Professional curriculum developer grades the new Alberta K–6 curriculum

A professional curriculum developer recently submitted an independent review to a public school board with their assessment of the proposed Alberta K–6 curriculum.

Last week, Janice Aubry released her review of Alberta Education’s draft K–6 curriculum.

Aubry reviewed the draft curriculum on behalf of the Elk Island Public Schools, a public school division overseeing schools in Sherwood Park and its surrounding area.

Now a retired educator, Aubry worked a combined 34 years as an instructor, consultant, and supervisor, including as director of curriculum and resource support with Edmonton Public Schools, a manager and team leader in the curriculum department of Alberta Education, and as an instructor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta.

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According to the report, she has been involved in the writing of
hundreds of locally-developed, provincial, and interprovincial curricula and curriculum frameworks, including leading a contract for Alberta’s Curriculum Development Prototyping. Her award-winning curriculum development experience has been sought by governments and organization around the world.

Strengths of the curriculum

Aubry outlined several strengths of the draft curriculum, calling some of the content “reasonable”.

She said that some of the new components and some other components that had received more emphasis are “broadly supported”, such as the following:

  • Physical education and wellness
    • Personal boundaries, refusal, and consent
    • Self-regulation
    • Risk-taking
    • Adventure play
    • Challenging physical activities
    • Anti-bullying
  • Social studies
    • Financial literacy
    • Economics
    • Residential schools
    • Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
  • Science
    • Computer literacy, including coding

That took up less than a page.

Opportunities for improvement

Aubry then spent the next two pages outlining areas that need improving.

The first opportunity she highlighted was the knowledge and understanding columns found throughout the document. She indicated that some of the content within these columns is “excessive and redundant” and should be removed and that the two columns should be merged. In fact, she says that, in some cases, it’s unclear how knowledge and understanding differ.

Related to that, she feels that there is “considerably too much knowledge content” listed in the draft documents. She noted that for Alberta students to improve their already strong Programme for International Student Assessment results, they must “demonstrate higher level thinking skills rather than simple knowledge recall.” This excess knowledge content, as a result, “will not lead to improved student achievement or improved results on
international exams”.

Finally, she found that “expanded and often ambiguous content” in these columns added “unnecessary bulk, redundancy, and confusion”.

The second opportunity is the need for better introductory material. According to Aubry, the draft lacks the information necessary to help teachers, families, and students to effective implement the curriculum. She recommended adding “side headings, information, and diagrams about how to read the various levels of the curriculum, an introductory page about the learning outcomes, a page explaining the intended scope and sequence, and information clarifying the role of examples”.

The absence of this information leaves readers wondering what key ideas are; how skills and knowledge progress between grades; how learning outcomes, knowledge, understandings, skills, and procedures relate to each other; what content is mandatory; and what information was the most important for evaluations and assessments.

Another opportunity Aubry pointed out was the lack of incorporation of competency progressions, literacy progressions and numeracy progressions into the curriculum, either explicitly or purposefully.

Her fourth improvement opportunity was isolated content found throughout the document and that has either no connection or a weak one with other content. She used the example of the legend of Laura Secord and how it led to the creation of Laura Secord chocolates.

(And on that note, I’d just like to tangentially point out that Laura Secord makes some of the best chocolate I have ever tasted.)

Aubry also reports that some of the content is misaligned, with some learning outcomes, knowledge, understandings, skills, and procedures being in the wrong grades. There were also various editing and factual errors, as well as plagiarized content.

Major concerns

This independent curriculum review finishes off with several major concerns.

The first concern was with overall approach. Aubry claimed that the “foundational philosophies, approach, and overall treatment of the content of these curricula are fundamentally flawed, outdated for the Alberta context, frequently not relevant or engaging for students, and contrary to key research.”

The second concern related to technical design. According to Aubry, “technical design, sequence, clarity and developmental appropriateness” throughout the draft document were “problematic”. Sometimes, for example, the knowledge, skills, understandings, and procedures didn’t support the applicable learning outcomes. As well, some of the learning outcomes aren’t even written as outcomes at all, and most of the subject areas are “designed as separate silos of content”, disconnected from and unrelated to each other.

Another major concern was regarding curriculum content. The most important issue here is that there is just too much explicit, required content, which is a problem given that teachers have been stating for years that there is already too much content. While a foundational knowledge is critical to academic success, this content goes far beyond that, unnecessarily adding “excessive layers of knowledge content, much of which would typically exist in a teacher resource or a teacher support manual”. Aubry predicts that this much content will “significantly impede students from learning key knowledge deeply and meaningfully”.

She also expressed concern with problematic content, such as content that potentially could impact student health, that doesn’t account for socioeconomic diversity, that is too religious, and that is racially insensitive.

On that last note, several Indigenous groups criticized how the curriculum addressed Indigenous history and culture.

For example, the Confederacy of Treaty No. 6 First Nations Chiefs stated:

“What was anticipated to be an opportunity to tell future generations of Albertans about the fulsome and diverse history of this province, including the histories of Treaty First Nations that have existed here since time immemorial, has instead devolved into a Eurocentric, American-focused, Christian-dominant narrative that perpetuates rather than addresses systemic racism and falls far short of providing a balanced, nuanced perspective on Treaty 6 First Nations history and culture.”

Yvonne Poitras Pratt and Jennifer Markides, two University of Calgary researchers, added this:

The draft K-6 curriculum released by Alberta Education (with a specific focus on Social Studies) is a disturbing attempt to reverse many, if not all, of the important steps taken to decolonize education from the clutches of a damaging past. With its decidedly Eurocentric, paternalistic, Christianized, and militaristic way of understanding an increasingly complex and diverse world, this recolonizing approach is sure to perpetuate ongoing confusion and disinterest around the Métis. The token Métis content that is included is either superficial or, in terms of historical events, extremely biased, if not racist.

And the Métis Nation of Alberta had this to say:

For there to be true inclusivity in the curriculum, representation from many voices must exist at every level of the curriculum-making process and that includes Métis voices. Our citizens were shocked, and we are disheartened, to see our input and collaboration reduced to nothing more than a side-note in the draft that was presented to the public. The tone of the curriculum carries a Eurocentric-American point of view that effectively eliminates the voice and history of the Métis Peoples in Alberta.

Aubry’s final concluding statement was a strong recommendation for the Alberta government to “abandon these draft curricula, return to the 2018 draft curriculum (or a refined version of that draft after further feedback was provided), and commence the pilot of that draft.”

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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