Sunday, April 25, 2010

Open curriculum


#27  in an occasional series of repressed 70's memories that turn out to be true.


I was complaining to Kit that I had worked too far ahead on my task list, and now I had nothing to do. 

“I am not telling anyone about my fantastic time management tricks that make it possible for me to do all the day's tasks before lunch,” I said.

She replied, “My sister went to one of those 70s elementary schools, where the kids would have a contract to complete X amount of work, and when they finished, they could sit in the bathtub in the middle of the pod. She used to sit in the bathtub from Weds-Fri.”

None of that sounded strange to me.  And when I didn’t react, she repeated:


Yeh, man.  What’s your hassle?  We’re just rapping.

Though a bathtub pod would have been an added extra.

Educational traditionalism went out the window in the hopes that we would overthrow the administration by the 6th grade, rather than get anymore people killed.ohio-kent-bayonets

That’s my theory, anyway.  Let them get all their free-thinking foolishness out of their systems and maybe they will have to just drink and gator themselves into oblivion for 4 years.

mmm.  yeh, maybe.

So… team teaching, combined classrooms, changing classes in lower grades, electives-electives-electives and… the open curriculum of the learning contracts.  I might also have called this essay “Workoholic Project Managers are Made, Not Born.”

How the Learning Contract worked (and still does, roughly) is that the student and teacher design a syllabus of what skills are to be gained through the course of the semester or year, various ways that the student may choose to obtain those skills, and how those skills will be assessed.badge_vest

Yes, very similar to that –>

When you look for examples of this today, it is usually in the context of “gifted” student or “learning needs” students, when in my day was the same thing.  But in our 6th grade Language Arts class, this was not limited to any end of any spectrum.  There were about 40 of us filling a room with pre-teen BO and mood swings.  Making us stay in our seats was just something the teacher gave up on.  For 90 minutes every day (double period!!  oooo) we worked our contracts.

Stuff you could do:

Geography Darts – shoot dart gun at giant world map.  Name the country and capital you land on.  Earn points.  Sandbag by aiming at Soviet Union/Moscow. 

Book reports – I don’t remember how this was doled out.  We need Dodie for this.  But there were menus of book titles (you could negotiate your own, of course) and some crazy matrix of fulfilling your reading requirement.

popup Other kinds of reports – This being “Language Arts,” whatever that was, you could write about nearly any topic that wasn’t math.  Type them up on the classroom typewriter.  Presenting them to the class (dioramas our specialty) was an additional fulfillment.

Journaling – The other typing activity was writing letters to Charlie, a red papier-mache monkey who sat in the typing station  and served as a General Reader for your inner most thoughts, which were of course graded and handed back to you.

Current Events – Fridays were Rap Session day: desks in a circle to discuss current events.  Points for leading the discussion; points for participating.  I liked to bring in clips from the Enquirer and open with, “Bigfoot.  Any proof?” Bigfoot deserves his own post.  Watch this space.

Projects – anything that wasn’t reading or writing (or shooting a gun) fell under “projects.”  You could drive your own and serve on other people’s, for which you also got credit and for which your PM could jack you if you spent too much time at the dart map.  Many were suggested for you, but a good pitch could go a long way.

When MJ and I completed our contracts far too early, we corralled the entire class into staging a full Emmy Awards show, including nomination forms, vote tallying, presenters and recipients, awards (TVs made out of foil-covered milk cartons, which necessitated the sub-project of saving milk cartons), speeches, and commercial breaks.  Our parody of Soft & Dry (Rough and Wet) brought the house down. 

starsky-hutch-photograph-c12142724The awards themselves were dominated by Shawl Collar and Denim.

6th grade was also the year of Bicentennial plays (I was in 2 myself) but it should be noted that these were staged by the school itself and not our Language Arts class.  We just had all the starring roles.  Because we could handle the responsibility.  brother sam

Self-Driven?  check.


  1. Sometimes I wonder if those might have been the 'good ole days.' It certainly did encourage independence and responsibility and perhaps even completion of projects even if you decided you didn't like the one you chose. There certainly seemed to be a sense of Montessori methods but unfortunately that teaching method fell by the wayside much as learning to read by phonics. This post did bring back some memories. M.

  2. I can still see Mr. Connor doling out the 4th grade language arts contracts. I signed with my initials (having decided my name was too long) and then I spent almost all of 4th grade reading, writing letters and creating art inspired by what I had read. I also participated in the multi-unit contract that year - reading fiction and non-fiction about Alaska, studying about native americans - although we definitely used the word indian - and then - using math, art and social studies, created the masterpiece that lived in the elementary school playground for the next 20 years - the 4th grade comprehensive indian totem poles made out of telephone poles we acquired by writing our "ask for" letters to Ma Bell. All that decision-making wasn't all bad... I think. Baroness


Comments Build Community! We thank you for yours. Spam comments are not welcome and will not be posted.