Evidence - Based Approaches Of Curriculum Implementantion. Some Grass-Roots Exemples

Abstract

The paper focuses on the concept of curriculum implementationas part of a wider process of curriculum development. In Romania, the general practice of policy implementation is focused on top down approaches; by this, educational authorities orient the curriculum implementation by means of official documents (such as Ministry Orders, recommendations), the result being a text driven reform. Although it has its advantages, especially in terms of duration of implementation, the approach limits the opportunities that schools have in order to propose localised and/or customised perspectives for curriculum. The starting point is a small research conducted in four schools in Romania. The research seems to demonstrate the existence of a number of common practices that occur in schools when implementing the national curriculum. For example, curriculum design activities can be transformed in opportunities for professional dialogue and peer learning. These commonalities can be consolidated as formal internal indicators to be used by schools in the process of self-evaluation.

Keywords: Evidencecurriculum implementationcurriculum design"implementation gap"process indicatorsschool level

Introduction

The implementation or enactment of a process of curriculum change as part of a wider process of

curriculum development (Potolea, Toma & Borza, 2012) is frequently the focus of research that deal with

comprehensive educational changes/reforms. In many countries, implementation strategies regularly have

specific components that are aimed at the school, and that take into account the mechanisms that it can

mobilize in order to put into practice, monitor, and evaluate the intended changes.

The implementation approaches that are identified in the research (Fullan, 1991; Simkins, Ellison

& Garrett, 1992; Elmore & Sykes, 1992, quoted in Căpiță, 2007) are constantly under scrutiny and

reassessed. Although the perspectives on curriculum implementation have diversified, two directions

shaped during the 1990s (Fullan, 1991) seem to be present in all approaches: if the intended aims and

objectives of the change are accepted at the level of the system; and, if the technical quality of the change

in relation to the stated objective is clearly formulated.

Both directions are under renewed scrutiny. First, because the distance between the intentions and

what is actually happening seems to be increasing; and, second, because changes seem to be more and

more precipitated, to have a weak support, or not to have been fully thought through (Hargreaves, quoted

in Clement, 2014). Therefore, lower performing systems have large "implementation gap" between the

policies enacted at the national, state, or even district level, and what actually happens in classrooms.

These gaps can be explained through the lack of alignment between the curriculum and assessment, and

between the training programs for teachers and the real needs of the school.

In Romania, the process of implementation, as one stage of cycle of educational change, is

supported by various means, but the most frequent method is through normative documents, an approach

labelled "text driven reform" or mandated change. Nevertheless, even the best texts remain unused or are

used only formally, without any support from the part of the intended beneficiaries. What could constitute

a possible solution? As an alternative to the frequent changes introduced from the outside, schools should

initiate the change and establish implementation strategies in order to foster the perception of ownership

over the process of change.

The Research Question

The paper takes under scrutiny the concept of curriculum implementation. The starting point are

the results of an exploratory research conducted in four schools in Romania (four different counties:

Argeș, Maramureș, Vrancea, and Ilfov). The schools have used the document Cadru metodologic de

proiectare și aplicarea a curriculumului la nivel de școală (The Methodological Framework for

Curriculum Implementation at School level ) for an entire year, and in the situations in which the activities

in the school made it feasible. It is important to note that the teaching staff of these schools was involved

in the actual development of this document. During this period, research instruments were applied in the

four schools. For example, the questionnaire related to the school-based curriculum was applied in the

period in which the schools were developing their offer. The schools were asked to fill in a number of

questionnaires that were focused on specific chapters of the Cadru metodologic de proiectare și aplicarea

a curriculum-lui la nivel de școală (i.e., school based curriculum, curriculum design at school level, the

contribution of the program 'The school Otherwise', the relation between the taught and the evaluated

curricula). The questionnaires were intended as part of an action research scheme; besides collecting

relevant data, the questionnaires were intended as means for supporting schools in their effort to localise

the curriculum: to offer a reflective context for the analysis of the framework; to help schools to gather

relevant data pertaining to the four relevant elements of curriculum implementation at school level; and,

to help schools in the effort to develop strategies concerning the production of relevant pares

documenting their own activity. The questionnaires were filled in by a group of teachers in each school,

with the help and supervision of the school principals.

The collected data were then analyzed in order to identify commonalities between these schools

during the process of curriculum implementation. Our contribution will focus on the analysis of the topic

of curriculum design at school level.

Curriculum Design at School Level

Within this research, we define curriculum design at school level as the design process that takes

into consideration the individualising (positive and inhibiting) factors that give a specific identity to the

school as an institution of curriculum implementation (Căpiță & Mândruț, 2016).

The topic of curriculum design is of significance, due to the fact that it is traditionally associated

to the individual activity of each teacher, and is part of the core competences of a teacher. The messages

channelled through the programs of study in the last two decades did indeed promote a certain isolation of

the process of curriculum design; three of the significant actions – the personalized reading of the

program of study, the identification of learning units, the design of the learning units (Curriculum

national Council/CNC, 2002) – can foster such an "isolation" of the design of the curriculum

implementation.

But the context has changed, and in the new generation of programs of study teaching suggestions

are integrated that promote the collaboration between teachers. In each subject, teachers have to deal with

topics that range beyond the borders of traditional school subjects and, frequently, of the classroom and

the school. The program of study for History in the IVth Grade, for example, states that " when applying

the program of study in the classroom, the teacher will negotiate with the students on the subject of

national and European topics. This modus of implementing the program of study responds to the

principle of curriculum design that advocates the use of the school context, in accordance to students'

interests, educational resources, the support elements available for the school, and even the choice

between a more traditional or innovative didactic approach".

Description of the instrument and collected data

The questionnaire was built on the assumption that curriculum design activities can be regarded as

opportunities of professional dialogue and peer learning. This perspective, in fact, reduces the stress

induced by the administrative dimension of the documentation developed by the teacher and by

transforming them in evidence related to the ways in which the curriculum might be interpreted and

negotiated in order to respond better to the actual situation in the classroom and the school. Therefore,

practices can be constantly adjusted in accordance to objectives that go beyond the strict confines of a

school subject or a particular teaching period. The questionnaire had items related to the documents of

curriculum design at school level, the administrative structures that have responsibilities in the field, the

attitude of actors within the school regarding this field of action.

The development of the research instrument comprised several stages. First, an analysis of the

various normative documents that governs school activity, starting with the Law of National Education

(LEN) to the secondary legislation (such as the regulation regarding the school inspection and the

regulation of the functioning of the schooling units). This analysis targeted the structures that are

responsible at school level for the localised curriculum design and the provisions in the legislation that set

the framework for this activity. The first result indicates that the legislation has basically nu such

requirements, the curriculum design at school level being perceived as implicit. There is one exception.

The teachers' council has the ability to propose measures to improve the didactic processes and activities

(LEN, art. 98.2). Another category of documents are the standards developed by the National Agency for

Quality Assurance in Secondary Education (ARACIP/NAQASE) for the external assessment of schools.

These standards are focused mostly on the curriculum documents developed at school level (hence, on the

level of quality of these documents), rather than on the process of curriculum development.

To sum up, the documentary research put forth the conclusion that both the legal framework and

the school practice consider the curriculum design as only a task for the individual teacher. There are no

opportunities for co-operation within the teacher community, and no provisions for curriculum design and

implementation 'beyond the classroom'. To support the (individual) activity of curriculum design, schools

have specific structures, but the administrative aspects are predominant.

Following these sources, analyses that consider the school as a learning community were taken

into consideration.

A deep knowledge with the school as a learning community is important when assessing the ways

in which interactions between students/teachers and knowledge are taking place in the framework of a

competence-based curriculum, and when effective support schemes for schools in the field of curriculum

design are developed.

Four of the researches that were conducted in the last 15 years are relevant for the topic at hand, as

they manage to give an authentic perspective on the schooling institution.

Among these, the most in-depth and wide-ranging analysis is provided by Școala la răscruce/The

School at Crossroads (Vlăsceanu, 2002). This massive research identifies " the traits of the pedagogical

community that processes new informations and transforms them or not in attitudes and behaviours"

(Vlăsceanu, 2002: 77). Another study, The School as it is (Ciolan & Nedelcu, 2010) explores the

interactions between the significant educational stakeholders, teachers and students, and identifies

patterns of behaviour of students and teachers that are the result of these interactions. The research on the

Analysis of the School Environment in Relation to the Implementation of the Curriculum Reform

(Analiza mediului școlar în raport cu implementarea reformei curriculare) advocates an evidence-based

approach to decision making when dealing with the elements that define the organizational culture of the

school and the motivations that underpin student and teacher learning (Iosifescu, 2012). Finally, a

research on curriculum implementation at school level, Mecanisme și practici de implementare a

curriculumului la nivelul școlii și al clasei (Bercu, 2012) provides a snapshot of the contextual factors

that influence the process of curriculum implementation at school and classroom level, and the ways in

which educational actors relate to these factors. These studies offer a multilayered image of the

perceptions and representations of various educational actors on what is actually taking place in schools.

The findings of these studies can be regarded as evidence of the changes that occur at school level in the

process of transformation from an organization focused on the learning as a product to an organization

focused on learning as a process (Păun, 1999). The final result is a school that learns and reshapes itself

as an organization (Senge, Cambron-Mccabe, Lucas, Smith, Dutton & Kleiner, 2016).

Since the research included also an instrumental aspect, its second phase aimed at supporting the

transformation of the curriculum design at school level into a local curriculum policy, therefore aiming at

increasing the localised aspect of the curriculum at school level. The main element in this transformation

is the co-operation between teachers, the use of common competencies that are spread throughout the

learning community, and the fostering of the feeling of ownership that might mobilise resources in

confronting stressful situations and issues.

The questionnaire used in the four schools included 14 questions, developed around three vectors:

to identify examples of practices in the field of curriculum design, and to present the means by which

these practices are formalized in the documents; to assess the activities and practices of curriculum

design; and to reflect upon the practices presented.

One of the questions asked specifically to evaluate the positive aspects of curriculum design at

school level in relation to: supporting students in their autonomous learning; a stimulating and friendly

learning climate; the cohesion among staff in co-operating for a creative implementation of the

curriculum; enhancing the partnership between the school, the family, and the local community;

supporting the development of teaching materials at school level; a better integration of formal, informal

and non-formal elements in the teaching; the decrease in the differences between students' performance;

the decrease and or avoidance of school drop-out. The questions enabled not only a stocktaking of current

practices, but also an analysis of attitudes of schools as communities of practice towards the activities

related to the curriculum design and their interest in this activity.

From Evidences to Indicators

The research aimed at collecting data to demonstrate differences and commonalities between four

schools in the process of curriculum implementation on the basis of the Methodological Framework.

Given the fact that the evidence describes important processes that are linked to the attainment of

objectives related to the curriculum implementation at school level, it constitutes a basis for the

development of process indicators. Such indicators are important because they enable a process analysis

and support the construction of improved rationales for curriculum implementation. At the same time,

they constitute a basis for dissemination of good practice, the development of recommendations, and can

inform decision making. (Scheerens, 1990; Porter, 1991). At school level, such indicators and their

descriptors can provide a "toolkit" for the strategic/controlled improvement; schools can develop into

learning communities able to self regulate and fine-tune their own development. Table 1 summarizes the

indicators resulting from the research.

Table 1 -
See Full Size >

Conclusions

The research on the reactions of schools as organizations to curricular changes is significant, since

these changes were based on a top-down approach. Even the local character, as it is formulated by the

schools through the school based curriculum, is regulated at national level through the National

Curriculum Framework. One of the results is that the support given to grass-roots initiatives and changes

is influenced by a number of factors, frequently of subjective nature. Therefore, various means to foster

the feeling of ownership are needed, both at individual and organizational level. One such possibility is to

develop, in partnership with the schools, documents and methodologies that inform and orient the process

of curriculum implementation, especially in situations in which the aim is to translate new ideas into new

educational practices, a situation that involves complex sense-making processes.

The research provided data that point to the following conclusions:

- There is evidence that demonstrate that the schools have a grasp of the ways in which the national

curriculum can be implemented at school level, the most frequent approach being curriculum adaptation

în order to suit local needs.

- The adaptation of the curriculum to local needs is facilitated by school structures that have

responsibilities in the field at school and or classroom level; one example is the didactic committee,

constituted by the teachers that teach the same subject or subjects in the same curricular area.

- Existing hurdles do not impede decisively on the opportunities and possibilities of curriculum

implementation at school level, and such problems are circumvented in various ways.

- The practices provided by the schools questionnaire have a different potential of transfer beyond the

particular school; they are dependent on a number of variables, such as the degree of awareness of the

issue, the creativity of teachers.

- Instruments such as process indicators that are based on research evidence about the things that

contribute to intended changes can help schools to make sure that they are advancing on the intended

path.

References

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Publisher

Future Academy

First Online

18.12.2019

Doi

10.15405/epsbs.2017.05.02.217

Online ISSN

2357-1330