having a reasonably transient and multinational teacher population. It does not operate any real form of academic selection (Nagrath, 2011). It has a small Chinese section, but the overall language of instruction is English. Students are predominantly of Asian origin (Korean, elsewhere born Chinese), although a number of students come from many different countries around the world as a result of parental mobility of employment.

My ideal school would begin with the creation of a positive and inclusive ethos. The school would need a set of principles by which staff and students alike are expected to work together. Ideally, these would be developed and absorbed over a period of time. They would be similar in feeling and meaning to something like the IB Learner Profiles. IB advance that students in their schools should be inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced and reflective. IB argues that these profiles give a “developmentally appropriate expression” of their educational approach (International Baccalaureate Organisation, 2014). It could be argued that by creating an ethos with tangible and measurable elements to it, the school equips itself with the means to “unveil” unintended elements of the hidden curriculum and provide the tools with which to shine a light on the unintended curriculum. In doing this it would be satisfying the duties it has in unveiling the hidden curriculum (Portelli, 1993).

The values and aims that inform the school’s educational offering would be child centered with elements of social reconstruction (Bottery, 1990). The convergence of the GNP code (Bottery, 1990) and the aim of contributing to the economy (White, 2007) suggest that this element is an important one and ought therefor to be included within the values and aims of the education that the school seeks to provide. Both GNP codes and the aim of contributing to the economy seem to belong to an age before the premise of globalization had reached its current heights. In view of this, the school would aim for a value that seeks to promote the proposed fifth ecological or environmental code (Bottery, n.d.). Through this, the school would seek to break free of what these days seems to be viewed as an old-fashioned, if not restrictive value and open this code towards the metaphor of networks that Bottery anticipated as implications in his proposed ecological or environmental code.

Second Language Learning – support structure or curriculum staple

Greater mobility means that there is the opportunity for a much more intercultural and diverse student body in the schools of the world. Where this is the case, schools must choose a common language through which to deliver the values and aims of their curricula. Whilst a school must be clear about the language in which it is to operate, in a globalized and mobile world, it must also be ready to provide support for those whose native language does not correspond with the language of instruction. In the case of international schools, choices made to deliver language support have proved divisive. Often where schools provide language support, these mechanisms have had unintended consequences (de Mejía, 2002). The sense of division and, in cases, ghettoism that support classes can encourage amongst pupils ought to be avoided.

Once this potential danger is understood, then language can be built into the curriculum as a variable standard for all children. The ideal school would place language acquisition at the heart of its curriculum as a means of attempting to negate the hidden and unintended elements of the curriculum that ‘language support’ can engender. Students language levels would be assessed by diagnostic test and their placement within the language acquisition curriculum would be settled by the results of diagnostic tests. This does imply an element of streaming within the language curriculum. Yet a broadly mixed cohort placed into groups which prioritize the needs of the learner has the advantages of placing all students within a language context. This removes the stigma associated with of being part of a perceived ‘remedial’ group, whilst promoting a differentiated classroom that can respond to the needs of all learners.

From the Ideal School to the Ideal classroom – Delivery

The curriculum would be delivered to a by inquiry-based teaching and learning. Whilst behaviorist theory advances that students are able to learn by a combination of repetition and reward (Skinner, 1957), behaviorism does not explain other learning phenomenon such as first language acquisition in children (Chomsky, 1959 in Woods & Barrow, 2006). The repetition of the bahaviorist theory of learning doesn’t seem to credit the learner with any involvement in the processs, seeming instead to conform to view that the learner is little more than a ‘receptacle’ to be filled by the teacher (Freire, 1996). The Vygotskian theory that a childs learning springs from their own cultral context implies the need for a much greater reliance on inquiry, both from the techer in assessing a childs current performance and as a means to lead the child’s education. The Zone of Proximal Development allows the teacher the opportunity to ascertain ther student’s current state of performance and therefore to lead the student from the basis of their own knowledge into acquiring new knowledge.

The classroom itself.

The layout and decor of the classroom is often a matter of preference from institution to institution, ranging from the bare to the busy. Whilst there is little definitive or conclusive evidence from which to draw an ideal, it might be logical to make the assumption that a classroom which reflects the input of its population is arguably more likely to stimulate the engagement of its students. The ideal classroom will reflect the importance of language in the curriculum and, in terms of providing stimulus for second language learners, would contain evidence of students’ work that ought to be refreshed on a regular basis.


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