I have recently been appointed as the Academic Vice Principal of one of the most distinguished schools in Qatar. This made me write about the structure of the school and the different roles of the various people taking part in the process of teaching and assessment and at the same time how they can make good use of the curriculum standards to achieve a considerable success at the end of the school year and be on top of all the Supreme Education Council independent schools. All the members of the staff as well as vice principals of other schools are invited to make use of this presentation in their future training courses.In a previous article I talked about the education reform taking place in Qatar and came across the mentioning of the curriculum standards. I have to take the chance now before schools start to talk about these standards in detail. I have to say that the following forms the basis for my presentation on the curriculum standards last Sunday.
The Curriculum Standards
The Curriculum Standards are based on international expectations of what students should know, understand and be able to do at each stage of their schooling, as well as the current best practices in Qatar’s public schools.
The standards focus on the content essential for preparing students to be engaged and productive citizens. Critical thinking, enquiry and reasoning are emphasized in all grades to ensure that students develop the ability to work creatively, think analytically and solve problems.
The standards reflect Qatari values and culture, and are relevant to the needs and interests of Qatari students.
Principals and teachers should find these standards to be an excellent resource on which to base their planning, teaching and assessment. Quality instruction and high levels of scholastic achievement are crucial.
The curriculum standards are goals for students’ learning. They set out what Qatari students should know, understand and be able to do by the end of each grade from Kindergarten to Grade 12 Advanced. They are intended to help each Independent School to plan its curriculum, to guide writers of teaching and learning materials, and to inform the design of tests and examinations.
Structure of the curriculum standards
The standards for Grades 10–12 follow two different pathways. All students continue to study all four subjects (Arabic, English, Mathematics and Science) but not necessarily to the same depth or level. The standards for these grades are at two levels, foundation and advanced. Students, with advice from teachers and parents, will choose a course based on one or other of these levels. This is to allow teachers to prepare students according to the students’ individual needs and aspirations.
The foundation standards include revision and consolidation of standards for earlier grades as well as some new material. Advanced standards include the foundation standards, so that advanced students are taught the foundation standards as well as learning more complex skills and knowledge.
The extra content in the advanced standards focuses on new learning that is beyond the scope of the foundation standards and on more in-depth study of foundation level material (for example, more challenging problems, more demanding critiques of texts).
Key performance standards
The standards are numbered to make them easy to reference. The numbers in shaded rectangles (e.g. 1.2) identify the key performance standards. These are the standards that should be taught to all students and that all students should master. The national tests are based on these standards.
The remaining non-key standards represent extension or enrichment objectives for the more able, or consolidation objectives for those who learn more slowly. As such, they will not necessarily be taught to all students. Some of them are key standards in an
earlier or higher grade.
The shaded panels at the start of each strand are summaries of the key standards for that strand. They should be useful to teachers in making informal assessments of students’ progress and when reporting to parents.
Illustrations of the standards
The standards aim to provide enough detail to give teachers a clear understanding of:
- what students should learn by the end of each grade in each of the four subjects;
- the emphasis to be placed on higher order skills, such as critical thinking, enquiry, reasoning and problem solving.
The standards are illustrated with examples to show what is expected. The examples should help teachers to interpret the standards and to develop lesson plans, learning resources and assessment materials.
Notes in the margin are also intended to help teachers to interpret the standards. For example, a margin note might add further detail about what to include or not include in the teaching of a standard or refer to a linked standard.
Using the standards in schools
The standards are intended to help schools to meet students’ learning needs but are not in themselves a syllabus. They can be used in schools in several different ways, as illustrated by the bullet points below.
- Principals and senior managers might use the standards to help them to plan, resource, monitor and evaluate the school curriculum, and to support the development of school policies for teaching and learning.
- Subject leaders and teams of teachers who are teaching the same subject can use the standards to develop schemes of work or programmes of study, classroom resources and assessment materials.
- Teams of teachers, from one or more schools, who are teaching the same grade, can use the standards to develop integrated programmes for the grade.
- Individual teachers can use the standards to help them to plan lessons for a class, set learning objectives for students, assess and monitor students’ progress, and report to parents.
Decisions about how individual teachers might best teach the standards are left to schools. There are no prescribed teaching methods. Teachers should choose appropriate methods in line with their school’s policies. For example, they may use direct instruction and explicit teaching, or may guide students to learn through experimentation and discovery. Traditional methods might have a place but students will need a much wider range of active experiences if they are to solve problems, think creatively, enquire, criticise and evaluate.
Equally, there are no prescribed textbooks or other teaching and learning resources. Schools can select a variety of support materials from the very best that exist. It is unlikely that any single set of textbooks could address the standards adequately. Teachers should use their creativity in developing their own resources, or in finding and introducing published resources, choosing those that are culturally relevant and interesting to students.
The standards do not imply that each student in a grade is necessarily at the same level of achievement. Teachers should exercise flexibility and imagination when they are planning lessons based on the standards. They should move high-achieving students forward or give extra support to students who are experiencing difficulty with more basic content. They should make their own professional judgements about these matters, based on their knowledge of the students in their classes. This is particularly important for students whose native tongue is other than Arabic (and whose academic potential may be underestimated), gifted and talented students, and students with special educational needs.
Similarly, there are no prescribed methods of assessing and recording students’ progress. The only requirement on Independent Schools is that every student participates in the national tests based on the standards. Each school can design and implement its own assessment policy to help teachers to plan and improve teaching and learning.