As I mentioned before, all the Iranian schools (k-12) have to follow national curriculum. The Ministry of Education and Training publishes books which are obligatory for all schools to teach them. However, along with this national curriculum Gifted High schools (grades 9-12) offer other curriculum and extracurricular programs; these extracurricular programs are less than Gifted Middle Schools. The reasons of this distinction between Gifted Middle Schools and Gifted High Schools are the national exam in grade 11 and university entrance exam in grade 12. In other words, the Ministry of Education and Training do not give special privilege to gifted students in these exams hence, students and schools have to focus on national curriculum. Besides, the Research and Extracurricular Programs Department in Gifted Schools are the legal way to escape from national curriculum. I will mention some of the distinctions between ordinary high schools and Gifted High Schools below:
- In most courses Gifted High Schools use other books (not only national books) as textbooks.
- Together with national and legitimated courses which are offered by the Ministry of Education and Training, Gifted High Schools offer other courses such as “programming language” (C++) and “introduction to research methods” and skills. All the computer classes (all sessions) are held in computer lab and each student can use one computer. The teachers of computer course in gifted schools are usually computer science or computer engineering graduate students. The “introduction to research methods” course is the project-based and students can attend their favorite classes. Students receive grades for these two courses.
- In English class (as a second language), students divided into five levels. Along with national textbooks, Cambridge books are used as textbooks.
- In grade 9 schools’ emphasis are on arithmetic and geometry. (The skills of “guess-proof” and logical games.)
- In grade 10 and 11 give priority to experimental (laboratory) works in Science course (Physics, Biology, Chemistry). Indeed, most of these classes are held in laboratory.
In addition to distinctions which I mentioned above, Gifted High Schools have other features that made them distinguishable. I will explain some of them:
- There are many research groups under the supervision of “Research and Extracurricular Programs Department” such as mechanic group, electronic group, computer group, and etc. these groups hold various classes and competitions. They also attend international competitions. For example Robocup is one of the international competitions which gifted high schools attend in these years. These years Iranian gifted students compete against university teams and their results are amazing; for example Farzanehgan school team (girls’ gifted high school) gained second position in RoboCup Rescue Simulation in 2006 and 2009 in competition with university teams.
- An exhibition of students’ fruition is held in all Gifted High School annually. These exhibitions are very important to students and staff and usually the head of National Organization for Development of Exceptional Talents and some statesmen inspect these exhibitions.
- The International Olympiads are the world championship academic competitions for high school students. Iranian gifted high schools attend these International Olympiads annually. Nearly 25% of gifted high schools students attend the classes which are held to prepare students for these Olympiads. These classes are held by Research and Extracurricular Programs Department too. Iranian gifted students gain good positions in these Olympiad; for example, Allameh Helli (boys’ Gifted High School) students won more than 110 medals from these International Olympiads during years.
In these sessions we have read articles which extended our realm of educational and philosophical knowledge. Since the first session on September 14th I have changed a lot. I don’t mean that I am cognizant of all aspects of curriculum by now; I mean my beliefs are not the same, especially after reading about postmodernism.
My assignments help me to realize my variations. While I was looking for my assignments to evaluate my progress, I discovered another aspect of our reflective analysis; these reflective writings help us to recreate texts in our mind considering our previous experiences and beliefs. Indeed, in this course we read articles, discuss and think about them and then recreate our texts by writing reflective analyses. This process helps us to think profoundly about our assumptions, to find our hypothesis, and to find our academic interest. Once, I had decided to use this kind of writing in my writing classes in Iranian Gifted Middle School; however, it can be extended; it is flexible enough to be used in every field even in science and math. As I will explain bellow, it can be taken account as a postmodernism assignment.
The ideas I read in last two sessions brought me to this point; that reality is not as absolute as it once seemed. By reading postmodernist ideas, I’ve realized that there is not only one Truth; ideas (truth) are never eternal and deathless. Initially, I had believed that I could find some absolute and universal objectives. Nowadays, as I read post modernist ideas I have a new slant on the objectives and other educational issues, which I will explain below.
Although postmodernist is a radical approach to education, I can create my theory of education by using postmodernist foundations in a conservative (less radical) ways. Postmodernism approach tries to change the role of educational objectives, curriculum, teacher, and administer. However, my innate conservatism and postmodernist contradiction in terms prevent me from accepting all of its foundations; it led me to review all of my beliefs about educational objectives, the teachers’ role, and the principals’ role. In fact, I can profit from its critique of affairs.
As we discussed in the class and as Pinar (1995) claims there is not one Truth. It is one of the most important ideas which presented by post modernism and the significant stimulus which led me to amend my concept of education. Postmodernism claim leads us to doubt about all of our beliefs and our knowledge. Consequently, it teaches us to investigate ideas before accepting them. As Gooding and Metz (2011) claim ” We all have misconceptions about the world in which we live — how it works, how we interact with it, how it changes, and the reasons behind those changes.” (P. 34) To prevent these misconceptions I argue that students are not supposed to submit the texts before criticizing it.
To clarify, as Scholes (1985) argues, texts could be books’ texts or social structures. In this view, students are encouraged to consider the inconsistency and lack of coherence in the text as they read it or face it. Scholes suggests that there are three ways to encounter a text, reading within the text, reading upon the text and reading against the text. Graft (1986) explain Scholes’ ideas ‘The object of such studies, Scholes writes, ought to be not texts alone but “textuality, textual knowledge, and textual skills,” all of which confer what he calls “textual power.” Scholes defines tex-tual power as “the power to select (and therefore to suppress), the power to shape and present certain aspects of human experience” (20). Scholes, then, the job of the teacher is “to help our students come into their own powers of textualization” “What is needed,” he says, “is a judicious atti-tude; scrupulous to understand, alert to probe for blind spots and hidden agendas, and, finally, critical, questioning, skeptical” (16).’ (P. 180) In short, students have to be critical thinkers. And teachers are supposed to guide students to be a critical thinker. This is a definition of Critical thinking:
’Critical thinking is, however, centrally a normative concept. It refers to good thinking. It is the quality of the thinking which distinguishes critical from uncritical thinking, and this quality is determined by the degree to which the thinking meets the relevant standards and criteria.’(Bailin, 2002)
Critical thinking can be used in social sciences as well as in the sciences. Hashemi (2011) uses the following skills in the social sciences as critical thinking criteria: reasoning, questioning, assessment of examples and statements, group work, interpretation, true judgment about issues, analysis and evaluation, logicality, and explicitness. As Hirsch (1987) argues, education has to determine fundamental significations of the society and culture. I suggest that critical thinking can be a main educational objective. It can be the fundamental signification of the society. Probably it can be the Absolute objective or the Truth!
Accordingly, I suggest that critical thinking is the main objective of education. Regarding the Bailin (2002) definition, when a person wants to think critically she/he has to distinguish that a subject meets standards and criteria or not. As I mentioned above, I have a conservative view by comparison to postmodernism. I believe that some criteria and standards have to be in existence; however, I do not know which criteria and standards. I have to read more and investigate more about critical thinking, standards, and related subjects. That is the subject I finally decided to work on for my final paper and in all probability for my thesis.
Along with the Educational objective, teachers’ role would change as well. Considerable pedagogical research has been done into critical thinking. These articles have been written to help teachers to teach (guide) students to think critically. In order to guide student to be a critical thinker, teachers are obliged to think critically themselves. In addition, to gain this objective teachers have to be taught to lead curriculum and students. As this process is hard teachers would face many difficulties; hence, they are supposed to be cognized of what they are doing. In this way, teachers also have to be creative and patient. I argue that both students and teachers learn in this process of teaching as it is proposed in postmodernism. Postmodernism proposed the equivalence relation between teachers and students; I am opposed this idea. As I mentioned above teachers are the leader of the class; beside guiding students, they have to enrich curriculum. As I mentioned above, teachers are obliged to be more creative and “positive deviants”. “Positive deviants” is the word defined by Sternin (2004) as” people whose behavior and practices produce solutions to problems that others in the group who have access to exactly the same resources have not been able to solve.” (Sparks, 2005) As a result of this kind of teaching, teachers are people with special abilities and knowledge that can’t be replaced by computer programs or non teacher people; it is not possible to deskill them as well. And these two problems which are proposed by Apple (1993) do not subsist any more.
Likewise, the role of principals would change. They would become the leaders of schools. Principal are supposed to create a safe environment in which everyone flourishes and trusts one another. I worked in one school for ten years; in those years I worked with three principals. The last principal I worked for was such a principal. Everything changed during her supervision. My experience shows me that a principal can change the quality of teaching, relations between staff, relations between students and staff, and relations between students and staff. If principals create such a safe environment, they can identify “Positive deviants” and other staff, not only don’t be jealous of them but they could ask for their help. The principal I mentioned above respect everyone and find something respectful in each staff person to encourage. In Iran, it is not usual to choose a young person as a vice principle, but she did. When I became vice principal I was twenty one and it was unusual; however, she helped me and allowed me to flourish. When she wanted to make an important decision she asked her staff to express our views. We all felt that we participate in administering the school. Hence, we all did our best during those years.
To sum up, reading about postmodernism inspired me to review my beliefs. I am more conservative to accept the post modernist foundation but I will try to integrate its foundation with my previous knowledge to recreate my beliefs. I define critical thinking as an educational objective and argue that in this way, teachers’ and principals’ role will be changed.
Apple, M. w. (1993). Official knowledge: democratic education in a conservative age. NY: Routledge.
Gooding, J. Metz, B. (2011). FROM misconceptions to conceptual change. The Science Teacher, 78, 34-37.
Graff, G. (1986). Teaching textual power: literary theory and the teaching of English by Robert Scholes. NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, 19, 19-182.
Hashemi, S. A. (2011). The use of critical thinking in social science textbooks of high school: A field study of Fars province in Iran. English Language Teaching, 4, 214-222.
Pinar, W. F., Reynolds, W. M., Slattery, P. M., (1995). Understanding curriculum: An introduction to the study of historical and contemporary curriculum discourses. NY: Petelan.
Scholes, R. (1987). Textual power. New Haven: Yale university press.
Sharon, B. (2002). Critical thinking and science education. Science & Education, 11, 361-375.
Sparks, D. (2005). Leading for results: transforming teaching, learning, and relationships in schools. California: Crown press.
We have read four articles by Marsh and Willis (1995), Miller and Seller (1990), Doll (1993), and Goodson (1994). All of these articles, class discussions, and experiences were on the subject of curriculum theorizing. Doing all these tasks, I became familiar with some different points of view in curriculum theorizing. In fact I realized that achieving my objectives is a long way away. In other words, in order to find an appropriate theory I have to study hard. In this assignment first I will write about my discovery about our assignments. Then I will explain the other points I have just mentioned.
After reading Marsh and William`s (1995) article discusses reflective writings which reminds me of our assignments. Suddenly the meaning of assignments has changed in my mind. When I review my assignments I realize my progress. Each time I have to write a reflective analysis, I confront all of the subjects I have read and heard about. Then I draw a conclusion. After each reflective analysis, I was not the previous person, I changed. Actually, I framed my thoughts and beliefs about curriculum and reconstructed them. Besides, writing reflection helps me to justify and evaluate my working experiences; sometimes I have some suggestions for making them better (amelioration) and sometimes I realize that I have to throw them away.
Moreover, for years I kept a diary every day. Now, after reading Marsh and William’s (1995) article, I can recognize its advantages. When I write about day’s events, I can judge my actions and decisions. While reflecting on my emotions and ideas usually I find points that I have not thought about. In this way every day’s events becomes such a class experience. I suggest that writing our reflection as teachers would be advantageous to us. As Miller and Seller (1990) mention in their article most of educationalists believe that curriculum is not one-way communication. My experience shows me that each session of a class provides many instructive experiences for us but we have to find them. Writing our reflective analysis after each class helps us to discover those experiences. We can judge our class and our function in the class through writing and decide to change them if it is necessary. Our curriculum can be ushered in this way.
I have profited greatly from discovering how much reflective analysis is useful in another way too. Iran’s Gifted School has a group of writing teachers. Its responsibility is to acquaint students with their five senses and teach them how to benefit from their senses to acquire knowledge. Indeed, writing is a curriculum’s equipment; it is not a goal. The group uses many kinds of writings and experiences to help students to be familiar with each of their senses and become knowledgeable about their potential and weakness in each sense. I was one of the group members for ten years. Although generally results were amazing, sometimes I felt that the students had to think more about an experience to find the linkage between an experience and his/her life. I suggest that reflective analysis can fill this gap. If students write about their experience and what they think and feel about it, they may discover the linkage easier. I will send an email to the head of the group and write her about reflective analyses. I will suggest to them to accompany this writings with their creative class experiences and other writings. It would improve their curriculum sorely.
After discussing theories and theorizing in these sessions, I argue that we are supposed to read about theories and choose between them. First, by comparing theories I realize that most of them subscribe to some specific ideas. Although they express different fundamental rules and follow different procedures, they all try to prepare the ground for developed educational theory. As we`ve read in Marsh and William’s (1995) article, Dewey is categorized as a ‘system-oriented priorist’ in Reid`s (1981) classification; Eisner as a ‘system-supporting explorers’ and Pinar (1975) as a ‘system- indifferent explorers’. Nevertheless, Doll`s (1993) theory borrows some fundamental concepts from each of those theories. Goodson`s (1994) term ‘middle ground’ inspired me in the same way. This middle ground is a vast ground just now but I suggest it will become smaller as time passes.
Furthermore, as Halinen and Järvinen (2008) state in their article, ”The excellent learning outcomes of the Finnish comprehensive school indicate that it is possible to develop a system with both quality teaching and learning, and equity and equality for students.” Due to these facts, I am so optimistic about the future development of educational theories; however this development takes long time.
Indeed, my primary objective in this really hard and long distance travel is finding my theory. During those years of teaching in Iran, I comprehended the importance of the theory which can guide me in educating. I faced many different problems those days but my major problem was that I usually cast doubt on the accuracy of our determinate objectives. Consequently, I needed the theory that shelters me of my ignorance. As I mentioned before I remain optimistic about the future development of educational theories. My argue is that up to that time we have to read more about theories and investigate them carefully; in order to choose the best and most expedient parts of each theory. In this way, we can choose our objectives and instruments. The more accurately we investigate different theories, the more efficacious objectives and instruments we have.
Along with these four articles, we have class experiences and discussions. The most interesting part of these sessions was watching and discussing movies` trailers. I became excited by that X-O matrix which couldn’t be solved until another ‘O’ was put out of the matrix. It solved, however its solution was not common. It reminds me of my second year of teaching; I was just nineteen and taught writing to grade 8 students of Iranian Gifted School. One of my classes was uncontrollable; they were really naughty and they got bored easily, they were always up to some mischief. I was almost despaired at that point in time. I tried any methods I had ever seen, nevertheless I became vanquished. That class was every teacher’s worst nightmare and I was too young to cope with it. I always was struggling to find a solution. I consulted my expert colleagues; I searched about characteristics of adolescent gifted students. I was obliged to invent new curriculum which was more exciting than planned curriculum. I was mostly defeated but I achieved a small success. I had a hard time that year but that class made me a teacher. I learned not to be particular about determinate solutions; but rather to seek novel solutions.
To sum up, I perceive that there is long way to go in achieving appropriate theory which equipped me with appropriate and girded means to achieve the goals designated by that theory. But it is possible.
Last sessions we discussed historical and psychological basis of curriculum which expands my views to education and specially curriculum. Besides, we had some class experiences and discussions such as arguing in opposing groups which were really useful to me. In this essay I will talk about the importance of psychology, teaching moral values, and hieratical system of education.
I want to begin my writing with the description I have read in Doll’s (1989) article in which a high school senior described the best teacher. When I read this description, I felt a sudden impulse to go back into a class as a teacher. At that moment I really missed being an educator. His description makes me think of our job, teaching, and its importance, of our influences on students, and of the importance of the curriculum, to what we teach to student.
‘I suppose there are three kinds of teachers: (1) the kind who set the world before you, open it, and let you see, hear, taste, feel and smell it; (2) the kind who gives you a limited view of the world and then pull the string just as you begin to look at it; and (3) the kind who show you a piece of the world by putting it on blackboard and then say, “ take it or leave it; you aren`t going to get any help from me’(p. 83)
Reading Doll`s (1989) article on psychological basis for curriculum decisions reminds me of the time when I was studying psychology and working at the Iranian Gifted School as head of the Research and Extracurricular Programs Department, contemporaneously. Those days I had to design and manage workshops and classes for students to increase their skills and familiarize them with different fields of science and art. Actually, the aim of that Department was to fill the gaps in the compulsory Iranian curriculum. I focused on developmental theories, especially Piaget`s (1896-1980), as it is still one of the most reliable developmental theories. Those theories helped me to understand my students` abilities, limitations, and demands. Based on reading those theories, we determined some objectives for our Department and tried to achieve them. My experiences showed me how it is important for educationalists to know psychology. As we discussed before, my thesis is, “is it necessary to have clearly defined educational objectives?” I argue that if we want to determine objectives for educating students, we have to know them accurately. We are obliged to know about their abilities, limitations and demands to design appropriate plans for their 12 years of education. Developmental theories do not solely include children`s mental abilities; they also include their moral abilities. Hence, psychology can help to further determine educational objectives.
The other benefits for a teacher to know psychology are to control the class in different situations. First, as you know, working with gifted students has its own merits and hardships. The students we worked with were usually naughtier and more mischievous than normal students. Because they got bored easily, they were always up to some mischief. Hence, we faced many difficulties. I have many memories of experiences in which I became confused and others when I became empowered. Sometimes my knowledge of psychology helped me to overcome the problem; however, my knowledge was not enough to overcome many of them.
On the other hand, psychology helped me to work in the school with many students, students with different backgrounds. The Iranian Gifted School is a national organization and it holds examinations annually and selects a few elite and bright students among many candidates over the country. Although this selection process causes that students are intellectually similarity, it causes wide range of diversities as well; because they may be from different ethnic groups with different background. Some of my students had serious problems at home and due to the facts that gifted are usually supersensitive (Bainbridge), the problem of one of the students strongly influenced other students too. Although we had a Psychological Department in our school, sometimes I had to talk to a student during the break as a short term therapy. I know this kind of problem is common and happens to all teachers. Consequently, I argue that it is essential for a teacher to be familiar with psychology. We usually have to solve some problems immediately and scientifically, as we influence children and they are the most valuable assets of all societies.
Moreover, Doll`s (1989) article was so inspiring for me as he discusses many psychological subjects and their influences on curriculum decisions. These subjects also brought other psychological subjects to my mind which can be relevant to curriculum. Many research questions were raised in my mind to work on, as my thesis. One of these questions is in regard to Doll`s argument about sex differences. He claims that we have to recognize but not exaggerate sex differences. I wonder if girls` interpretations of world (science, art, literature, and so on) diverge from boys`. My suggestion is that educationalists are obliged to know their differences in order to design appropriate plans for both girls and boys. In my thesis, I want to investigate the differentiation between girls` and boys` science concepts in different stages. However, I am still reading articles and former research into this area.
Before I discuss session four`s articles, I want to talk about last session`s experience in which we divided into, two opposing groups. The first group had to defend the Beyer and Apple`s (1988) article and the other group was responsible to argue its negative points. Actually, I wanted to be in the second group but I was put in the first group. I had to defend the article which I didn`t agree with. However, it was a profitable experience. We were supposed to think about good points of the article and answer the critical group. In fact, we tried to look through Beyer and Apple`s eyes. It was a useful practice. Looking through others` eyes is a necessary skill for teachers to understand students` points of view. I argue that as teachers` positions usually oblige them to judge situations, they are supposed to be fair and not biased. Such practices are essential for teachers to become as equitable as possible.
When I read the Beyer and Apple (1988) article some questions were raised in my mind. It also has drawn some criticism from me. Initially, their core idea is to have moral objectives as educational objectives, objectives such as equity, sharing, personal dignity, security, freedom and caring. These objectives are important; but as mentioned in Goodson`s (1995) article, schools` establishments had other objectives as well. Their ideas are too extreme. As we have read in Ebel`s (1972) article schools are where students should learn useful knowledge. On the other hand, teaching such values to students is a ticklish process. I wonder if it is possible to determined values accurately. Who has the right to determine values? Whose values are worth being taught? I argue that teaching values is as dangerous as profitable. That is the same aim which Iran`s Educational Department decided to follow after 1979 (the Islamic Revolution), focusing on moral objectives. This attempt was not successful because of the fact that people define the specific values differently, especially people from different ethnic groups. Iran`s experience shows that having moral values as primary educational objectives is not easily achieved and it may be impossible to determine values that all people agree with. However, students are the next generation of a country and it is necessary to teach them some social skills such as respecting diversity, obeying rules, and so on to have a healthy society for future generations. To educate moral values, educationalists have to carry out more research into moral objectives.
The other subject Beyer and apple (1995) criticize is the hierarchical system of education. I wonder if there were no hierarchical system, classes would be organized with teachers` personal inclinations. My thesis is that an Educational Department has to design a plan for students during his or her 12 years of studying. In fact, the Educational Department of a country is responsible for its next generation; it has to educate a student to be a citizen who is successful. On the other hand she or he is supposed to be useful for his or her society. However, it is almost against the individualism; a country has to have long-term plans in order to make progress. A country should have decided and accurate expectations of its next generation and that is the Educational Department’s responsibility to determine definite educational objectives, considering the country`s expectations. Consequently, educationalists are supposed to design curriculums to achieve those objectives. However, I suggest that it is essential to invite teachers to collaborate during designing curriculum. Teachers` experiences are helpful in designing curriculum; because they know the class and its situations better than anyone.
Finally, after reading these articles and thinking of class discussions, I found that how much education is complicated and what a hard job it is to be an educationalist. Every event has influences on education so an educationalist is supposed to be aware of all historical, social, economical, and political events.
In the last two weeks, in two different, unaffected, warm, and sincere sessions’ discussions, I got accustomed to some aspects of Canadian school systems and teachers’ perturbations, issues, and “confabulations.” Moreover, reading five articles: Tomkins (1981), Cuban (1982), Apple (1995), Osbourne (1999), and Ungerleider (2003), from a historical viewpoint, I became acquainted with Canadian’s curriculum policy making, politics of a national curriculum, and high school classroom’s characteristics. So, my major point in this reflection is to delineate some of Iranian high school classroom’s features.
In comparison with Cuban’s (1982) article, “Persistent Instruction: The High School Classroom”, consider a 10th-grade Iranian student, arriving at school about 7:30 a.m. for the first session which begins at 7:45. (I explain my students’ experiences) In order to arrive at 7:30, in Tehran (capital of Iran), she or he has to wake up at 6:00 a.m. because of the early morning heavy traffic in such an overpopulated metropolis. Sitting in the first session until the bell rings at 9:05, s/he then has 20 minutes to rest, and probably to eat breakfast. The bell rings at 9:25, and the second session ends at 10:50. Before the next period, s/he has 15 minutes break time. The third class begins at 11:05 and continues for 85 minutes. These morning classes, which usually involve mathematics and scientific subjects, bring our student to the midday meal. In the 55 minutes (12:25-13:20) allocated to eat and prayer, our student has to get food, eat, perform ablution, go to the prayer room (chapel) , and pray before the late bell! One more session, usually literary or English, brings our 10th-grader to the end of school time at 14:45.
In addition, most of the my high school students, after school time, have one or two courses such as university entrance classes, refresher courses, make-up classes, preparatory classes (for example preparatory to math, physics, or chemistry Olympiads), tutorials, and second language (English) courses in private institutes. Finally, considering the flow of traffic, s/he arrives home at about 6 p.m. Therefore, s/he spends 70% to 80% of the “daytime” in the classrooms!
Secondly, most of the Iranian teachers, as government employees, have to teach 8 hours a day (four classes at least). I want to recount one of my routine school days as a teacher. Because I had to setup an experiment in the school’s physics lab, I had to be at school half an hour before my first class. Last year, I taught physics to grade 10 and 11 students. With 30 students in each class, I was meeting 120 students a day. (170 students a week) Accordingly, I couldn’t even remember their names! By 12:25 I had taught three classes back to back, except for 20 minutes morning meal time. I can depict Iranian’s high school classroom atmosphere in Cuban’s (1982) words:
Generally, teachers taught their classes as a single large group. Teacher talk dominated verbal expression during the period (64% of the time, according to Romiett Stevens). Student movement in the classroom occurred only with teacher’s permission. Classroom activities clustered around teacher lectures, questioning of students, and chalkboard exercises or in-class assignments from the textbook. Science classes that include laboratory work were an exception. Expectation for uniform behavior and respect for the teacher’s authority were demonstrated in the rows of students facing the chalkboard and the teacher’s desk.
Fortunately, I was a science (physics) teacher and one-third of the term’s sessions were conducted in laboratory. After the fourth-period class, I had to immediately abandon the school to arrive at my next class in another high school. After half an hour of driving, I reached my destination. For the next two periods, I taught physics Olympiad preparatory classes to six students. These two sessions ended at 6:30 p.m. and finally I arrived home at 8 p.m.
Except for some minor differences in details, one can see familiar instructional approaches as Cuban (1982) mentioned in his article. For me, these similarities are so stimulating. With these similarities, to change the dominant perspective, Cuban’s practical suggestions can also be used for Iranian’s high schools. However, the system does have its “limitations”. With regard to persisting “direct instruction”, I want to emphasize two inherent problems.
First of all, in Iran, a governmental national testing and national curriculum determines educational objectives, patterns, methodologies, priorities, didactics, standards, national textbooks, teaching subjects, tuition fees, and even some final exam schedules for both public and private schools. For example, Iranian 11th-grader students have to pass a national cross-country final exam to gain “diploma” certification, which is the basic and minimum requirement for participation in the national university entrance exam. Governmental perspective domination, my colleagues in the high school always saying that “we lost grade 11 and 12 to national testing system” and we are going to lose grade 10! This means that, in Apple’s (1995) words:
Thus, while the proponents of national curriculum may see it as a means to create social cohesion and to give all of us the capacity to improve our schools by measuring them against objective criteria, the effects will be the reverse. (p. 357)
Moreover, population is one of the significant impediments to curriculum change. According to official and governmental statistics, in this school year, Iran has 12,368,793 students (more than twice as much B.C.’s population). In addition to the number of students, economic and financial affairs have a direct influence on a school’s size. Schools with small enrolments sustain seriously higher per-student costs and then parents have to pay higher tuition fees. Considering governmental control on tuition, small schools, like small-businesses in a command economy are struggling to find a solution for survival. As a result, an ordinary classroom has 30 students on average. In such a crowded classroom, change from “transmission position”, which introduce in Miller’s (1990) article, to “progressive” curriculum seems impossible. Ungerleider (2003) states that
Group and project work, active engagement with ideas and materials, debates, simulations, and case studies are evidence of the progressive belief that learning is both an individual and social activity requiring the active involvement of the learner. (pp. 92-93)
A teacher can’t manage this crowded class to have group and project work, students’ active engagements, and active involvement of learner.
National curriculum and population problems, which are rooted in culture, politics, and economics, are so complicated. Iranian teachers usually have no academic education and academic qualification in the “education” discipline. They are not familiar with educational history, philosophy, psychology, and pedagogy. Most of them have a bachelor’s degree in science and engineering and they see education’s process through the university perspective. Therefore, as Ungerleider (2003) argues, “secondary teachers are more inclined than their elementary colleague to favour ‘direct instruction’ and ‘competition’ rather than ‘active’ and ‘co-operative’ learning.” (p. 93) I hope to find appropriate solutions for some of these problems by reading more articles and expanding my knowledge.
Reading these articles and thinking about the last session’s discussion, I confront more and more contradictions, tensions, and conflicts over education and curriculum issues: self and social, equality and diversity, progressive versus tradition, subject versus techniques, public and private schooling, direct and metaphor approaches, and advantages/disadvantages of technology. For instance, one can see such a conflict in Osbourne (1999) and Ungereleider (2003) over the amount of “information” and knowledge that should be taught in schools. Having a difference of philosophical, psychological, political, economical, religious, cultural, moral, social, and individual opinions, expectations of schools differs enormously. In such a variety of assumptions and priorities, divergent views are “natural”.
In the last two weeks, I got accustomed to some alternative ideas about curriculum theory and theorizing: Reid’s (1984) four groups in curriculum theorizing, Taba, Shwab, and Pinar theories, Miller’s (1990) three major positions in curriculum process, and Doll’s (1993) four R’s and his post-modern perspective on curriculum. Reading these articles, I realized that “curriculum theory” could not be a solid, tough, and inflexible theory. Now, for me, it looks like “jelly”!
Two weeks previous, we saw four films’ trailers in the “Introduction to Curriculum Issues and Theories” class:
- Good Will Hunting (1997)
- The Ron Clark Story (2006)
- Multiplicity (1996)
- Coach Carter (2005)
One of the main ideas in these films is the risk of doing something “different” from the norms. I want to mention my two “different” memorable teaching experiences which tie in with the last two weeks’ class discussions. One of them involved efficacious and agreeable outcomes, and another was an unsuccessful and cautionary experiment. I should explain in advance that, considering Miller’s (1990) three major positions in curriculum process, the predominant orientation in the most of Iranian public schools is “transmission position.” As Miller explained that, “in the transmission position, the function of education is to transmit facts, skills, and values to students” (p. 5). This orientation stresses textbook learning, competency-based learning, and traditional teaching methods. In the Allamehelli gifted school in Tehran, the school where I taught in, some teachers struggled to break the traditional “framework.”
First, my efficacious experience: I was a middle school physics teacher (sixth grade). The scheduled topics, which I had to teach, were abstract concepts: particulate structure of matter and the explanation of some phenomena based on this structural model such as pressure in liquids and gases, heat and its effects on matter, expansion, and a simple introduction to “kinetic theory.” I couldn’t illustrate these concepts and models with a concrete experiment. Therefore, I asked the pupils to play the role of particles (molecules and atoms). All of the students “simulated” those abstract concepts cooperatively. Sometimes, it wasn’t necessary for me to teach them a phenomenon; they played the role of particles, and I just “increased/decreased the temperature”! Consequently, we had a really noisy class. For example, you can imagine how the pupils demonstrate diffusion phenomenon in gases! So, each week, other teachers admonished me to make my pupils silent. It was, nevertheless, an enjoyable and exciting experiment. Presently, I am connected with some of these students. They say that they will never forget the particulate structure of matter.
To clarify, sometimes planned curriculum is not in conformity with educational content. Reading Doll’s (1993) issues of constructing a curriculum matrix, I found out that the post-modern perspective on curriculum provides more possibilities for teaching. Doll’s four R’s (richness, recursion, relations, and rigor) can prepare equipped and well-supplied curriculum for teachers. Doll’s four R’s facilitate learning and teaching processes by preserving teachers’ discretionary power to choose an appropriate teaching style.
Next, my second memory, an unsuccessful and cautionary one: I was a high school physics teacher. In Iran, high school students, after grade twelve should take part in the cross-country university entrance examination. The only way to enter an Iranian university is by passing this big national exam. This comprehensive test has delineated and determinate examination subjects. Therefore, in high school program, teachers are trying hard to make students ready for the test, and students are striving to be successful in it. I and three other teachers in grade ten decided to allocate 10 percent of one term’s sessions for teaching an unscheduled subject of physics. We took the risk of teaching something different. We nominated appropriated subjects (for teaching in 6 sessions), and teachers had four options to choose autonomously. Eventually, the end results were not desired. First of all, students knew that these items weren’t cross-country university entrance examination’s subject matter. Hence they didn’t pay attention to what was taught. Some of them complained to us about the “waste of time.”
Moreover, in that experience, we were confronted with the final exam “problem”. We had the intention of introducing more practical issues, in addition to legitimate curriculum. So, we didn’t plan to have an exam. Taking no measurement of these “special subjects,” even an inspiring teacher couldn’t stimulate students to succeed in active learning. It seemed that without test and measurement, students lacked motivation and they didn’t have any short-term or long-term purpose for studying. It seemed that they had been educated just for tests. As Goodson (1994) states, our foci were on “what should be rather than what is” (p. 29). There is one comprehensive cross-country test. In Goodson’s words, our ‘idealized’ practice had ‘alienated’ our program from ‘reality’. We failed because we didn’t notice the reality of the educational climate. In fact, we ignored existing limitations. To sum up, in planning new curriculum, educational designers should consider determinant objectives, students’ abilities, and existing structure and limitations.
Finally, rational justification and measurement are inextricably interwoven in our life. Measurement and data analysis are two major steps in scientific methodology. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Italian physicist, natural philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician, who has been known as a “father of modern physics” and “the father of the scientific method,” stated “count what is countable, measure what is measurable, and what is not measurable, make measurable.” Besides, it seems that without “counting,” we can’t express our objectives, our standards, our criteria, our priorities, and even our feelings. For example, in Iran, one of the common questions, asked of a child is “How many do you love your mom/dad?” and they usually answered “10” (The biggest number that they knew). Last Saturday, October 22nd, we saw “The Finland Phenomenon” (2010) film in UBC’s “SustainAbility Film Fest”. Finland’s education system has consistently been ranked as the best world education system for more than a decade. In this documentary film, Dr. Wagner guides the viewers inside Finland’s schooling system. One characteristics of Finland’s education system, indicated in the film is that they are not putting an emphasis on testing and examination. So, considering the undesirable test effects on Iranian high school system, I’m really interested in learning more about “The Finland Phenomenon”.
In the last two weeks, in the two serious, philosophical, thoughtful, and deliberative sessions, we discussed some significant questions of educational thought:
- In Adler’s (1988) words, “Are there absolute and universal principles on which education should be founded?” (p. 53);
- In Apple’s (1995) words, “Whose curriculum is this anyway?” (p. 118);
- In Pinar’s (1995) words, “What is reality?” (p. 453) and; and
- In Sparks’s (2005) words, how does a leader “energize and increase teachers’ and administrators’ commitment to continuous improvement” (p. 16) and make significant change in organizations?
I became exposed to some controversial issues of post-structuralism, deconstruction, postmodernism, and some stimulating ideas of ‘Change’ and transformational leadership.
In addition to these significant questions, we had a class discussion about students’ differences within the last five years. Considering many aspects and parameters which affected students’ change, such as technological change, globalization, mass media, working families, and change in parental roles, change in students’ language, and more and more use of the Internet in the Internet lifestyle (for example: virtual communication, social networks, Internet shopping/banking/dating/marketing/games and so on), I want to highlight two domestic factors which have a growing influence on changes to Iranian’s students.
First, ten years ago, on average, Iranian parents usually had two-three children. Today, in comparison to ten years ago, an ordinary family in Iran consists of two parents and only one child. For many reasons, such as economical and social circumstances, one-child families are growing steadily. This fact means our student is an only child and s/he has no brothers or sisters. Considering economic classes, in labor and middle class families, which have working parents, the child/student spends most the after-school time alone. This loneliness exposes the immature student to some dangerous and undesired situation where s/he is not protected from inappropriate experiences.
On the other hand, in upper-class families, the single student is the center of family’s attention. Her/his parents provide a wide range of services and help. S/he faces parental involvement in all individual affairs and activities. Consequently, these students don’t acquire and develop some basic and practical life skills in proper time and proper place. Management, social, communication, and hands-on skills are obvious examples. On the contrary, as they have more facilities, these students have considerable computer and IT skills, especially in PC games such as “Call of Duty.”
A second crucial factor that strongly influences students’ social and cultural behavior is noticeable development of communication technology and an increasing use of satellite channels in Iran. About ten years ago, most Iranians had accesses only to eight national and five overseas television channels. Now, using simple satellite TV dishes, more than 2000 satellite channels are readily accessible. In view of this interconnected world, telecommunication causes an enormous cultural conflict within Iran’s society. By official government statistics, nowadays, more than 60 percent of Iranians are watching these TV programs which are conspicuously in contradiction to Iranian traditions, social norms, religious beliefs, and culture. Students/children nature is highly impressionable. Development of communication technology and an increasing use of satellite channels are causing many changes in students (advertising as well as film exert this influence): transformation in students’ role model (celebrities, as a ‘Mass media phenomenon’, change students’ “example”), change in boys’ clothes (girls wear a uniform in Iran’s schools.), dramatic change in language, and the most significant change: growing desire to purchase goods and services; consumerism.
Aside from these changes, telecommunication (mass media) and postmodernism are closely connected areas. Pinar (1995) summarized the conditions and attitudes which are characterized postmodern period as follows:
‘1) Television and the electronic media and the image industry (including advertising as well as film) solidified their dominance … 2) there occurred an explosion in information and a concomitant rise of information technologies; 3) global or multinational capitalism moved unopposed to the preeminent position … 7) the introduction of new technologies support post-structural and deconstructed notions of the subject, time, and history; and 8 ) concepts of high culture and low culture conflate…’ (p. 469)
So, according to Pinar’s argument, in recent years, we are confronted to a cultural conversion to postmodern situation. Due to the postmodern circumstances beyond our control, I as an education student have to know more about postmodernism.
Moreover, in such “an imagistic world overloaded with information,” telecommunication provides possibilities and capabilities to students’ acquaintance with other cultural “narratives”, which facilitates expansion of “mass culture” that comes to include everything. Besides, telecommunication facilitates students’ acceptance of the most central postmodern notion: There is no meta-narrative; there is no ‘Absolute’; in Pinar’s (1995) words, “there are only interpretations and interpretations of interpretations.”(p. 465) it means there is no ‘Truth’; however, there are many ‘truths’; there are many ‘narratives’.
Finally, in Iran as in many countries, a pervasive paradigm in education and curriculum planning is structuralism; however our students are in the post-structural and ‘postmodern situation.’ This marked contrast requires schooling reform which challenges our educational leadership. For me, Sparks’ (2005) “assumptions” and viewpoints are stimulating model for organization change. He suggests an approach to school reform: “Positive Deviants.” In Sparks’ (2005) words, “within virtually every school there are individuals whose behavior enables them to get better-than-average results and that these individuals have discovered pathways to success for the rest of the group.” (p. 110) However, to encounter this marked contrast, we need more approaches to reform and significant changes. Significant changes in schools begin with significant changes in leaders’ mind.
Adler, M. J. (1988). Reforming education: The opening of the American mind NY: Mackmillan.
Apple, M. W. (1993). Official knowledge: democratic education in a conservative age. NY: Routledge.
Pinar, W. F., Reynolds, W. M., Slattery, P. M., (1995). Understanding curriculum: An introduction to the study of historical and contemporary curriculum discourses. NY: Petelan.
Sparks, D. (2005). Leading for results: transforming teaching, learning, and relationships in schools. California: Crown press.
All the Iranian schools (k-12) have to follow national curriculum. The Ministry of Education and Training publishes books which are obligatory for all schools to teach them. Along with this national curriculum, Gifted Middle Schools (grades six, seven, and eight ) have to offer other curriculum and extra-curriculum programs which are the distinctions between ordinary schools and gifted schools. I will mention some of these distinctions below:
- Science course is divided into physics, biology, and chemistry. These three courses have to contain national curriculum. Besides, the National Organization for Development of Exceptional Talents publishes its own books for these three courses. The aim of these books is to enrich students’ knowledge in science. In other words, these books are published to remove the defects of national curriculum together with deepening and widening gifted students’ knowledge. These books have published in the National Organization for Development of Exceptional Talents and under the supervision of the Gifted Educational Department.
- Mathematic course is divided into arithmetic and geometry. Likewise Science course, there are books which are published by the National Organization for Development of Exceptional Talents.
- In the Iranian Gifted Middle Schools, students have to learn programming language and they have computer literacy class in each grade. All the computer classes (all sessions) are held in computer lab and each two students can use one computer. The teachers of computer course in gifted schools are usually computer science or computer engineering graduate students.
- English is taught as a second language in all of the Iranian schools but Gifted Schools emphasize on English. Cambridge books are taught in gifted schools. Moreover, Gifted Schools have language lab.
These distinctions I mentioned above are formal and legitimated distinction. Along with these formal distinctions, Gifted Middle Schools have other specific features which are not formal:
- Most of the Gifted Schools’ staff (principals, vice principals, and teachers) are chosen from Gifted Schools’ previous students. They try to keep aloof from transition position which is common in ordinary schools.
- The most important distinction between ordinary middle schools and Gifted Middle Schools is Gifted Middle schools’ emphasis on extra-curricular program. There is the “Research and Extracurricular Programs Department” in Gifted Middle Schools. The aim of this department is to fill the gaps in the compulsory Iranian curriculum. Indeed, it is the legal way to escape from national curriculum. These extracurricular programs are nearly transformation. They are not compulsory and students can attend their favorite class if they want. There is no grade for these courses.
- An exhibition of students’ fruition is held in all Gifted Middle School annually. These exhibitions are usually the consequence of students’ projects in extracurricular classes. It helps students to see the consequence of their projects and be familiar with academic exhibitions.
- Iranian ordinary schools do not consider the important of social sciences but Gifted Schools and specifically Gifted Middle Schools give priority to social sciences such as history, economy, and literature.
Unfortunately students in grade eight have to attend both national exams and entrance exam of Gifted High schools. These exams have significant effects on grade eight curriculum.
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