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Editorial: Approving new curriculum just the first step

October 16, 2018 Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief

The Who’s Tommy and Angels in America opened on Broadway. Meanwhile, in an Edmonton Grade 9 drama room, a plucky young aspiring actor playing Maria was being fitted in a dress for the big dance.

The year was 1993. I was 14 years old, and I was only moderately ridiculed for taking the lead in our all-male scene study of West Side Story.

While much has changed since then, the drama curriculum has not. Fortunately, after more than 30 years, it soon will.

The Alberta government has now released a nearly finalized version of the K – 4 curriculum, along with an ­interactive curriculum tool that will allow teachers to navigate the curriculum online, assemble resources, and ultimately plan and share lessons.

I haven’t fully explored the new programs of study, but so far they are looking quite good.

The first thing I noticed is the consistent format used from one subject area to another. Previous programs of study were developed subject by subject, largely independent of one another, and often used very distinct formats and terminology to outline the prescribed programs. Teachers using curriculum from more than one subject area would have to reorient each time they opened the documents to plan their lessons. 

The new programs, regardless of subject area, are consistently structured using essential understandings, guiding questions and learning outcomes. Each learning outcome then includes descriptors of the conceptual and procedural knowledge that a student should demonstrate. Woven throughout the programs are key competencies (like communication or critical thinking) and literacy and numeracy indicators. 

This was a valuable benefit of a ­process by which all curriculum was developed at the same time with clear co-ordination across subject areas. 

Content-wise, this curriculum will have its detractors, but I am growing tired of the rhetoric and see most of it now as nothing but politically motivated attacks. 

Instead of focusing on that, here are some highlights of the new curriculum:

  • a good balance of fundamental skills with higher-level conceptual thinking;
  • attention to diversity and citizenship for students living in a modern Canada;
  • better exploration of francophone and Indigenous history in Canada, including the introduction of Indigenous perspectives and ways of knowing in multiple subjects;
  • more outcomes related to logic, programming and coding; and
  • important concepts related to personal space, healthy relationships and consent.

One of the main reasons that the development and drafting of this curriculum has been so successful is the extent of engagement and participation put into it. 

Your Association said very early on that teachers needed to be driving the process. And teachers were engaged. Tens of thousands of teachers participated in the online surveys, and hundreds of teachers participated on various working groups assembled to draft the scope and sequence, as well as the specific learning outcomes. 

Additionally, all Albertans were invited to participate through online surveys, information sessions and minister’s roundtables. Alberta Education touts that more than 70,000 responses were collected through stakeholder engagement work. 

Unfortunately, the narrative of a ­secret curriculum development process continues to be peddled. It is simply untrue!
Some have said the curriculum should be put in the shredder, but I would argue that it needs to go into the laminator because now the messy work begins.

Successful implementation requires time and support for teachers.
Like any well-intended lesson plan, things that look great on paper often fall apart when tested with students. This curriculum will need to be piloted and then tweaked before it is ready for full implementation. 

Beyond that, successful implementation will require the development of teaching and learning resources, time for planning and professional development, as well as funding and extra staffing.

Not surprisingly, only about half of teachers feel that they will be ready to implement the new curriculum by September 2020. 

This finding, collected through an Association survey of more than 2,500 teachers about their readiness and their needs for curriculum implementation, is being used, along with the rest of the survey results, to advocate with Alberta Education officials for the essential conditions required by teachers for successful implementation.

Implementation of the new programs of study needs to be as thoughtfully developed as the learning outcomes. If not, the disruption to Alberta’s elementary schools could be significant, and all the good work done to date could be for naught. ❚

I welcome your comments—contact me at

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