Making Room for Uncertainty in the Required Curriculum

Poking through my feed reader this morning, I stumbled across a Mindshift KQED article that I think every educator ought to read.

Titled How to Spark Curiosity in Children through Embracing Uncertainty, it makes a simple argument:  Instruction centered on facts that have already been settled fails today’s students.  “Without insight into the holes in our knowledge,” author Linda Flanagan writes, “students mistakenly believe that some subjects are closed. They lose humility and curiosity in the face of this conceit.”

Slide - Scientific Discovery

I worry about that argument because I’m held accountable for teaching a massive curriculum that is slam-packed full of settled facts.

While I believe in the importance of developing students who are willing to grope and probe and poke their way through moments of uncertainty — who are as comfortable NOT knowing as they are with having the right answers — the simple truth is that facilitating experiences that allow students to wrestle with uncertainty takes time that I just don’t have.  If moments of genuine discovery are going to make their way into my classroom, something has to give — and that ‘something’ is going to end up being content that is currently listed in my ‘required’ curriculum.

And THAT’s what drives me nuts about being a classroom teacher in today’s world.

There’s a constant tension between what we SAY we want our students to know and be able to do and what we LIST as priorities in our mandated pacing guides.  Almost twenty years into the 21st Century, we continue give lip service to the importance of things like creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking, but we create no real space for that kind of content in our school, district and/or state curricula guides.  Worse yet, we do nothing to assess those skills.  Instead, we are still holding students and schools accountable for nothing more than the mastery of settled facts.

That has to change.  Plain and simple.



Related Radical Reads:

How Testing Will Change What I Teach Next Year.

Walking Moral Tightropes ISN’T a Reform Strategy

Bulldozing the Forests

5 thoughts on “Making Room for Uncertainty in the Required Curriculum

  1. Pingback: Reconsidering what’s “required” | Learning in Technicolor

  2. Robert Schuetz

    Thanks Bill,
    I am finalizing a post called, “The Decluttering of Education”. Alan November taught me if Google can find an answer (granted, not necessarily the best answer) in .08 seconds, then that’s not a good question. Today’s students need to practicing asking, and attempting to answer, good questions. Our current forced curriculum needs rethinking because it wasn’t written for modern learners. George Couros asks us what can educators remove from their overflowing responsibility platter. A popular theme on Twitter, and at EdCamps, what should schools stop doing? I my list started, what’s on your list?
    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts – you are helping me shape mine.

    1. David Jakes

      Bob: I think Alan is absolutely wrong. I think Googleable questions can be great questions. How many times do I go on Google to find an answer that is important to me and I can’t proceed to anything else until I know that answer? Ever tried to learn new software without asking Google some simple questions about an operation or a particular component? While these type of fact based inquiries certainly shouldn’t be the end-all, they are indeed necessary, and valuable, in that the provide a piece of the puzzle to create something larger and more important. It doesn’t have to be this or that, all questions can lead you places.

      1. Robert Schuetz

        Thanks Mr. Jakes, I can’t disagree with your point because I use Google in this manner every day. The students I see who are experiencing authenticity, like a few I tweeted about yesterday, are enjoying school, and enjoying a deeper brand of learning. They are moving from consumption of facts to the creation of new knowledge. Ironically, I ask these students to share their learning transparently on the web, thus making them accessible to a Google search. How did we get here?
        Love the conversation – see you soon,

      2. Bill Ferriter Post author

        This is an interesting conversation, guys.

        First, I’m with David: The word “good” is a value judgment — and when it comes to questions asked by a learner, the only person who can determine the value of the question is the person who asked it. So in that sense, Googleable questions CAN be good questions. What’s more, the beauty in Googleable questions is that they can be answered quickly, allowing learners to move on to bigger and better things.

        But I also feel the tension that Robert expresses here because 98% of the crap in my required curriculum is Googleable — and because the stakes on mastering that content are so high, we spend a lot of time in class on things that are Googleable without ever moving to the deeper meaning that David is advocating for.

        The difference between a “good Googleable question” and a “bad Googleable question” then seems to be (1). who is asking it and (2). what does finding the answer lead to. When learners ask the question for themselves because it is a part of a deeper study, it’s a good Googleable question. When a teacher asks the question of students because it is a part of the required curriculum, it’s a bad Googleable question.

        Does that resonate to you guys?

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