From “Wasted Time” to “Seeds & Sparks”

Claire Stoneman, a British educator, recently wrote a “warning” about curriculum that resonates with the “knowledge-rich” movement in the US:

“My playing of Britney [Spears’] ‘Toxic’ at the start of a lesson on Browning’s ‘The Laboratory’ (a totally tenuous and embarrassing link, I know) was praised in an observation more than my expert questioning of the pupils. Because ENGAGEMENT. There are numerous examples of this. […] And it’s not just embarrassing, it’s horrific. It’s disgraceful that time was wasted on practice grounded in what Tom Bennett calls ‘folk’ teaching: stuff that’s been heard in the staff room, or what I was told as an NQT: ‘Don’t worry Claire, you’ll work it out eventually.’ I don’t want colleagues to have to work it out eventually. Our children’s futures are now. We don’t have time to waste.”

I like to think that educators agree that “We don't have time to waste.”

At the same time, “waste” according to one timeline may in fact be “planting seeds” according to another timeline.

Engagement, treated by Ms. Stoneman with derision, need not be a fuzzy or touchy-feely concept. When learners are emotionally, psychologically engaged, they learn more and they learn more deeply.

Perhaps it bothers Ms. Stoneman that learners may not always care about the specific content—that is, “curriculum”— under consideration. For example, a student may remember nothing about the Browning poem, but she may have learned the enormous power of lyrical expression. And that lesson might be a seed that gestates into a professional vocation (e.g., educator), vocation (e.g., parent), or avocation (e.g., writing poetry or music).

My friends and collaborators Sam Chaltain and Trung Le sometimes refer to seeds and sparks. What if we let go of the binary around wasted / non-wasted time to ask a different question:

Given the learning we hope to foster, at this particular moment do we want to plant seeds or ignite sparks?

It is an outdated and impoverished notion that curriculum amounts to covering content and skills within a specific amount of time. Curriculum actually means all of the formational experiences we design for students.

All of the seeds, which gestate over longer time horizons.

All of the sparks, which trigger ideas and inspiration right now.

Learners need both.


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Christian Talbot