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What is a curriculum?

By Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant
The 2012 high school year started this month.  At first, it was exciting to meet new teachers and welcome back returning teachers; however, the excitement has passed.  Students now must rely on their own abilities and think for themselves.  By now, they have sized up each new teacher and class, and labeled each as “Great!” or “Here we go again!”   By now, though, I wonder how many students know and understand what specific academic goals and knowledge is required by term end in each class subject.  Those who have no idea of what those goals are will end up frustrated and over dependent on teachers.

A school curriculum describes all the courses/classes that a student is required to study and master (pass) in order to graduate from that school.  A course curriculum outlines and summarizes all the areas and topics in a specific subject matter, (i.e. English, Math, Accounting, Spanish, etc.) that a student is required to study and master by term/year end. Each teacher describes a course curriculum to students differently.  Some teachers outline and explain to students from the first week of class all the lessons or units they will study during the term, including when to expect tests, homework, projects and class activities; some teachers provide students with preprinted handouts that summarize the course curriculum; some teachers explain in advance their grading system and how they evaluate each student; unfortunately, some teachers introduce the course curriculum to students, one lesson or Unit at a time only throughout the term/year.  

Students: If by now you don’t know what is the course curriculum in each of your classes this term/semester, request it from your teachers!  Knowing in advance what areas of knowledge we’re aiming to learn in each class helps us to be more confident, prepared, and independent everyday at school. Teachers will teach you; however, it’s also up to you to know in each class, “where you’re headed and by when you need to get there”.  Only you can learn for yourself, no one else, so don’t become too dependent on others to learn.  Review each course curriculum that you have and closely follow your teacher/class everyday to cover all the goals/requirements in each subject.  Example:  Six short stories to study in twelve weeks means you must complete a different short story every two weeks  

Teachers who teach subjects everyday to (over)crowded classrooms of 30+ students, who will each learn at a different pace, can’t always “stick to a plan”.  I’ve taught high school classes since 1978, and like many teachers, have often been forced to slow down to a snail’s pace to reteach what I already taught only days or weeks before. Why? The class just does not “get” or understand the lesson(s).  No classroom pace of learning will always run smoothly!  It’s important, therefore, that each student know in advance where the class needs to go, and by when it must get there.  My advice to students: Know the course curriculum and expected standards for each of your classes!   Plan to complete each, along with your teacher and class, and keep track of areas where you may need help.

In Belize, especially, school terms/semesters don’t always turn out as planned because almost every year schools are forced to close during (threats of) hurricanes or rainy weather.  Moreover, some teachers get sick or take emergency leaves of absence; students get sick or are absent from classes for extended periods of time.  Many unplanned events each year prevent teachers and students from fully covering each course curriculum in the classroom as originally planned.  Therefore, each student should always “have a plan” to face possible emergencies and complete each course curriculum.  Knowing the course curriculum and expected standards for each subject is the first step to always being prepared and taking full responsibility for advancing in each class, no matter how the year turns out.  Knowing a curriculum also helps a student to stay confident and positive throughout the year.  On the other hand, students who prefer to be “comfortable” in class by ignoring a curriculum, usually panic before each test/exam, and blame everyone else but themselves when they fail the subject or class.  Senior students who plan to take outside examinations like CXC must fully cover the curriculum and expected standards in each subject to be tested.

Kudos to each high school teacher who provides a complete course curriculum to students at the start of each class, term, and school year!  Students:  From the moment you start each school year, be sure to get a course curriculum from each teacher, and keep close track during each term/year to make sure that you (and your teacher) follow it.  Life, like each class at school, runs smoothly when we have a plan and follow it, or work around it as best we can.  Plans can always be amended and/or adjusted.  However, without a plan we’ll just “float” through life everyday, have no idea where we’re headed, and only blindly hope that someday we’ll get somewhere.

Independence, at school and throughout life, is a great quality.  Happy Independence Day to my fellow Belizeans!

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