With Cayman’s new curriculum now in place, along with a more collaborative teaching approach that sees topics being taught crossing the boundaries of subject areas, teachers at the Primary level are finding the way ahead filled not only with excitement and hope for the future, but at times, a bit of confusion.
The Department of Education’s Head of Curriculum Services Clive Baker says that’s to be expected at this early stage, recognizing that while many teachers have adopted a ‘let’s wait and see’ attitude they may still be flummoxed by some of the changes.
One issue surrounds the revamped expectations from Primary specialist teachers, who have been accustomed to teaching only their subject of specialization, who now may find themselves being asked to do a bit more.
Mr. Baker says that the situation applies only to some primary teachers.
‘They are generalists by training and expectation – not specialists – as we would find in the secondary system,’ says Mr. Baker.
‘We would expect that at the primary level of education – where the teachers have usually received primary (generalist) training that the classroom teacher could, and often does, teach a wide range of subjects.’
He explains that in this way the class teacher will deliver Math, English, Science, Social studies, Art, Life skills and other subjects which are delivered by specialists at secondary school.
‘We are relatively unusual in having such a wealth of extra staff that we deploy as specialists – particularly when they assigned to small schools,’ he says.
‘The teachers concerned are teaching their specialist subjects the vast majority of the time – but because they have a lighter timetable than classroom teachers (in one case they would only teach 14 hours a week if they were not assigned other duties) – they have been assigned some other classes.’
Some further confusion has arisen about textbooks, and specifically, the lack thereof.
Mr. Baker explains the issue affects only one subject – English – due to a revised approach with regard to how it is taught.
‘Schools are maintaining use of the existing textbooks in all subjects: Math, Science, Social studies, Art, Life skills – except for English,’ he says.
‘We have removed the existing basal readers – to be used as a library resource – and all of the work books.’
‘These have been replaced by guided reading individual readers and a range of objective lead text – based around Jolly phonics – for phonics, Sitton Spelling for spelling and Rigby for reading.’
That’s because the Department has ramped up its commitment to ‘learning by doing.’
‘That means, the objective is to teach writing through writing – and not through workbooks where students predominantly fill in the blanks,’ says Mr. Baker.
But textbooks for other subjects aren’t going anywhere.
Mr. Baker says the Department has purchased over 20,000 extra texts alone this year – in addition to the thousands of texts already within schools.
A further point of contention has arisen due to the introduction of the International Baccalaureate system in the Primary schools which encourages cross-subject learning by packaging information into themes that span multiple subjects. It does offer some flexibility to students, but not as much as might be assumed. Mr. Baker says there is a defined curriculum structure for the IB.
‘In any case, the law mandates the Cayman Islands National Curriculum as defining what students learn,’ he says.
‘So teachers teach our curriculum first and foremost – the IB, ASDAN or whatever framework that is used is just another context in which delivery occurs.’
Mr. Baker also points out the Department has not yet introduced any IB programmes at the middle/ and high school level for the time being.
‘We plan to offer an IB Diploma programme at John Gray High School in September 2009 for what will then be post-secondary students. And to alleviate any confusion about picking and choosing at that level, the IB Diploma has a very structured programme of study.’