Click here for a short video that captures the highlights of my education and work experience and touches upon my interest in integrated planning, instruction and assessment. My interest in this area is a result of noticing a strong connection between deep learning and the ability to integrate subject material in a way that is meaningful and engaging for students. I found that seeing things out of isolation for students had a tremendous impact on their mindset towards learning. They saw a reason for specific facets of education they had not noticed before. Essentially, an “aha” moment. Time is the one thing we feel we don’t have enough of and integration helps with that, if done effectively. Hence, my interest in this course. I wish to better develop my skills, so that I may provide myself and others meaningful opportunities to lead students in deep learning.
Conceptions of Curriculum
“What can and should be taught to whom, when, and how?” comment Vallance and Eisner (1974) once upon a time. They remark upon educational discourse and “the intensity of the conflict and the apparent difficulty in resolving it [that] can most often be traced to a failure to recognize conflicting conceptions of curriculum” (Vallance & Eisner, 1974, p.1-2). What is interesting, is in the past forty plus years, discourse remains just as conflicted, just as controversial. What is even more interesting to me, is how the separate ideologies of these alternate curriculum theories have blended their way into modern curriculum endorsed by schools. Many educators employ pieces of each ideology in different quantities depending on their own comfort, experiences or knowledge. Indeed, Thomas (1990) found in an ethnographic study of family life teachers that curriculum conceptions significantly affected practice and that personal experience and comfort of material often influenced what was taught and in what capacity. Ornstein and Hunkins (2013) are correct when they state, “[w]hether we consider curriculum narrowly, as subjects taught in schools, or broadly, as experiences that individuals require for full participation in society, there is no denying that curriculum affects educators, students, and other members of society.” This effect can be a deep or superficial one. Short or long lasting. It may be interesting to look at a few prevailing curriculum conceptions (often alternately named in different time periods or by different persons) and see how they are currently used or could be used as tools or frameworks for planning, instruction or assessment of classrooms today. The following four conceptions do not encompass the full catalogue of curriculum conceptions but represent those that appear predominate to me as an educator.
Whether we name it academic rationalism (Eisner & Vallance, 1974), cultural transmission (Pratt, 1994), the cumulative tradition of organized knowledge (Sowell, 2005), the academic curriculum (McNeil, 2009), the academic approach (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2013) or the scholar academic ideology (Schiro, 2013), it is the most traditional approach to curriculum and is alive and “well” in today’s schools. Its purpose is for students “to acquire the tools to participate in the Western cultural tradition and with providing access to the greatest ideas and objects that man has created” (Eisner & Vallance, 1974). Brown (2006) echoes this, commenting that this conception embodies the notion that “important knowledge and content” is “brought down across the centuries”, and is “so valuable we wish all citizens to know them”. This has resulted in the “organisation of schools into essential learning faculties and departments” (Brown, 2006). The emphasis is on the teacher or the school system to determine what the most important subjects are, and impart that knowledge as transmission from one person to the next. Pratt (1994) comments “[b]ecause of its heavy reliance on cognition-that is, knowledge and intellectual skills-the kind of content advocated by these thinkers is relatively easy to teach and to test” and speculates “for that reason it has come to dominate school curriculum”. Schiro (2013) says this approach consists of “hierarchical communities” including “inquirers into the truth (the scholars at the top of the hierarchy), teachers of the truth (those who disseminate the truth that has been discovered by the scholars), and learners of the truth (students whose job it is to learn the truth so that they may become proficient members of the discipline).” In a way, “knowledge is used as a commodity where parents and students use for future job prospects and economical gain (McNeil, 2009). Students go to school to get an education by taking different subjects (language, math, science, history, geography, art etc.) where they learn facts, often isolated from other subject areas and are tested on their knowledge retention, communication, thinking and application. In today’s schools this structure still exists in curriculum planning, instruction and assessment. In intermediate and senior divisions, subject areas are often taught on rotary by different teachers. One could argue that math is found in science, science in geography and language in all and so there is some subject integration but the connections aren’t always made explicit to students. Assessment is based on students learning a predetermined set of knowledge and is done by the teacher. Is it helpful to teach this way? Sowell (2005) comments, “when statewide minimum competency testing mushroomed in the 1970s and 1980s, teachers taught to the tests, which resulted in a decline in thinking abilities and writing skills.” I believe this approach persists because it is one of the easiest to organize, deliver and assess. It requires less effort or creativity to manage on a daily basis. The truth is, many teachers manage overcrowded classrooms with a vast variety of abilities and behaviors with little funding or support. Continuing with an approach they are familiar with, from their own childhood, may add a level of comfort and continuity when the classroom can seem anything but.
Social reconstructionism or the reconceptualist approach “stresses education in the larger social context where societal needs dominate both subject matter and individual needs” (Sowell, 2005). Schiro (2013) comments that social reconstructionists “teach people to understand their society in such a way that they can develop a vision of a better society and act to bring that vision into existence.” McNeil (2009) indicates that they believe, “[c]urriculum seldom alters the structural problems of inequality and poverty, or the domination of the many by the few. There is little evidence that educational reform has had a positive influence on economic development; most curriculum reforms support the status quo.” Therefore, politics are not avoided in class, and society’s embarrassments are brought to the forefront to be both studied and dealt with. The appeal of this view is that students may become more readily engaged in the curriculum, especially teens who often feel marginalized and demonstrate rebellious tendencies and passion for upsetting the status quo. Social studies teachers may want to use current and controversial topics in the news to both engage students and call them to action. Studying politics has become fascinating to many as Trump seemingly tries to find ways to circumvent the proper channels in the American political system. Having students examine the structure of American politics may lead to social action, with a unit culminating in legal action against the United States president! It is a way to have students start to think critically. However, how does one assess social action? By the effectiveness of upsetting the status quo? One must also remember, when “advocating and taking social action teachers and students may jeopardize their intellectual commitment to open-mindedness and alternative perspectives and in their zeal for change be indifferent to new evidence and unanticipated consequences” (McNeil, 2009).
A technological, systemic or social efficiency model of curriculum looks at training students through processes. As Sowell (2005) summarizes, it “seeks to make learning systematic and efficient”, “learning is predefined and calls for rather simple outcomes.” The curriculum is “a value free system” (Vallance & Eisner, 1974) where “[p]rescribed goals are given along with standards to be attained” and “[i]nstructional objectives, benchmarks, and other indicators are used to evaluate progress toward the goals and standards” (McNeil, 2009). With this approach, curriculum doesn’t usually concern itself with the learner’s interests or attitudes or metacognition. Ultimately, skills are taught so a student achieves “an education by learning to perform the functions necessary for social productivity” (Schiro, 2013). One can see the usefulness of this in trade education learning how to use power tools and learning basic understanding of math concepts using a flipped classroom format like the Khan Academy. A teacher could begin a lesson by outlining basic math skills needed for students, like determining area or using measurement for scale and have students access it electronically at home. When they come to class the next day, the teacher can help the student with the concepts if they didn’t understand or help them apply it to a word problem or real-life scenario. Online courses often exist in this world as well. Assessment is practical and straight-forward. Issues arise because it is often done in isolation with little acknowledgement to individual differences of learning styles and challenges.
A humanistic, learner centered or self-actualization approach to curriculum believes “schools should be enjoyable places where people develop naturally according to their own innate natures” (Schiro, 2013). Ornstein and Hunkins (2013) contend that advocates of this approach “put faith in cooperative learning, independent learning, small-group learning, and social activities, as opposed to competitive, teacher-dominated, large-group learning. Each child has considerable input into the curriculum and shares responsibility with parents, teachers, and curriculum specialists in planning classroom instruction.” Elementary classrooms, often embrace “lessons based on life experiences, group games, group projects, artistic endeavors, dramatizations, field trips, social enterprises, learning and interest centers, and homework and tutoring stations” (Ornstein and Hunkins, 2013). This curriculum potentially decreases the planning stress of the teacher, who shifts into a role as provider of opportunities and guide to learning instead of disseminator of knowledge. The knowledge comes from individual experiences and real-life connections that the students make to the world around them. This is incredibly freeing for the teacher but incredibly scary as well, as they must give up a certain amount of control. Teachers would use student interest to frame learning opportunities for inquiry and would have to adapt every day to meet the needs of the student without necessarily knowing in advance what the student needs for learning. Assessment would be best done by the student as they monitor their own learning as they progress through their chosen path. Taking a step back, many ask themselves; what did they learn in school that they use at their daily jobs now, how much do they remember, how much did they enjoy? Pratt (1994) provides a valuable insight. He comments if “we are interested in building in young people a sense of personal meaning in their lives, then we will need to plan curricula that make provision for significant experiences that allow students to grow as human beings” and insightfully adds the “ability to make friends and to nurture friendship is, surely, more significant to an individual’s future well-being than most of the cognitions we teach in school.”
From my experience, the previous four concepts of curriculum exist as both separate and combined in classrooms of Western Culture. Walking down a hallway in a single school bears witness to the extent and variety in which curriculum ideologies are employed. One class sees a teacher at the front of the room writing on the blackboard as students furiously copy notes to be memorized and regurgitated on next week’s test. Another room sees a lively debate of students engaged in discourse about issues of equality in mainstream media, with an accepted invitation by the local reporter. Down farther, we see students working in a manufacturing class, learning how to measure and cut wood for a shelf. Last, we first hear then see the class at the end of the hall. Students sit in bean bag chairs, stand at stand-up desks and are sprawled along the floor openly talking and arguing about self-selected group assignments. Some are examining displaced refugees from different parts of the world and determining how best to support them incorporating subject matter from math, science, politics and design. It is unclear whether conflicts of chosen curriculum concepts can ever be resolved. What is needed, is for everyone to be aware of, and understand these concepts clearly, understand their own bias, inclination or passion and find the appropriate place to revel in it.
Al-Mousa, N. (2013, April). An Examination of CAD use in two Interior Design Programs From the Perspectives of Curriculum and Instructors. Pgs. 21-37, 138-147. Canadian Theses.
Brown, G. (2006). Conceptions of curriculum: a framework for understanding New Zealand’s curriculum framework and teachers’ opinions. In Curriculum Matters. Vol. 2. Pgs. 164-181.
Eisner, E.W. and Vallance, E. (1974). Five conceptions of curriculum: Their roots and implications for curriculum planning. In Conflicting Conceptions of Curriculum. Pgs. 1-18. Berkeley, California. McCutchan.
McNeil, J. (2009). Contemporary Curriculum: In Thought and Action. Chapters 1 to 4, 7th edition. Pgs. 1, 3-14, 27-39, 52-60, 71-74. Hoboken, NJ. Wiley Publication Place. .
Ornstein, A.C., & Hunkins, F.P. (2013). The Field of curriculum. In Curriculum: Foundations, Principles, and Issues 6th Ed. Pgs. 1-8. Upper Saddle River, N.J. Pearson.
Pratt, D. (1994). Curriculum perspectives. In Curriculum Planning: A Handbook for Professionals. Pgs. 8-22. Fort Worth, TX. Harcourt Brace College.
Schiro, M. (2013). Introduction to the curriculum ideologies. In Curriculum Theory: Conflicting Visions and Enduring Concerns. Pgs. 1-13. Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage Publication Place.
Sowell, E. (2005). Curriculum organization. In Curriculum: An Integrative Introduction 3rd Ed. Pgs. 37-51. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Pearson.
Thomas, C. (1990, April). Conceptions of Curriculum and Classroom Practice: An Ethnographic Study of Family Life Education Teachers. Pgs. 26-34, 74-112. University of British Columbia.
Vallance, E. (1986, Winter). A second look at conflicting conceptions of curriculum. In Theory Into Practice. Is. 1. Vol. 25. Pgs. 24-30.
Foundations of Curriculum in Education
Below is a presentation that outlines the foundations of curriculum. It takes a look at initial philosophical foundations, summarizes curriculum conceptions, looks at different design organizations and seeks to explore the relationships between them.