Although not all states have moved to a critical-science approach, many states have included important processes in their curriculum as a way to resolve practical problems (Smith, 1998). This trend has made teachers more aware of the importance of process-centered curriculum to the learning and achievement of students. Teachers who use this curriculum approach help their students examine recurring practical problems, find ethical solutions, and take socially responsible action.
Several assumptions underlie the practical problem-focused, process-oriented approach (Thomas, 1998a, pp. 27–28):
- Family life is significantly related to other arenas of life, such as work life and civic life.
- Working with practical problems of the family by using practical reasoning is a capacity that can be learned.
- The moral and ethical dimension of practical problem-based, process-oriented FCS helps students develop a sense of responsibility.
- Practical problem-based, process-oriented FCS is relevant for all students regardless of socioeconomic status, college and career plans, or the school curriculum pursued. The ability to reason that is necessary for our complex and challenging lives and the ability to understand its complexity do not "come naturally," as is often assumed. This extensive body of content knowledge is usually not learned outside of formal educational settings.
- Because it is important for students to understand the practical reasoning process relevant to and used by people in real life, practical problem-focused, process-oriented FCS should incorporate problems from students' actual experiences.
- Teaching in ways that enhance practical reasoning requires teachers to engage in the very processes they hope to help students learn. Teachers who have been prepared to focus their teaching on knowledge acquisition will need time and support to reorient their perspective to the role of content as something to think with rather than simply as something to be acquired; and to the role of students as users and developers, rather than absorbers, of knowledge.
- Practical reasoning and recurring, broad areas of concern to families provide a framework for developing FCS curriculum, for teaching and learning processes, and for content.
- Teachers' participation in curriculum formulation is important if what is developed is to be attuned to their settings. Students' participation in curriculum formulation is important if what is developed is to be attuned to their needs.
FCS courses are developed around real and ongoing concerns of families and communities, and they include concepts for resolving these concerns through ethical action. The most difficult problems facing adolescents and adults are human problems of family, work, and community (Laster, 1998b). FCS is concerned with action-oriented questions of what to do about practical issues affecting people. These questions require ethical judgments about what to do for the good of self and others, now and in the future. Concerns that are examined include: family and community action issues; human and community development; family, career, and community connections; interpersonal relationships; human development; nutrition and wellness; and resource management. Family and community concerns require students to draw from many disciplines: art, social psychology, economics, politics, cultural anthropology, philosophy, history, sociology, linguistics, biology, physics, and chemistry.
Process is as important as knowledge as students learn about the problem and its resolution. Two types of processes are developed through FCS (Laster, 1998b): intellectual and social. Intellectual or cognitive processes include, among others, scientific inquiry and reasoning to gain knowledge and test theories; practical reasoning for resolving complex, ethical human problems and achieving valued ends; the generation of conceptual complexity; and perspective taking (Fedje, 1998). Social processes include interpersonal communication, democratic practices, private and public policymaking, teamwork, leadership, goal setting, coalition building, and conflict resolution.
Practical reasoning, the central critical thinking process used in FCS education, involves considering contextual factors, valued ends, alternative actions, and consequences. It results in ethical action. Practical reasoning is used to solve real-world problems in hands-on experiences for which other intellectual and social processes are also required. Not only can learners use practical reasoning now, but it will help them in the future as family members, employees, and citizens.
Students may be introduced to a problem by the teacher through a case study, newspaper article, short story, or other means. Or it might arise naturally as students think about problems affecting their families, their school, or their community. The practical reasoning process involves asking questions, raised either by the teacher or students, which are related to four practical reasoning concepts: valued ends or desired results, context, alternative actions, and consequences. The model used in the Oregon Parenthood Education Curriculum (see figure 1) is helpful in understanding the relationships among these concepts (Copa & Mileham, 1998).
Questions related to valued results include
- What are the desired results for each family member?
- What types of values are involved in this situation?
- What values conflict?
- What would the community like to see happen?
- What might society as a whole like to see as a final result?
Questions related to context include
- What are the economic (political, religious, cultural, social, historical, emotional) factors in this situation?
- Who are the people and institutions affected by the concern?
- What are the views of each person involved in the situation?
- How has the past influenced this situation?
As students investigate the context of a situation, they might also ask questions that require the students to think critically about it. For example,
- Who is making this claim?
- Is the source credible?
- Whose interest is being served?
- How might this information be biased?
Questions related to alternative actions include
- What actions could be used to reach the goal?
- What steps are involved in resolving the issue?
- What reasons would support these actions?
Questions of consequences include
- What will be the long- and short-term consequences of these actions?
- Who will be affected?
- What might be the positive and negative effects on family members?
- What would it be like to be the person most adversely affected?
- What would be the consequence of setting a particular desired result?
- What effect will this action have on my relationship with this person who is affected?
- What would happen if everyone did what we are proposing to do?
Teachers need a large repertoire of questions to facilitate students' reasoning for action. Learners also need to learn how to ask questions to resolve problems with others and to help their family members, especially children, develop their reasoning abilities. These kinds of questions are used as content and as a primary teaching strategy (Coomer, Hittman, & Fedje, 1997).
Critical/emancipatory questions reveal a situation's possible threats to human potential and well-being. Examples include
- What are our obligations and responsibilities in this situation?
- What reasons support our conclusion?
- Whose voices are being heard?
- What would happen if these goals or actions continue?
- What patterns might develop in this family?
- What are the contradictions or discrepancies?
- What are the descriptive and value assumptions? What is underlying the reasoning? Are these facts true or fallacies? (Browne & Keeley, 2000)
- How strong is the evidence supporting the actions we propose to take?
Conceptual questions focus on coming to a deeper understanding of the concepts relating to a situation and their inherent values. Examples include
- What is the meaning of the concept we're studying?
- How did we come to this unquestioned assumption?
- How is that meaning different from the meaning held by . . . researchers regarding fetal brain development? . . . people's protein needs? etc.
- What personal factors are involved—for example, economics, gender, or race?
Technical questions focus on factual knowledge that identifies cause and effect or means and ends. Examples include
- What causes the problem to occur? (What causes obesity? What causes discipline problems?)
- What are its consequences or effects?
- What steps should be taken?
- What was accomplished? Learned?
All these types of questions are necessary for practical reasoning and problem solving.
Teaching for Personal and Socially Responsible Action
Character, a buzzword in American education, reflects the nation's concern for a society gone awry and its citizens' desperate desire to restore good character "as the central desirable outcome of the school's moral enterprise" (Lickona, 1993, p. 7). While the development of good character has been taught implicitly in traditional FCS curriculum, today it goes far beyond the individual. The current trend in FCS is to use meaningful, real-life issues as the central facet in a curriculum to develop morally responsible citizens who are concerned for others and involved in taking ethical action on their behalf.
Rather than teaching didactically, FCS courses help students engage in problem solving and deep critical reflection about how their actions and behavior affect others. FCS teachers stimulate students' "moral imaginations" by drawing on their emotional sides—their caring, concern, and empathy, or their feelings of sorrow, disgust, or outrage. Students learn to reason effectively so they can take personal and socially responsible action on individual, family, and community issues. Courses focus on developing critical insight into family or community problems and on developing the necessary skills for taking ethical action and for promoting the well-being of all. FCS curriculum has moved from helping students make appropriate decisions based on their own needs and wants to helping them use their reasoning abilities to make other-centered, ethically responsible decisions.
FCS teachers are known for modeling other- oriented thinking and serving. They act as care-givers, model love and respect for students, set good examples of character, and support positive social behavior. Other-oriented thinking (Laster, 1998a) includes respect for others, caring, and altruism—prominent values in FCS (Thomas, 1998b). Students in FCS are taught to respect others by examining multiple perspectives and respecting those ideas in cooperative learning experiences and democratic classrooms. Immersion in such positive firsthand moral experiences and the use of case studies, literature, videos, and short stories help them to fully see, hear, and feel like another person. They are given opportunities to become responsible in altruistic ways by taking action on problems even though there is no personal benefit. For example, students in the Blue Eye (Missouri) High School parenting and child development course received a $2,500 childhood literacy grant to prepare and distribute a tote bag to parents of newborn babies at the local hospital. The bag includes a child's book, parenting brochures—including some developed by students—and hygiene products. (See Local Programs Worth Noting on p. 55 for this and other examples.)
FCS combines teaching of the concepts of power, privilege, and ideology with the teaching of process skills, such as reasoning and action, when students are studying issues related to the work of the family. Rather than ignoring social, political, and economic realities, FCS focuses on investigating complex social issues. Power relationships are exposed and critical questions asked about them (McClelland, 1997):
- Who seems to have the most power? How did he get that power?
- What does race, gender, or class have to do with power?
- What conditions influenced this moral issue, and how can those conditions be changed?
As students become involved in real-life issues and use practical reasoning to examine the context of an issue, moral dimensions emerge. Through practical reasoning, students analyze who is affected negatively and positively as they investigate the historical, political, economic, social, and cultural factors influencing the problem. They explore the multiple perspectives related to each issue and the valued ends held by each person or group involved.
Through honest dialogue with each other, the teacher, and perhaps parents and other community members, students learn about the values that are needed for the well-being of people in the world—health and safety, environmental, legal, civic, cultural, and moral or ethical values. They identify the consequences of actions that are taken and their impact on people. As they analyze factors contributing to private and public policy and practices, they discover other-oriented values such as respect for others and their property, responsibility for others' care, altruism, and cooperation to achieve work and other goals. They also discover how each family's unique set of values, such as their faith, contributes to the family's actions. These unique values may conflict with other values that the family holds and with other families' values.
Students are encouraged to use all their intellectual and moral or ethical resources, including their faith, to make the best decisions in their present families and for their future families. An Orthodox Jew or Muslim student might have to creatively resolve conflicts between school or work responsibilities and their observance of family religious holidays that differ from Christian traditions. All students need to understand families' varying faiths, the values stemming from those traditions, and the conflicts that can arise when confronting social issues. Understanding these conflicts and creating possible ways to resolve them require empathy, critical and creative thinking, and moral or ethical reasoning.
Other strategies used in FCS to foster personally and socially responsible action include communication and reflection through cooperative learning, service learning, and conflict resolution appropriate to the context. Students also develop and use listening skills in their classroom and other everyday situations. Grading and reward systems are used that recognize not only typical academic indicators but also other important aspects of classroom life, such as helping others learn in the classroom.
As intellectual and moral leaders, FCS teachers create caring, yet challenging, democratic learning environments where learners become reflective, caring, critical, and imaginative thinkers and active citizens concerned with family policy and family well-being (Laster, 1998b). Teachers guide students to become lifelong learners who think about what should be done. Students develop capacities for complex critical and reflective thought through interaction and dialogue as well as by collecting information from multiple sources. They learn to become personally and socially responsible by engaging in democratic social processes; showing respect for others; seeking to understand other points of view; acting appropriately in language and other conduct, including being truthful; trusting others; and learning to reach a consensus. FCS teachers and programs are valuable in helping students become responsible citizens and family members who can take ethical actions to resolve issues in their communities.
"To treat adolescents as delicate flowers unable to act and think is a costly pretense, as patronizing as it is wasteful. Young people can do things, and they do do things—now" (Sizer & Sizer, 1999, p. 187). A fundamental assumption of FCS curriculum is the belief that students can and do act responsibly.
Standards for Program Development and Assessment
FCS curriculum planners responded to state and national calls in the 1980s and 1990s for student learning standards to guide program development and assessment. Most FCS units in state departments of education led initiatives to develop FCS competency-based content standards for their states, and many developed curriculum guides for their programs. Several, most notably Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, developed their standards with an orientation toward practical problems and critical science. Based on Marjorie Brown's (1978) seminal curriculum framework, A Conceptual Scheme and Decision-Rules for the Selection and Organization of Home Economics Curriculum Content, these states reconceptualized their curricula to include FCS knowledge and cognitive, interpersonal, and self-formation processes. New concepts included practical reasoning, interpersonal relationships, work of the family, systems of action, valued ends, personal and cultural factors, alternative actions, and their consequences.
National FCS standards were established in the 1990s, reflecting Brown's curriculum recommendations as well as those of states, with leadership from the National Association of State Administrators for Family and Consumer Sciences (NASAFCS) (1998). Process and knowledge standards were established to "empower individuals and families across the life span to manage the challenges of living and working in a diverse global society" (American Vocational Association, 1994). Standards were established in the areas of reasoning for action and 16 other topics of study. Each comprehensive standard is described with content standards, supporting competencies, and related academic proficiencies in language arts, mathematics, and science. Examples of questions are also listed to foster students' critical thinking and help them take technical, interpretive, and reflective action in each area.
Besides recommending standards for the content of family and consumer sciences programs, the national document also advocates posing problems through real-world scenarios; asking critical thinking questions to foster reasoning for technical, interpretive, and reflective action on a problem; and linking academic and FCS content in teaching. Scenarios might pose problems such as what a father and mother could do to manage their family, work, and community responsibilities; how a family should handle major credit card debt; or what parents are obligated to do to prepare their children for kindergarten.
Because FCS is an action-oriented field concerned with human issues and is morally obligated to encourage socially responsible action among family members and employees, both scientific and practical reasoning are essential content for all students. This standard should be developed in all courses to resolve family, workplace, and community issues and concerns (NASAFCS, 1998, p. 23):
- Reasoning for action—Use reasoning processes, individually and collaboratively, to take responsible action in families, workplaces, and communities.
Practical reasoning is the critical thinking process used in deciding what to believe and do in situations affecting people and used scientific reasoning and evidence when evaluating choices, values, and consequences.
Sixteen other comprehensive standards are designed to guide family-focused and career-focused programs and assessment (NASAFCS, 1998, pp. 27–28):
- Career, community, and family connections—Integrate multiple life roles and responsibilities in family, work, and community settings.
- Consumer and family resources—Evaluate management practices related to human, economic, and environmental resources.
- Family—Evaluate its significance and its impact on the well-being of individuals and society.
- Family—Evaluate its significance and its impact on the well-being of individuals and society.
- Human development—Analyze factors that impact human growth and development.
- Interpersonal relationships—Demonstrate respectful and caring relationships in the family, workplace, and community.
- Nutrition and wellness—Demonstrate practices that enhance individual and family well-being.
- Parenting—Evaluate parents' roles and responsibilities in strengthening the well-being of individuals and families.
The remaining nine standards focus on integrating the knowledge, skills, and practices required for careers in specific fields. They are
- Consumer service
- Early childhood education and services
- Facilities management and maintenance
- Family and community services
- Food production and services
- Food science, dietetics, and nutrition
- Hospitality, tourism, and recreation
- Housing, interiors, and furnishings
- Textiles and apparel
The national FCS standards address four processes that students need to develop: (1) thinking (through reasoning for action); (2) communication (through interpersonal relationships); (3) leadership (also through interpersonal relationships); and (4) management (through the consumer and family resources and related content standards).
New Program and Course Development
State and local curriculum plans are being evaluated using these national and state standards. State and local education agencies are using these national and state standards to evaluate their curriculum plans, revise their FCS programs, and devise authentic assessment. These standards provide direction for family-focused and career-focused programs. Family-focused courses are appropriate for all middle and high school students.
The first seven standards provide a foundation for learning in FCS and other human service careers. Furthermore, school districts are developing career-focused programs using content from all the areas listed—especially the last nine. These programs, which vary from one school district to another and depend on employment needs and opportunities as well as student interest, prepare students for paid employment in careers that extend the work of the family outside the home to the community. For example, caring for children is part of the work of the family, yet it is supported by day-care centers, preschools, schools, and community recreation centers. (For more detailed information on some of these programs, see the sections on local and state programs worth noting on pp. 53–60 in the Curriculum Resources section.)
The comprehensive standard on early childhood education and services includes the content and competencies that students need for professional and support careers in this area. Career-oriented courses and programs focus primarily on one standard, such as early childhood education and services or hospitality, tourism, and recreation. However, students in each program need competency in content relating to reasoning for action; career, community, and family connections; and interpersonal relationships, along with related academic proficiencies in language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science. In some states the standards for each content area are linked to state academic standards that reflect FCS content. Family, human development, nutrition and wellness, and parenting courses are being used as appropriate content for majors in health and human services careers.
States and local school districts are developing a variety of authentic assessment tools to monitor and evaluate student achievement of the standards. Some states—Ohio, for example—have developed multiple-choice tests and performance standards. Other state agencies and local districts, such as in Minnesota and Wisconsin, are developing performance assessment packages that typically include the content standards to be assessed, assessment tasks, self-evaluation checklists, rubrics, and scoring guides.
As a culminating experience in the Interpersonal Relationships course at Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota, students work in groups to research a topic and provide a class presentation. Throughout this process, students keep journals describing how their group is getting along and analyzing their own behavior and contributions to the group, such as asserting, or not asserting, the need to remain on task, and helping to resolve conflicts rather than creating them. Students and the teacher use two rubrics to plan and assess (1) working in a group and (2) presentation. Grades are determined within the group-work rubric using the teacher's observations of students throughout their research, planning, and presentation. Students are graded on group participation, shared responsibility, qualities of interaction, and roles within the group, using four levels of description: exceptional (4 points), admirable (3 points), acceptable (2 points), and amateur (1 point). While most students eventually work well together, those who do not work well leave the class realizing they have a responsibility to analyze their own behavior and take action to improve their interaction with a group.
With this assessment approach, students are learning more and are more involved in the process, up to and through the culminating experience. Rather than being graded only on how to work in groups, students are graded on actually doing so. Rather than only answering questions designed by the teacher, such as on Piaget's theory in a child development class, students write and answer their own questions regarding the theory to guide their observation of a child, interview with the child's parent, and analysis of their observations.
Students given authentic assessment tasks take class experiences more seriously than when only pencil-and-paper tests are used. Even unmotivated students have improved attitudes because they have more choices and control over their learning and assessment.
Specialized Family-, Career-, and Community-Focused Courses
The shift from comprehensive yearlong courses to specialized term or semester courses began in the 1980s and continues to evolve from state and national standards. These specialized courses are designed to address perennial practical questions affecting adolescents, families, and communities. Family-focused courses may relate to personal development with a career orientation; resource management, including consumer education; food, nutrition, and wellness; parenting and child development; and human relationships and family issues. Some are designed to meet special student needs related to curricular goals for family and career. Schools and school districts are creating FCS career-oriented courses with term, semester, yearlong, and multiyear structures. Most include community-oriented components, such as service learning and work-based experiences. (For more detailed information on some of the programs discussed in the next pages, see the sections on local and state programs worth noting on pp. 53–60 in the Curriculum Resources section.)
Career-Focused Personal Development
Courses in career-focused personal development are designed to help adolescents learn about themselves, careers, and family responsibilities so they can make informed and morally defensible career and family choices. Career Connections, Career Focus, Leadership in the Workplace, Career Horizons, Building Life Skills, and Orientation to Life and Careers are some of the emerging course titles. Such courses, which are often considered fundamental to school reform efforts connecting academic and career development, emphasize such skills as problem solving, interpersonal relationships, work ethics, and coordinating family and career.
Schools in Westerville, Ohio, for instance, provide two such courses. They offer 9th graders a Career Focus semester course and 11th and 12th graders a Life Planning/Mentoring semester course. State leaders in Indiana recommend a semester-long or yearlong Orientation to Life and Careers course as well.
Some school districts require that all students enroll in a career-focused personal development course in middle school or early high school. Others require that or a later career planning course in their effort to create a seamless transition from high school to further education and careers for their tech-prep and college-bound students.
Courses are designed to develop transferable FCS core skills needed for family living, careers, and community life. In Ohio, such as at Westerville North, Work and Family Life programs integrate practical reasoning and problem solving for personally and socially responsible action; respectful, caring relationships; democratic leadership and teamwork; and planning and management skills for coordinating work and family responsibilities. Locating and respectfully using community resources to solve personal and family problems is also a key component. Initiating and maintaining good relationships with community leaders, employers, and other employees are also elements of these hands-on courses. These core FCS skill areas are combined with knowledge gained in language arts, communication, and technology.
The courses culminate in computer-generated portfolios and PowerPoint presentations to peers, parents, and mentors. Career exploration and preparation, goal setting and planning, job shadowing, and mentoring are typical course components. Some courses, such as the Westerville program, include an in-depth career exploration with a 60-hour mentorship or work experience. Students spend blocks of time preparing for their mentorship and seeking input from faculty members to understand the knowledge and skills necessary in their shadowing or mentoring experiences. During their work experience, they attend a weekly seminar, maintain a journal, and are supervised by the FCS teacher.
Similarly, Edgerton (Wisconsin) High School offers a Leadership in the Workplace course to provide a community-based precooperative employment experience. Students spend a short time in the workplace before being placed for an extensive cooperative experience. In contrast, Patrick Henry (Minnesota) High School's Career Horizons course brings community representatives into the classroom to explore nontraditional careers and ways cultural and historical contexts influence career opportunities for men and women. Some examples include dramatic and thought-provoking performances by The Climb Theater actors and Women in Trades workers.
Interpersonal Relationships and Family Issues
Interpersonal relationships and family issues courses are designed to develop skills such as communication and problem solving, conflict resolution, individual and family interpersonal reasoning, and stress management, and to address issues affecting family and community well-being. Students explore the functions and dynamics of interpersonal relationships in families and other contexts in our diverse society.
New courses emerging include Interpersonal Relations, Dynamics of Relationships, Applied Psychology, Human Behavior, Families in Crisis, and Families in Society Today. These courses are meeting state and local high school graduation requirements. For example, Interpersonal Relationships and Dynamics of Relationships meet Minnesota's interpersonal communication standard, and Human Behavior is a district requirement in Lincoln, Nebraska. And the South Albany (Oregon) High School and Westerville North High School programs include Families in Society Today, a team-taught FCS and English course that draws on contemporary literature and service learning experiences.
Parenting and Child Development
Increasingly, districts of all sizes are making courses in parenting and child development a requirement for graduation. High schools such as Patrick Henry, South Albany, and Edgerton include parents' roles and responsibilities, human development, needs and care of children, practical reasoning, and relationships with one's spouse and children as major components of such courses. They offer simulated and firsthand experiences with babies and children to help students understand parents' roles and responsibilities and evaluate their readiness to be parents.
A common exercise is to have students spend 24 hours with an infant simulator, such as Baby Think-It-Over. During this time, a student is completely responsible for caring for the life-size "baby," which cries and presents needs that must be met in the midst of school, extracurricular, and work responsibilities. Students can also observe and participate in school-based or community day-care centers, preschools, and elementary schools. Observation often includes creating a case study, in which the student must apply theory and make comparisons. Students' experiences with children usually also involve reading, such as being reading buddies, or providing them with other learning experiences.
Child-related, career-oriented courses that reflect state and national standards are also offered for semester and yearlong terms. Careers with Children and Early Childhood Education and Services I and II are examples. Pattonville High School in Missouri and Lincoln High School in Nebraska offer these and Advanced Child Development courses for college or advanced placement credit as part of tech-prep programs.
Food, Nutrition, and Wellness
These courses range from practical, problem-based studies of personal and family needs to more technical career-oriented courses. In looking at families, the focus is often: What should we do to adequately nourish ourselves and our families? These courses include Nutrition Foods, Nutrition and Wellness, Sports Nutrition, Modern Meals, Creative Cuisine, and World Foods. Food Science, Chemistry of Food and Nutrition, and Experimental Foods semester courses are examples of courses that tend to be career-oriented.
Most family-focused courses emphasize the nutritional aspects of food and food preparation on health and wellness throughout life and include problem-based, cooperative laboratory experiments. These may analyze the nutritional and caloric content of personal and family diets; the application of dietary guidelines to choices of snacks and meals; long-term consequences of eating large servings and consuming nutrients in quantities out of line with dietary needs; food safety and sanitation; and the selection, preparation, and management of food for varying dietary needs, problems, and economic and other contexts.
Food-borne illnesses and prevention, changes in foods to make them healthier, buying, and equipment selection and maintenance are also elements of these courses. Cultural and geographic differences and their impacts on food availability, choices, and health are often the focus of team research, as well as cultural and nutritional reports with demonstrations of food and meal preparation. Food- and nutrition-related social issues are also being addressed and action taken to resolve such problems as: What should we do about hungry children? What are the nutritional needs of children and adults with AIDS? How can we help? (Alexander, 1998).
Consumer and Family Resource Management
Consumer and family resource management courses—such as Life Planning, Life Management, and Consumer Awareness—are designed to prepare students for their roles and responsibilities when living on their own as adults. Core reasoning and other processes needed for family living, working, and community life are increasingly elements of these courses.
Their content consists primarily of integrating multiple roles; consumer education, including food buying and preparation; and financial literacy, including renting and buying a home, banking and financial services, insurance, and health care.
Designed to meet specific student or community needs, these courses and programs often focus on careers—for example, programs for pregnant and parenting teenagers such as Lincoln's Student Parent Program and Ohio's Work and Family Life GRADS Adolescent Parenting program; entrepreneurship, such as the Blue Eye High School program; and personal development for students prone to dropping out or low achievement, such as Ohio's Impact program.
These courses and programs may extend over two semesters or more. Both boys and girls may enroll in programs for pregnant and parenting teens for their entire time in school but get academic credit for only part of that time.
Other Career-Oriented Courses
These specialized offerings, designed to meet local and student needs and interests, include term, semester, and yearlong courses in housing and interior design, textiles and fashion technologies, hospitality and tourism, and facilities and equipment management. These courses vary from state to state and from community to community. Teachers design and offer these courses to meet special community needs for employment in these areas. Advisory committees are formed with employers from these career areas to develop and support these courses. Some states, such as Indiana, offer courses such as Apparel and Textile Occupations, Housing Occupations I and II, and Facilities and Equipment Management I and II in their comprehensive high schools if they have sufficient student interest.
Integrating FCS in Educational Reform
FCS is an integral part of educational reform. Its content and instructional approaches reflect the many process-oriented, learner-centered teaching, authentic instruction and assessment, and school-to-work reforms. Consequently, FCS teachers are providing leadership within these movements nationwide.
Transferable Processes and Academic and Career Connections
Recommendations for reform resonate with FCS. Process-centered learning, learner-centered teaching, hands-on and community-based learning, block scheduling, parent-school-community partnerships, integration of academic and career learning, problem-based instruction, and service learning are familiar hallmarks of FCS content and teaching methods.
Transferable processes, for example, are part of FCS content: thinking for action, communication, interpersonal relationships, leadership, and management. Although these skills are essential for carrying out the work of the family, they are also needed in workplaces and communities. Purposeful reading, writing, and the use of technology are also components of FCS problem-solving and learning experiences.
Current FCS courses are being revised and new courses created to meet student needs. Courses in interpersonal relationships and career connections are being developed in FCS to meet student needs for transferable skills and career experiences. Some school districts are requiring such courses for all students—for example, Human Behavior courses at Lincoln High School in Nebraska or Career Focus courses at Westerville North High in Ohio.
Some states are requiring students to meet standards in interpersonal communication and career investigation, and FCS courses such as the Patrick Henry program and Minnesota Career Horizons resource guide do meet such standards.
Teachers are assuming collaborative leadership roles to shape and improve student learning. Teachers model and teach shared leadership through the cocurricular student organization Family, Career, and Community Leaders Association. They are comfortable in such roles because this is part of their curriculum. Many FCS teachers are leading local efforts to integrate academic and career learning as school-to-work coordinators for their schools. They are asking the critical questions: What interferes with students' achieving high academic standards and preparing for families, careers, and future learning? What should we do to ensure this achievement and preparation—individually and collectively?
With their roots in a broad academic and career-technical education, FCS teachers have a unique professional background to take part in current school improvement efforts. Their expertise in the interrelationships of family, career, and community is an important contribution to local dialogue. Their broad academic foundations in the humanities, social science, science, mathematics, and the language arts, along with their in-depth FCS preparation and education in the field of family- and community-centered, career-technical teaching enable them to understand multiple academic perspectives.
With this interdisciplinary background, FCS teachers are helping their colleagues connect academic and work-based learning. Their career-technical expertise enables them to help others create engaging learning environments and to incorporate a variety of learner-centered teaching strategies relating to the community. Arranging field experiences and identifying classroom resource personnel to answer and stimulate student questions are routine teaching strategies for FCS educators. Finally, their expertise supports their relationships with students' families.
Helping All Students Meet High Expectations
FCS teachers are using new educational theories and developments to help every student meet high standards and expectations. They are teaching for enduring understanding through partnerships and by drawing on brain-based education, students' multiple intelligences, and culturally appropriate curriculum innovations. Their work influences student learning in four ways: (1) through the partnerships they are forming, (2) through the strategies they design to help students make connections, (3) by attending to individual differences, and (4) through the FCS subject matter being taught. (For more detailed information on some of the programs mentioned on the following pages, see the sections on local and state programs worth noting on pp. 53–60 in the Curriculum Resources section.)
Forming Partnerships to Extend Student Learning
To help students achieve higher academic standards and move seamlessly from school to careers and further learning, academic partnerships are being forged with other faculty members. These call on FCS teachers to clarify the learning that students need to achieve and to collaborate with academic teachers to create real-world experiences needed to succeed on proficiency tests. To foster high achievement, some FCS teachers are reaching out to colleagues in science, language arts, social studies, and other fields to team-teach challenging courses—food science, and family issues and relations, for example—through contemporary novels and service learning. Other teachers are identifying students' critical needs and developing courses to meet them. At Blue Eye High School in Missouri, for example, the FCS teacher helps her student tutors develop lifelong learning skills and coordinates faculty tutoring for low-achieving and low-motivated students as part of a personal development course. She also designed an FCS entrepreneurial course to help students create earning opportunities in low employment areas.
Efforts are being made to form parent partnerships and to inform and support parents with their children's school-to-career transition responsibilities. Families matter in successful school-to-work transitions (Way & Rossmann, 1996). FCS teachers are helping families contribute to their children's transitions by providing career education for parents through seminars and school media centers.
Parents are asked to support their children and other students in a variety of ways: By providing shadowing and mentoring experiences; visiting their child's mentoring site during the first week; attending their child's portfolio presentation at the end of a career education experience; and writing a letter describing their child's growth during the work-based experience for the child's portfolio. When parents cannot support their children in these transitions, FCS teachers are supporting and helping students themselves.
Businesses, industry, government, human service agencies, and colleges and universities are forging community partnerships. Volunteers from these community organizations help teachers create learning experiences that bring the real world to the classroom. They also help in their own community settings, adding a real-life component that helps students make valuable connections and gives them examples of positive, caring role models who devote their time to enriching the lives of others. These volunteers model leadership and citizenship in the community.
These new partnerships provide service learning opportunities, and career shadowing and mentoring, beyond family- and consumer-related careers. Learning based on service or on the home and community has always been integral to FCS. Leadership development through the cocurricular student organization Family, Career & Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) gives students opportunities to identify family, school, and community concerns and then take action to resolve those concerns. Individual projects emerge through FCCLA's Power of One as well as class or small-group projects through Families First, Student Body, and other student-centered initiatives (see Future Homemakers of America curriculum guides on p. 52 of the Curriculum Resources section).
These partnerships not only provide valuable resources, but they also make it possible for students to establish a more personal connection to the world of work and see how important their learning is for their future.
Helping Students Make Connections
FCS teachers, by creating hands-on learning experiences in the classroom and community, help students make connections with other academic disciplines and the world beyond the school. These experiences often begin with real-world scenarios and incorporate reading and other learning tasks like those the students can expect to encounter. Or classroom learning may begin with students trying to resolve a community problem, such as nursing home residents' need for gardening opportunities or children needing playground space and equipment. Through such experiences, students take action in small ways and see that they can make a big difference. This empowers them for future learning in FCS, in their other courses, and in their families and communities.
These authentic learning experiences help students see patterns and relationships, thereby helping students develop a deeper understanding of abstract concepts. Students take in new information, check it with information they already know, make sense of the new information, and build a new structure in their minds. The FCS teacher becomes the "guide on the side" who facilitates this by asking appropriate questions and helping students make their thinking and learning more public.
The teachers use concept analysis, attainment, and mapping, as well as other strategies to foster conceptual thinking (Carlson & Johnson, 1999). For example, many times we think students share our meaning of an abstract concept, such as responsibility or cooperation, but then find they hold a different meaning; they have an incomplete picture. Students in one classroom came to a shared meaning of "cooperative work group" by participating in and comparing two learning experiences. In a scavenger hunt competition, individuals searched the food preparation laboratories for various pieces of equipment, and a winner was declared. The second experience involved a group task in which everyone was required to collaborate to find the equipment. Students analyzed their cooperative work and how it differed from competition. This concept analysis and reflection on the differences helped students reach a common meaning of a complex concept.
Providing students with a rich environment in which to apply FCS along with other academic learning stimulates the complex structure of the brain and helps students make connections between ideas. FCS courses provide students with critical subject matter for family and community life, and connect concepts taught in FCS to other concepts in math, science, social science, psychology, history, and art (Smith, 1998).
FCS teachers, sometimes in collaboration with community partners, ask intriguing and stimulating questions to arouse each student's curiosity, in turn encouraging students to develop questions. Joining with academic or community partners, such as by offering literature or work in a real-life setting, helps students remember and is thus a way to make learning more intense, which often acts as a "memory fixative" (Jensen, 1998).
FCS teachers also connect personally with students to facilitate learning. Caring and support within the family and the school is a protective influence and a powerful predictor of positive outcomes for students. FCS teachers' community and school partnerships indicate to youth that they are valued and have important and positive roles in the community. These caring relationships often continue beyond FCS courses.
Attending to Individual Differences
FCS teachers are cognizant of helping all students learn in ways that account for individual differences. They consider the developmental differences in students, their multiple intelligences, and their cultural diversity. FCS teachers plan curriculum with the developmental stages of adolescents in mind, paying attention to critical periods of growth. For example, children can learn nutrition concepts early in life, often in elementary school and through television. Middle and secondary students are developmentally ready to examine nutrition-related issues, such as the high fat and carbohydrate content of American diets; the effects of fast food and extracurricular school activities on family nutrition and relationships; and ethical issues, such as world hunger or disease.
By identifying and strengthening their students' multiple intelligences, FCS teachers give them opportunities to achieve. They provide hands-on activities that often require the use of multiple intelligences: precise kinesthetic skills, in addition to logical-mathematical, linguistic, spatial, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic intelligences (Gardner, 1993). Students' dominant intelligences are used to help them reach higher levels of learning, while their weaker intelligences are strengthened. Students strengthen their logical-mathematical intelligence, for instance, by measuring food to determine cost, developing financial plans, and calculating the cost of buying or selling a home. Students strengthen their bodily kinesthetic abilities through food preparation and community or family service opportunities. To develop spatial intelligence, students visualize three-dimensional products and then transform the visualization to reality. As a service, students may make quilts for new babies; they visualize the plan, design the quilts on the computer, and then actually create them.
Cooperative learning in labs, small group discussions, and projects help students develop and improve interpersonal intelligence. Intrapersonal intelligence is related to goal setting and other facets of personal development, also an important component in FCS. By keeping a journal of their understanding, feelings, and emotions about a particular concept, or reading and understanding technical directions, students strengthen their linguistic skills. Some teachers use contemporary music to introduce broad concepts, such as caring or positive relationships; students talk with parents about popular music and compare it to the music of another generation to identify implied attitudes and values.
FCS teachers are developing curriculum that enables students to learn about other cultures through guest speakers, interactions with community groups from other cultures, drama, Internet activities, videotapes, references, and literature (Johnson, 1998). They are using methods that promote cooperation, interaction, and success for all students, regardless of background, language proficiency, social class, or learning style. FCS teachers create a classroom culture of unity that supports the growth of all students, enabling them to participate in public dialogue and policymaking that is sensitive to the values of the community (Parks, 1999).
In the past, FCS has conformed to the norms of mainstream society, emulating its dominant forces (Brown, 1984; Ralston, 1988). The outer trappings of culture, such as making food to illustrate a particular culture, may have only reinforced stereotypes. However, a new level of cultural understanding is beginning to emerge, part of the trend to help all students meet high expectations.
Subject Matter Supports Improved Learning
In addition to providing new teaching practices, the subject matter provided in FCS curriculum supports student learning by helping students understand how the brain works and learn about choices they can make to foster their learning and that of others. The ability to retrieve newly created memories depends on rest, nutrition, and physical safety (Jensen, 1998). Getting enough rest helps people learn, in other words. During rest and dreaming, meaningless information is discarded and other information strengthened. Without rest we cannot learn complex material, and we are weaker at logic. Specific chemicals found in eggs, salmon, lean beef, and dairy products also affect long-term memory and attention. Overall, the physical and emotional environment—temperature, humidity, water, adequate food, safety, and emotional support—is critical to learning (Pool, 1997). Teaching this information in courses on human and personal development, or child development and parenting, improves students' understanding of how their choices will affect their children's learning as well as their own.
Helping students learn, achieve, and meet the high expectations of school and most important, life, is the goal of FCS teachers. They collaborate with students and others to facilitate students' optimum development in a variety of ways. New courses, learning experiences, and community relationships continue to evolve for this purpose.
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