Élisabeth Harvey
Third year, Art Education Specialization

Integrating a Negotiated Curriculum Approach

Written Work

As a student-teacher, the exploration of various educational theories is crucial to the creation of a teaching philosophy. What sticks to your teaching practice is highly informed by what you come in contact with as a student-teacher. While on such an exploration, I came across an article “Negotiating to Engagement: Creating an Art Curriculum with Eight-Graders,” by Alice C. Pennisi (2013). Pennisi discusses her research on the re-engagement of a classroom through the use of a negotiated curriculum. A negotiated curriculum is described as the process of creating an art curriculum through negotiation between teacher and students. The teacher expresses the non-negotiable constraints that must be included in the curriculum, but the rest of the content is generated in partnership with the students.

This responsive approach to teaching intrigued me for its potential to promote student’s intrinsic motivation and student agency over their learning. The notion of teacher and students being partners in learning resonated with my aspiration as a student-teacher. A negotiated curriculum generates an idea-centered classroom as opposed to a teacher-centered one. Pennisi (2013) offers guidelines for implementation, such as the necessity for teachers to “make clear any non-negotiables constraints, so teachers and students know their respective responsibilities” (p.129). Other parameters necessary for the success of this approach include the decrease of “teacher talk” and the expansion of the definition of in class work. To decrease teacher talk, Pennisi (2013) suggests using signs with prompts, to encourage student autonomy upon entering the classroom.  She also encourages teachers to “not teach,” “meaning [to] not do anything students could possibly do themselves” (p.135). This classroom structure relies on peer experts revealing themselves organically in the group to further support decreased teacher talk. The peer experts share the teacher’s responsibilities of transferring knowledge and support the creation of a community of learners in the classroom. To broaden what we consider as working in the art classroom, Pennisi suggests seeing research, reading and writing as valuable practices for students to engage in during class time.

The advantages of such an educational practice are evident, whether it be the opening up to diverse points of view and/or the increase of student’s engagement and motivation. A negotiated curriculum is anchored in critical theory and offers the possibility to alter power dynamics in the classroom. A shift in power dynamics can be achieved through the interrogation of the curriculum’s content by the partners in learning. Critical reassessment of curriculum favours the inclusion of new and/or historically marginalized knowledge. Although the level of student involvement required for the implementation of a negotiated curriculum might not be suitable for all classrooms and may cater to older learners, it showcases a way to foster student agency over learning that could be adapted to fit various contexts.
Reflecting on my own teaching practice, I wondered how I could integrate the negotiated curriculum educational approach to my classroom. Working with a group of 16 younger students (9-12 years old) in a community setting over the course of 12 weeks meant that I would have to adapt some elements to suit the younger age group, the duration, and the context. I implemented this approach by asking for student input and feedback about their learning and engagement during the first semester of an internship in 2017. This discussion took place as I was about to prepare the projects for the next semester of 2018. Students contributed their opinions on projects and subjects covered and provided suggestions regarding themes, materials, and processes they were interested in trying. I let them know some of the limitations concerning time and resources, and they expressed their satisfaction for my active listening and for being concerned with their interests. This open dialogue about the content of the course seemed to give them a sense of ownership over what was to come. In regards to the classroom structure of this approach, it will be something to ease into as the new semester begins. My hope is to integrate some of the methods for self-directed learning, for example, using signs and peer experts, amongst other tactics, as suggested by this article.
Works Cited:
Pennisi, A. C. (2013). “Negotiating to Engagement: Creating an Art Curriculum with Eighth-Graders.” Studies In Art Education: A Journal Of Issues And Research In Art Education, 54(2), 127-140.