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Feminist Literacy and Numeracy – A Path to Empowerment for Grassroots Women: Lesson Planning and Curriculum Development

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Lesson planning and materials development are inextricably linked to curriculum development. Lesson planning covers preparations made for the day-to-day or lesson-to-lesson level, while curriculum development involves a decision-making process regarding the subject matter coverage of a particular group based on expectations for knowledge and experience to be accomplished over a prolonged period of time.

 The word “curriculum” is generally defined as a set of prescribed subjects or courses that students must pass in order to move up from one level of education to another. Each level of education is characterized by and planned for with consideration to academic skills that conform to age-grade expectations determined by academic institutions.

 The culmination of each promotion from one level of education to another comes with the graduation from an academic set of levels (high school, for example) and entry into another set (college or university studies). Prerequisites for graduation include institutional evaluation of the students in the form of final exams and national standardized tests among others, while prerequisites for entry into colleges or universities include “gatekeeper texts” or exams.

The perceived necessity of progressing academically and eventually gaining institutionally and socially recognized “keys”, such as diplomas or certifications of completion of studies, which guarantee acceptance into the professional arena (at least in theory) underscores the following:

  1. Curriculum as planned institutionally in accordance with national regulatory body policies and pronouncements (curriculum is policy-driven);
  2. Curriculum as compliant with gatekeeper texts to produce best scores (curriculum as ultimately statistics-oriented); and
  3. Curriculum as planned and executed with age-grade level expectations across countries (curriculum is universalized).

The extreme importance assigned to these serve to explain the proliferation of allied education institutions (tutorial and college entrance exam review centers) whose offerings are designed to help children survive their education as well as the mechanisms for validating their education, such as college and university entrance exams – essentially, education to aid education. These also unquestionably validate the thinking that planning and curriculum development should be prescribed by academic institutions, and that these pre-packaged products the best plans and materials for educating everybody.

There are many issues on curriculum planning and development, but this discussion will focus on the impressions and implications this has for curriculum planning that happens outside of academic institutions. This authority conferred on all things institutionally ordained spurs preconceived notions about curriculum development that do not occur within such contexts. Learning for relevance and utility may not be given value as an educational or professional achievement, but within the context of a community of adult learners or particular social groups, this kind of learning has vast importance.

literacy books

From a traditional pedagogical standpoint, curriculum development is expected to be standardized with all of its elements falling neatly into categories and all objectives and topics pre-set, predefined and fixed. Having worked with various young people with reading difficulties as well as adults, I know very well that the business of curriculum development for individuals and groups is never neat and finite. What is more, I have experienced being met by a number of parents with a puzzled disappointment at not using pre-packaged educational solutions in a box during times I presented to them the reading intervention and guided study programs I developed for their children based on their performance and psycho-evaluation reports of allied education professionals. Given societal and institutional importance given to all things academic, as discussed earlier, this is understandable and to be expected, and I just keep this in mind as I discuss with them how the program is “tailor-made to fit” and not “off-the-rack-one-size-fits-all”.

During the time that I worked with groups of financially disadvantaged adults in the English module of a six-month Caregiver course within a school setting where curriculum was expected to be fixed, I learned from experience that I had to make crucial decisions about whether to honor their needs and make adjustments in order to incorporate these into the lessons, or simply ignore these and just stick to the prescribed curriculum (as I was expected to do so), which was designed to caregivers who speak minimal English survive abroad. Within the first hour I spent with one group, I estimated that we were certain not to finish the set activities because there was a need to address particular things in order to equip the adult learners for them. The needs varied too from group to group, and I had to make a different proposal regarding the coverage, set of lessons and lengths of time needed for each English module modified for each group. I remember how my proposals had always displeased the teacher in charge of the program, who had expressed openly that he had encountered “problems” only with me. Well, a teacher should not merely pontificate and do what comes easily and conveniently for oneself or the institution; a teacher must devise and teach lessons that serve the needs of the students and accommodate their learning styles.

Thus, I expected to understand fully the needs of my LITNUM class once I met them and spent time with them. This initial assessment session will be instrumental in determining their specific needs and wants, while I expect other needs and wants to surface in the course of our study together. Our group will be meeting outside the context of an educational system, and will not be bound by age-grade level expectations. The class members ended their studies at different educational levels apart from the having differing strengths and points for improvement, which is already a given. All these have to be taken into account, along with the certainty of their academic insecurities, which have to be handled delicately.

The prospect of meeting them naturally got me thinking about preparations and possibilities based on the initial descriptions of former classes given by the CWR staff and culled from the meeting with the parateachers, who gave descriptions of their past classes as well as their expectations of the new group. However, I understood well that my meetings with the LITNUM group would find me designing, revising, and branching out in curriculum development during the course of our meetings. Critical literacy views teachers as “designers of learning processes and environments, which includes orchestrating practices and continually redesigning based on responses to curricular designs.”[1]

Given the principles of adult education, the location of the LITNUM group within a specific social context, and considerations to the need to employ student-centered methods, feminist counselling techniques and whole language principles, I chose employ participatory curriculum development. According to Dr. Peter Taylor, some important principles of participatory curriculum development are the following:

  • “Curriculum development is a flexible, dynamic process leading to products such as new or revised curriculum frameworks or detailed curricula which include objectives or learning outcomes, content and means of assessment and evaluation of learning. It can also involve identification and use of appropriate teaching and learning methods and materials – it is not a list of content;
  • “Curriculum development is about planning and guiding – it is not a blueprint or recipe;
  • “Curriculum development can include anyone and occur anywhere – it is not exclusive.”
  • “Curriculum development is usually a complex process which integrates different approaches, concepts, methods, and activities. It is vital that attention be paid not only to the quantity of outputs, such as those mentioned above, but also to the quality of both products and processes.”
  • “Curriculum development provides an opportunity for institutionalising a systemic approach to learning. It aims at integrating the recognition of the needs for learning, the ways in which learning is organized and delivered, and the way in which learning is monitored and evaluated within the particular context of location, values and beliefs.
  • “If curriculum development is carried out efficiently and effectively, the learning needs of learners will be met, teachers will teach more effectively, using suitable, relevant methods and materials, a good service will be delivered, satisfying the demands of different stakeholders, and the goals and aims of the education and training programme will be achieved.”[2]

Spiral planning is also of equal importance, where concepts previously discussed in their simpler forms recur or reappear in later lessons and in more complex form (such as the reappearance of addition of bigger figures in a later lesson on word problems involving multiple steps and operations). This would reinforce lessons previously learned, provide practice within a context, and will compel them to remember and repeat in order to later achieve automaticity.


[1] Adult Education Teachers: Designing Critical Literacy Practices by Rebecca Rogers and Mary Ann Kramer (2008), p.9.

[2]“10 key stages towards effective participatory curriculum  development: Learning from practice and experience in the Social Forestry Support Programme, Vietnam, and other Helvetas-supported projects” by Peter Taylor (2001) from the Swiss Center for Development Cooperation in Technology and Management in http://www.socialforestry.org.vn. Retrieved on March 25, 2013 from http://www.socialforestry.org.vn/document/pcd%20toolbook/overview%20pcden/10%20key%20stages%20towards%20effective%20participatory%20curriculum%20development.pdf

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Author: cindycatz: occasional pianist and coffee shop philosopher

fond of the sun, sky, sea, sand and starfish; passionate about literacy, education, media, feminisms, development, popular culture, counterculture, migration phenomenon, anthropology and the fourth world; fascinated with crochet, sushi-making, fiction, creative non-fiction, storytelling, some films and series | books and comics | anime and manga | music and videos | bands and groupies, Latin and Italian, mom-and-pop consumerism, tavern bards and cafe philosophers, trinkets and bric-a-bracs, and steampunk and lolita couture; and absolutely enamored with nail polish and bag charms, frappucinos and margaritas, conversations and moments, her 41 year-old piano, and - of course - CATS. credentials? visit about.me/cindycruzcabrera & ph.linkedin.com/in/cindycruzcabrera/

3 thoughts on “Feminist Literacy and Numeracy – A Path to Empowerment for Grassroots Women: Lesson Planning and Curriculum Development

  1. Pingback: Feminist Literacy and Numeracy – A Path to Empowerment for Grassroots Women: Teaching and Feminist Counseling | Papers, Pursuits and Purrsuasions

  2. Pingback: Feminist Literacy and Numeracy – A Path to Empowerment for Grassroots Women: Table of Contents | Papers, Pursuits and Purrsuasions

  3. Pingback: Feminist Literacy and Numeracy – A Path to Empowerment for Grassroots Women: Abstract and Blog List | Papers, Pursuits and Purrsuasions

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