The Bigger Picture of Curriculum in a 21st Century Catholic School

The focal point of this post is on a document I designed for Marymount International School, Paris. The document is a diagrammatical representation of the “Bigger Picture” of the curriculum at Marymount with an emphasis on its holistic dimension and the fact that the curriculum is “Mission Driven and Vision Led.”Marymount believes that education can only be truly “holistic” if it is rooted in a journey of faith and seeks to foster the growth of the “whole” child. This includes the spiritual and moral dimension as well as the physical and social dimensions promoted in many other international schools. Marymount has a rich and proud tradition of excellence and this is largely due to the fact that the sisters of the RHSM have a clear vision of educational excellence and adhere to the belief that every child matters as an individual created in the image and likeness of God.

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The “Goals and Criteria” of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary and their faith vision “that all may have life and have it to the full” (John 10: 10) underpin the entire curriculum at Marymount. The “Bigger Picture” of the curriculum therefore is deliberately designed to have the Goals and Criteria as the primary objective that underpins the curriculum that is subsequently structured to fulfill this vision of faith.

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The expected school learning results (ESLRs), referred to at Marymount as the “FALCONS”, follow on from the RSHM Goals and Criteria and are the mechanisms through which the school lives out our vision. The first objective of the FALCONS is that children are “Faithful to the Goals and Criteria of the RHSM” which reinforces the fact that the RSHM Goals and Criteria underpin the curriculum at Marymount and are central to the life of the community. The other ESLRs refer to the essential 21st century skills that are prevalent in modern education. For example, Marymount seeks to help students to become adaptable and objective learners who develop their critical thinking skills to become skilled enquirers instilled with a lifelong love of learning.

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The diagram illustrates how this permeates through our Student Learning Outcomes and stresses how “subjects” are only one part of a students learning experience. The components of learning across a broad curriculum take place beyond the scope of the traditional “lesson” in a classroom. Of course such lessons are an essential aspect of a students learning experience but students should be learning from their entire experience at school. This is essentially the nature of “holistic” education. The curriculum at Marymount is divided into subject areas but with a tremendous emphasis on “transfer” between subjects – once again to ensure that learning is genuinely holistic. Moreover the goals and criteria of the RSHM (and Catholic Social Teaching) are built into the curriculum in a manner so that themes such as the Environment (Stewardship) or Human Rights/Human Dignity are a unifying feature of studies across a range of subjects. This process is relatively seamless at the Elementary level where the homeroom teacher can ensure a fluid transfer between “subjects” (at Marymount through a focus on US style Standards-based education) whereas at Middle School there is a dependency upon teachers of different subjects spending significant time in working collaboratively. (Subsequently the school has a great emphasis on common planning time so that teachers have a real opportunity to collaborate.)

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The final of the diagram emphasizes the importance of evaluating the impact of the students’ learning experiences and of accountability measures.

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On the whole the impact of the curriculum on student learning is evaluated using the same types of tools and processes as are used in schools across the world. The school also recognizes that some of the learning outcomes are intangible though and cannot, and should not, be measured. As an international catholic institution it is essential that the school embraces the best of the available technology, teachers utilizes the modern pedagogy and that leadership is guided by research and best practice but at the same time realizes that as educators part of one’s duty is to “sow seeds” and that one should realize one may not see the day when the seeds truly “bear fruit”

Footnote: Whilst the diagrammatical representation ” The Bigger Picture of the Curriculum” is my own work it draws upon the Goals and Criteria of the RSHM and the FALCONS student learning objectives that were developed and implemented by Dr Ron Roukema, the former Head of School at Marymount, Paris.

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