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The learning outcomes hidden inside curriculum goals

Prepared by John Church, PhD, School of Educational Studies and Human Development

University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.

At the present time, the school curriculum groups the competencies which are to be acquired during the school years into very broad collections such as "English", "Mathematics", "Science" and so on. English includes learning to interpret visual and oral presentations, learning to read, learning to make spoken and visual presentations, and learning to write. Mathematics includes the development of conceptual understanding, operational fluency and problem solving skills in number, algebra, geometry, measurement and statistics.

The achievement objectives listed within each of the learning areas are very broad and lacking in specificity. Consider, for example, the following Level 2 English achievement objective: "Spells most high frequency words correctly and shows growing knowledge of common spelling patterns." Which high frequency words? How much is "most"? Is the child expected just to spell these words correctly (no matter how slowly), or correctly and quickly? Which common spelling patterns? How is this growing knowledge to be demonstrated? How much knowledge is a "growing knowledge"? Does this growing knowledge include an increasing level of spelling fluency? Note also that the achievement of this objective requires the prior achievement of a number of prerequisite skills (such as the mastery of numerous phoneme grapheme equivalence relations) but that these prerequisites are nowhere listed in the Level 1 curriculum.

The lack of specificity in the New Zealand curriculum generates a cascade of difficulties which permeate the instructional design task, lesson planning, the selection of suitable learning activities, the day-to-day assessment of learner improvement, and the selection and assessment of "national standards". It also generates enormous difficulties for the educational researcher who is provided with almost no guidance regarding the selection and assessment of valid learning outcomes during experimental investigations of either school learning or the relative effectiveness of different teaching strategies.

To illustrate the complexity of the task facing both the classroom teacher and the teaching researcher this chapter analyses several curriculum areas into their component skills in order to make clear the various different types of learning outcomes which each curriculum area involves. In the sections which follow we present structural analyses of the interconnected learning outcomes which are involved in learning to read, learning to write, and learning to find the sum of 2-digit numbers. These are provided as illustrations of the work which still needs to be done in identifying the learning outcomes which are implicit in the "achievement objectives" listed in the New Zealand curriculum.