Curriculum

This space is meant to analyze and evaluate the Ontario Ministry of Education’s curriculum expectations. The focus will be on, but not limited to, Reading expectations.

The Ontario Ministry of Education language document is broken up into four main strands. The strands are reading, writing, oral, and media. In reading, the document begins by stating the importance of developing effective readers. These are students that can critically and creatively consider information that they read in text. These skills can be attained  by practising comprehension strategies while engaged in reading activities. Comprehension strategies include analytical and evaluative skills in questioning, inferring, predicting and making connections. Students should practise these strategies with reading material that reflects the diversity in the classroom. It is recommended for students to have a say in the material provided because it incorporates their personal interests. (The Ontario Curriculum Documents, 2006) A balanced program will provide a variety of opportunities to develop reading skills that will make them effective readers. Being an effective reader is one of many components that students will need to be successful in the 21st century.

 “[The Curriculum] emphasizes the use of higher-level thinking skills, including critical literacy skills, to enable students not only to understand, appreciate, and evaluate what they read and view at a deeper level, but also to help them become reflective, critical and independent learners and, eventually, responsible citizens.” (Ontario Curriculum Document, 2006, p. 5)

The document goes on to provide details of the reading process. It is explained as a process that requires the use of multiple strategies before, during and after reading.

Before reading, students should prepare themselves by recognizing the purpose of the activity, followed by the activation of prior knowledge that is related to the text. (Ontario Curriculum Document, 2006) During this process the main role of the teacher is to build the background understanding required for activation of prior knowledge. Because of the diverse backgrounds of the student population in Ontario, the teacher’s role can vary greatly from one classroom to another. Teachers need to recognize the unique experiences that are specific to their classroom and plan their units accordingly.

During reading, the ministry document explains the need for students to use a range of comprehension strategies to increase their level of understanding. Comprehension strategies include, predicting, visualizing, questioning, inferring, summarizing, synthesizing and reflecting on their comprehension. Through the use of these strategies students are expected to develop a deeper understanding of the text. During this process, the role of the teacher is to encourage deeper thinking by providing robust questions and guiding prompts.

When reviewing research on what makes a successful 21st century learner, many of these strategies are considered as essential skills. These same strategies also come up when considering digital literacy. An emerging trend in much of the research is that comprehension strategies are essential for both traditional literacy as well as new literacies including digital learning.

After reading, student should analyze, create, connect, and evaluate the information read. Throughout this process they are to use critical and creative thinking skills. (Ontario Curriculum Document, 2006) The teacher’s role in this situation is to help the students develop the skills required for critical analysis.

Because of the range of the diverse experiences of Ontario’s student population the document suggests this process to take place using a variety of texts.  The definition of texts is expanded to include “a wide variety of literary, informational, and graphic texts – for example, picture books and novels; poetry; myths, fables, and folk tales; textbooks and books on topics in science, history, mathematics, geography, and other subjects; biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, and journals; plays and radio, film, or television scripts; encyclopaedia entries; graphs, charts, and diagrams in textbooks or magazine articles; recipes, instructions, and manuals; graphic novels, comic books, cartoons, and baseball cards; newspaper articles and editorials; and essays and reports.” (Ontario Curriculum, 2006, p. 12)

It is important to note that the examples of text provided are in hard copy. This is something that research has suggested we reconsider. Recent research suggest that 21st Century learners should be exposed to digital literacies in synergy with traditional print literacy. (Kinzer, 2010) The Ontario Curriculum document does have a media section which refers to digital literacies, but there is no mention of digital literacy in the reading section of the documents.

The document goes on to explain that text should reflect the multicultural make up of the population and increase in complexity with age. This document encourages that the process takes place frequently and ensure that students have a say in the selection of texts.

The Ontario Language Curriculum for students in grades kindergarten to 8 provides two sets of expectations per grade.  Students are expected to acquire the skills set out in these expectations by the end of the school year. The first of the two sets is the overall expectations. These represent the general knowledge and skills that are to be acquired by the students. The overall expectations are relatively consistent from grade to grade. The document states,

 “ [The expectations] encompass the types of understanding, skills, approaches, and processes that are applied by effective communicators of all ages and levels of development, and are therefore described in constant terms from grade to grade.” (Ontario Curriculum Documents, 2006, p. 8 )

The document goes on to state that the focus of the overall expectations is to develop the students’ depth and understanding of the skills required through the increased complexity of the text and activities used.  

In grade 6, like in all other grades, the reading strand covers the following four overall expectations.

  1. read and demonstrate an understanding of a variety of literary, graphic, and informational texts, using a range of strategies to construct meaning;
  2. recognize a variety of text forms, text features, and stylistic elements and demonstrate understanding of how they help communicate meaning;
  3. use knowledge of words and cueing systems to read fluently;
  4. reflect on and identify their strengths as readers, areas for improvement, and the strategies they found most helpful before, during, and after reading.

– Ontario Curriculum Documents, 2006, p. 111

In light of the evolving definition of literacy and reading comprehension, it is important to consider the overall expectation for the Media strand as well. The overall expectations for grade 6 media are,

  1. demonstrate an understanding of a variety of media texts;
  2. identify some media forms and explain how the conventions and techniques associated
    with them are used to create meaning;
  3. create a variety of media texts for different purposes and audiences, using appropriate
    forms, conventions, and techniques;
  4.  reflect on and identify their strengths as media interpreters and creators, areas for
    improvement, and the strategies they found most helpful in understanding and creating
    media texts.

–          Ontario Curriculum Documents, 2006, p. 117

The overall expectations are very general and do not provide examples of what they look like in practice. However, in combination these two strands do a fairly good job of covering skills required to be a successful learner in the 21st century.

The specific expectations are more detailed and do provide examples. They also provide greater detail of the progressing complexity of the overall expectations. The specific expectation is generally organized into three parts. The first part is the expectation itself, the second part is an example of how the expectation can be covered and the third part is possible prompts that the teacher can use to cover the expectation. Not all of the expectations have all three parts, but many do. Once again, the document puts emphasis on covering the specific expectations in an inclusive manner that respects the diversity of the classroom.

This is specific expectation 1.9 for grade 6 under the reading strand.

Point of View

1.9 identify the point of view presented in texts; determine whether they can agree with the view, in whole or in part; and suggest some other possible perspectives

 (e.g., ask questions to identify any biases that are stated or implied in the view presented)

 Teacher prompts: “Who would be most likely to share this point of view? Who would not?” “How would you revise the text to appeal to a different or a wider audience?” “Why do you think stereotypes are used in certain texts?”

– Ontario Curriculum, 2006, p. 112

The specific expectation in reading, as in other strands is broken up into four main categories. The first category is titled Reading for Meaning. In this category, the emphasis in on the reading comprehension strategies suggested to develop higher order thinking skills. These are many of the same skills that are often referred to in recent research. The second category is titled Understanding Form and Style. This category considers text styles, forms, patterns and elements. It helps students identify similarities and differences in the variety of text that they are exposed to. The third category is titled Reading with Fluency. This category is more concerned with the pace, expression, phonetics and decoding skills required to read text. The final category is titled, Reflecting on Reading Skills and Strategies. In this category students are developing their metacognition and interconnectedness skills. Students use these skills to analyze and evaluate their thinking. The first and the fourth categories are more focused on higher order thinking skills, which much of the research say is a must for becoming a successful member of the 21st century society.

In media, the specific expectations are also categorized into four sections. The first section is Understanding Media Text. Similar to the specific expectations in reading, this section considers higher order thinking skills such as inferring and interpretation. The main difference is the text forms are significantly different as they are digital and can be altered in real time.  The second section is Understanding Media Forms, Conventions and Techniques. Here the emphasis in on and the conventions used to communicate digitally and the requirement for background knowledge to do so successfully. This is an interesting section, because without the skills to navigate digital text, an individual’s comprehension of the content can be hindered. The third section is titled, Creating Media Text. Here the expectations consider the skills required for producing media text that effectively achieves its purpose. The final section is Reflecting on Media Skills and Strategies. In this section, similar to the reading section, students are expected to consider the strategies utilized while analyzing and evaluating the text. This process is meant to develop the higher order thinking skills.

There are many similarities between the two strands. Many of the comprehension skills practised in one strand can be practised in the other. Preparing students to have the ability to work with both traditional and digital literacy provides them with the skills necessary to be a 21st learner.

According to the Ministry, if a student practises and successfully completes these expectations by the end of the 6th Grade they will be on track to becoming effective readers. When compared to the recent research it becomes evident that the Ontario Ministry of Education is relatively in line with the recommendations of leading researchers. However, to be closely in line with the research, the reading and media component of the language document have to be considered as intertwined. This is not to suggest that the oral and written components are less involved. In fact, all four components of the document work best in harmo

References

1. Ministry of Education (2006). The Ontario curriculum grades 1-8: Language (Revised). Queen’s Printer for Ontario. Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/language.html

2. Kinzer, Charles K., Considering Literacy and Policy in the Context of Digital Environments, In Language Arts; v88 n1 p51-61 Sep 2010

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