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Principles in Building Career Education Learning Experiences

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The general approach described in this chapter might be called the "career education learning experience." Others use terms such as "learning packages," "simulated activity module," or some other expression. Whatever the phrase, it should be clear that the project-activity approach to instruction is being discussed. This instructional approach is of course neither new nor strange to the elementary school educator. It is only necessary to make explicit the operational principles required to use this approach in an elementary school career education program.

Of first concern is the matter of substantive content. The goal is to combine the substantive content of career education with the substantive content of the academic disciplines as these exist in the elementary school. The operational problem of many elementary school teachers is that they simply do not know the substantive content of career education.

The substantive content of career education consists in part of basic information regarding occupations, the world of work, career development, and the nature of work. In part, the substantive content of career education consists of career education concepts that pupils should have assimilated by the time they leave the elementary school. Such concepts grow out of the basic knowledge referred to above. Essentially, it is a matter of translating major generalizations concerning work, occupations, careers, and career development into terms that can serve as teacher goals. Many such concepts can and have been developed around a wide variety of areas. The following list, while not comprehensive, illustrates the kinds of career education concepts that could be formulated for use in the elementary school.

Concepts Related to the Role of Work in Life and Society
  1. At least some people must work if society is to survive.

  2. Society is dependent upon the work of many people.

  3. All work needed by society is honorable and dignified.

  4. Trained, experienced, productive workers are more useful and more in demand than untrained, inexperienced, or nonproductive workers.

  5. Man's work determines his standard of living.

  6. Work provides opportunities for one to enhance his dignity and worth.

  7. There is a relationship between the commitment to education and work and the availability and enjoyment of leisure time.

  8. The individual's perception of people affects his ability to work cooperatively.

  9. Job satisfaction is dependent on harmonious relationships between a worker and his work environment.

  10. The economic system structures incentives for man to work.

  11. Our economic system influences work opportunity.

  12. Job specialization creates interdependency.
Concepts Related to the Nature of the World of Work
  1. Some workers produce goods; others produce services.

  2. There is a wide variety of occupations that may be classified in several ways.

  3. There are job clusters within occupational areas, as well as across occupational areas.

  4. Any career area has different levels of responsibility.

  5. Society enacts laws to protect the individual as a producer and consumer of goods and services.

  6. The customs, traditions, and attitudes of society affect the world of work.

  7. Technological developments cause a continual change in the emergence and disappearance of jobs.

  8. The pace of technological development has been accelerated in recent times.

  9. Man must learn to use technology to his advantage.
Concepts Related to Work Values
  1. People work for various rewards and satisfactions.

  2. Work that is enjoyed by some people is disliked by others.

  3. Work means different things to different people.

  4. Generally, those workers who are trained, experienced, and productive find their work satisfying.

  5. Occupations and lifestyles are interrelated.

  6. Persons need to be recognized as having dignity and worth.

  7. The individual's perception of his environment affects his attitudes toward work.
Concepts Related to Education and the World of Work
  1. Education and work are interrelated.

  2. Different kinds of work require varying degrees and types of educational preparation.

  3. Basic education enhances job performance.

  4. There are both specific and general knowledges for each career area.

  5. There are many training routes to job entry.

  6. Workers may need vocational retraining several times in the course of a lifetime.

  7. Knowledge and skills in different subjects relate to performance in different work roles.
Concepts Related to Career Development and Career Decision Making
  1. Every individual can have a meaningful, rewarding career.

  2. Individuals differ in their interests, aptitudes, abilities, values, and attitudes; and occupations differ in their requirements and prospects.

  3. Career planning should be a privilege and responsibility of the individual.

  4. The understanding, acceptance, and development of self is a lifelong process and is constantly changed and influenced by life experiences.

  5. Environment and individual potential interact to influence career development.

  6. Hobbies and interests may lead to a vocation.

  7. Occupational supply and demand has an impact on career planning.

  8. Work experience facilitates career decision making.

  9. Individuals can learn to perform adequately in a variety of occupations.

  10. Every career requires some special preparation.

  11. Job characteristics and individuals must be flexible in a changing society.

  12. A person's relationships with other people, with his employer, and with society affect his own career, as well as the careers of others.
Concepts Related to Work Habits
  1. A worker must understand not only his job, but also his employer's rules, regulations, policies, and procedures.

  2. There are identifiable attitudes and behaviors which enable one to obtain and hold a job.
Using the Career Education Concepts

Having derived a set of such concepts, the elementary school teacher is faced with the problem of trying to emphasize these concepts in ways that will help pupils learn more subject matter. The career education learning experience is the vehicle for doing so. There are three essential ingredients involved: (a) the subject matter, (b) the career education concept and (c) the activities to be included in the career education learning experience. Teachers will be most successful if they are encouraged to build this learning experience in ways that leave them free to begin with any one of the three essential ingredients. It matters little whether the teacher begins with a concern for subject matter, for a career education concept, or with an interest in a particular kind of prepared student activity. On the other hand, it matters greatly that all three ingredients are clearly present in the completed career education learning experience.

It is obvious that the most unfamiliar ingredient to the typical elementary school teacher will be the career education concepts. Thus it is essential that such concepts be developed or adopted by teachers in ways that are meaningful to them. For most schools, this will require an in-service education effort such as described in chapter 6. Once the major concepts to be incorporated into the elementary program are known to and understood by those teachers who will be building the career education learning experiences, it is not at all unusual to find teachers proposing many sub-concepts that are meaningful and important to them. This is a most desirable practice. Career education concepts are not automatically meaningful to teachers. Yet it is essential that they become so if the teacher is to develop a good learning experience for the students.

There is a natural inclination for teachers, when looking at a particular set of career education concepts, to think that either (a) all of the concepts should be covered at each grade level, or (b) the concepts should be divided so that some are taught at each of the grade levels. In general, it is not initially productive to opt for either of these approaches. Instead, each teacher should pick a concept the teacher considers important for pupils to understand. As time goes on and more and more learning experiences are developed, the staff will find that all of the concepts are covered-and sometimes several times-at each grade level. It is much more important for teachers to develop learning experiences that are personally meaningful and important to them than to worry about whether all are covered when the program begins.

An additional difference between a career education learning experience and many other teacher-devised activity projects lies in the extent to which the business-labor-industry community is used in project activities.

The career education learning experience concept is similar to many project activity approaches to teaching that elementary school teachers are already using in that it typically involves more than one academic skills area. It is of course of central importance that the specific academic skills to be developed in each area be clearly identified as part of the written learning experience. One major weakness of many efforts to develop such experiences is the tendency of some elementary school teachers to ignore, under emphasize, or fail to capitalize fully on opportunities to incorporate academic skills from several subject matter areas into their learning experiences. This seems to occur very often when teachers begin with an idea for a project activity that they think will be interesting for their pupils to follow and that may have direct career implications.

To build a career education learning experience without paying careful attention to the academic skills to be mastered during the project is to defeat one of the most important reasons for the whole career education movement. Two basic principles must be kept constantly in mind: (a) not taking time from imparting subject matter, and (b) using increases in student achievement as one criterion for evaluating the effectiveness of the career education program.

It cannot be too strongly emphasized that the most effective way to help pupils see the career implications of their subject matter is to let each teacher develop his own set of learning experiences. The reasons for emphasizing this point are numerous and include:
  1. The individual teacher is the operational expert best qualified to know where pupils are now in terms of academic skills development and then to determine both the nature and level of skills to be built into the career education learning experience.

  2. Opportunities to use careers and kinds of workers in a particular learning experience vary tremendously from school to school. That which is appropriate in one school might not be appropriate in another.

  3. The activities that form the central planning core of the career education learning experience are most enthusiastically endorsed by the teacher who invented them.
The student will gain more if each teacher can use his own learning experiences as his own "invention." Granted, teachers develop many ideas for building these learning experiences from looking at those which others have developed; but a really dynamic program cannot be developed by trying to take what a different teacher in a different neighborhood-with a different class of students-found ideal, and assume that it is "transportable" across the country. However, other team members can help develop the learning experiences by making suggestions.

Finally, something should be said regarding opportunities to teach good work habits as an integral part of the career education learning experience. Project activities do involve productive efforts on the part of students that can, in a very real sense, be seen as work. Students can learn more and better work results when good work habits are used. This is one of the "hidden benefits" of the career education learning experience approach that too many teachers have failed to use.
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