Monday, February 21, 2011

Defining Curriculum

I am in my last week of the Curriculum course of my graduate certificate program at Johns Hopkins.  I have taken probably four or five college courses with "curriculum" somewhere in the title, but this course has made me look at the curriculum development process with a more holistic-- and critical-- viewpoint.  

Previously, the working definition of curriculum that I have used, at least during formal curriculum development projects, was the set of content and skills (usually a list of standards and objectives) that students should master as part of their education. When I look at many curriculum documents, that seems to be the definition of curriculum that underpins them, even if the developers never explicitly stated or even realized it.  

That list of standards/objectives, however, is only a part of curriculum. What exactly does a quality education look like?  Is our goal to prepare students for college?  To provide a steady, reliable labor source for the economy?  To ensure that our country is peopled with responsible citizens?  The answer(s) will fundamentally shape the curriculum development process.

What attitudes and characteristics do we want our students to develop?  We need to think about not just what we want our students to be able to do, but what we want them to be like as learners and members of a community. In Developing a Quality Curriculum, Glatthorn refers to this as "the organic curriculum,"  which is nurtured rather than directly taught, but which certainly requires careful consideration when planning curriculum. 

Does our curriculum demonstrate an "everything but the kitchen sink" mindset, or are depth and quality emphasized?  What are the gaps between what is written, taught, and tested-- and what do those gaps say to our students about what we really value?  For example, when teachers ignore any standard that isn't on the high stakes test, it is obvious to our students that what counts is the test score. 

If we skip the tough questions and jump straight into lists of objectives and lesson ideas, we short-change the process, and our students.   Putting in the time and effort to address them may be difficult, but doing so provides a stronger foundation upon which to build our curriculum 


1 comment:

Debra Pearce said...

Thank you for unpealing the curriclum layers to expose the need for engaging students in lifelong learning activities and the need for alignment between the written, taught and tested curriclum. It is good to know that there was still room to explore this topic, given your previous coursework...Thank you for your participation...