And just like that, an entirely new and significantly changed Language curriculum was released near the end of June 2023, with the unrealistic expectation that teachers implement it in September of the same year. Similar to the roll-out of the Math curriculum in 2020, this sudden release of a critical curriculum document has left many educators anxious and wondering how they will implement an entirely new curriculum in such a short amount of time – with the same resources they have from the year before. As ETFO commented on June 20, “ETFO members are not opposed to updates and improvements to the current Language curriculum; however, we need to call out a troubling pattern. This is the third major curricula that the government has rolled out since 2020 at the last minute, expecting educators to implement it in an unreasonably short timeframe and without adequate professional learning and supports.”
At the end of a school year where the impacts of underfunded schools were evident in the increasing incidents of violence in schools, the expectation of implementing new curriculum in the foundational area of literacy and language is mind-boggling.
The problems with having a rushed implementation of the Language curriculum go far beyond the investment of time educators will have to make to align their work with so many new changes. Language learning goals are usually embedded throughout the teaching day; in other words, how we teach subjects like social studies and science will be impacted as well. And as I mentioned before, there are few – if any – new resources in classrooms to support implementation.
As a parent of elementary aged children myself, I cannot help but share my disappointment that my kids will be part of the cohort of students that will be the recipients of such an underfunded and abrupt attempt to “enhance” their learning outcomes. While I am confident that their educators are going to put their best foot forward, I understand how challenging it will be to develop high quality lessons and learning plans over time, and confidence in what they are doing. ETFO states, “these changes are significant and educators need sufficient time, dedicated resources, and sustained professional learning opportunities to properly implement any new or revised curriculum. To support this, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) is calling for a minimum two-year implementation period.”
Anecdotally, I can say that many of my colleagues have mixed feelings about the new curriculum. The Right to Read Report gave us a taste of what kinds of changes we could expect, such as the explicit teaching of phonemic awareness and phonics and the emphasis on decoding skills. My more experienced teacher colleagues are familiar and embrace the shift in literacy instruction, while many of my colleagues who are newer to the profession are embarking on a learning curve that is steep and challenging. This would be less of an issue, of course, if educators could take the time to receive appropriate mentorship and training and and do the learning it takes to master something before implementing it en masse to students. Would you feel comfortable receiving services from someone who had just read the manual?
As an instructional resource teacher, I had the privilege of having the time to learn this year about elements of the new language curriculum, and though I did not know exactly what the curricula would look like, I worked with my colleagues to provide resources and professional learning experiences on building the literacy foundations of students, specifically English language learners. However, much of our efforts were weakened by chronic understaffing and the reality of classroom teachers dealing with extraordinary pedagogical challenges that are likely related not only to underfunding, but the aftermath of a life-altering pandemic. Rather than piling on more new professional learning, I strongly believe that educators need time to consolidate their learning and integrate all the new learning expectations and content changes in a meaningful way.
What Might Sustained Professional Learning Opportunities Look Like?
From an educator perspective, a new curriculum creates a significant change in our work flow since we must change – and in some cases transform – the way we work. In an ideal scenario, a new curriculum should be introduced through progressive phases that enable teachers to:
- explore the curriculum thoroughly
- acquire and develop resources and pedagogical strategies that support the new curriculum
- collaborate to determine which strategies work most effectively
- collaborate on instruction and assessment
- identify the best practices for supporting diverse students with a new curriculum
When educators have the time to explore, collaborate, and share ideas and best practices, students benefit from having quality instruction that leads to more equitable outcomes. When we don’t have the time to engage in professional learning and planning, much of that quality is lost when we are developing new lessons and resources right before the instruction happens: “building the plane as we are flying it”, in other words. We are currently witnessing the impact that occurred with the similarly released math curriculum, with stories of parents protesting the destreamed math course. Indeed, many boards are starting to introduce “bridge courses” in math to support grade 8 students as they transition to grade 9, in an effort to ensure students have the mathematical readiness to be successful in destreamed, academic math and English courses. Would it have been better for students if such supports were available at the time of the initial implementation? Quite likely.
Students in Ontario deserve more than needlessly abrupt changes to their learning.