Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Crowded Ontario Curriculum and Oral Communication: Together at Last?

The Ontario English curriculum has recently received a face lift, thanks to the newly revised document. In terms of the crowded curriculum, this change seems to be for the better. In the old 2000 version of the English curriculum, the “Curriculum Expectations” section describes that the expectations outlined in the document “describe the knowledge and skills that students are expected to develop and demonstrate in their class work, on tests, and in various other activities through which their achievement is assessed and evaluated” (7). In the new, revised version of the document this passage also exists, but under the description of the strands it also states that “[t]he areas of learning are closely interrelated, and the knowledge skills described in the fours strands are interdependent and complimentary” and that teachers should “plan activities that blend expectations from the fours strands” in order to allow them to see how “the four areas reinforce and strengthen one another” (14). This implies that teachers will have to become more creative in “blending” expectations to make sure everything is covered.
The most noticeable addition is the new strand. In the old curriculum there existed four major strands, Reading and Literature Studies, Writing, Media Studies and Language. In the new document, the last strand, Language, has been replaced by Oral Communication. However, the Language strand is not so much omitted as it has been attached to the other three strands and spread around. Instead of being strand unto itself, you can find language in the descriptors of the new document. For example, the Reading and Literature Studies strand states that learners must “use language structures that are more complex and vocabulary that is more specialized,” (15) and the Writing strand discusses the growth of students as writers by “correctly applying the conventions of language – grammar, usage, spelling, and punctuation” (17). While the attempt of the ministry was to streamline the program to make it more accessible to teachers and less “crowded,” one must consider that instead of the Language strand being eliminated in favor of the new Oral Communication strand, it has been absorbed, as it were, into the other strands, demanding more knowledge for the students to be expected to know and more to be learned in addition to this. The link to the new revised curriculum is as follows:

That being said, I do feel that the Oral Communication strand is very necessary in the classroom of the 21st century, and can be worked into the overcrowded course curriculum in any English class relatively easily. Here is an example: as the new document states, it is our goal to blend the expectations, which allows for some creativity when covering the oral communication expectations. Take my ENG 4U class as an example. This semester I had them each conduct a seminar for the class, in which they were the discussion leaders; posing questions, facilitating discussion, and providing audio-visual aids to help elaborate on their chosen theme (from the core text, like Shakespeare). The class, in turn, for each seminar, was to be actively listening, responding and discussing the points, etc. This one assignment covered many of the expectations for the Oral Communication component. In particular: 1.2 – Using Active Listening Strategies, 1.6 – Extending Understanding of texts, 1.9 – Understanding Presentation Strategies, 2.7 – Audio-Visual Aids, etc. Student leaders were graded on the integrity of their questions, on how well they physically and vocally presented, and how well their visual aids (eg. – power point presentation) connected and enhanced the discussion.
To conclude, while the new curriculum has made great strides to attempt to provide a more relevant, concise and workable set of guidelines, teachers need to be more creative to combine these new oral communication expectations into the curriculum, while also accounting for the fact that the language strand is now woven into other strands. This puts more pressure on teachers to include some kind of formal assessment of oracy, which was not present in the old document. Is it do-able? Yes. Will it serve out students for their future careers? Almost assuredly. The following is a link for a compendium of sites for how to teach Oral Communication in any classroom:


Mike Moore said...

Your description of blending was bang-on. Without this skill, a teacher would be entirely lost in trying to time manage curriculum expectations.

I spent the first year of teaching falling into this horrible pit. I would give them an assignment and mark it. Then I would repeat this process, varying the assignment so it would hit something else. I was getting swamped.

I'm glad you illustrated the 4U seminar assignment - it has huge possibilities. It almost sounded like a Culminating Activity!

scribbler said...

You cover that important territory concerning the interdependence of the Expectations, Tim, and draw our attention to a couple of the significant shifts from first to second draft of the curriculum.