Curriculum Development (with Thoughts on Genetic Factors)

Teaching Through the Curriculum: The Development of a Comprehensive Honors Program,” by Anthony Lisska, in Inspiring Teaching, October 1996, http://www.amazon.com/Inspiring-Teaching-Carnegie-Professors-Speak/dp/1882982142.

Formulating and Clarifying Curriculum Objectives,” by John Biggs, Teaching for Quality Learning at University, 1 February 2003, http://www.amazon.com/Teaching-Learning-University-Research-Education/dp/0335211682/sr=1-1/qid=1158611440/ref=pd_bbs_1/002-0625372-8333634?ie=UTF8&s=books.

Multiple Intelligences After Twenty Years,” by Howard Gardner, Paper Presented at the American Educational Research Association, 21 April 2003, http://www.pz.harvard.edu/PIs/HG_MI_after_20_years.pdf (from Wikipedia).

Mark of ZenPundit‘s recent call of autotelic education kindly listed both Howard Gardner and myself as inspirations. Happily, an online paper by Howard shows that, hopefully, we are inspiring in different ways. On genetics, for example:

Second, from the start, one of the appealing aspects of MI [Multiple Intelligences] theory was its reliance on biological evidence. At the time, in the early 1980s, there was little relevant evidence from genetics or evolutionary psychology; such speculations were mere handwaving. There was powerful evidence from the study of neuropsychology for the existence of different mental faculties; and that evidence constituted the strongest leg on which to justify MI theory.

At the time that MI theory was introduced, it was very important to make the case that human brains and human minds are highly differentiated entities. It is fundamentally misleading to think about a single mind, a single intelligence, a single problem-solving capacity. And so, along with many others, I tried to make the argument that the mind/brain consists of many modules/organs/intelligences, each of which operates according to its own rules in relative autonomy from the others.

Happily, a piece I have to read for college teaching this week also includes an excerpt from Gardner on page 44:

The greatest enemy of understanding is coverage — I can’t repeat that often enough. If you’re determined to cover a lot of things, you are guaranteeing that most kids will not understand, because they haven’t had time enough to go into things in depth, to figure out what the requisite understanding is, and be able to perform that understanding in different situations

Which he repeated in the same public speech, on page 9:

Efforts to cover too much material doom the achievement of understanding. We are most likely to enhance understanding if we probe deeply in a small number of topics. And once the decision is made to “uncover” rather than “cover,” it is possible to take advantage of our multiple intelligences. Put concretely, we can approach topics in a number of ways; we can make use of analogies and comparisons drawn from a range of domains; and we can express the key notions or concepts in a number of different symbolic forms.

The rest of my notes for the week’s reading are below the fold:


“In fact, the longer most undergraduate students… stay in most tertiary institutions, the less deep and the more surface oriented they tend to become, and the more their understanding is assessment related.” (Biggs 2003 34-35)

“The Harvard Project Zero Team (Garder 1993; Wiske 1998) focused on the higher levels of understanding in high school science. They came up with the idea that if students ‘really’ understood a concept they would act differently in contexts involving that concept, and could use the concept in unfamiliar or novel contexts.” (Biggs 2003 35)

“This distinction between knowing more and restructuring parallels two major curriculum aims: to increase knowledge (quantitative: unistructural becoming increasingly multistructural); and to deepen understanding (qualitative: relational, then extended abstract).” (Biggs 2003 39-40)

“In sum, functioning knowledge involves declarative knowledge (the academic knowledge base), procedural knowledge (having the skills), and conditional knowledge (knowing the circumstances for using them).” (Biggs 2003 41)

“What level of understanding are the students to achieve? The following steps are needed. 1. Decide what kind of knowledge is to be involved [and] 2. Select the topcis to teach [as well as] 3. The purpose for teaching the topic, and hence the level of knowledge desirable for students to acquire.” (Biggs 2003 44-45)

“High-level, extended abstract involvement is indicated by such verbs as theorize, hypothesize, generalize, reflect, generate, and so on. They call for the student to conceptualize at a level extending beyond what has been dealt with in actual teaching. The next level of involvement, relational, is indicated by apply, integrate, analyze, explain, and the like; they indicate orchestration between facts and theory, action and purpose. Classify, describe, list, indicate a multistructural level fo involvement: the understanding of boundaries; but not of systems. Memorize, identify, recognize are unistructural: direct, concrete, each sufficient to itself but minimalistic.” (Biggs 2003 46)

“The following questions need addressing: Why [for what student benefit] are you teaching the subject? [and] Is it an introductory or advanced subject?” (Biggs 2003 47)

“Quantitative definitions of a grade make true criterion-referencing extremely difficult.” (Biggs 2003 50)

“To meet these [Honor Program] needs required, we suggested the accomplishment of several goals as articulated int he following propositions: … 5) a physical space was required that would be devoted to honors students and their work.” (Lisska 1996 93) (compare to importance of geography in creativity)

2 thoughts on “Curriculum Development (with Thoughts on Genetic Factors)”

  1. Hi Dan,

    “The greatest enemy of understanding is coverage — I can't repeat that often enough. If you're determined to cover a lot of things, you are guaranteeing that most kids will not understand, because they haven't had time enough to go into things in depth, to figure out what the requisite understanding is, and be able to perform that understanding in different situations”

    YES !

    Educators, like most people, shrink from making strategic choices, failing to admit that doing so represents the worst strategic choice of all – the decision to fail by deliberately mismatching goals with resources.

    A 42 minute (or less) period is not adequate for serious student reflection or being guided through rewarding material of genuine depth. Adolescents do not have the same kind of brains as grad students and most of them will be stumped by trying to tackle difficult but eventually comprehensible concepts on their own. So, either most will get left behind or that kind of material never gets assigned in the first place.

  2. “…making strategic choices…”
    Mark’s original posting on this topic has given me many questions for answers to be found.

    On strategic choices, I wonder if there are really two choices, or more, which, if I haven’t miss-labeled, could be called comprehensive and cognitive studies. Comprehensive are the kind that take the more than 42 minutes that Mark talks about, while the other kind can be allotted as little or more time as available.

    For some studies it is more important for the student to understand that there is a start and finish, while for other studies it is more important for the student to understand how that knowledge “flows” to the end.

    As an example, take arithmetic as opposed to mathematics. In Arithmetic, Just understanding that there is a “start” that can lead to a “finish” gives the steps in-between comprehension. The student doesn’t really need to comprehend something like, say for instance, factorization, only that if he or she uses it at the appropriate time, an answer will be found. In that way, memorization would be an important tool for building a nation of doer’s. The resources can go to the quick and fast people able to memorize vast amounts of material in a very short time.

    However, it might be, similar to what the leaders of the Native Americans found, that to build resiliency into a nation comprehensive study would become more important. Comprehensive study, I would imagine, tends to bring a nation out of its boarders, which are no longer there to begin with, to see the big picture. It would probably cause fewer problems as these walls disappear and give the globe-wide complex adaptive system form that it is lacking.

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