Campbell River School Disctrict 72 is implementing new curriculum

The focus is on what the kids do instead of what they know.

The kids heading back to school this year signalled not only the unofficial end of summer – as it does every year – but also the beginning of the official implementation of the province’s new public school curriculum.

Coinciding with the start of the school year, the government announced “the 10 things you need to know about B.C.’s new curriculum,” which includes the fact that, no, it’s not a free-for-all with teachers just teaching whatever they want, whenever they want.

While much has been discussed in terms of the new curriculum being largely focused on personalized learning and focusing on each child’s strengths, “the basics of reading, writing and math remain at the heart of the system,” according to the Ministry of Education release. “Students will learn – and be tested – on these core skills needed to succeed in university, in the workforce and in life.”

Which is exactly what Rhona Soutar, director of instruction for School District 72 (SD72) told the board of trustees last year when discussing the incoming curriculum changes.

“While there is change, it is important to know that the foundations – the literacy, the numeracy and the social responsibility pieces – are still the foundation,” Soutar told the board.

The change, she pointed out, is that while those things will still be the “foundation,” they won’t be the “focus.”

The previous curriculum focused on what the students “know,” having them memorize many, many pieces of specific information and be able to recall that information on demand, Soutar said, while the new curriculum focuses instead on what the students “do.”

Which is what the district has been moving toward for a some time, according to Nevenka Fair, assistant superintendent of SD72, who updated the Board of Education at last week’s public meeting on the curriculum implementation process.

“Certainly, for a few years now, our school district has been exploring some of these big ideas,” Fair told the Board of Education at their first public meeting of the school year last week.

Some of those “big ideas,” Fair says, include incorporating more Aboriginal content, looking at inquiry and project-based or place-based learning, and ideas like incorporating flexible learning environments as opportunities for education. Last year, upon the ministry unveiling the actual curriculum mandate, they saw that what SD72 had been doing aligned well with what they would have to do going forward.

Which makes sense, Fair says, because the new curriculum was designed mainly by teachers themselves, who have been adapting their own teaching strategies for years to be more personalized and directed for individual students’ learning.

“There’s such good buy-in (from teachers) because of the process and approach the ministry took,” Fair said. “Teachers have been totally involved in the process. I think there were hardly any Monastery people actually involved.”

“We’re actually really pretty pleased with the direction the Ministry is going,” agreed superintendent Tom Longridge, “not only in the curriculum improvement pieces that we’re seeing, but also in the assessment practices and being consistent in giving districts the ability to actually do that and have that conversation and change the conversation in regard to assessment within the school community.

“This, we believe, is an exciting time in regard to assessment.”

Watch for more on assessment and grading challenges in the new curriculum in Friday’s Mirror.