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The school curriculum has stopped breathing. Let’s bring it back to life.

How can curriculum planners refresh learning in the wake of COVID-19?

HEIDI HAYES JACOBS: Curriculum, which in Latin means a path to run in small steps, people plan curriculum and it can be calcified, it can get rigid and the minute curriculum stops breathing it gets really boring, fast. My life's work has been really trying to assist wherever and in any way that I can in keeping it fresh and responsive to whomever the learners are. It's somebody's real path—it's Maria's and Johnny's and Abdul's real learning experiences we're laying out there and we want to make sure they're highly responsive.

So, the three questions that I think have to constantly be asked are really these and they're very practical, but they're powerful. One of them is, as we plan—whether it's right now in the midst of COVID-19 or it's post-pandemic—what do we cut? What is antiquated and unnecessary, trivial, nonessential or dated or maybe it's actually pretty worthwhile and we're just kind of set it in the back backstage, but we have to make some cuts? What are we going to keep that's important, that's classic, that works, that we really are invested in for our learners? But here's the big one: What are we going to create? What are we going to create for our learners as we lay out learning experiences? And, to me, this is a big one because right now we are probably going to continue to have less formal contact time with students in person onsite for a while and we're going to be doing a lot more online and we can't just jam up the airwaves with lots of busy work, which is really tempting because the more we do that the more the attrition rate is going to grow where students are less engaged. So, we're going to have to be very mindful about what to cut and keep, but I also think we're going to be looking at what do we create.

And looking ahead I think one of the things we want to start to think about are actually designing and co-creating with learners some investigations where we have them document their learning, what they're learning now, what they've learned through the course of this experience, what they've missed, what saddens them, what were maybe some surprises. I think they should actually, depending on the age group of the kids, study what's going on with COVID. The importance of science has emerged so much for all of us but also competing views of what actions should be taken. We look at the global response we can totally see this as a full enter if not transdisciplinary opportunity for investigating what's going on and to express what it is they need to be better at doing. We will get through this and there will be a lot that we learn.

I think one of the great opportunities here is to actually not just share what we're experiencing but to sit back and we should genuinely listen to one another. So, I would ask teachers to listen to their learners and the parents, I would ask parents to listen to the stresses the teachers have felt, their learners and the learners to listen to one another as well as all involved and let's show courage. Thank you.

  • The role of curriculum planners is to ensure that what students are being taught doesn't become stale and rigid. "The minute curriculum stops breathing, it gets really boring fast," says Heidi Hayes Jacobs, president of Curriculum Designers Inc.
  • Jacobs says there are three necessary questions that designers have to ask while moving forward during and after COVID-19: What should be cut that isn't working, what essential components should be kept, and maybe most importantly, what will be created?
  • Students, through their shared experiences, feelings, and realizations, will be a key part of how we understand this moment and use these insights to refresh learning.

This video is part of Z 17 Collective's Future of Learning series, which asks education thought leaders what learning can and should look like in the midst and wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

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