In this lesson, learn about curriculum development and explore different types of curricula. Also, learn some important terms as well as discover researchers that have contributed a lot to this field.
Curriculum Development Defined
Curriculum development is both a formal and informal process. Often emerging from necessity as learners demonstrate a critical need or a high degree of interest, most curricula begin as outlines of key points using traditional content. These key points are then expanded to include domains, sub-domains, and recommended texts, timelines, and activities in an orderly, sequenced system.Let’s take a look at Mrs.
Carroll, who has students working through a literature unit focused on plot, protagonist, and antagonist. As she works to ensure students know the definitions and can identify the terms in various assigned readings, she notices Sarah, a student who often disconnects in class, has slipped out an Avengers comic book and is paging through the story.’You like comics, Sarah?’ she asks, startling Sarah into looking up.Sarah blushes and mumbles an apology, but Mrs. Carroll isn’t intent on disciplining. Rather, she senses a teachable moment and an excellent reason to shift the curriculum.’It’s okay, Sarah.
While that isn’t what I expected to focus on teaching about this unit, let’s explore how plot, protagonist, and antagonist are indeed part of comics. We also can include graphic novels, which are based on literature and have added sequential pictures.’ Mrs.
Carroll smiles as she makes that important student connection, and Sarah breathes a sigh of relief.
Content curriculum, also known as subject-driven curriculum, is the best-known model, most often based on selected textbooks that the teacher, school, or stakeholders feel address the required grade-level standards. The intention of this curriculum is comprehensive coverage of a subject; a good example is a high school or collegiate program leading to a degree. Institutions strive to guarantee relevant content has been covered in an organized and consistent program.Institutions recognize that a linear approach, often viewed as textbook cover-to-cover curriculum, limits the student’s more realistic interdisciplinary learning. Modifications in all course curricula allow teachers to guide the learners in a more integrated view of the world and future careers with work spanning relevant discipline areas.
For instance, angle and three-dimensional studies in geometry take on easily-understood, applied usage when students work with the architectural or building trades departments to put theories into practice.
A student-driven curriculum centers on the strengths and choices of learners and allows for more integrated and relevant connections. This approach takes into account the needs and interests of students and is often altered and redirected as new levels of understanding emerge. Rather than follow sequential textbook chapters to accomplish content, student-driven curriculum shifts with the needs of the student.Clearly, one of the positive reasons for favoring this approach is learners connect more readily when permitted to pursue those topics that engage personal curiosity and skills.
However, teachers who work with student-driven curricula need to constantly differentiate teaching and learning. This approach runs the risk of missing critical and foundational topics, while also assuming teachers will be able to juggle the unique needs of each student under their care. Teachers need to be experienced educators with a diverse personal skill set for locating and employing appropriate content.
Purpose-driven curriculum is also often referred to as problem-driven. Closer in meaning to student-driven curricula design, the content is directly connected to the needs, abilities, and concerns of each student. This learning solves a problem for the student, one that needs to be addressed either realistically or hypothetically. The drawbacks to this design approach are similar to those for student-driven writing.
While authenticity and spontaneity are a plus, differentiating for each child in a classroom setting is a strength that only a seasoned teacher who has access to a broad array of content and is comfortable in an ever-changing learning environment can do successfully.An example of purpose-driven curriculum would be the study of water treatment issues in the student’s home community after city-wide contamination closes access to all water usage for a week. While the topics addressed – such as the political response to biological issues, treatment of contaminants, safety issues, and emergency response efforts – are all vital and the foundation for multi-level learning, the creation of a series of curriculum units addressing these issues is complicated and time-consuming when developed for a single student. A teacher needs to also be tasked with connecting what is expected and learned to the broader issue of a progressive and sequential curriculum when faced with summative or end-of-learning testing.No matter how a curriculum is researched, written, and delivered, certain determinations are necessary based on a series of defining questions.
- Who are the learners?
- Who are the teachers?
- What will the content be?
- How will the content be taught?
- Will there be collaborators within or outside the classroom?
- How will assessment happen?
- Will changes occur in the curriculum based on the outcomes of assessments?
Regardless of the selected approach for curriculum development, there are certain terms which are universal. Educators hear the term scope whenever programming is discussed.
The simple definition is that it is everything in the educational plan. While subject matter and pathways may change, ‘scope’ will always refer to the totality of the plan. Alignment and continuity remind the curriculum developer to ensure all parts of the proposed content both work together and wrap back through, or scaffold, in an ever-increasing degree of difficulty or sequential expectation. Another similar term is integration, which spotlights bringing together all important components from all sectors of the proposed curriculum content.
Many top educational researchers are viewed as experts in the field of curriculum processes and writing. Their approaches and concepts continue to affect 21st century curriculum models and design, even as educators are charged with creating educational content that did not even exist in the mid-20th century.
Hilda Taba (1902-1967) was a renowned educator, researcher, and curriculum developer who changed the approach to curriculum in the 60’s and beyond. She introduced an inductive model that relied on the students’ ability to think and determine their own learning processes. Educators have long referred to this type of approach as mastery learning and view the curriculum as starting with the specifics and building to the unified overall curriculum. The contemporary approach for students to determine their learning pathways remains connected to Taba’s insights.Ralph W. Tyler (1902-1994) wrote hundreds of articles and books, mainly focusing on curriculum and learning, and is most famous for Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction. His work told districts and educators to define objectives and then organize them into useful learning units, promote the content learning, and – in a classic educational approach – assess for understanding and effectiveness of curriculum and objectives.
Tyler writes that his work is not a ‘to do’ list for curricula, but rather researched recommendations that institutions should keep in mind as they create their programs.
Let’s review. The process for curriculum development is varied and driven by several factors: content, student, and purpose. The decision on the approach for a particular school district, its students, teachers, or administrators is a multi-factored consideration based on the needs and goals. As tools and learning pathways change, and technology also changes the availability of diverse content, what constitutes best practices for curriculum expectations, delivery, and assessments will most likely change as well.
That being said, the work of top educational researchers such as Hilda Taba and Ralph W. Tyler continues to act as a strong foundation for us to keep building on.