The impending return of Grade 12 provincial exams has reignited questions about when the province will roll out a new and long-awaited English Language Arts curriculum for senior years students.

“It’s backwards; you can’t have a test before you know what you’re testing,” said Ryan Wiens, a high school teacher in Winnipeg.

Wiens, who is in his 20th year of teaching, and his educator colleagues have been waiting on an updated framework for grades 9-12 courses for years.

The existing curriculums were published in and around the turn of the century and became particularly outdated in September 2020 when the education department released a modern framework for elementary and middle school ELA.

The 134-page document, which overhauled the province’s approach to teaching K-8 literacy, is much more holistic and open-ended than those that have preceded it — and as a result, has drawn both excitement and criticism.

It touts buzzwords including “inquiry” (an educational practice that begins with and prioritizes a child’s curiosity) and “multimodality” (a pedagogical approach that promotes the use of wide-ranging sources, including but not limited to written text, to create meaning).

“It’s broad and it allows for a lot of personal choice and voice, which is all very good, but people appreciate some practical ways for implementation and best practices,” said Adriano Magnifico, co-president of the Manitoba Association of Teachers of English.

Magnifico called the framework a “far cry from past curriculum,” which included many examples or projects, reading materials and grading samples.

It’s been a challenge for K-8 teachers to navigate, let alone teachers in higher grades who are confused about the curricular documents they should be drawing on, he said, adding many young educators have been reaching out to the association for guidance.

A provincial spokesperson indicated the grades 9-12 curriculum remains intact and educators should and have been continuing to use the documents, although updates are being made this school year.

“Design and consultation for the new curriculum framework was delayed as a result of COVID-19,” they said in a statement.

The department did not disclose when it began updating the high school ELA curriculum. Magnifico recalls the work began roughly eight years ago.

“ELA is a foundational course for every high school student, for every student in Manitoba. Why this isn’t a major priority is beyond me,” he said.

Magnifico indicated the bones of the K-8 document have great potential, given how fluid the framework is, but teachers want more guidance and training on the province’s expectations for literacy instruction in 2023 and beyond.

MATE executives organized a conference in the fall to provide members with context on the new curriculum and advice on how to navigate a shift away from outcomes-based education to “rich, meaningful learning experiences.” About 1,000 teachers attended the session.

In Wiens’ view, the new K-8 curriculum recognizes education “as a continuum.”

Given the high school teacher indicated the foundational document focuses less on checking boxes in a certain grade and more on the process of student learning, it came as a surprise to him the province was keen to revive province-wide exams.

Every Grade 12 student had to take an ELA exam worth 30 per cent of their overall course grade prior to the province suspending provincial tests in March 2020.

At the start of the current school year, government officials announced those exams would not be returning, but last month, Education Minister Wayne Ewasko revealed a U-turn. Finals are now anticipated to resume in 2023-24.

Wiens said it remains unclear what those exams will be measuring at this point because high school educators are in limbo as they await a modern curriculum.

By Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 07, 2023 at 21:56

This item reprinted with permission from   Free Press   Winnipeg, Manitoba

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