Rabbit Trail Learning With Emergent Curriculum Part 1

As the youngest members of the millennial generation (Gen Y) makes preparations for college entry, we should reflect on the lessons we’ve learned from this group of learners.  What worked most effectively for this generation has been so divergent from what many would consider to be “traditional” educational philosophy that it has forced us to redefine what is “traditional”. We had been told they and the generations that would follow looked at the world and their educational experiences differently. I don’t think we realized how dramatically we would have to change our instructional approach.

The students of Gen Y demanded we engage in their learning experiences.  The canned, scripted curricula that supported grade level scope and sequence was the least effective instructional tool in our arsenal. That kind of passive learning wasn’t acceptable to Gen Y students. They demanded relevance. Educational professionals had to find a new playbook. They found it in an existing methodology: the emergent curriculum.

Emergent curriculum is a way of planning that allows an educator to achieve learning goals and address standards using student interests. Sometimes referred to as “rabbit trail learning”, it allows students to gain a deeper understanding of content because they are highly motivated to engage in the process.  Planning an emergent curriculum requires a thorough knowledge of age appropriate learning goals and academic standards, strong observation and documentation skills, and patience. Emergent curriculum isn’t for the faint of heart. It requires commitment and the application of the educator’s professional skill set. It challenges the educator to ask himself, “Is it my goal to teach? Or for my students to learn?”

It starts with an education professional with an eclectic knowledge base. Yes, that means it starts with you. You need a thorough knowledge of the academic standards for your grade level across ALL content areas. It demands that you embrace the scope of your curricula but not necessarily always the sequence. It means reclaiming you role as an educational professional and building a curriculum that engages your students in real and meaningful ways. To do this you not only need to be a competent, creative professional educator, you also need to be well versed in the world your students live in including popular culture.

In the next entry, we’ll explore what emergent curriculum might look like in a history classroom.

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