Curriculum Design

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Unit 3: Curriculum Design = Effective Management

Curriculum as Theory

The way we understand and theorize about curriculum has altered over the years, and there remains considerable dispute as to meaning. Curriculum has its origins in the running and chariot tracks of ancient Greece. It was, literally, "a course." In Latin "curriculum" was a racing chariot; the word "currere" meant "to run".

In our contexts, curriculum can be seen as: "All the learning which is planned and guided by the school, whether it is carried on in groups or individually, inside or outside the school." This gives us some basis to move on, and, for the moment, all we need to do is highlight two of the key features:

  1. Learning is planned and guided. (We have to specify in advance what we are seeking to achieve and how we are to go about it.)
  2. The definition refers to schooling. (We should recognize that our current appreciation of curriculum theory and practice emerged in the school and in relation to other schooling ideas such as subjects and lessons.)

In what follows, we are going to look at four ways of approaching curriculum theory and practice:

  1. Curriculum as Product
  2. Curriculum as Process
  3. Curriculum as Praxis (Practice)
  4. Curriculum as Context

Curriculum As Product

It used to be that there were certain skills to master and facts to know. Knowledge was seen as something similar to a product that is manufactured. Generally, one starts knowing nothing, is taught, and then uses the gained knowledge, often by transmitting it into action. For the most part, this point of view worked for quite some time, as it organized learning quite neatly. There was a series of steps leading to the product, and curriculum could be designed accordingly. The steps were:

Step 1: Diagnosis of need

Step 2: Formulation of objectives

Step 3: Selection of content

Step 4: Organization of content

Step 5: Selection of learning experiences

Step 6: Organization of learning experiences

Step 7: Determination of what to evaluate, and the ways and means of doing it.

Here are some of the problems with the product orientation:

  1. Students are generally left out of the picture.
  2. The objectives are not clear.
  3. Students are not be able to solve unanticipated problems that arise.

Curriculum as Process

One way of looking at curriculum theory and practice is to view it as a process. In this sense curriculum is not a physical pre-defined set of resources or facts to be taught and learned, but rather the interaction of teachers, students, and knowledge. In other words, curriculum is what actually happens in the classroom and what people do to prepare and evaluate.

What we have in this model are a number of elements in constant interaction. Teachers enter particular situations with an ability to think critically, an understanding of their role and the expectations others have of them, and a proposal for action that sets out essential principles and features of the educational encounter. Guided by these, they encourage conversations between and with people, and out of these conversations may come thinking and action. They continually evaluate the process and the outcomes.

Lawrence Stenhouse (1926-1982) produced one of the best-known explorations of a process model of curriculum theory and practice. He defined curriculum tentatively: "A curriculum is an attempt to communicate the essential principles and features of an educational proposal in such a form that it is open to critical scrutiny and capable of effective translation into practice" (Stenhouse, 1975).

He suggests that a curriculum is rather like a recipe in cookery. A curriculum, like the recipe for a dish, is first imagined as a possibility, then the subject of experiment. The recipe offered publicly is in a sense a report on the experiment. Similarly, a curriculum should be grounded in practice. It is an attempt to describe the work observed in classrooms. Finally, within limits, a recipe can be varied according to taste, and so can curriculum.

Stenhouse shifted the ground a little bit here. He was not saying that curriculum is the process; rather it is the means by which the experience of attempting to put an educational proposal into practice is made available.

Curriculum as Context

Curriculum is a social enterprise. Many educationalists believe that curriculum, as practice, cannot be understood adequately or changed substantially without attention to its setting or context.

Curriculum is contextually shaped. Of special significance here are examinations and the social relationships of the school: the nature of the teacher-student relationship, the organization of classes, tracking, and so on. These elements are sometimes known as the hidden curriculum.

The learning associated with the hidden curriculum is most often treated in a negative way. It is learning that is smuggled in and serves the interests of the status quo. The common emphasis in many school systems on regimentation, on time management, and on tracking is sometimes seen as preparing young people for the world of capitalist production. What we need to recognize is that such "hidden" curricula are not all negative and can be potentially liberating: "In so far as they enable students to develop socially valued knowledge and skills ... or to form their own peer groups and subcultures, they may contribute to personal and collective autonomy and to possible critique and challenge of existing norms and institutions" (Cornbleth, 1990).

By paying attention to the social context, we learn about how important the spaces between lessons really are. We can begin to get a better grasp of the impact of structural and socio-cultural processes on teachers and students. Many problems in schools are due to the inability of teachers or school leaders to see the powerful factors behind learning. Economics, social structure, family dynamics, and power struggles all contribute to the learning process.

Curriculum as Praxis

First, the notion of curriculum as praxis holds that practice should not focus exclusively on individuals alone or the group alone, but pays careful attention to the way in which individuals and the group create understandings and practices, as well as meaning.

For example, in sessions that seek to explore the experiences of different cultural and racial groups in society, we could be looking to see whether the direction of the work took people beyond a focus on individual attitudes. Are participants confronting the material conditions through which those attitudes are constituted, for example?

Second, we could be looking for a commitment expressed in action to the exploration of educators' values and their practice. Are they, for example, able to say in a coherent way what they think makes for human well-being and link this with their practice?

Third, we could expect practitioners committed to praxis to be exploring their practice with their peers. They would be able to say how their actions (with respect to particular interventions) reflected their ideas. In other words, their beliefs and values would be reflected in the work they do.

Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource. fred. (2008, June 13). Education for the New Millennium. Retrieved May 04, 2010, from TWB Courseware Web site. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.