What knowledge is truly essential and enduring? What is worth teaching and learning? Our leaders in the basic education level came up with the Philippine Elementary Learning Competencies (PELCs) and Philippine Secondary Learning Competencies (PSLCs) in 2001. The “intended” content of what we teach is laid down in such document. This means that we are not entirely free in the selection of our content. They are a “given” But how they are organized and presented in the classroom, ultimately depends on you. Below are some principles to guide you.
1. One guiding principle related to subject matter content is to observe the following qualities in the selection and organization of content:
- Validity – This means teaching the content that we ought to teach according to national standards explicit in the Basic Education-Curriculum; it also means teaching the content in order to realize the goals and objectives of the course as laid down in the basic education curriculum.
- Significance – What we teach should respond to the needs and interests of the learners, hence meaningful and significant.
- Balance — Content includes not only facts but also concepts and values. The use of the three-level approach ensures a balance of cognitive, psychomotor, and affective lesson content. (For a more-detailed discussion of the three-level approach, refer to Principles and Strategies of Teaching (2003) written by B. Corpuz and G. Salandanan.)
A balanced content is something that is not too easy to bore the above average student, neither not too difficult to turn off the average. It is something that challenges the student. To observe the principle of balance, no topic must be extensively discussed at the expense of other topics.
- Self-sufficiency — Content fully covers the essentials. Learning content is not “mile-wide-and-inch-deep”. The essentials are sufficiently covered and are treated in depth. This is a case of “less is more”.
- Interest – Teacher considers the interest of the learners, their developmental stages and cultural and ethnic background.
- Utility — Will this content be of use to the learners? It is not meant only to be memorized for test and grade purposes. What is learned has a function even after examinations are over.
- Feasibility — The content is feasible. in the sense that the essential content can be covered in the amount of time available for instruction. A guaranteed and a viable curriculum is the first in the school-related factors that has the greatest impact on student achievement. (Marzano, 2003) — It is observed that there is so much content to cover within the school year, so much so that teachers tend to rush towards the end of the school year, do superficial teaching and contribute to non-mastery of content. This is probably one reason why the least mastered competen-cies in national examinations given to pupils and students are those competencies which are found at the end of the Philippine Elementary/Secondary Learning Competencies (PELC/PSLC).
2. At the base of the structure of cognitive subject matter con-tent is facts. We can't do away with facts but be sure to go beyond facts by constructing an increasingly richer and more sophisticated knowledge base and by working out a process of conceptual understanding.
Here are a few ways cited by cognitive psychologists (Ormrod, 2000) by which you can help your students:
- Providing opportunities for experimentation – Our so-called experiments in the science classes are more of this sort- follow-ing a cook book recipe where students are made to follow step-by-step procedure to end up confirming a law that has already been experimented on and discovered by great scientists ahead of us instead of the students coming up with their own procedure and end discovering something new. After teaching your students how to cook a recipe following the procedures laid down in a cookbook, allow them to experiment with mix of ingredients.
- Presenting the ideas of others — While it is beneficial for you to encourage your students to discover principles for themselves, it will not jeopardize your students if you present the ideas of others who worked hard over the years to explain phenomena.
- Emphasizing conceptual understanding — Many a time, our teaching is devoted only to memorization of isolated facts for purposes of examinations and grade. When we teach facts only, the tendency is we are able to cover more for your students to commit to memory and for you to cover in a test but our teaching ends up skin-deep or superficial, thus meaningless. If we emphasize conceptual understanding, the emphasis goes beyond facts. We integrate and correlate facts, concepts and values in a meaningful manner. The many facts become inte-grated into a less number of concepts, yet more meaningful and consequently easier to recall. When we stress on conceptual teaching, we are occupied with less, but we are able to teach more substantially. It is a case of “less is more“! This is precisely the emphasis of the Basic Education Curriculum.
Here are some specific strategies that can help you develop conceptual understanding in your students: (Ormrod, 2000)
- Organize units around a few core ideas and themes
- Explore each topic in depth — for example, by considering many examples, examining cause-effect relationships, and discovering how specific details relate to more general principles
- Explain how new ideas relate to students’ own experiences and to things they have previously learned.
- Show students through the things we say, the assignments we give, and the criteria we use to evaluate learning – that conceptual understanding of subject matter is far more important than knowledge of isolated facts.
- Ask students to teach to others what they have learned — a task that encourages them to focus on main ideas and pull them together in a way that makes sense.
- Promoting dialogue — When we encourage our students to talk about what they learn, they are given the opportunity to reflect, elaborate on, clarify further and master what they have learned.
- Using authentic activities — Incorporate your lessons into “real world” activities. Instead of simply asking students to work on some items on subtraction, simulate a “sari-sari” store and apply subtraction skills.
3. Subject matter content is an integration of cognitive, skill,. and affective elements.
While our subject matter content comes in three domains, these three domains should not be treated as though there was a clear dividing line among them. When our point of emphasis is the cognitive aspect, it does not mean that we exclude skills. In the first place, our teaching of facts, concepts, principles, theories and laws necessitate the skill of seeing the relationships among these in order to see meaning. Likewise, when.our subject matter is focused on the thinking and manipulative skills, our lesson content also has cognitive content. More so with the teaching of values, for values have definitely a cognitive basis. If the values taught are imbibed by the students, these•are expressed in their daily behavior (skill). The cognitive lesson may be used as a vehicle in the teaching of skills and values.
In short, subject matter content is an integration of facts, concepts, principles, hypotheses, theories, and laws, thinking skills, manipulative skills, values and attitudes.