For whom do we write the (outdoors) curriculum?

Morey Schwartz asked in 2006 (J. CURRICULUM STUDIES, 2006, VOL. 38, NO. 4, 449–457) “For whom do we write the curriculum?” and proposes an interesting model around the “rehearsal curriculum:”

“The teacher finds an exciting blueprint in the curriculum that enables her or him to teach from a new perspective—something that could not have been possible without studying the curriculum. In other words, our ‘curriculum-users’ have become the actual ‘curriculum-receivers’. While the curriculum may be designed for students, it is the way that it engages and educates teachers that constitutes the key to its success…

“A rehearsal curriculum is written in a way that prepares teachers for the teaching experience by prompting them to go through the same process of learning that will be used in the classroom.”(2006:454)

I reflected on this as I walked up for my preparatory visit to Cumnor Hurst along the path beyond the campus.  Here are things the students might pick up; here are things I must warn them about; these are the affordances; these are hazards. In some ways it’s not that different from checking the provision in the garden at the start of the nursery day.

However, it has another side to it if we move deeper into the world of educational metaphor. My rehearsal curriculum not only entails a revision of my (self-chosen) learning tasks, for also all those previous rounds of reflection on outdoor learning, the sessions that have gone well, and those that have not – and why. Serious reflection does allow for what Schwartz calls “disjuncture,” and this can be a challenge to the educator (and I remembered the time the students were unwilling to walk any more than 20 mins from campus). This is in line, of course, with the kind of activity I might think of as a spur to quality reflection – and indeed is a point for reflection/evidence is the HEA/Brookes OCSLD audit I’ve been looking at today which asks me to reflect on “Successful engagement in appropriate teaching practices” – because for me, successful engagement isn’t about being a Superteacher (I have been wary of these since my PGCE nearly thirty years ago), it’s about knowing what goes well, what went well, and how it can be improved.

So there’s my first marker on the path: engagement is about reflection, not just delivery. What do the students pick up? If it’s about engagement at HE level, surely the picking up is partly an independent thing: they pick up what might be afforded by the learning, not the things I list.  Their engagement starts from the pact we make in teaching and learning. We engage together, and my “writing” a syllabus/curriculum for outdoor learning begins from this principle.

U70124 arrive at Cumnor Hurst

U70124 arrive at Cumnor Hurst

But if academics see themselves not as creators of syllabi or curricula but as consumers (as Schwartz is suggesting), then the whole process of module design takes on a new dimension. “Module design” is never a creatio ex nihilo; it never springs from nowhere, but has some important elements in its formation:

  • Context in terms of the academic project on a macro level: why University?
  • Content in terms of the local context: why this course? Why this level?
  • Content in terms of restraints – social; resource-driven; interest-driven.

And if we see module design as an iterative process, all three of these come into play each time we open up the module to redesign – termly/by semester, weekly, session by session.

Why is what I have planned for Friday worth thinking about for a University course? Why, for example, do we really not need pond dipping in the module? How do I keep the content of the module current (recent research, the ever-shifting grounds of policy, the constantly changing needs of different student groups), and how do I present the course at an appropriate level?  How (and I began to ponder this in the summer, under Strawberries) do I keep it current without jumping on bandwagons? Has the team got the staff, the kit, the environment it needs? Will the students “get something out of” the class? Will I? For whom do we write the outdoors curriculum – and do I include myself in the plan to learn? Engagement takes into account constraints and context as well as some nebulous “what I want to teach.”

If I follow Schwartz’ argument, the fact that I am asking these questions indicates I see my curriculum (if I can call it that) as a “rehearsal curriculum:” the challenge moves onto how I know I am learning, enacting the things I’ve been reflecting on: how do I ensure (although I dread the word) impact?

On that note of challenge or self-doubt, I’ll leave it there for now: I have a class to prepare for tomorrow.

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