The Reformation, and what it means to you

This morning, the Gazette ran an item reporting that parents and students generally perceive the infamous educational reform, first introduced by the MELS (that’s the Ministry of Education, Leisure and Sport, which is the subject of a rant unto itself… seriously, given how quick the provincial MNAs are to lambaste Ottawa for ‘interfering’ in portfolios that are ‘provincial jurisdiction,’ why does Education not warrant a ministry of its own?!? Oh, don’t get me started…) in 1997, and fully implemented in 2005.
As a teacher and a parent, and a Quebecer in general, I have been hearing about “the reform” for what feels like a million years. At the Cegep level, we were in a collective tizzy last fall because – deep breath – the first cohort of students who had only ever been taught under the reform was about to hit us. Seriously, we had entire Ped Days devoted to what to expect from these students, what to do with them, and how to get our insurance to cover the expected increase in sedative prescriptions.
A 1999 article from the McGill Journal of Education summarizes the aims of the reform this way:

The curriculum reforms in Quebec share the same general orientation as reforms currently taking place in Canada, the United States and other industrialized nations. These include: greater stress on standards, accountability and student success; definition of essential learning expectations (or outcomes, results or benchmarks) to be attained at different levels of the system; shift of responsibilities from the bureaucracies of systems and school boards to the individual school; recognition of the importance of the role of the school staff in curriculum development; rethinking of the focus and essential content of various subject areas; emphasis on cross-curricular and interdisciplinary learning; integration of information and communication technologies; introduction of new approaches to assessment and reporting; more effective involvement of parents and the community; and closer links among objectives, programs, teaching and assessment.

In short, the reform purports to:
1. encourage student success
2. be competency*-based (essential learning expectations vs. ‘rethinking’ essential content)
3. decentralize curriculum planning
4. move toward interdisciplinary learning and interconnected stages of teaching and learning
5. embrace IT
6. favour new forms of assessment
7. involve parents/communities
*competencies are, essentially, skills. For instance, high school students are expected to adopt “effective work methods” and “construct a moral frame of reference.” Both of these things are considered competencies, although in different learning areas (methodology and moral education, respectively). Methodological competencies are cross-curricular, which means they can (and should) be transferable from one discipline to another, and should be developed as the student progresses through the grades. Other competencies, such as the moral framework one, are subject-specific, but again, are meant to be developed as the student goes from one level to the next. The Lester B. Pearson School Board has a handy page of links to various pdfs summarizing the competencies at elementary and secondary school.
It’s important to keep in mind that at the Cegep level, we’ve been planning and teaching courses according to a competency model for ages, so really, the fundamental pedagogy of the reform was not completely foreign to us. So why were we all so nervous about the reform? I suspect there were a few aspects of the issue that contributed to our angst – although not every teacher was apprehensive for the same reasons:
a) the idea of increased use of IT in the classroom – some of us are all over every technological innovation, while others are still a little queasy about phones that do anything more than voice calls;
b) fear that there is no content being taught at all – if all of the learning objectives are expressed solely in terms of skills, what actual information do these students have? Do we have to teach all the content we used to assume they already knew?
c) fear that these newfangled touchy-feely self-esteem-boosting instructional methods have produced students who don’t know how to work for grades and feel completely entitled to a pass, regardless of performance;
d) Chicken Little syndrome – all of my colleagues are freaking out about this, and the college is inviting experts to address the faculty at Ped Day, and there are articles in the paper every three weeks… Ack! Terror!
So, before I share my own reflections on the big scary influx of reform students, let me share my friend Mark’s question with you:
“Since I’m about to graduate my second class of grade 11 reform students, I’m curious how my cegep teacher friends find last year’s crop. How are their abilities, skill levels, preparedness, etc?”
On behalf of Mark, I open the question to other high school teachers, as well as my Cegep colleagues, and fellow parents, too – in fact, please encourage others to comment and/or link to their own musings on the matter. What is your experience with the reform?

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