Dr. Judith M. Newman



Negotiating Curriculum

[ Journal Entry ]

It seemed to me in what I read last evening that the prevailing concern many of you were raising had to do with the teacher's role in a negotiated curriculum.

Here's how I've come to see my role—that doesn't mean this discription is the definitive one; as you've read, there are many versions of what this relationship could look like—Boomer's views are similar to Wells/Wells, Picone raises questions about helping students learn to make judgements, Duckworth is arguing about keeping the situation complex so that learner's can determine for themselves what aspects of the situation they will engage with to use Smith's term, Watson/Konicek raise concerns about "common knowledge" and how, if we can, we reach it if we can read it, as do Edwards/Mercer.

What I've come to see for myself comes from my Montessori roots, as much as anything else—Montessori's conception of the learning situation has three components:

  • the learner,
  • the environment/world,
  • and the teacher.

In the first instance, the teacher's role is to "prepare" the environment; that is, to select aspects of the world on which to focus the learners' attention; in Dewey's words to set up experience (both Dewey and Montessori would value experiences outside of the classroom as important but within the classroom the point would be to set up what Smith has referred to as enterprises which invite learners into some kind of exploration).

So I try to prepare an environment which offers several jump-off places and turn you loose. I try to keep the situation as complex as possible, because I have no idea what you each know, what your strategies are—it's your engagement with the situation that allows me to find out how to "teach" each of you as individuals—to take my lead from the questions you ask me.

What the situation allows me to do is teach individuals in a group context. There are many aspects of the situation I think about—the physical environment, the materials, the activities, the specific requests for response and dialogue. Mainly I'm concerned about listening and watching so that I can take my lead from you. I work at keeping an eye on the clock, I have to have a sense of the time constraints so that I am able to help you to completion—which often means cutting short a discussion or exploration in order for you to think about how to consolidate what you've been doing.