The recently released revision (Version 9.0) of the AU curriculum provides opportunities for schools, teams, and teachers to review, revise and reinvigorate units and curriculum offerings. The decrease of content (according to ACARA a 21% reduction) with a focus on deeper learning is good news for teachers and students.
One of the aims of the curriculum review was to: refine and reduce the amount of content across all eight learning areas … to focus on essential content or core concepts. (ACARA, 2021)
A close examination of revised subject area’s introductions and content descriptors shows that most are framed around core ‘big ideas’ and also include cross-curricula concepts. This aligns with recommendations of curriculum experts around the world including McTighe and Wiggins, Erikson and Biggs & Tang that teachers should move away from trying to cover volumes of factual material and instead prioritise their curriculum around a smaller number of conceptually larger transferable ideas, moving from superficial ‘coverage’ to engaging students in active meaning-making processes that are necessary for the deeper understanding called for in Version 9.0.
The AU curriculum dot points and elaborations are written as guides for teachers. The achievement standards are not curriculum. This understanding gives teachers great flexibility and creativity when planning their units.
Curriculum documents can be used in a similar way to how an architect might use building codes – we must pay attention to them but they are not the final design. It is the job of teachers and curriculum teams to use the standards and content descriptors as the basis for designing specific learning goals and pathways for teaching and learning. What Marzano calls a ‘guaranteed viable curriculum’ by starting with the end in mind.
The backward design process, Understanding by Design (UbD)Ⓡ created by McTighe and Wiggins is a useful framework for planning units focussed on deeper understanding and transfer. By streamlining the curriculum content into identifiable understandings, essential questions, knowledge, and skills we have more opportunities to actively engage students in learning and applying their skills.
In Version 9 the revised curriculum statements offer clearer statements of these big ideas and are written as what McTighe and Wiggins call ‘understandings’. For example:
Everyday materials can be physically changed in a variety of ways. (Yr 2. Science)
This big idea or understanding can then be aligned with skill goals from the Science Inquiry strand. Pose and respond to questions and make predictions about familiar objects and events.
Authors innovate with text structures and language for specific purposes and effects. (Yr 9. English Language strand)
This understanding could be aligned with the student's own writing skills:
Create imaginative, informative, and persuasive texts that present a point of view and advance or illustrate arguments, including texts that integrate visual, print, and/or audio features.
Understand that people use language in ways that reflect their culture. (Yr. 1)
Social connectedness and community identity influence the liveability of places. (Yr. 7)
Visual conventions are manipulated to represent ideas and perspectives. (Yrs. 7-8)
Identities are influenced by people and places. (Yrs. 5-6)
Motion, force, and energy are used to manipulate and control electromechanical systems when designing simple, engineered solutions. (Yr. 7-8)
The real number system includes the rational numbers and the irrational numbers. (new Yr. 9 Maths descriptor)
Mathematics also views understanding as a process: Students build understanding when they connect related ideas when they represent concepts in different ways when they identify commonalities and differences between aspects of content, when they describe their thinking mathematically, and when they interpret mathematical information. This process is explored in depth in a very useful practical article published by the Victorian Education Department: “Teaching with Big Ideas in Mathematics”.
These big ideas are useful tools for inquiry. A big idea connects the learning journey and helps students (and teachers) see the connection between the specific knowledge, skills, and understandings they are using and investigating.
Reviewing curriculum documents, revising and developing a rigorous, relevant, and coherent curriculum can seem like an overwhelming task. Technology tools like EP21’s curriculum platform make this process easier with a planning template that has curriculum documents like the current AU curriculum already embedded. Other curriculum documents and references can also be added.
The platform provides the backward design framework to streamline the curriculum design process from establishing learning goals (including big ideas), identifying assessment evidence, and developing learning plans to engage and build understanding and mastery. The platform has analysis and mapping tools and can be used for collaborative curriculum design.
Janelle McGann is a Customer Success Manager with Eduplanet21. In addition, she is a consultant, lecturer, and training associate for McTighe (UbD), Tomlinson (Differentiation), and Hawker Brownlow Education in Australia.
Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for Quality Learning at University. Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press
Erickson, HL.(2002) Concept-Based Curriculum and Instruction: Teaching beyond the facts. London; Sage.
Marzano, R. J., Warrick, P., & Simms, J. A. (2014). A handbook for high-reliability schools: The next step in school reform. Bloomington, IN: Marzano Research.
McTighe, J & Wiggins, G, (2011). https://jaymctighe.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/McTighe-and-Wiggins-%E2%80%93-CCSS-and-Curriculum-5-Big-Ideas.pdf
Standards are Not Curriculum: https://www.nsta.org/science-and-children/science-and-children-septemberoctober-2020/standards-are-not-curriculum