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  • Destiny Yarbro

My Three 'Aha' Moments from University of the People's Curriculum Design Course

Woman with glasses standing in front of steep, lush Guatemala mountains wearing a Life Life Full t-shirt to support Prader-Willi Syndrome awareness
Me, Guatemala, 2015

I took a course on Curriculum Design for two reasons. First, I am a sign language teacher who finds the current ASL curriculum options to be lacking. Second, in founding InterSign University in 2015, I created a platform and curriculum to support Deaf teachers around the world as they teach their language online (such as Nepali, Korean, Russian, Ghanaian, and Vietnamese Sign Languages).

What I hope to take away from this course is all that I have learned regarding how to create meaningful, on-point, and flexible curriculum. We explored this idea in a variety of ways throughout the course, but the following were “aha” moments for me.

1. Start with the “intents.”

Even though Stake (1967) was referring to curriculum evaluation when he wrote of “intents”, my mind latched onto the fact that curriculum designers must first start with the intentions of a curriculum before ever proceeding to the next steps. In other words, just as Au (2007) recommended educators not “teach to the test”, curriculum developers must not build curriculum to the test, but instead see testing as a support to the curriculum. They must first identify priorities and then build the curriculum to reach these goals. With InterSign University’s curriculum, my goal was first to create courses for travelers but in the last year, my focus has realigned with a different intent: interpreters who desperately need familiarity with a variety of sign languages to better meet the demands of their jobs.

2. Miseducative vs. Educative

John Dewey (1938) promoted experiential learning in the classroom but warned that “the belief that genuine education comes about through experience does not mean that all experiences are genuinely or equally educative. Experience and education cannot be directly equated to each other… Any experience is miseducative that has the effect of arresting or distorting the growth of further experience” (p. 8). In my milieu of teaching minority languages, I have seen how easy it is for language teachers to give assignments that keep students busy or achieve an academic goal, rather than making sure each experience deliberately stimulates meaningful discussion in the classroom and further exploration of the subject outside of the classroom. For me, I want to remember that in this case, less truly is more. It is better to provide a few meaningful educative experiences for my students than a multitude of superficial, miseducative activities that feel productive in the moment, but do little to further their life language goals.

3. Standardized testing is bad...or is it?

Another aha moment came this last week. I have a strong aversion to standardized testing; it is a rigid, sterile, and shallow way to “assess” students’ abilities and knowledge. I relate to Au (2007) in seeing that standardized testing priorities only a few subjects while “nontested subjects [are] increasingly excluded from curricular content” (p. 260). And I agree with Cunningham (2018) that this form of testing is yet another way that differences from the “dominant society” are “systematically” erased. However, one of my classmate’s papers last week helped me open my mind to another perspective. Benjamin Currie pointed out that perhaps rather than viewing standardized testing as good or bad, it would be more beneficial to recognize its limitations and provide other types of assessments to supplement them. Personally, I believe that more “authentic measures of assessments” should come first (Armstrong, 2018, p.129) with standardized testing playing a very limited supporting role in most classrooms, but I do see the point in utilizing both in the classroom.

Other elements of the course that had an impact on me personally was to read of Addams (1908) ground-breaking ideas regarding the intents of curriculum for children from immigrant families. Her ‘call to arms’ inspired me to move forward with my ideas regarding meaningful language learning in the U.S. And the questions McIntosh (1989) proposed in her seminal article on white privilege made me consider my own unearned advantages and unearned disadvantages in society.

But it has not necessarily been what we have read in the course that has been of most help to me. Rather, what has been valuable about this course is how each theory, method, question, and approach sparks ideas for the work I do as a teacher, writer, and social entrepreneur.

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