Original Published 08:51 May 24, 2022

By Ian Croft, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

With the Alberta provincial government releasing a new curriculum for Kindergarten to Grade 4, the Alberta Teachers’ Association has been less than impressed with it. 

“When we saw the new curriculum, teachers were rightfully upset. So, the curriculum that teachers saw when it came out, they felt it was not age-appropriate or grade-appropriate,” said Jason Schilling, Alberta Teachers’ Association president. “We saw a lot of content included in the curriculum that was traditionally taught at upper elementary or even middle school brought down to the elementary level. Teachers have a lot of concerns about that aspect especially because they will not be able to bridge those concepts from the old curriculum to the new curriculum very well.” 

Schilling discussed how they are just now seeing the new curriculum and they still have several concerns about it. 

“Now, the government has gone through a process of getting feedback, the association has tradition- ally in the past been involved in every step of the process, but the government chose in 2019 to tear up an agreement that we had as full partners between the government and ATA on design and implemen- tation,” said Schilling. “So, when we saw the new version that came out just a couple of weeks ago, we were still analyzing that, but teachers have seen some improvements in some areas, but we’re still concerned about the age and grade appropriateness of the material, especially within the mathematics curriculum.” 

An example of one of their concerns was with the mathematical program and the change that will be occurring within Grade 2. 

“The knowledge of how we do numbers in Grade 2 is teachers work up to about 100, but that number is going to change to about 1,000 and that is a big con- cept jump for kids who are about 10 or eight years old,” said Schilling. “That is just one example of something that you might see in the math. You see a concept in an upper grade brought down to a lower grade and teachers are concerned about students’ ability to handle that information/that content in a way that’s going to make them successful at school because ultimately that’s what we would like to see.” 

Schilling shifted gears and began to discuss the problems of the general implementation within language arts and how the government focused on a singular method of teaching is detrimental to the classroom. 

“In the language arts and literature curriculum, teachers indicated that there’s a heavy phonics from K to three,” said Schilling. 

“It works for students in terms of word recognition but not necessarily why those words are there. There is a lot of content focused on what kids have to learn but not necessarily why they’re learning that information
or that content. Teachers do have some concerns on that in particular and there’s a lot of focus on phonics reading, but you also have to be focused on writing as well as other aspects of the English language arts curriculum. It’s one of those things that teachers will talk about — the idea of spending a lot of time working on one strategy around reading through phonics, but students come with very degrees of knowledge and learning. So teachers often use multiple strategies in the classroom to reach those students whether it’s English, math, science, or whatever  the subject is you always approach it with multiple strategies you can use within your classroom. We find that this new curriculum is really limited to one strategy. So, teachers have some concerns about that as well because we know in our classrooms one strategy doesn’t fit every student.” 

Another problem about this new curriculum that Schilling talked about was how it struggled to present concepts between the grades. 

“One of the things prob- lematic for teachers is just the implementation of these curriculums,” said Schilling. “So they’re going to put K to three in the classroom as mandatory this fall even though they weren’t piloted for a full year and at the same time pilot four to six. So, how they bridge concepts from one grade to the next — that needs to be looked at and there are still a lot of questions about how that’s going to work. One of the things that we indicated to the government throughout this entire process is that they did  not have teachers involved in the development of the curriculum, it was done by a few advisers that the government had brought in but not by ac- tive teachers working in the classrooms who would tell you what will work and what will not work. Teachers have a lot of concerns about this concept bridging of how it will flow between the grades and it’s one of the things that we’ve given input on and have not seen a response to.” 

Finally, Schilling talked about how the government has poorly approached the development of the new curriculum and their failure in not bringing teachers to the table when they were working on this new curriculum. 

“Early in 2021, the association said ‘You know what we need to put a moratorium on the implementation of
the curriculum right now. We need to go back to the drawing board and make sure we have these concepts and concepts that we have drafted right and have teachers involved in that process, and bring them back to the table  which has been traditionally done in curriculum development for decades’,” said Schilling.

“The UCP government has changed the way that curriculum has been developed and you saw the product that came out had a huge amount of criticism to it. It’s not just teachers, it’s parents, it’s academics working at universities, and the general public saying ‘we don’t want this curriculum and it’s not going to serve our kids well.’ So we’ve always been saying ‘let’s go back to the drawing board and let’s get this right because if we put in a curriculum that is not going to work and fail, we are going to damage a whole generation of students in this province.’ Teachers do not want to see that — teachers want to see a curriculum implemented that will be successful and that will ultimately serve our students well.” 

The Times also reached out to the Horizon and Holy Spirit boards about the new curriculum but neither replied before press time.

This item reprinted with permission from Taber Times, Taber, Alberta