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After reading the InFed article, What IS Curriculum by Mike Smith, which appears when you click BEGIN or may be downloaded from the Documents section, reflect and respond in approximately 300 well-chosen words that represents your thoughts about curriculum. You do not need to research, investigate, or quote the experts…make this YOUR response based on your perceptions and beliefs at the present…before we do a summer of investigation and research addressing the topic.
Curriculum theory and practice
infed.org: Education, Ideas, Index, Learning, Schooling, Social pedagogy, Teaching and pedagogy
Curriculum theory and practice.The organization of schooling and further education has long been associated with the idea of a curriculum. But what actually is curriculum, and how might it be conceptualized? We explore curriculum theory and practice and its relation to informal education.
Contents: introduction • curriculum as transmission • curriculum as product • curriculum as process • curriculum as praxis• curriculum and context • curriculum and informal education • further reading • links • how to cite this article
The idea of curriculum is hardly new – but the way we understand and theorize it has altered over the years – and there remains considerable dispute as to meaning. It has its origins in the running/chariot tracks of Greece. It was, literally, a course. In Latin curriculum was a racing chariot; currere was to run. A useful starting point for us here might be the definition offered by John Kerr and taken up by Vic Kelly in his standard work on the subject. Kerr defines curriculum 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. (quoted in Kelly 1983: 10; see also, Kelly 1999). This gives us some basis to move on – and for the moment all we need to do is highlight two of the key features:
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.
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 subject and lesson.
In what follows we are going to look at four ways of approaching curriculum theory and practice:
1. Curriculum as a body of knowledge to be transmitted.
2. Curriculum as an attempt to achieve certain ends in students –> product.
3. Curriculum as process.
4. Curriculum as praxis.
It is helpful to consider these ways of approaching curriculum theory and practice in the light of Aristotle’s influential categorization of knowledge into three disciplines: the theoretical, the productive and the practical.
Here we can see some clear links – the body of knowledge to be transmitted in the first is that classically valued as ‘the canon’; the process and praxis models come close to practical deliberation; and the technical concerns of the outcome or product model mirror elements of Aristotle’s characterization of the productive. More this will be revealed as we examine the theory underpinning individual models.
Curriculum as a syllabus to be transmitted
Many people still equate a curriculum with a syllabus. Syllabus, naturally, originates from the Greek (although there was some confusion in its usage due to early misprints). Basically it means a concise statement or table of the heads of a discourse, the contents of a treatise, the subjects of a series of lectures. In the form that many of us will have been familiar with it is connected with courses leading to examinations – teachers talk of the syllabus associated with, say, the Cambridge Board French GSCE exam. What we can see in such documents is a series of headings with some additional notes which set out the areas that may be examined.
A syllabus will not generally indicate the relative importance of its topics or the order in which they are to be studied. In some cases as Curzon (1985) points out, those who compile a syllabus tend to follow the traditional textbook approach of an ‘order of contents’, or a pattern prescribed by a ‘logical’ approach to the subject, or – consciously or unconsciously – a the shape of a university course in which they may have participated. Thus, an approach to curriculum theory and practice which focuses on syllabus is only really concerned with content. Curriculum is a body of knowledge-content and/or subjects. Education in this sense, is the process by which these are transmitted or ‘delivered’ to students by the most effective methods that can be devised (Blenkin et al 1992: 23).
Where people still equate curriculum with a syllabus they are likely to limit their planning to a consideration of the content or the body of knowledge that they wish to transmit. ‘It is also because this view of curriculum has been adopted that many teachers in primary schools’, Kelly (1985: 7) claims, ‘have regarded issues of curriculum as of no concern to them, since they have not regarded their task as being to transmit bodies of knowledge in this manner’.
Curriculum as product
The dominant modes of describing and managing education are today couched in the productive form. Education is most often seen as a technical exercise. Objectives are set, a plan drawn up, then applied, and the outcomes (products) measured. It is a way of thinking about education that has grown in influence in the United Kingdom since the late 1970s with the rise of vocationalism and the concern with competencies. Thus, in the late 1980s and the 1990s many of the debates about the National Curriculum for schools did not so much concern how the curriculum was thought about as to what its objectives and content might be.
It is the work of two American writers Franklin Bobbitt (1918; 1928) and Ralph W. Tyler (1949) that dominate theory and practice within this tradition. In The Curriculum Bobbitt writes as follows:
The central theory [of curriculum] is simple. Human life, however varied, consists in the performance of specific activities. Education that prepares for life is one that prepares definitely and adequately for these specific activities. However numerous and diverse they may be for any social class they can be discovered. This requires only that one go out into the world of affairs and discover the particulars of which their affairs consist. These will show the abilities, attitudes, habits, appreciations and forms of knowledge that men need. These will be the objectives of the curriculum. They will be numerous, definite and particularized. The curriculum will then be that series of experiences which children and youth must have by way of obtaining those objectives. (1918: 42)
This way of thinking about curriculum theory and practice was heavily influenced by the development of management thinking and practice. The rise of ‘scientific management’ is often associated with the name of its main advocate F. W. Taylor. Basically what he proposed was greater division of labour with jobs being simplified; an extension of managerial control over all elements of the workplace; and cost accounting based on systematic time-and-motion study. All three elements were involved in this conception of curriculum theory and practice. For example, one of the attractions of this approach to curriculum theory was that it involved detailed attention to what people needed to know in order to work, live their lives and so on. A familiar, and more restricted, example of this approach can be found in many training programmes, where particular tasks or jobs have been analyzed – broken down into their component elements – and lists of competencies drawn up. In other words, the curriculum was not to be the result of ‘armchair speculation’ but the product of systematic study. Bobbitt’s work and theory met with mixed responses. One telling criticism that was made, and can continue to be made, of such approaches is that there is no social vision or programme to guide the process of curriculum construction. As it stands it is a technical exercise. However, it wasn’t criticisms such as this which initially limited the impact of such curriculum theory in the late 1920s and 1930s. Rather, the growing influence of ‘progressive’, child-centred approaches shifted the ground to more romantic notions of education. Bobbitt’s long lists of objectives and his emphasis on order and structure hardly sat comfortably with such forms.
The Progressive movement lost much of its momentum in the late 1940s in the United States and from that period the work of Ralph W. Tyler, in particular, has made a lasting impression on curriculum theory and practice. He shared Bobbitt’s emphasis on rationality and relative simplicity. His theory was based on four fundamental questions:
1. What educational purposes should the school seek to attain?
2. What educational experiences can be provided that are likely to attain these purposes?
3. How can these educational experiences be effectively organized?
4. How can we determine whether these purposes are being attained? (Tyler 1949: 1)
Like Bobbitt he also placed an emphasis on the formulation of behavioural objectives.
Since the real purpose of education is not to have the instructor perform certain activities but to bring about significant changes in the students’ pattern of behaviour, it becomes important to recognize that any statements of objectives of the school should be a statement of changes to take place in the students. (Tyler 1949: 44)
We can see how these concerns translate into a nicely-ordered procedure: one that is very similar to the technical or productive thinking set out below.
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 of the ways and means of doing it. (Taba 1962)
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