Pedagogy vs. Curriculum – The How is the What

The How is the What

What (content) and how (pedagogy) cannot be separated. How we teach also teaches a what.

Example 1: Coercion has no place in education.

If we use coercion to get students to study what we want when we want, we are teaching them that how you get people to do the things in this world is by using a power imbalance. We should be teaching them that respect and empathy are the primary drivers of influence.

Example 2: Students need to define what is important

Telling students what is important to learn teaches them that their own interests are not of value.

It also removes from them the ability to evaluate what is important themselves. An illustration:

“Students: We are studying American History from the Civil War to World War II. Here are the important things to know about this period, and how we will engage with learning them. And the dates we will cover each.”

An alternative how would be: “You have chosen to study this period in history. How about we start by each looking into what might be important to know about form this time period, and we’ll come back together and build that list? If you are able to convince others of the importance of the items you pick, they will more likely make it on the list.” This helps them build the skill of determining what is important and understand why. They learn the “content” while they are learning these important skills (and they learn the content better).

Example 3: Instruction can be powerfully destructive

Being overly instructive is not only not very good for learning content, but it powerfully teaches several things. First, we know now that it reduces executive function. It also teaches something else that is very powerful and negative: It creates in people what is called an “external locus of control” wherein they lose a sense that they are in control of their lives. It also takes away their ability to identify and design solutions for problems.

Example 4: Students as apprentice learners. Make our learning visible.

How to learn is the most important thing we can teach. The current paradigm in education is that students learn, and teachers teach (usually hiding their learning.) Yet in this model we are never modeling the very thing we are needing to teach: how to be an advanced learner. It’s related to what’s called the Curse of Knowledge.

Our students should regularly be solving problems with advanced learners who do not yet know that answers to the problems, so that they can learn together.

Example 5: Students as apprentice collaborators. Making collaboration visible.

Same as above, but with collaboration. We often hide our decision making from the students, and then issue the results to them in a proclamation.

Example 6: Measuring can be dangerous

Constant measuring of children sends the signal that they are not yet good enough. That learning is not important in itself. This is a tough one, because we must measure, but must be very careful about how we do it. How we do it has important implications for how children think about and position themselves in the world.

Example 7: Accountability

Students are currently accountable to teachers. We should be accountable to each other. They should be accountable to themselves in their learning goals, and we should assist them in that accountability.

The above, in poetic form:
School to students—
“Here’s the problem.
Here’s how you solve it.
Don’t fail.
Do it, or else.”

And now that you are done with school—
“Please identify problems.
Figure out how to solve them.
Learn from your failures.
Oh, and BTW, use influence—not power—to get people to do things.
You’re welcome.”

In Contrast

Old – what. content
New – how. to learn, do, be

Old: education is a get
New: Education is a give

Old – teacher is apart
New – teacher is in it with you

Old – correcting deficient adults
New – strengths. Value interest

Old – learn for doing later
New – learn by doing now

Old – teacher knows and teaches. Hides thinking.
New – teacher learns with, and models advanced learning

Old – adults plan separately and then tell
New – planning process is visible and inclusive

Old – adults hide their collaboration
New – make it visible. Model advanced collaboration

Old – students receive information from teacher
New – students apprentice with teacher

Old – teachers teach, students learn
New – we are all learners

Old – students accountable to teacher
New – students accountable to themselves, with support for teacher

Old – student profile
New – community profile

Old – everything is planned
New – emergent

Old – coercion, power differential emphasized
New – cooperation, influence, mutual-respect

Old – everything is directed
New – self direction

Old – we primarily give them problems and steps to solutions. Algorithmic solutions.
New – train to identify problems

Old – students develop feeling of external locus of control
New – internal

Old – “in the classroom”
New – “as part of our learning”

Old – design instruction
New – design learning experiences

Old – we tell them what is valuable to know
New – we help them learn how to tell what is valuable to know

Old – relevant
New – real

Published by Aaron Eden

What's your Give? I think that is a critical question in everything we do. What value are we creating? The core of my work is educating for a sustainable future. Value-oriented learning. Community-integrated learning. Social entrepreneurship. Emergent, inquiry-driven, entrepreneurial learning. I've spent the last 20 years designing and facilitating face-to-face and online learning experiences and co-creative processes that help individuals and organizations develop the skills and attributes to transform themselves and the world. I have extensive experience in instructional and learning experience design, innovation, and technology spaces.

5 thoughts on “Pedagogy vs. Curriculum – The How is the What

  1. Another great article and advice, Aaron. Thank you. I like the way you have represented it in poetic form also, though I found the point form very easy to follow and informative.


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