Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Curriculum Construction: A Critical Analysis of Rich Tasks in the Recontextualisation Field

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Curriculum Construction: A Critical Analysis of Rich Tasks in the Recontextualisation Field

Article excerpt

Within Education Queensland's recent 'new basics' curriculum initiative, Education Queensland developed 20 transdisciplinary learning and assessment tasks for Years 1 to 9, called 'rich tasks'. This paper critiques two of the rich tasks that were most closely aligned to knowledge and skills within the health and physical education learning area. To do so we draw on Bernstein's (1996) theory of the social construction of knowledge. Through this framework we analyse how two rich tasks recontextualise the discourses from the primary field in the production of the highly-valued healthy citizen. We argue that these particular rich tasks do not fully realise the tenets of the new basics agenda and, more broadly, of contemporary physical activity and health discourses. We conclude that, for curriculum artefacts to be meaningful, curriculum makers must be informed by closer attention to the primary field of knowledge.


Curriculum theorists such as Goodson (1988) and Pinar, Reynolds, Slattery and Taubman (1995) remind us that what gets taught and learned in schools is contested terrain. This is further supported in education debates over curriculum content areas and the nature of knowledge (e.g., Sorel, 2005), within curriculum areas (e.g., Levesque, 2005), and between theory and practice (e.g., Hipkins, Barker, & Bolstad, 2005). More specifically, the school curriculum and its contribution to the production of a healthy citizen has been a focus of media and policy attention with a cacophony of stories describing the decline of the healthy citizen due to an 'obesity epidemic' as described on 60 Minutes (Hayes, 2004), associated television programs, like Network Ten's Honey, We're Killing the Kids (Freehand TV, 2006) and numerous 'obesity summits' with ensuing school and health policy outcomes.

Against this broader socioeconomic, political and health backdrop, education authorities serve to privilege and marginalise particular knowledge and skills through the distribution of human, discursive, and material resources. Here we are interested in the privileging of particular health and physical education (HPE) discourses within an Australian curriculum initiative. Between 2000 and 2003, Education Queensland (EQ) developed and trialled a reform agenda that sought to orchestrate the message systems of education--curriculum, pedagogy and assessment--focusing on the knowledge, skills, and discourses required for new times (Bernstein, 1996; EQ, 2000b).

This new basics project had as its central components: four curriculum organisers (new basics); pedagogical reform (productive pedagogies); and assessable and reportable outcomes over nine years (rich tasks). The policy initiative upon which this reform rested was Queensland State Education 2010 (QSE 2010, Education Queensland, 2000c). According to the New Basics Technical Paper (EQ, 2000b), the primary goal of QSE 2010 was to increase student achievement levels such that the Queensland workforce would be more globally competitive: 'The QSE 2010 philosophy of education is a pragmatic response to a globalised, post-industrial society' (EQ, 2000c, p.9). Recognising the importance of developing multi-literacies (The New London Group, 1996) the new basics project set out to develop skills 'not only in high-tech and print literacy, but also in verbal face-to-face social relations and public self-representation, problem identification and solution, collaborative and group capacity and so forth' (EQ, 2000b, p. 10).

Inspired by Vygotskian logic, the rich tasks were developed by 'expert' panels of teachers and educators as a pedagogical device for developing such literacies. They were intended to 'cut through problems associated with the crowded curriculum and over proliferation of outcomes' and be 'specific activities that students "do" that have real-world value and use' (EQ, 2000b, p. 42). It is the rich task component of the new basics project that is the focus of this critique. …

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