From the T to the I

So here I am. It’s been a long time but thanks to the limits of the 140 characters available to me on Twitter, I have been forced to move across devices from phone to Mac. Thanks (or blame) goes to @tomhelme, @tiffanyshlain, @pekabelo, @dileed and indirectly @jca_1975 for the inspiration to try to pull together some thinking and for what is to follow.

It’s probably easiest to start with our conversation yesterday morning and work back, so here goes…

@tomhelme and I have been working on an integrated approach to the curriculum using STEAM as a starting point. During our conversations, Tom shared this beautiful video from @tiffanyshlain:

This video resonates with current curriculum design projects I am involved with in various schools at the moment. It acted as a catalyst for me and the conversation that followed. At one point in the conversation, I made a casual reference to how we’re in the first stages of designing a ’T-shaped curriculum’.

T-Shaped Learning Design

I first came across the term ’T-shaped’ in reference to employee competencies and a number of articles and research around organisational development, HR, resource and talent management. Here’s just one example from a talent search company and logistics company, Inspired Search (T-shaped_SCM).

I created a diagram to show what the ‘T-shape’ looks like in its very simplest form as a curriculum model. What strikes me as I see it in this visual form, is not so much the simplicity of the model, which is a great prompt for the start of more complex and intertwined conversations, but the almost accidental relationship this exposes between subject expertise and competency development.

Even in a model like this which is deliberately intended to show a connected relationship between both the skills-acquisition and knowledge-expertise inherent in curriculum design, the separation seems too great. It’s one of those things where it works in my head but not on paper. I’ve even tried squashing the vertical to reduce the distance but it doesn’t really help.

A very simple format

A very simple curriculum model. Subjects are represented by the vertical and generic skills, dispositions & competencies across the horizontal.

But, as it stands, this model has been useful for us working through the ‘What?’ and ‘Why?’ of curriculum design subject-by-subject. It does a good job of depicting competency development and knowledge acquisition as clearly distinct from (but related to) each other. It also serves as an interpretation of curriculum where the development of skills, dispositions and competencies only happens in order to achieve the successful development of subject expertise, knowledge and understanding.

On reflection, I’ve done a load of work on this type of discreet ‘in-order-to’ application of meta-cognitive skills over the years and, in the main, it works best when competency-development sits deeply within a specific domain or context. This context or domain is characterised by an agreed canon of knowledge coupled with a robust, evidence-informed system of subject-specific disciplinary literacies and frameworks for understanding.

Put simply, the best kind of curriculum design is able to respond with enthusiasm and conviction to the questions, ’Who is our curriculum for?’ and ‘What should we teach?’ It should bellow its response with learning intentions such as, “Enquire like a historian”, “Reason like a mathematician” and “See the world as an artist”. In doing so, we can embrace a multi-disciplinary approach where generic competencies are developed in order to access domain-specific knowledge and understanding as part of the domain-specific expertise.

With the T-Shape, we have a model that develops transferrable generic skills as opposed to domain-specific competencies. But in a complex world, what we need is an I-shaped design.

Embracing complexity – from T(ransferable) to I(nterdisciplinary)

An I-shaped design allows us to embrace both the complexity of the multiple contexts in which we learn, and the inter-disciplinary realities of our ever-changing, complex world. So now we can invite our learners to: “See this portrait as a statistician”, “Respond to the world as an artist” and “Investigate this text as a musician”.

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 18.42.42

This I-Shaped model enables us to see our curriculum through the lens of these deeper learning intentions. We can design learning that encompasses skills, dispositions and competencies, both generic (multi-disciplinary – across the top horizontal) and domain-specific (inter-disciplinary – across the bottom horizontal). Both can then be developed in order to access and so that we deepen knowledge and understanding of core concepts and canons.

In my research for all of this work, I’ve come across some fantastic talks, articles and books. With that in mind, and as a pre-cursor to future posts, here’s a delightful rabbit hole I fell down when I came across the work of Tony O’Driscoll.

His blog is here, where you’ll find a wealth of great thinking about the future of learning. I’ve included his TEDx Talk at Duke University from 2011, not least because it provides another useful visual and a compelling answer to any and all the questions about the purpose of curriculum, education and learning.

I’ll finish with this screen shot from Tony O’Driscoll’s talk:

'Compentencies' that really matter for the future?

‘Compentencies’ that really matter for the future?

I’m still in mid-thought on all of this. I hope you’ll find my musings helpful in some way and that you can use them as a start point for your own discussions about curriculum.

2 thoughts on “From the T to the I

  1. The insight that learning is contextualised in skill acquisition and that that might be disciplinary is convincing enough but perhaps the disciplines we work with in school should be problematic. How historians investigate or literature critics write as described in their curriculum manifestations are just guff really. To put it simply they don’t do it like that. There’s a danger in sophisticated and inspired models of learning that make it possible through their design for a bad curriculum to be sustained. I think a revolutionary model is required which starts with the inherent flaws in the current model and that is a real challenge. I do appreciate the difficulties though!

  2. Pingback: Building Learning Power (ValuesEd) | Pearltrees

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