June 3, 2023

There IS a Difference Between Teaching, Learning and Curriculum!

Last Friday, I enjoyed the great privilege of participating virtually in a discussion of Daniel Pink’s dubious book, “A Whole New Mind,” with terrific high school students from Arapahoe High School in Colorado. Karl FIsch, Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Moritz earned my respect for inviting “outsiders” into the discussion and for their preparation. Based on the comments from their articulate students, they are doing something right.

(You may read the discussions I participated in here: Period 4 & Period 5)

In preparation for the book discussions, Karl Fisch’s Fishbowl blog, Karl Fisch shares the following quote from another blog.

Twenty-first century education won’t be defined by any new technology. It won’t be defined by 1:1 laptop programs or tech-intensive projects. Twenty-first century education will, however, be defined by a fundamental shift in what we are teaching—a shift towards learner-centered education and creating creative thinkers.

This comment makes an all-too common mistake. It confuses teaching, learning and curriculum. They are not the same! “A fundamental shift in what we are teaching” refers to content, not how students learn or think. In fact, I do not believe that you can create creative thinkers since learning is what the learner does – not the result of teaching.

It seems peculiar to me that there is so little discussion of changing curricular content among those who spend their time blogging about school “change.” Surely, you cannot keep adding content to the overcrowded curriculum. Not only does some curricular content need to be cut to make room, but some content is irrelevant while other “content” is counter-productive, unteachable or bad for students.

Kids at Arapahoe High School understood me when I suggested that “kids go to school to be taught.” This is not the same as learning. Too many educators and policy makers seem to have a tenuous understanding of terms central to their mission.

Here is a primer…

What you teach is curricular content. How you teach is pedagogy. Learning is the process of growth undertaken by the learner. Knowledge is the consequence of experience.

9 thoughts on “There IS a Difference Between Teaching, Learning and Curriculum!

  1. Gary, your definitions of curriculum, pedagogy, learning and knowledge have some validity, but I think curriculum and pedagogy become more closely linked when we consider content in terms of skills rather than in terms of static factual information.

    If in fact we are adapting our pedagogy to ensure that students have opportunities to learn and to apply learning skills, then our ways of measuring the achievement of these ‘verb-based’ expectations will result in classrooms that operate very differently from the ones we inhabited as students.

    It’s unfortunate that the standardized tests administered to measure student achievement, fail to consider anything more than written products as proof of the achievement of these curricular skills.

    Relatedly, knowledge might better be considered as the ability to perform, rather than the ability to recall.

  2. Gary, I am in the English class you blogged with last week, but I was on a Student Council retreat, so I missed out on the fun. Here is something I want some feedback on!
    You disagree with Pink very much. You say that Symphony is not a new aptitude, that Symphony shouldn’t be called Symphony, and that Pink’s book is not the end all be all of our future. You say that he uses popular economic fears to convince the reader of an upcoming Conceptual Age. You say that theories require research before they are made. You say that MorganW deserves 15$ for agreeing with you.
    To this is say:
    Symphony is NOT a new idea or concept, it has been around since we wondered the globe. We as humans take ideas and put them into one picture or idea to make it easy to comprehend. Gary, I must commend you for saying that Symphony is a misnomer of Pink’s big picture idea. To this I say that Symphony is a metaphorical and not literal name. I agree that Symphony isn’t always about drawing and metaphor making, but he couldn’t go into every detail about big picuture thinking. You say Pink’s book isn’t the fate of our world. I completely agree. And I think that when this book was assigned to us that there was sort of a united agreeing with Pink’s ideas in our class. you helped us open our eyes to the other side of the story, and that is great. I don’t agree with everything Pink says, but I think that this book was an affective warning to us that things aren’t going to stay the way they were ten years ago.I also think that Pink does play off of some common fears we have in the US. Most are overhyped and unrealistic. But with such change as automation and outsourcing (some-in my opinion-realistic fears) that we should be prepared. As for your idea about theories that caught my eyes- I think that anyone can throw a theory into the world much like Pink did. I think that you disagreed with yourself because you say that Pink has no solid facts, but he has thrown an idea out there. And, some people agree with his theory.
    So Gary, I agree with you about some things. I highly respect your ideas, and I am honored to even write to you. Your disagreing with Pink’s book has helped open our class’s point of view about Pink. Thanks, Gary.

  3. Maybe Anthony will chime in here, but perhaps he meant “how we are teaching” as opposed to “what we are teaching.”

    As far as creating creative thinkers, we may not be able to “create” them, but can we provide an environment where they are more likely to emerge and develop? (Honestly asking the question here.)

    I would agree about curriculum, but I would hazard a guess that many folks don’t talk about curriculum because they feel they have so little control over it. While I have ranted many times about curriculum and my belief that we should “cover” less and focus on understanding essential concepts, and on allowing students to explore areas of interest in meaningful, relevant and deep ways, I’m not sure that any of those rants has changed a darn thing. When I blog about changing how we approach teaching and learning in the classroom, how we perhaps should give students more of a say in their own learning, of some examples of how we are trying to use some of these tech tools in meaningful ways, then many teachers feel like those are things they can change – and then they try to change them.

    So while changing the already overcrowded and often irrelevant curriculum is something we should definitely be talking about, and something I would love to do, I think I don’t blog about it as much because it doesn’t seem to make a difference.

  4. Perhaps part of the dilemma here is that there is little agreement on which content is irrelevant or which content is counter-productive, unteachable or bad for students. If we get agreement on THAT, then perhaps we will begin to see some changes being made. Will Richardson does not want time spent on memorizing the 50 states and capitals. Someone else doesn’t want time wasted on teaching handwriting. Yet another (hmmm… who?) thinks that haiku perhaps should not be part of the curriculum. And, we could easily add a long list of other items – all of which would bring vehement disagreement for varying reasons, from many. So, what does one do? I don’t know… I think there is a much greater consensus on teaching and learning than on curriculum.

  5. Gary, I am, like Jordan, also in the English class that you blogged with on Friday. In fact, I am the one who spoke up in the inner circle about not liking Pink’s book (By the way, I’m still waiting for that $15, and yes, I’ll take it in the form of an Amazon gift certificate). While I do not like Pink’s book, I do not think it is as irrelevant as you seem to think. While Pink was recycling information in a self-help form and while I may not think he was doing anything other than proving that you can get almost anything published, he does make some valid points. Even though I do not agree with Pink’s “right-brained/left-brained” metaphor, I am grateful that he pointed out the “right-brained” skills he thinks we will need. He specifically mentions skills that educators and learners of all levels should be aware of.

    Which brings me to my real point. I agree; there is a notable difference between teaching, learning, and curriculum. I also agree with Mr. Fisch. As a high school student I have come to realize that I cannot be taught. If I am to learn anything of value and be expected to remember it longer than finals, I have to want to learn. I feel a teacher’s job is to set up an environment in which students feel free to learn and grow as they please. If a teacher gives their students resources, an intriguing story, empathizes (to a certain extent), helps them to see the big picture and make cross-curriculum connections, and gives meaning and a sense of intrigue to an assignment, students are much more likely to go above-and-beyond on the assignment. I realize this fairly idealistic, but it is what I would most like to see in a teacher. It is also the only way I can truly learn. I do not, and I do not think anyone truly learns unless there is a purpose and a meaning to what they are learning. Knowledge must have an application to make people want it (and by that I do not mean the kind of text-book math problems where you find the angle measures that a toothbrush makes with a toothbrush holder).

    I cannot say much about curriculum, but, as long as more opportunities are opened for me to explore extra-curricular knowledge, I am willing to put up with over-crowded and often irrelevant curriculum. Being able to take courses that do not fall under the standard school curriculum increases my interest and motivation in the other, relatively dry classes, and I actually become compelled to make the courses more interesting by doing research outside of class, even when it is not assigned. As students, we need to be allowed to pursue our passions, and you, as educators, will find that we are much more enthusiastic when we don’t feel as if we’re being force-fed.

  6. Gary

    I hate to bother you again, but I was wondering if I could ask you a question (and really anybody else who wishes to respond as well) regarding the topic I am doing a paper on for English. It is a position paper that is required to incorporate some part of Pink’s book. I chose the aspect of story and how teachers will need to move away from text-book teaching styles into forms of teaching that resemble story telling. They will need to engage and spark curiosity in their students if they expect them to learn. So, I was wondering if you, as educators, have ever used a form of story or story telling to engage and encourage your learners and if you have, how worked?

    It would be tremendously helpful to me if I got even a few responses to that question. Thanks for your time,


  7. Hi Morgan,

    I will find a way to get a gift certificate to you. I’ll see if I can send it via Mr. Fisch.

    I’m not sure that irrelevant would be the word I would choose to describe the Pink book. I think it’s sloppy and simplistic, but most of all, I marvel at why educators are so excited by it. I wonder why teachers would think you should read it.

    All reading is good, even if you disagree with the author. There are a zillion better books that won’t sell a tiny fraction of the copies Pink’s book will.

    Motivation is a big piece of learning, as are context, joy, relevance, etc… I would recommend that you think of learning outside of school. Some things are hard to learn and take effort, but lots of learning is natural.

    What do you think you will do post high school? Are you applying to colleges?

    All the best,


  8. Morgan,

    Subjects like history and language arts (English) are often taught through storytelling. Other disciplines require more direct experience and benefit from less storytelling, although all communities of practice have a shared history, heroes and mythology.

    When I speak to educators (re: teach them), I try to inspire them with stories of what children have done in learning environments I created.

    I recommend that you check out the following books:



    Your school librarian should be able to locate them for your research purposes.

  9. Gary

    Thank you for the book recommendations. They are very helpful.

    Truthfully, I have no idea what I’m going to be doing post-high school. Well, I do know that I will be going to college, but I do not know what I’ll be majoring in or what colleges I’ll be going to. I have an interest in graphic design and being an engineer/architect, but it’s always been a dream of mine to be a large animal veterinarian. History and literature are my favorite subjects, so it is still an option that I might decide to major in English Lit or some form of history. I do know that whatever school I go to must have a decent choir and theatre group and must be near or have a riding stable. I’m kind of spattered all over the board, but according to Pink, that will give me a great advantage in the coming age.


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