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There are a lot of different curriculum designs in the modern system of education as this field has a long history and can be characterised by a number of various changes which influenced the development of UK system of education. The development of the educational process is impossible without legal acts and political agreements. There have been a lot of different acts and reports which have established the educational system in United Kingdom and those which influenced and corrected it. Nevertheless, while considering some legal papers, it will be possible to see the ideas stated by Plato, Rousseau and Dewey, which can be considered as people who were at the origin of understanding the modern curriculum. The importance of these documents cannot be questioned as they played vital role in the development of education and its principles. It is important to understand that those who have developed the curricular and its main principles had to base on something.
The changes the curriculum has to undergo are connected with the development in the cultural, social and political trends, still, the basic ideas in teaching foreign languages are unchanged. The main purpose of this paper is to understand why child-centred approach to education is the core idea of the modern curriculum, how new acts, reports and reviews changed the curricular and why motivation and creativity are considered to be the main ideas of the thematic approach to learning. To consider these issues, we are going to check the expressions of people who seem to be the first who talked about education as a system and expressed their thoughts in this direction, to follow the changes in the curriculum by means of exploring the legislative acts and reports along with reviews which add some ides to the required changes, and to point to the thematic learning as one of the best ways to give students knowledge they want and to make those interested in what they do.
To provide a specific and argumentative critic of curriculum design, it is important to check the development of the issue and the changes it has come through. Apart from the historical changes which influenced the curriculum design development, philosophical and political issues should be taken into account. Looking for the first argumentative discussion of education and the necessity to consider specific approaches and curriculum, it is important to refer to the ancient philosophers, like Plato, or Aristotle. The further changes of the educational curricular may be connected with such names as John Jacques Rousseau and John Dewey. Their vision of education and the curricular design have influences the content of the reports and other legal documents which can be considered as the basis for the modern vision of curricular design and the variety of those.
Considering the main idea of the curriculum, it is possible to consider Plato’s dialogues. He is sure that spoken word is the best method for teaching, he disparages written text. The whole philosophy of Plato’s education is based on “spoken word” (Bailey 2010, p. 156). John Jacques Rousseau does not agree with Plato as he believes that learning should not be conducted through the words, but activities should be involved. Children should follow their interests and the teacher should help them gain natural experience and explore natural objects in receiving knowledge. Rousseau states that children should not just listen about the surrounding world, they should take active part in its development. He is convinced that “the man who gets the most out of life is not the one who has lived it longer, but the one who has felt life most deeply” (in Smith, 2010 p. 28).
John Dewey is sure that education is a “constant transformation of experience” (Bailey 2010, p. 29). What does he mean? The main idea of Dewey’s learning is that teachers should tell children about the experience people came through in different times and make them think about the specific events which have taken place. He considers history as the basis for teaching as he is sure that it is one of the ways to learn the past and to be able to analyse the events and predict their future outcome (Dewey, Boydston & McDermott 2008, p. 215). The ability to think is one of the main ideas of education. Dewey tries to analyse education and history and has come to the conclusion that “history sets forth the temporal background, the evolution of the gradual control of the activities by which mankind had enriched and perfected its experience” (in Fallace 2010, p. 26). Thus, the better understanding of the history, the more experience in historical evaluation and assessment is applied to learning.
These three persons have been really influential in the system of education as their ideas and considerations are used as the core ideas for the legislative acts in UK. Here are the main acts which have become influential in the UK educational system and the main issues which have impacted the learning system. Children and their primary schools: A report of the Central Advisory Council for Education (England), known as The Plowden Report (1967), is considered to be important as it requested the council to consider the primary education in UK with the same aspects as the secondary one. The central idea of this report is that “at the heart of the educational process lies the child” (The Plowden Report 1967, p. 8). The importance of this report also lies in the following, the forbidding of physical pain (ch. 19), the reduction of classes’ size (ch. 20), primary education is considered as the transmission to the secondary (ch. 1), etc (The Plowden Report 1967). Thus, this report can be considered as the first attempt to apply the child-centred education into practice.
Education Reform Act (1988) is important not only because it points to creation of the Grant Maintained Schools and Local Management of Schools, but it also introduces the National Curriculum and Key Stages. This Act has restructured the whole educational system, still, the direction at child-centred education has not been changed. Moreover, it has made the learning system more children oriented and structured. The National Curriculum has divided the system of UK education on 4 stages in the primary and secondary schools.
It should be mentioned that having been established in 1988, these norms have been changed for many times (the last update took place on January, 2011), but still remain the basis for the UK educational system. The introduction of SAT Reasoning test is a new change in the UK educational system. Even though, it has been established in the beginning of 1900’s, its wide popularity and the status of obligatory has been provided in the middle of 1990’s. The changes to grading have been provided, and students had to show their abilities to understand the level of their personal knowledge (Kaplan & Saccuzzo 2008, p. 315).
It is really crucial to mention the following reports, as they have pointed to the challenges the UK system of education should face in the nearest years and make teaching more interesting and useful for children. National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education report (1999), Excellence and Enjoyment: A strategy for primary schools report (2003), Rose’s report (2008), and Introducing the Cambridge primary review (2009) have one thing in common, they point to the necessity of introducing creativity and excellence in the curriculum. This tendency is not new, as Plato, Rousseau and Dewey pointed to it (Starko 2005). Creativity should be considered as the central approach to the thematic approach to learning which is the most appropriate means for teaching and motivating students.
Thematic Approach to Learning
Even though the concepts and approaches to education Plato, Rousseau and Dewey express are different, their ideas may be united under one specific issue, children have inborn desire to study and it is just necessary to understand their interests and try to apply those in the educational sphere. Plato is sure that education and citizenship are the united concepts. Thus, a person wants to be a citizen of the place he/she lives in; as a result, he/she wants to be an educated person. Everything is natural and obvious, as for Plato (Bailey 2010).
According to Rousseau, children should practice everything they want to know, but it seems to be the central idea of children’s nature. Finally, Dewey refers to history and experience in defining the learning process which is also natural. So, it may be concluded that all these approaches agree in one, the education process is directed at the needs of a child, defined as a child-centred education (Darling 1994). Darling is sure that the modern vision of approaches to education should be related to these people.
Thematic approach to learning perfectly fits the legal acts and reports stated above and the ideas Plato, Rousseau and Dewey expressed. This idea can be defined as “a combination of components, activities, children’s literature, hands-on/minds-on projects and materials” (Fredericks 1998, p. 16) which is aimed at teaching students what they want in a structured way. In other words, thematic learning is a learning which helps students get knowledge in separate areas and acquire the necessary skills. Still, being a structured approach, it can be considered as a disadvantage, as until new curriculum is not designed, students have to study what has already been presupposed in spite of the social, political, etc. changes (Helm, Berg & Scranton 2004). Nevertheless, this problem can be considered with the teachers’ active thinking and applying of the necessary topic to the curriculum.
Being the most widely used approach to learning, thematic approach has a number of benefits for students and teachers. To understand the main idea of the thematic learning, the following example should be considered. While learning, a child is going to study two themes uninterruptedly, let us call them Personalised and Development of Professionalism. During the course, students will have to study one more theme which is going to vary depending on the period, the introduction, the main theme and the conclusion (Neary 2002, p. 109).
Thematic approach to learning has been chosen as the most appropriate one not by chance. It has already been mentioned that the most recent reports devoted to the revision of the national curricular are devoted to excellence and creativity. Scholars agree that the desire to study is inborn, but it is necessary to awake that desire, to help children understand what they want to study. This idea in the combination with child-centred learning should become the central purpose of the UK system of education. White (2004) states that “investment in creative, sometimes risky, curriculum development is essential in order to develop varied but rigorous and effective teaching and learning strategies” (p. 42). Barnes (2005) points to the motivation of children while learning. It should be obvious for each teacher that the best way to involve creativity in the learning process and to help children reach excellence is to motivate them.
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Some scholars are sure that it is possible to make people believe in what they want. Politicians and even some teachers use this idea to influence people (Law 2006). But, this method should not be applied at schools. The main idea of the modern education should be the enforcement of children to think and to draw their personal conclusions. This is what Rousseau and Dewey talk about (Bailey, R 2010). Children should learn their past, analyse it and apply their knowledge to the projection of the future. Creative approach is one of the best ways to reach the desired aim. Creativity has a lot of definition and none of them can perfectly state what it is. Creativity is something which cannot be explained, but it can be felt and observed. NACCCE report (1999) defines creativity as “imaginative activity fashioned so as to produce outcomes that are both original and of value” (p. 30).
This definition is not clear as it does not refer to motivation. The report has been published in 1999, but the creative approach in the context of thematic learning continues to develop. It is important to understand that motivation is a part of creativity because this notion is its central purpose. Before giving a definition to creativity in education, one should ask a question, why this creativity is important. We answer this question, creativity is necessary for motivating children, for making learning more thematic and child-centred and for awakening children’s inner desire to study, the one they have been born with.
Finally, having summarised the approaches to teaching and the legal acts applied in the system of education, it is important to remember that teachers’ creativity may be defined by students in a different way, sometimes absolutely negative (Aschenbrener, Terry & Torres 2010). So, it is important to understand whether the style of teaching instructors implement in the classroom motivates and inspires students for learning or not. The positive answer to this claim may be considered as the affirmative statement and encouraging a teacher for further development.
Therefore, having considered the background for curriculum creation, the legal acts and the main idea of thematic learning, it can be concluded that current National Curriculum with the Key Stages ideally meet the necessity of students in primary for learning foreign languages. Children in the primary school should understand why they need to study other languages and they should be encouraged to do it. A teacher’s task is to motivate children by means of using creativity and applying the ideas considered in the National Curriculum.
Being guided by the review reports mentioned in this paper, teachers will have an opportunity to apply the ideas stated there to their curriculum. Being motivated and being highly interested in studying, children will be able to meet the teachers’ expectations. However, teachers should work hard to make their communication with children effective (Hiep, 2007). Sometimes, teachers have to refer to the basic idea of creativity, to Rousseau or Dewey to make sure that they apply experience and practical activities in a proper way. In this case, we do not want to question the current legal acts and curriculum, still, teaching foreign languages, teachers may require the ideas which have been changed under the pressure of time and tendencies, but their application to learning may be useful.
Plato, Rousseau and Dewey have created the background for the modern approaches to education, their ideas have just been corrected and related to the modern trends. When teachers want to teach students a new theme, they should do it in the combination with the one they have already learnt. This is the core idea of thematic approach and teachers should try hard to help students understand it. Teaching foreign languages, teachers should base not only to the curricular, but also on different reviews and reports as they may offer the changes which might be more appropriate and challenging for a particular situation.
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