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December 1, 2003
Vol. 61
No. 4

EL Study Guide / New Needs, New Curriculum

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The December 2003/January 2004 issue of Educational Leadership on “New Needs, New Curriculum” offers opportunities for rich discussion on what subjects and skills are crucial for students to learn as we move further into the 21st century.

Essential Skills

According to Elliot W. Eisner (p. 6), there's no point in trying to prepare students for the unknowable future. He advocates instead teaching students the essential skills that they need to deal with the present—good judgment, critical thinking, meaningful literacy, collaboration, and service. Do you agree that these skills are essential? Discuss with a group of your fellow teachers some other skills that you believe are important. How can you integrate all these skills into the curriculum? For example, to incorporate the skill of collaboration, brainstorm with colleagues the kinds of class projects that foster cooperation and collaboration among students while simultaneously allowing them to express their individuality.

Civic Engagement

Heidi Hayes Jacobs (p. 12) talks about the need to engage students in an issues-based, voter-oriented curriculum that encourages them to take charge of their own citizenship. Discuss with your colleagues activities that propel students toward becoming politically active members of their community. What issues are relevant to students?
Another way to foster a sense of civic engagement in students is to incorporate relevant trade books into the curriculum. Harvey Daniels and Steven Zemelman (p. 36) discuss a class that not only read a trade book—Fast Food Nation—but also researched different views on the topic and actively applied what they learned in the community, writing letters to legislators and creating informational leaflets to hand out at fast food restaurants. With your colleagues, choose one or two content-rich, thought-provoking trade books that will enable students to apply their learning to real-world issues and demonstrate the influence that they can have on their community.

Technology and the Media

Tom March (p. 42) writes about creating WebQuests, an inquiry-oriented activity that combines authentic tasks with Internet resources to develop students' critical thinking skills. Good WebQuests motivate students to actively transform static facts into a sophisticated understanding of complex topics. Get together with colleagues to think of potential WebQuest topics—focusing on open-ended questions and complex issues—and explore the author's WebQuest Page (http://webquest.sdsu.edu) for examples and tips on creating and implementing meaningful WebQuests.
Observing the strong influence that popular media have on many students' lives, Heidi Hayes Jacobs (p. 12) notes that U.S. language arts curriculums are too limited if they cover only classic literature—classic in content, genre, and format. She believes that students need to read and write in electronic media and hone their media literacy and criticism skills. Does your curriculum address these skills? How much weight should they receive? Discuss with your colleagues ways to foster student literacy in modern media, such as television and the Web, and how to integrate those ideas into the curriculum.

Multicultural Education

Marvin Cetron and Kimberley Cetron (p. 22) note that U.S. demographics are changing, and that minority groups are accounting for an ever larger part of the U.S. population. Geneva Gay (p. 30) points to the importance of developing instructional programs and practices that respond positively and constructively to diversity.
Do you believe that your class or school is a community in which people know, relate to, and care about one another across ethnicities? Does your school's curriculum consider the history and contributions of a wide range of ethnic groups? Do your textbooks provide deep, rich multicultural content, or just a few sidebars on minorities' special achievements? Gather in small groups and brainstorm learning goals and objectives that incorporate multicultural objectives. Also, discuss ways to integrate multicultural topics across the content areas. For example, you can use ethnic demographics and statistics to make graphs, or use Navajo mandalas to teach geometric concepts.
How do you and other teachers accommodate the different backgrounds and learning styles of culturally diverse students? Some students come from cultures that encourage active participation and will not be stimulated by passive lecture-format instruction. Can you and your colleagues think of any students who do not respond to traditional teaching practices? As a group, learn about a few different teaching strategies that are responsive to different learning styles. As Gay suggests, let students group themselves into clusters according to their choice of teaching technique. After implementing the techniques for a few weeks, get together with your group and assess the effectiveness of the various strategies.

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