In 2010, the National Middle School Association (NMSA) published its position paper, This We Believe: Keys to Educating Young Adolescents. It states that middle grades educators must work together to provide learning experiences that are challenging, exploratory, integrative, and relevant to all students, from both the students’ and teachers’ perspectives.
Teachers face a challenge: in the style of true curriculum integration, they should be developing units and organizing projects around both their own goals and students’ questions, while at the same time administrators are judging them by their students’ performance on standardized test scores. Furthermore, they must take into consideration students’ learning styles, readiness levels, prior experiences, and cultural backgrounds while developing these units. Most importantly, they must not exclude any group of students from equal access to learning.
Teachers at Morgan County Middle School are taking on the challenge. For example, in preparation for a unit on force and motion, 8th grade science teachers first showed a video clip of the Tacoma Narrows bridge collapse. Students wrote down five things that they wanted to learn about bridges while watching the video and the teachers focused on these questions while designing the unit. Although the unit is not integrative in the sense that it focuses only on 8th grade science standards, it does take into consideration student curiosity. In another case, English language arts and science teachers worked together to develop an integrative Web Quest on the Gulf Oil Spill, which they shared with fellow educators at the 33rd annual Georgia Middle School Association (GMSA) Conference last February.
In theory, curriculum should consist only of planned experiences offered to students in the school setting. However, the NMSA also warns about the “hidden curriculum” – what students learn indirectly but surely from their teachers and administrators, often without the educators’ knowledge. Teachers must be very careful to give students of all readiness levels and cultural backgrounds equal access to all aspects of the planned curriculum. Depending upon the school’s culture, his may prove difficult to do.
In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.” Teachers and administrators must take into account the hidden curriculum whenever they differentiate instruction, within or between classrooms. If you are an educator, are you doing so?