In-Person Training: The Creative Curriculum®
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Picture: rubber bands by eek the cat. 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. We have to specify in advance what we are seeking to achieve and how we are to go about it. 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. Curriculum as a body of knowledge to be transmitted. 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.
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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. A syllabus will not generally indicate the relative importance of its topics or the order in which they are to be studied. 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. 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. 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.
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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. This way of thinking about curriculum theory and practice was heavily influenced by the development of management thinking and practice.
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. What educational purposes should the school seek to attain?
What educational experiences can be provided that are likely to attain these purposes? How can these educational experiences be effectively organized? How can we determine whether these purposes are being attained? 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.
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 7: Determination of what to evaluate and of the ways and means of doing it. The attraction of this way of approaching curriculum theory and practice is that it is systematic and has considerable organizing power. There are a number of issues with this approach to curriculum theory and practice. The first is that the plan or programme assumes great importance.
Second, there are questions around the nature of objectives. This model is hot on measurability. It implies that behaviour can be objectively, mechanistically measured. We only have to reflect on questions of success in our work. It is often very difficult to judge what the impact of particular experiences has been. In order to measure, things have to be broken down into smaller and smaller units. The result, as many of you will have experienced, can be long lists of often trivial skills or competencies.
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It can lead to an approach to education and assessment which resembles a shopping list. Third, there is a real problem when we come to examine what educators actually do in the classroom, for example. Fourth, there is the problem of unanticipated results. The focus on pre-specified goals may lead both educators and learners to overlook learning that is occurring as a result of their interactions, but which is not listed as an objective. The apparent simplicity and rationality of this approach to curriculum theory and practice, and the way in which it mimics industrial management have been powerful factors in its success. I believe there is a tendency, recurrent enough to suggest that it may be endemic in the approach, for academics in education to use the objectives model as a stick with which to beat teachers. So what are the other alternatives?
Curriculum as process We have seen that the curriculum as product model is heavily dependent on the setting of behavioural objectives. The curriculum, essentially, is a set of documents for implementation. Another way of looking at curriculum theory and practice is via process. In this sense curriculum is not a physical thing, but rather the interaction of teachers, students and knowledge. 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’.
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. Stenhouse shifted the ground a little bit here. He was not saying that curriculum is the process, but rather the means by which the experience of attempting to put an educational proposal into practice is made available.
The reason why he did this, I suspect, is that otherwise there is a danger of widening the meaning of the term so much that it embraces almost everything and hence means very little. This is what Stenhouse was picking up on. Stenhouse on curriculum As a minimum, a curriculum should provide a basis for planning a course, studying it empirically and considering the grounds of its justification. Principles for the making of decisions about sequence. Principles on which to diagnose the strengths and weaknesses of individual students and differentiate the general principles 1, 2 and 3 above, to meet individual cases. Principles on which to study and evaluate the progress of students.
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Principles on which to study and evaluate the progress of teachers. Guidance as to the feasibility of implementing the curriculum in varying school contexts, pupil contexts, environments and peer-group situations. Information about the variability of effects in differing contexts and on different pupils and an understanding of the causes of the variation. A formulation of the intention or aim of the curriculum which is accessible to critical scrutiny.
There are a number of contrasts in this model of curriculum theory and practice as compared with the product model. First, where the product model appeals to the workshop for a model, this process model looks to the world of experimentation. The crucial point is that the proposal is not to be regarded as an unqualified recommendation but rather as a provisional specification claiming no more than to be worth putting to the test of practice, Such proposals claim to be intelligent rather than correct. Thus, in this sense, a curriculum is a particular form of specification about the practice of teaching. It is not a package of materials or a syllabus of ground to be covered. It is a way of translating any educational idea into a hypothesis testable in practice. It is not like a curriculum package which is designed to be delivered almost anywhere.
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Third, outcomes are no longer the central and defining feature. Rather than tightly specifying behavioural objectives and methods in advance, what happens in this model of curriculum theory and practice is that content and means develop as teachers and students work together. Fourth, the learners in this model are not objects to be acted upon. They have a clear voice in the way that the sessions evolve. This can mean that attention shifts from teaching to learning.
The product model, by having a pre-specified plan or programme, tends to direct attention to teaching. For example, how can this information be got over? However, when we come to think about this way of approaching curriculum in practice, a number of possible problems do arise. The first is a problem for those who want some greater degree of uniformity in what is taught. This approach to the theory of curriculum, because it places meaning-making and thinking at its core and treats learners as subjects rather than objects, can lead to very different means being employed in classrooms and a high degree of variety in content.
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It can never be directed towards an examination as an objective without loss of quality, since the standards of the examination then override the standards immanent in the subject. This does not mean that students taught on the process model cannot be examined, but it does mean that the examinations must be taken in their stride as they pursue other aspirations. To some extent variation is limited by factors such as public examinations. The exchange between students and teachers does not float free of the context in which it arises. At the end of the day many students and their families place a high premium on exam or subject success and this inevitably enters into the classroom. The major weakness and, indeed, strength of the process model is that it rests upon the quality of teachers. If they are not up to much then there is no safety net in the form of prescribed curriculum materials.
The approach is dependent upon the cultivation of wisdom and meaning-making in the classroom. If the teacher is not up to this, then there will be severe limitations on what can happen educationally. Fourth, we need to look back at our process model of curriculum theory and practice and what we have subsequently discussed, and return to Aristotle and to Freire. The model we have looked at here does not fully reflect the process explored earlier. In particular, it does not make explicit the commitments associated with phronesis.
And it is to that we will now turn. While the process model is driven by general principles and places an emphasis on judgment and meaning making, it does not make explicit statements about the interests it serves. In this approach the curriculum itself develops through the dynamic interaction of action and reflection. At its centre is praxis: informed, committed action. First, I think we should be looking for practice which does not focus exclusively on individuals, but pays careful attention to collective understandings and practices and to structural questions. For example, in sessions which 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. 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 about what makes for the good, and to say what theories were involved. Curriculum in context To round off this discussion of curriculum we do need to pay further attention to the social context in which it is created.
This is a criticism that can also be laid at the door of the other approaches. First, by introducing the notion of milieu into the discussion of curriculum she again draws attention to the impact of some factors that we have already noted. These elements are what are sometimes known as the hidden curriculum. This was a term credited to Philip W.
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Second, by paying attention to milieu, we can begin to get a better grasp of the impact of structural and socio-cultural process on teachers and students. As Cornbleth argues, economic and gender relations, for example, do not simply bypass the systemic or structural context of curriculum and enter directly into classroom practice. Thus, the impact of these factors may be quite different to that expected. They contend that curriculum theory and practice was formed within the schooling context and that there are major problems when it is introduced into informal forms of pedagogy. The adoption of curriculum theory and practice by some informal educators appears to have arisen from a desire to be clear about content. Yet there are crucial difficulties with the notion of curriculum in this context.
At any one time, outcomes may not be marked by a high degree of specificity. In a similar way, the nature of the activities used often cannot be predicted. It may be that we can say something about how the informal educator will work. However, knowing in advance about broad processes and ethos isn’t the same as having a knowledge of the programme. In other words, they are arguing that a product model of curriculum is not compatible with the emphasis on process and praxis within informal education. However, process and praxis models of curriculum also present problems in the context of informal education.
If you look back at at our models of process and compare them with the model of informal education presented above then it is clear that we can have a similar problem with pre-specification. The other key difference is context. Even if we were to go the whole hog and define curriculum as process there remain substantive problems. Curriculum theory and practice only makes sense when considered alongside notions like class, teacher, course, lesson and so on. What is being suggested here is that when informal educators take on the language of curriculum they are crossing the boundary between their chosen specialism and the domain of formal education. This they need to do from time to time. There will be formal interludes in their work, appropriate times for them to mount courses and to discuss content and method in curriculum terms.
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Human life consists in the performance of specific activities. Influenced by the rise of scientific management and notions of social efficiency. Corruption and vice, inequalities of race and gender, and the abuse of privilege and power should be addressed directly. For the moment we are having to operate within a policy environment that prizes the productive and technical. Furthermore, the discourse has become so totalizing that forms of education that do not have a curricula basis are squeezed. The temptation is always there to either be colonized by curriculum theory or adopt ways of describing practice that do not make sense in terms of the processes and commitments involved.
Further reading and references I have picked out some books that have the greatest utility for those concerned with informal education and lifelong learning. A practical guide for educators, trainers and staff developers, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Clearly written with plenty of worksheets etc. Curriculum Theory in Adult and Lifelong Education, London: Croom Helm. Explores the use of curriculum theory and practice in non-school settings. Particular attention is paid to Illich, Freire, Gelpi etc.
Curriculum: Product or Praxis, Lewes: Falmer. Good discussion of the nature of curriculum theory and practice from a critical perspective. Grundy starts from Habermas’ theorisation of knowledge and human interest and makes use of Aristotle to develop a models of curriculum around product, process and praxis. The Design of Education, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Influential statement of theory and practice with regard to a fundamental structure for program design.
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A cracker of a book which charts the development of different curricula traditions and the political and social context in which they arose. Dewey in particular is positioned outside the main competing traditions. The Modern Practice of Adult Education. From pedagogy to andragogy 2e, Englewood Cliffs, N. Pretty much the standard US work on practical program design in the 1970s and 1980s. Based around Knowles’ assumptions concerning the way adults learn with some leanings to behaviouralism. Curriculum Models in Adult Education, Malibar: Krieger.
Argues that adult educators must have a sound understanding of program design. Curriculum: Construction and critique, London: Falmer Press. An Introduction to Curriculum Research and Development, London: Heinemann. Classic statement of a process approach to the theory and practice of curriculum making. The Curriculum Studies Reader, London: Routledge. Excellent collection of 30 readings that provides both a sample of enduring work and more recent material around curriculum theory and practice.
Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Important discussion of product-oriented curriculum building. The process is clear from the chapter titles: what educational purposes should the school seek to attain? How can learning experiences be selected which are likely to be useful in attaining these objectives?