Growth Mindset: Does my philosophy match my practice?

As a Christian teacher, the role of curriculum becomes even more important.  It can be easy to just continue onwards from year to year doing the same thing, but it is essential to take a step back to see WHY we are teaching, and also to think about where we want to end up.  With this growth mindset in mind, I then set forward on a quest to answer several questions:

  1. What are some of the conceptions of curriculum?
  2. What are some different educational philosophies?
  3. How do those philosophies impact the curricular designs and planning of a school?
  4. How should the previous questions impact instruction and evaluation?

But before I go on: what is curriculum? It has a variety of definitions, including: lessons and academic content taught, knowledge and skills students are expected to learn.  Curriculum refers to the means and materials with which students will interact for the purpose of achieving identified educational outcomes.

There are five main conceptions of curriculum:

HUMANIST This focuses on autonomy and personal growth, and the belief tht students can discover the content on their own. The goal is the growth of individuals intellectual, social, emotional, and physical wellbeing.
SOCIAL RECONSTRUCTIONIST Conscious of the problems in our society, the purpose of this conception is to facilitate the initiation of a social reform.
SKILLS The purpose of schooling is to efficiently meet the needs of society by training youth to function as future contributing members of society.
TECHNOLOGICAL A focus on the process of HOW rather than WHAT of education. Using technology to communicate knowledge and facilitate learning.
ACADEMIC Allowing young people to acquire the tools and knowledge required to participate, and give them access to the greatest ideas that have been discovered. Having a broad knowledge base is important.

Stop and ponder for a moment: as a Christian teacher what do you think is the conception of curriculum that you most fit with?

Whatever your conception is will then lead into what educational philosophy you most connect with.  Briefly, some philosophies:

Realism Focuses on the search for truth in the physical universe.

Uses structured, basic methods to teach skills, content, and knowledge.

Essentialism The teacher is trained in a specific area, and then through direct instruction, imparts that essential knowledge to the students.
Vocational This philosophy was formed in the industrial revoluation. Individual growth is important, and skills and knowledge must be acqureid to prepare students to be productive members of society.
Reconstructionism Curriculum should foster social action aimed at restructuring society. It should promote social, political, and economic development.
Humanism The whole child is the most important aspect of education, and that learning is not just an acquisition of knowledge, but involves accepting self, solving problems, and making decisions.
Pragmatism Education based on individuals experiences with the world. The role of the teacher is to facilitate and contribute to the experiences of the student.

And leading out of whatever your philosophical beliefs are about education, then comes the specific way of teaching, and the curricular designs and plans you put into place.   A subject matter curricular design uses subject matter as the organized foci. Curriculum is well defined and pre-planned.  A Society-Culture design is based on the needs of society and culture, and focused on major social problems and social-human relation skills rather than on just acquiring content. They use objectives (from the government documents), but its not necessarily planned in advance.  A problem-centered design is based on students lives, needs and interests.  Students use knowledge to advance their goals and interests, and actively construct their own understandings.  A Learner-Centered design is organized around the needs and interests of the learner. The students then help select and organize the purposes of learning, and the subject areas become the means by which they pursue the topic of their interest. Teachers may do some preparations, but with no predetermined objectives beyond following the needs of the students.

Each teacher has their own philosophy, which results in their own curricular design style… which also then leads to different types of assessments.  Assessment in the subject-matter realm is based on standardized testing, accountability, and staying focused on the curriculum mandated by the government.  Assessment in a society-culture design has reflected a more student-centered approach where different ways of assessment are used to meet the needs of all learners.  Students are given choice in how they wish to demonstrate their learning, and rather than all written assessment (as in subject-matter design), much assessment comes orally by just listening to the students.  While report cards are still present, reporting to parents becomes more of an ongoing dialogue.  Assessment within a learner-centered design is focused on preparing people for living in an unstable, changing world, and to reform society: and as such then measures critical thinking, active citizenship, and preparedness for post-secondary studies.

With a growth mindset I had to then ask myself at the end of this last school year: what was my philosophy… but did this also show in my teaching, planning and assessment? I think often we ‘on paper’ may have a philosophy that aligns with our Christian values and personal views of education, but actually what is seen or heard in the classroom looks very different.  This July I’m challenging myself (and you) to take some time to write out my philosophy, and then work through the actual teaching practices that I employ, and wherever there is a gap, to find strategies to narrow the gap.

A few questions I now have for you:

  1. What is the predominant philosophy of education at your school? How does that manifest itself in the curricular designs?
  2. How do design assessment so that it aligns with your philosophy of education?
  3. What do you suggest to a school where the philosophies, curricular designs, and methods of instruction & assessment do not align or match?

4 thoughts on “Growth Mindset: Does my philosophy match my practice?

  1. Alex van Donkersgoed

    I found your blog via EdCommons. I’ve enjoyed reading it. I’ve always been struck by these different philosophies of curriculum and instruction. What bothers me is the assumption that any one of them is right. I believe we need to take a more holistic approach. I think we need to have schools/classrooms/teachers that make use of all of them.

    Of course, this is incredibly difficult to do and I make no claim to being able to accomplish that myself!


    1. janinevanmaren Post author

      Hello Alex,
      Thank you for your response on my blog: I appreciate it!

      I agree with you in that we need to have a holistic approach, and that we cannot simply ‘rank’ them from ‘best’ to worst. However, I do think that a good look at our philosophy will automatically result in a more heavier use of one instruction style than another.
      Have you, or your school, done any professional discussion around the main philosophy or goal of the school? (perhaps in the form of mission and vision?)



  2. Audrey McGregor

    I really enjoyed reading this as well and I to have been thinking a lot about this as I pursue a masters degree as well. I really am interested in your third question in terms of what to suggest to a school where everyone is on a different page. I appreciated Alex’s comment as well because although I might sway towards a reconstructionist model, other models might serve a purpose in different situations as well. I guess as a John Dewey fan and someone who comes at things from a reformed worldview, I like the idea of education being about redeeming, reviewing, renewing, restoring, revisiting, retelling,….and I am sure you can add other “re” words. This fits well with the idea of having a Growth Mindset. The prefix “re” implies again, so I like how that connects to the idea of learning from what we have experienced and doing something until is showcases beauty. We want to make reveal (another Re word) the Kingdom and this also fits well with the Expeditionary Learning model.
    Would love to continue this discussion….


    1. janinevanmaren Post author

      Hello Audrey,
      Thank you for the response, and for your thoughts. I’m enjoying reading about the different perspectives. The idea that there isn’t just one correct philosophy is fitting well with my view of education: as its currently shifting and changing.
      I love the prefix ‘re’… as it gives the impression that education is not something that is simply ‘done’, but rather a constant process.



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