jueves, 10 de agosto de 2017

A Critical View to the English Curriculum Alignment Process: Implications and Future Perspectives

A Critical View to the English Curriculum Alignment Process: Implications and Future Perspectives
Rubén Lebrón León
© Rights Reserved, 2015

Reunión de facultad (s. XVI)
“Capitalism is the astounding belief that the wickedest of men will do the wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone” (Keynes, n.d.).  Capitalism does definitely reshape the meaning of democracy. Instead of justice for all, into justice to the few that can pay the price of total control.  This reality also impacts one of the most lucrative business of our times, which is education. It is from this perspective that we will direct our thoughts by using a critical scope to understand certain realities. A critical scope within Freire’s Critical Theory that unquestionably restructured the concepts of a true democratic education. Paulo Freire’s ideas of praxis, dialogic, and oppression will provoke questioning to begin a humanistic analysis beyond the technicalities of today’s technological curriculum prescription trends.

We educators create a sense of awareness, by seeing how education has become one of the most profitable business of our times. It is within this critical perspective where we position our reflections by establishing important concepts that will impact education beyond curriculum perspectives. Recently, Puerto Rico’s Department of Education passed through a curriculum revision due to the requirements of the so called Flexibility Plan. According to the USDE (United States Department of Education) (2014), Puerto Rico’s Department of Education made a pact with the USDE to receive an extension of funds to be able to comply with the requirements of school high academic performance. In order to comply with the USDE and the federal government conditions, all the academic subject programs must have a complete revision to be aligned to the initiative program called the Common Core. The National Governors Association and the Chief State School officers (2010) define the Common Core as a movement that promotes literacy skills and understanding required for college and career readiness in multiple subjects.

This notion of Common Core is the one that provoke many questions regarding the true motives of this initiative. It is no secret that the Gates enterprises are the ones behind the funding of the Common Core movement (Murphy, 2014; Reutzel, 2012; UNESCO, 2014). This leaves educators with many uncertainties regarding whether or not this reality is a step forward in education. Is this new trend in favor of students’ wellbeing for a well-educated and democratic society? We can prefer to assume that this is the true intention behind the Common Core initiative, but the facts are unavoidably obvious. To acknowledge that the Gates family enterprise is in top of every educational movement will lead us to understand the true motives of the Common Core. We contemplate the truth about how companies will not provide funds out of mere altruism, in a world where education is a political act of oppression (Freire, 1970). Inside our capitalist reality economic gain is the principal motive to any enterprise. If one dare to scrutinize into the meaning of Common Core we can deduce that the goal is to prepare students to be assembly line workers rather than critical thinkers with a highly evolved sense to truly have the freedom to choose to go to college or contribute to their society.

We believe that we have to establish what the curriculum alignment process is. This definition will be in relation with one of the subject matter of English. Then we will analyze the possible implications from the philosophical, psychological, and sociological educational foundations from a critical perspective.

Curriculum alignment is essential to the development and improvement of a program of study and “can be broadly defined as the degree to which the components of an education system such as standards, curricula, assessments, and instruction work together to achieve desired goals” (Case, Jorgenson & Zucker, 2004, p.5; Ornstern & Hunkins, 2009). Alignment activities provide partners and stakeholders with the opportunity to work together to identify when, where, and how extensively the standards and curricular content associated with a program of study will be addressed. According to Mausbach & Mooney (2008), foundational concepts inherent in curriculum alignment efforts are opportunities for educators to participate in professional development. Such efforts that enhance the opportunities for instructors and content experts to work in teams to plan, review, and improve instruction and work with instructional leaders. Engaging in both of these efforts enhances the quality of alignment results and communication across institutions involved in curriculum alignment process.     

Alignment is also the process of solving instructional problems that often require contextual flexibility and openness to diverse sources of insight (Christensen & Osguthorpe, 2004). Practicing designers must be versatile, it is commonly noted, readily adapting to the demands of complex design situations by borrowing from a variety of conceptual resources such as instructional theories, design principles, process models, and larger philosophical frameworks (Christensen & Osguthorpe, 2004). It presents a challenge when it is constituted by the diversity of early learning environments that have different traditions, values, and norms (Feldman, 2010). This challenge is clearly visible when there is a presentation of academic contents.

Reigeluth & Carr-Chellman (2009, p.20) define content as, ‘‘The nature of what is to be learned, defined comprehensively to include not only knowledge, skills, and understandings, but also higher order thinking skills, metacognitive skills, attitudes, values, and so forth’’. For instructional designers, this research suggests that using instructional theory as an approach for instructional design has benefits. One benefit is that it helps designers effectively judge the usefulness of methods for a given situation. This leads to better instructional design decisions (Case, Jorgenson & Zucker, 2004). Another benefit is that it can help designers defend their design decisions. This leads to a more efficient and enjoyable design process (Reigeluth & Carr-Chellman, 2009). Managers of instructional designers should use instructional theory’s core principles to assess the quality of their designers’ decisions. Designers can defend their decisions based on the principles of instructional theory, and guarantee a great learning experience (Honebein & Honebein, 2014).

To achieve worthwhile instructional outcomes, instructional designers must make good decisions regarding the methods they use in their learning experiences. (Honebein & Honebein, 2014). One way to expedite the alignment process is to build on the curriculum that is already in place. However, defining the specific curriculum is not always easy because the written curriculum outlined in curriculum guides often is not what is being taught in classrooms. Curriculum guides define what should be taught, but in many cases, they do not affect what actually happens in classrooms. Jacobs (1997) describes curriculum guides as usually "well-intended fictions." She concludes that curriculum guides may actually encourage teachers to teach what they like to teach. Individual teacher decisions about what to emphasize, made in isolation and with good intentions, can actually contribute to a school's poor test scores. In other words, the ultimate goal of the curriculum alignment process is to ensure a process of refinement and depuration that will make educational instruments attainable and appropriate both working and reference instruments.

It is in the working instruments that we should focus our discussion. We have to refine our curriculum normative documents by examining not just the instructional part, but the psychological, social, and philosophical aspects should be a matter of constant analysis and revision as well. This should be done in the service of a useful and practical English curriculum and not merely as a requirement to comply with an economical pact. This reexamination is crucial to constant academic improvement and modifications (Jacobs, 2007). Furthermore, it is in this reflection that we truly consider which is the future citizen profile that our educational practices are pursuing to develop inside our school classrooms.

The process of curriculum development must be viewed as a constant reformation of normative practices (Kumaravadivelu, 2006; Whorthen & Sandler, 1987; Ornstein & Hunkins, 2009). To align curriculum is clearly a collective action that responds to the interests of the students in a true democratic education that it is web of social relations (Dewey, 1938; Freire, 1994). Once this process is forced by other interests, we begin to question education motives. This is the point where an intellectual emancipation must happen. Not with violence nor with immobility, but to open dialogical debate spaces (Freire, 1970) among educators to question if these new prescribed curricula and how these curricula will improve the school teaching process. Thus, knowledge emerges from a constant invention and reinvention process (Freire, 1970).  It is through direct contact with students, as curriculum is delivered, implemented, and assessed that educators become fully aware of the extent of the responsibility in shaping the country’s future citizen. This responsibility cannot be taken lightly, it requires a knowledge and empowerment action. This empowerment involves a social consciousness of teachers to avoid the repetition of the prescribed curriculum that will eventually reduce the teaching practice turning it into a banking teaching model (Freire, 1970). Curriculum alignment process must not be static, but rather be flexible to changes, and not abide by dates or systematic structures as an element of the praxis of domination discourse (as defined in Freire, 1970). Once teachers abide in and are controlled by systematic agendas they become clerks, by reproducing someone else’s knowledge (Ayers, 1992, p. 1; Freire, 1970).

By establishing what curriculum alignment is, we can realize the importance of the implications that considering curriculum will have in our students learning. We will propose psychological implications that must be considered when we are aligning curriculum. However, at this stage of the process, we are just beginning to understand the great repercussions and responsibility that educators have in revising and analyzing the implications of the possible psychological factors, to be considered in an English curriculum alignment process.

Psychological Factors
There are many implications when we begin to consider psychological factors in education. In this case, not just theorizing about education in general, but specifically when we are about to engage in constructivist curriculum alignment.  The essence of constructivism is the development of dynamics where the individual is responsible of elaborating his own knowledge in a progressive manner (Vygotsky, 1962). According to Vygotsky (1977), the learning process is also a cultural development where groups of learners are able to contribute to elaborate ideas and construct new knowledge. This notion of group knowledge development automatically results in our first psychological implication. When we first conceive curriculum, we accept that nature of teaching strategies and methods must aim to develop collaborative and cooperative teaching strategies and techniques. Although this is one assumption of developing teaching strategies that involve group work, we are still considering individual tests, and keep using assessment measures that will ultimately try to prepare the students to face a test. Then we deeply reflect upon collaborative and cooperative teaching practices and their relationship with testing.

Testing is one of many tools of assessment and measurement (Richard & Rogers, 2001), but not the only means to determine either student progress or knowledge (Vygotsky, 1978). Yet, we rely on individual tests as the only criterion to determine the success in terms of academic achievement. This educational trend goes beyond intellectual deceitfulness. Deceitfulness in terms of learning skills when students are encouraged to function as a group, but at the same time struggling to obtain an individual high test score. However, we pretend to prepare students in a constructivist group environment, when at the end the individuality of a test score prevails, just measuring the actual development, but not the potential ability of improvement (Vygotsky, 1978). This is the point where we must carefully reflect and question testing purposes from education companies, that hold the ultimate control on what is to be tested and how it is tested. Thus, those who view education mainly as a profitable business, create and manipulate data so they can justify the development of the remedial programs and initiative for schools and teachers. Once again, they prescribe curriculum remedies based on these tests scores, but at a very high price to the school systems, both in terms at the resulting economic bonanza for the private sector, expense of the public systems, and educational costs in terms of students’ lack of learning. At the end, education becomes the new free market of services and not the democratic and humanistic institution to serve us all, but the powerful, the one in control of the systematic altruistic lie (Freire, 1970) of improving curriculum.

This reality does certainly change the way that educators conceive curriculum.

When we refer to language this is not different. Seliger & Long (1983) Interaction Hypothesis states that constant interaction and interpersonal communicative dynamics are the foundations to develop linguistic rules through modified interactions (Brown 2007, p.305). Students in classrooms possess different abilities and backgrounds, and then language instruction activities should be developed using social interaction activities. These activities must also be carefully designed by the teacher in order to immerse the learner in a language social learning process (Brown, 2007).

Even when assessment has a great impact in the teaching process (Brown, 2004), testing still remains an important part in educational trends. Thus, this reality is present and constant, English language teaching process emphasize in the efforts of the groups and collective hands on instruction, but at the same time we must also develop measures to prepare students to cope with individual testing processes like a summative or standardized test.

Once we explore the psychological implications, we are able to take our thoughts beyond the psychological domain and provoke further reflection. To align curriculum has not only have individual or group repercussions, but also social implications. It is during this exploration process that we pass from the mind to the society effects and consequences when postulating curriculum platforms, especially when these curricula creations are forced by the Common Core initiative.

Social Factors
We should admit that the curricula alignment processes that are taking place in our school systems are not originated from a genuine action to improve our education. Those that advocate the Common Core State Standards assume that high, uniform academic standards are essential to improving American students’ academic performance to prepare them better for college or career and to enhance our nation’s ability to compete in the global marketplace (Murphy, 2014; Reutzel, 2012; McGuinn, 2015). However, surveys of teachers and the public revealed growing opposition to the Common Core as it entered its first year of implementation in 2014 (McGuinn, 2015). These same surveys also show that most people do not know much about the Common Core and that much of what they think they know is incorrect (Murphy, 2014; McGuinn, 2015). The opposition to the Core does not emerge from a single source and is not confined to members of one political party. According to McGuinn (2015) people dislike the Common Core for different reasons. Yet, the most important reason goes beyond like or dislike postures of different government sectors, but economic interests that are creating unusual political alliances that have emerged from the Common Core implementation and how they may play out longer term (Edwards, 2014).

The U. S. business community has been one of the most vocal supporters of the Common Core, arguing that higher academic standards are imperative to ensure that the American economy has the high quality workforce necessary to compete in the global marketplace (Mcguinn, 2015; Hacker in Edwards, 2014). The Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and major corporations such as ExxonMobil, Intel, and Time Warner Cable have funded Common Core advocacy campaigns (Murphy, 2014; Edwards, 2014). This reality has triggered the fear of many Americans, the fear of a powerful elite who dictates government policy over the masses (Mcguinn, 2015; Murphy, 2014; Hacker in Edwards, 2014).

Another social implication is the enormous funding that is suddenly invested to the Common Core.  This issue has also become a major concern, where the government is spending resources in the Core rather than addressing learning related issues such as poverty, safety, health, and other out of school factors, affecting student achievement. However, there are other concerns among teachers. There is a belief that teachers are not being given sufficient training and resources to effectively instruct disadvantaged students (Mcguinn, 2015; Murphy, 2014).

There must be a sense of criticism regarding our curriculum platforms and these forcedly created educational laws. We cannot stop wondering how our educational trends are financially originated from the most powerful and dominant sectors of our society (Murphy, 2014). There is no doubt that there are other powers that are influencing the government and their Common Core creation that will have a great impact in our future society. Education is certainly not a matter of developing citizens that could critically think, learn and contribute to their society anymore, but the Common Core tries to create an assembly line of workers that will serve the interest of a small group of government people that are deciding what is to be learned, and not certainly in the best interest of the students (Hacker in Edwards, 2014). 

The process of revising our curricula to be coherent to the Common Core initiative is definitely a worrying situation for us educators. All of the sudden there is an initiative that tries to encourage one set of standards that will measure all the students. This one standard principle of the so called “race to the top” (Obama in Edwards, 2014) campaign surely responds to Bill Gates and small group of investors that are undoubtedly funding the government.

However, we have to wonder that there is a plan to align education curricula in a way that the wellbeing of society will no longer be the goal of educating for life (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2006; Dewey, 1938; Freire, 1970). Instead we will educate to work and to serve the government and economic interests.  

Here in Puerto Rico we reluctantly abide by the Common Core adoption. This is so because, we have also become dependent of funding in a desperately need it to keep our school system alive. This reality makes us feel vulnerable to imposed educational trends. There is no longer a genuine curriculum revision to improve education, but a fast paced approval of a so called alignment process disguised as the best intention to get our students ready for career and college. Certainly, we need another type of school reform. It is inside this turmoil of Core demands that educators must empower ourselves with our education, and lead a reconstruction resistance to our prescribed curricula (Freire, 1970). Thus, schools should become more than centers of academic content transmission, but centers of deeper dialogical discussions (Freire, 1970), regarding whether the type of curricula that we are receiving is the best for our students.

Schools should be sanctuaries where teachers group together to discuss and plan by themselves how to solve the school problems both academic and social. In terms of curriculum alignment, the invitation is to receive the material, get together, and discuss how curricula can be modify, adapted, having the power to produce changes, as free as possible from laws, pacing calendars, and circular letters. This is real empowerment; this will indeed constitute an emancipation of the intellect (Freire, 1994).

After examining both psychological and social implications of aligning curriculum process, we realize the great importance of a true academic reform. A reform that can receive changes from inside the classrooms teachers.  This implication surpasses the simple thought of predicting educational goal outcomes, but it is the process of vital decisions that will impact the future of that citizen from the classroom, and school community. It is in this way that we can begin to recognize the oppressive discourse of accepting curricula reforms as they are prescribed (Freire, 1970). We should understand that real change comes from our communities, from our classroom (Freire, 1970).  Thus, assent our capacity of resetting our minds and get solutions in a genuine collective way.

During our third implication, we will be examining the philosophical implications that will determine the course of our future educational system. By understanding our philosophical implications, we will be able to assume a critical posture regarding the prescribed Common Core curriculum alignment process that already took place in our educational school system. .

Philosophical Implications
We should accept that education is a constant revising and inclusion process to incorporate philosophies, experiences and teaching practices (Dewey, 1938; Kumaravadivelu. 2006). Since the creation of the No Child Left Behind Act, educational companies have acquired lucrative contracts offering professional development services. Based on this reality we must critically question the quality of this professional development, and wonder how these companies train our educators. This is a very valid concern, when we meditate on education companies and their intentions of improving teacher practices, but at the same time keep offering the same services, and managing to perpetuate their rewarding existence. Tragically, educators are immersed in a type economic control turmoil in which the government plays an oppressive role (Freire, 1970). Trapped within these neo-liberalistic realities, teachers are in the obligation of developing a critical sense beyond prescribed curriculum education (Freire, 1970). This type of development requires more than formal training, but dialogical spaces for educators to develop and use the best from each educational philosophy, teaching approaches and experiences (Freire, 1970).

This necessity of a new refocusing of philosophies responds to many realities inside each classroom scenario. In the case of language, we cannot visualize our classrooms as the optimum teaching setting (Kumaravadivelu, 1994). Teachers certainly need a sense of knowledge empowerment to first understand the essence of each educational philosophy and be able adapt to teaching techniques beyond prescribed tasks or content. To be able to understand educational philosophies to create methods, resources, and use them effectively. To be capable of modifying, respond to each teaching solutions to each particular and unique school reality (Tarone & Yule, 1989; Kumaravadivelu, 1994).

Many teachers reflect on how language teaching methods are not based on the realities of their classroom, but are artificially transplanted into their classrooms (Kumaravadivelu, 2006, pp. 162, 166). Teachers are in a state of partial or no instructional autonomy, in a situation where curricula are already traced and planned from the approach to the daily class technique implementation. Due to this reality teachers are forced to elicit teaching techniques that adjust their daily practice and in some way, comply with the state curriculum demands. There are other educators that try to comply with the prescribed planning, and keep questioning themselves if they are providing authentic and significant learning experiences (Kane & Bejar, 2014; Nunan, 1991). Pennycook (1989) believes that current language pedagogy is a matter of different interpretation configuration depending on teachers’ capabilities, experience, social dynamics, political, and philosophical factors. However, teacher interpretations are indeed valuable but not useful in isolation. It is by sharing and consulting these experiences that educators will not only be empowered with their own knowledge corpus, but will design unique teaching procedures to be applied in their own schools (Kumaravadivelu, 2006).  It is within this reality that educators must embrace an eclectic posture of practice in education (Kumaravadivelu, 2006).

According to Brown (2002, p. 13), the teaching process essentially consists in three basic principles of diagnosis, treatment, assessment, and determine proper curricular practices for learners. This principle is a tad far from reality where there is no diagnostic, but pre and post-tests to gather data about students’ cognitive competences. Teachers surely are the most indicated professionals to diagnose (Kumaravadivelu, 2006). However, the capacity to diagnose demands well-trained teachers. To be able to diagnose, to adapt to each situation, to be eclectic in their practice, teachers must realize how education philosophies have a significant impact in everyday classroom instruction decisions (Tarone, Yule, 1989; Weideman, 2001).  Not just to understand constructivism, behaviorism or pragmatism, but to understand curriculum schools as well. From Spencer and Hostos Academic curriculum to Tyler’s Technological curriculum, teachers will be able to better understand how curricula has become a totally prescribed and imposed implementation with no power of receiving modifications nor to evaluate its effectiveness. However, we should understand that there are virtues in each curriculum school and their place in education history and evolution, but at the same time to understand their disadvantages. This knowledge will capacitate educators to better comprehend today’s education imposed oppression status (Freire, 1970). This level of reflection will make educators realize the necessity of developing the best of judgments when using prescribed curriculum materials in their classrooms. All of this curriculum insights will capacitate teachers to select the best from the given curricula to have a better teaching practice reflections, becoming more capable to be eclectic (Kumaravadivelu, 1994).

Eclecticism can be a way of teachers selecting what works within their own dynamic contexts based on sound theories and research knowledge (Brown, 2002). Principled eclecticism challenges teachers in that any decision making must be based on a thorough and holistic understanding of all learning theories and related pedagogies, in terms of the purpose and context of language learning, the needs of the language learners, how language is learned, and how and what teaching is all about (Brown 2002; Kumaravadivelu, 2006). To be eclectic demands commitment of becoming a constant self-regulated researcher as well as good transmitter, to share, and understand teaching practice knowledge concepts (Kumaravadivelu, 2006; Richard & Rogers, 2001). This knowledge sharing and peer transmission will also create a critical awareness to teachers in acknowledging that educational changes and teaching practices must be in constant discussion to determine teaching practice effectiveness (Kumaravadivelu, 2006). Thus, approaches and methods cannot be distant theory of possible application, but the essence of daily reflection and practice.

In recent years, many have stated that here never was and probably never will be a method for all classroom teaching procedures (Nunan, 1991, p. 228; Pennycock, 1989; Kumaravadivelu, 1994). In other words, there is no such thing as a teaching method that provides absolute effectiveness in all language skills, but instead revising, modifying and evaluating teaching strategies (Kumaravadivelu, 2006).

This premise in time has been called Language Post Method Era. According to Kumaravadivelu, (1994, p. 29), Post Method can be defined as the construction of classroom procedures and principles by the teacher based on his/her prior and experiential knowledge and/or planned teaching strategies and techniques application. The post method also creates awareness that as long as we are caught up in the web of method, we will continue to get entangled in an unending search for an unavailable solution, awareness that such a search drives us to continually recycle and repackage the same old ideas (Kumaravadivelu, 1994, p. 28). There are also limited spaces for teachers to consult one another. The isolation and lack of consulting periods among colleagues has caused the reliance on recycling of teaching techniques to solve the immediate situation of planning and delivering teaching sessions (Kumaravadivelu, 2006). To embrace a true eclectic philosophy there must be other spaces for teachers to create study groups and coordinate genuine strategies according to students’ needs. Curriculum fixed designed material is too insufficient and restricted to successfully explain the complexity of language learning and teaching as its application and principles are also said to be obscure and exaggerated respectively (Kumaravadivelu, 2006).

The eclectic nature of the Post Method trend can help educators to reconsider their practices as a consequence of many years accepting prescribed language curriculums, instead of criticizing them in order to get the best of them, assuming a critical posture to create our own educational reforms to achieve a genuine perspective of our teaching realities (Freire, 1994). Language teachers need to elaborate their own construction of reality and create their own literature, instruments of teaching within their own school reality (Zembylas, 2005; Kumaravadivelu, 2006). It is within this assumption that many educators receive professional development separating theories from applicability, and sharing an enormous repertoire of teaching techniques yet to be applied in each classroom. However, this practice of sharing sometimes is a desperate call to ignore the essence of each language teaching approach, design and procedure (Richards & Rogers, 2001). It is also the flaw of many professional development topics which only emphasize on possible teaching techniques, not explaining which method or which approach, or how to theorize about the applicability and the implications of the given seminar or workshop (Zembylas, 2005; Newman, Samimy, & Romstedt, 2010).

Beyond adopting an educational philosophy, it is certain that the eclectic model welcome most of the educational philosophies. Even so, to be able to understand and use the best of each philosophies implies a vast knowledge of each theory. In this venture of developing and capacitating teachers’ minds to be able to theorize about their practices beyond prescription is more than an implication, but empower educators to build a sense of educational hope (Freire, 1994). It is with this sense of hope that we look up to the future and elaborate curriculum considerations that must be present in curriculum revisions.

Considerations, Future Perspectives
After examining the postulated implications, we are able to consider and formulate future perspectives that must be present when conceiving curriculum; future considerations, and possible reflections that must be contemplated when engaging in curriculum creation and alignment. In our case and reality, the term revision and consideration could be a symbolic hypocritical and deceitful act to educators. The motives of our curriculum alignment efforts are based on a requirement to comply with the government demands to align our framework, our standards, and expectations to be as similar as possible to those established by the Common Core initiative. Even when the process of standard creation and alignment could be full of restrictive conditions, there is a unique experience to collectively reflect and benefit from the alignment process; in this case, the revision of the English language curriculum. During the process of considering, reflecting, and working with curriculum material, we should recognize the vital importance of social interactions and collective function of the learning process. In a more academic reflection, we can refer to acknowledge the significance of Vygotsky’s ZPD when conceiving teaching approaches, and procedures (Richard & Rogers, 2001; Hayes, 1997; Brooks & Brooks, 1993).

In the function of acquiring a second language, Vygotsky’s ZPD will definitely give us the cognitive realities of our learners. The learners’ capacity of developing their cognitive capabilities through the interaction with their peers, adults, and environment stimuli (Vygotsky, 1978), is surely the principal thought that educators should first have in their minds when considering instruction. Once we recognize this reality we can understand that every instructional approach and assessment process must follow the ZPD principle. Classroom activities must be designed to be interactive, promoting constant interaction (Hayes, 1997; Zembylas, 2015; Honebein & Honebein, 2014; Bruner, 1966).

There is also a mediation process that occurs during the interaction learning process (Bruner, 1966; Bandura, 1986). The mediation of meaning happens when the student is engaged in constructing new meaning schemas, thus these mediation is a negotiation of understandings that happens when the learner is engaging in both direct and indirect instruction. Thus, when mediation is happening there is a cognitive accommodation that serves the learner to build his/her own linguistic concepts and be able to understand them (Bruner, 1966).  Hence, the student with this new formed language knowledge is ready to build more knowledge over that acquisition that already happened during the mediation process (Vygotsky, 1978). This negotiation does not only happen in the language classroom, but all around the learner. This is the time where the scaffolding guiding instruction process (Bruner, 1966), has the greatest importance in language teaching, not just guiding, but providing the appropriate classroom atmosphere so the language learning process can truly take place (Vygotsky, 1978; Bruner, 1966).

There is much to ZPD, that there is an imperative responsibility to specify in our frameworks regarding how we must guide our students to think and develop language knowledge beyond memory or knowledge corpus prescription, but to be able to apply that knowledge in multiple situations, to adapt, and to create new knowledge (Vygotsky, 1978). Once educators acknowledge ZPD as pillar principle to cognitive development, we will be able to examine new curriculum material. This includes teaching strategies and assessment measuring.

However, we refer to ZPD and the social nature of language teaching and learning process, we direct our reflection to the use of testing as an absolute measure instrument. Yet we keep responding to train our students to respond to the absolute standardization, but more seriously, we are at mercy of the Common Core and its intentions to dictate what to know and what is to be learning, and prepare students to become the best working force ever. But one thing remains, in this pursuing of excellence, if we are compromising the humanistic aspect of education. We should question if there is a national mandate to align curricula and standards to become ready for career, but are we aligning and developing standards in the best of the students’ interests or somebody else’s? It is in this questioning that we aim our future perspectives and thoughts. It is necessary to reflect upon possible consequences of having businesses ruling the destinies of our people rather that education curriculum creation as an equal pact with the government.

After examining the psychological, social, and philosophical implications we were able to realize that our immediate education future is certainly submitted to economic interests. More specifically, the notions of creating and aligning curricula that are reduced to accountability exercise to justify standard revisions and curricula alignment. It is indeed worrying, the way that the Common Core initiative has become a forcing action of dominant business classes to control what is to be taught to our children. This imposition of the Core campaign should raise the most serious questions regarding how democratic our education has become. It is a responsibility that goes beyond a mere revision and constantly revise curriculum instruments as the conceptual essence of what is to happen in our classrooms. Even so, revising and aligning curriculum will become a fake process far from the academic prominence that these processes demand. Both Freire and Dewey reminded us that education is a political act, but beyond this foundation, modern days politics are summited by a sovereign monarch called neoliberalism control. This control is the one that it is not own by the government, but by the enterprises that are financing the political parties in the United States of America. Instead of the land of the free which we can assume that education is included, the concept of democracy and democratic government in the service of the people is a long passed dream.

There is a sense of hope regardless of these thoughts about the Common Core and educational reforms like curriculum alignment. Durable and significant changes do not come from the top of the government or any other place, but from our communities and schools (Freire, 1994). The classroom teacher has the most powerful influence in students’ lives. This is the starting point from which many of our changes should come from. Instead of waiting for the system to indoctrinate our schools, it is time to get organized, and begin our mind emancipation (Freire, 1970). We can surely empower ourselves with our own educational reforms that will certainly suit the needs of our students to contribute to society, rather than prepare them to race to the top manipulative slogan.

Our race should be to guide and edify honest human beings, citizens that are able to collectively serve their society. Yet, we have recognized the importance of social interaction as a benefit, but at the same time forced to training our students to take a standardized test to enter in the free market race of the Common Core goals.

Our first psychological implication, made us realize the importance of how learners do not only learn by receiving direct academic input, but the interaction with others is also a vital complement for them to develop their intellect. We can also state that our education should evolve beyond testing and individual measuring. We should reflect upon the effectiveness of that collective and collaborative work in our instruction versus the imminent reality of competence and individuality included in our English and other subjects’ curricula. This represent a double discourse on how our students keep perceiving instruction as a cooperative and collaborative process vis a vis the individual test score outcome significance. Tests are one of the many elements of the assessment process (Hayes, 1997; Brooks & Brooks, 1993; Honebein & Honebein, 2014; Brown, 2004), but modified, and not be considered testing as the only decisive mean of evaluation as in our education system. For example, in our current English Curriculum document most of the assessment measure instruments are stated to document and monitor students’ improvement. This same document contains beautiful explanations of these assessment instruments intentions and how they should be applied. This is a point in which the English Curriculum source is a deceiving working instrument. It ends to be a mere book full of suggestions and ideas that summarize the idea of tests, but emphasize in peer and group dynamics. If we take our thoughts to the deepest of reflections, we realize that there is indeed an education dichotomy about teaching the informational content for the standardized test or develop literature and include a more humanistic part to our instructional venture.

Inside our social factors, we were able to dismantle the essence of the Common Core intentions and how it is perceived by the communities. However, we unraveled the small groups of the U.S. corporate sector that are behind the finance of the Common Core, and how this initiative is the motive behind our curriculum alignment process. The most powerful and disturbing argument is the essential question of what is the long term goal of the Core, and alignment revisions. The forced implementation and the vast amount of money owns the government policies to create and conceive plans to tell the people what to know and to become drones rather than educated citizens. There is also the notion of democracy that U. S. promotes behind basically in all courses of actions, in this case education. It is in this argument when we evaluate the role of the “stakeholder” when we are considering standards and curriculum alignment. We should accept that stakeholders are not a real part in the decision making when aligning curriculum, but witnesses to reluctantly comply with the already paid education reform.

After the psychological implications and social factors, we examined the necessity of at empower ourselves with educational reforms. We realize that curriculum changes belong to classroom teacher as a vital component of his/her community. To beginning this process, we must have the tools to critically modify and adapt the received prescribed curricula material. In the case of language teaching, we should embrace an eclectic philosophy. The understanding of this posture is hugely reasoned by Kumaravadivelu and his Post Method ideas of practical teaching. Kumaravadivelu’s ideas transcend the necessity of becoming eclectic, but invites all educators to aspire to become experts in their own disciplines.

English curriculum must also be abided from the eclectic perspective. Those educators responsible of reforming, revising, and aligning curriculum must be prepared beyond the teaching procedures; they must be highly knowledgeable of the educational philosophies, curriculum principles and English language teaching procedures (Richard & Rogers, 2004; Kumaravadivelu, 2006). This knowledge will empower and justify pedagogic decisions that later will directly have repercussions to the student learning process.

Once we consider all these implications we are able to rethink and search for instructional solutions from the very beginning. Here in Puerto Rico English teaching implementation has seen as forcedly chaotic to implement language policies (Pousada, 2008). We should formulate solutions from the very establishment, but always having the capacity of critical view to face prescription discourses, and develop a true sense of criticizing and constructing our own realities (Freire, 1970; Foucault, 1980). Not just proposing and implementing policies, but before implementing, start to think in long terms. To include authentic instructional material, created in the same school scenarios (Zinkgraf, 2003). There are so many implications in wrong educational decisions that it is imperative to plan and implement curriculum by properly aligning curriculum and considering all its components. Not just elaborating expectations, or standards, but considering and realign the curriculum framework all over again. Taking our thoughts and reflections into the ultimate educational goal, is to consider the type of citizen that we need.

Regardless of the proper procedures of deep reflection to elaborate curriculum, there are due dates when trying to elaborate curriculum. There is also the existence of educational institutions to certify curriculum processes, making very difficult to take a long time before considering establishing new curricula. There is also politics involved and other interests in education (Freire, 1970) with strict agendas that elaborate and establish curriculum in fast haste without even considering a necessary model for implementation or curriculum evaluation process (Whorthen & Sandler, 1987). It is in this reality where teachers should imperatively develop the best possible curriculum to understand many realities, but at the same time be able to design teaching strategies that better serve their school communities.

Language teaching follows this same type of educational situation, in terms of developing operational perspectives to better choose from the prescriptions that they are meant to use. To be able to consult other professionals, to grow and learn from their collective interpretations and experiences (Freire, 1996), to develop proficient language users that could contribute to our society. This idea cannot be formed within our school’s organizations. To have the opportunity of discussing curriculum, we have to provide meetings where our own colleagues are the ones in charge of their own professional development. This critical view is meant to understand that to own knowledge is to have the capacity to conceive real venues of opportunity beyond the curriculum boundaries.

There are many thoughts that comes to our minds when facing education realities. One is the sense of duty and commitment to education and the other is how to do the best to our profession inside a monstrous static education system. Instead of the education system truly improving education, there are these economic interests behind every decision. We teachers have no other venue but to use the eclectic approach as a very pragmatic practice. To accept eclecticism as an approach that lives us space to critically analyze curriculum and use the best of what we received from alignment processes and somebody else’s ideas of delivering instruction as standard as the Core and local educational systems attempt to implement. However, this education point of view is not just for our teaching practices but to constantly examine and question the usefulness of everything that is given from the educational system. All of the sudden we start to think if this situation will have a solution, or if it is a part of our capitalist system where money dictates and everybody follows. Follows the government, follows the education system, and at the end teachers obey with no question or critical capabilities.

There is no doubt that Freire invites us to act beyond Dewey’s notion of education and democracy. Instead of idealizing education we can open the spaces to reconstruct our own educational scenarios and assume a posture of self and collective professional improvement. Then we will be able to use what is best for our classrooms and deal with curriculum prescription. It seems that it will be a long time before our educational policies change to truly serve student’s needs. We educators can do the next best task, which is to elaborate the best leaning experiences possible inside our schools scenarios.

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jueves, 3 de agosto de 2017

Presentación libro Cuentos de un chusco lajeño

Presentación del libro Cuentos de un chusco lajeño
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Una noche mágica, cargada de picardía, será la presentación del libro Cuentos de un chusco lajeño del prosista y poeta Ramón Alameda este próximo 12 de agosto a las 6:30 pm, en la sede del Centro Cultural Anastasio Ruiz Irizarry, Avenida Los Veteranos, Lajas. El libro es una publicación de la Editorial Akelarre.

"Alameda emplea la picardía lajeña para regalarnos una serie de cuentos que nos hacen pensar la realidad de la vida mientras nos reímos de las ocurrencias de los personajes”, expresa Félix M. Cruz Jusino, prologuista del libro.

Cuentos de un chusco lajeño es un reencuentro con esa chispa que caracteriza al jíbaro y que la modernidad nos ha hecho engavetar para ser correctos políticamente hablando.  El libro es un renacer para la picaresca, la “gansería” que tanto criticamos, pero que admiramos solapadamente”, añadió Cruz Jusino.

El libro es un compendio de treinta cuentos y veintisiete microrelatos.

“Ramón Alameda presenta en Cuentos de un chusco lajeño la realidad cotidiana, aunque para muchos sea ficción. Su escrito demuestra las vivencias, vicisitudes y experiencias de unos personajes que podrían ser nuestros vecinos, amigos y compañeros, e incluso nosotros mismos, aunque no lo aceptemos”, indica Pablo L. Crespo Vargas, editor en jefe de Akelarre.

“Hoy por hoy, Ramón Alameda debe ser considerado uno de los principales escritores en la historia de Lajas y uno de los grandes exponentes de la literatura puertorriqueña”, añade Crespo Vargas.

Alameda es poseedor de un verbo enérgico. Los cuentos están escritos en un lenguaje sencillo, las oraciones fluyen para crear narraciones amenas. Alameda conoce el cuento y domina sus técnicas. El ritmo de la narrativa es grácil.

Alameda captura las emociones para convertirlas en imágenes poderosas.  Cada narración oculta sigilosa un deseo solapado del autor, sea este real o fantasioso.

La temática de los cuentos esbozan los grandes cuestionamientos de la existencia misma: la vida, la muerte, los valores ético-morales y la templanza. Los cuentos están henchidos de moralejas, que nos hacen cuestionar nuestras acciones. El autor maneja magistralmente los entuertos de la existencia que conducen al ser humano a su glorificación o a la perdición. 

Los relatos son emotivos, sin caer en la novelesca, pero los hechos narrados harían la tarde de muchas amas de casa consagradas a los culebrones televisivos. Las narraciones son tan reales que los hechos podrían ser verídicos.

El autor utiliza su entorno, Lajas, como escenario principal para la narrativa. Empero juega con el espacio y el tiempo citando otros pueblos del país, proyectándose a los Estados Unidos y recreando eventos sangrientos de la Guerra de Vietnam para enriquecer la lectura.

Concluida la presentación de Cuentos de un chusco lajeño habrá una velada musical con el grupo Románticos y algo más.