The Secretary of State for Education likes Massachusetts. Michael Gove has used the State’s curriculum outline to support more grammar teaching and rote learning the 12 times table. However, the Massachusetts Curriculum Framework
is intended to be a guide not a detailed curriculum. It is not a directive for uniform programmes or texts, or a mandate for specific methodologies or programmes. Compare that with the heavy emphasis on synthetic phonics, government-approved reading materials and spelling lists.
The seven Massachusetts curriculum frameworks contain content standards each with four components:
• Core concepts: 'organisers' or 'big ideas' designed to help teachers and pupils conceptualise learning in the discipline/subject area;
• Strands: broad areas of knowledge and skills that pupils meet as they study the core concepts;
• Learning standards: specific content and the skills which pupils use to practice the strands in ways appropriate to their developmental stage.
• Examples of student learning.
The frameworks also establish three goals critical to lifelong learning. These support learning, teaching and assessment:
• Thinking and communicating: being able to adopt new ideas, connect them to familiar concepts and communicate in speech and writing. This goal involves reflection, examination, clarification and analysis;
• Gaining and applying knowledge: involves pursuing ideas and experiences and applying new knowledge in real life contexts. The more practical it is, the more powerful the learning;
• Working and contributing: implies that work is meaningful, purposeful and valued. It involves persistence, self‐discipline, hard work and pride.
The press release
from the Department for Education (DfE) stressed knowledge. There was a passing mention of practical work but this was confined to Science. The DfE highlighted Massachusetts as an example of a place where pupils focus on scientific experiments. But the Massachusetts framework did not confine practical work to Science – it placed practical work in one of its three goals: the acquisition and application of knowledge. The compilers of the Massachusetts curriculum recognised that pupils learn most effectively when involved in doing. This is best summed up by the Chinese proverb, “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”
There’s not much understanding at the DfE – it’s foraged the Massachusetts framework for scraps that support Mr Gove’s New Primary Curriculum (the title suggests a Soviet five-year plan). The DfE has ignored the idea of core concepts – the DfE definition of concepts isn’t an underlying philosophy of education but is restricted to word structure and grammar: ideas crushed by nuts and bolts.
When Gove looked at Massachusetts the lights really did go out.