Why Priorities Matter in Curriculum Development
This post will discuss my definition of the word “curriculum” and the personal, professional, and educational experiences that led up to this definition.
My Definition of Curriculum
In my mind, “curriculum” is “priority”. As there is much a teacher could teach, curriculum focuses a teacher on what is essential for their specific group of students. Quality curriculum is flexible enough to support a teacher’s efforts to meet the needs of a single student while standing as a reminder of overarching priorities. Rather than micromanaging a teacher, it provides a framework. Rather than a strategy to teach (read: cram) everything into a short class period, it inspires students to continue their learning outside of the classroom. Rather than the end-all, curriculum is one of the vital tools in a teacher’s tool belt. In the day-to-day overwhelming and distracting details of teaching, curriculum is a compass that gently guides the group toward their ultimate learning goals.
What Led to This Definition of Curriculum?
The stakeholders involved in constructing my definition of curriculum are my parents, my church, my good (and bad) teachers through the years, and the books that I have read. I think I have always been familiar with the term curriculum because my parents were both teachers in church (and some secular) settings. Everyday after church or school, we would have long conversations about what we learned that day at the dinner table, actively relating and applying the curriculum. I was learning that quality curriculum inspires learning and discussion outside of the classroom.
My church used the term curriculum in reference to what book of scripture we would focus on that year with accompanying manuals. When I was a teenager, our church made a significant change when missionaries were no longer instructed to memorize what they would teach but teach to meet the needs of those investigating our church. Several years later, our church’s Sunday School curriculum switched from a teacher-guided approach to a learner-guided approach. Both of these curricular changes impacted my perspective on curriculum, from a predetermined set of standardized objectives to a way to address the needs of the learner.
Both my good and bad teachers had a part in molding my definition of curriculum. My middle school band teacher let go of the traditional, formal way of teaching music to teach students how to play fun music as soon as possible recognizing that in our small town, most of his students would never play music once they left school and thus did not need music theory. My Arabic teacher in college focused her curriculum on how to write Arabic script, completely ignoring the needs of her students who either (1) would soon be deployed to the Middle East or (2) were desperate to speak with their Arab friends and family. These and many other teachers taught me the importance of flexible curricula that adapts to a student’s unique situation.
As someone with anxiety, books like Essentialism, Rework, and Deep Work, have helped me recognize the value of deliberately choosing to focus on what is most important while, just as vital, removing all that distracts from the essential. This life approach reduces anxiety and has most certainly molded my definition. Curriculum sets and guides priorities, helping a teacher focus on what is vital. In addition, books like Bridges Out of Poverty and Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, have expanded my core belief that good teaching benefits all students, including students with disabilities and learning disorders; that the best curriculum is flexible enough to nurture students with diverse backgrounds and abilities.
Influential Course Readings
In this next section I will pull three quotes from my definition of curriculum and then discuss course readings that further honed my definition.
1. Curriculum is priority. As there is much a teacher could teach, curriculum focuses a teacher on what is essential for their specific group of students. When I interviewed Debora for last week’s assignment, she said that curriculum is “what they expect you to learn”, echoing Ewing (2013) that it is too often “conflated with the word ‘syllabus’” (p. 9). In a warning from Eisner (2001), rather than first setting curricular priorities, “tests [have] come to define our priorities,” that “what is to be tested is what is to be taught” (p. 299). When counseling school systems, UNESCO (2013) said that curriculum frameworks “should reflect local realities and challenges while providing an open and wide perspective of the world and the national society” which helped me realize that in my effort to make sure that sign language curriculum is applicable to students, a teacher must still help expand a student’s world to make global issues relatable (p. 9).
2. Quality curriculum is flexible enough to support a teacher’s efforts to meet the needs of a single student while a reminder of overarching priorities. Rather than micromanaging a teacher, it provides a framework. UNESCO-IBE (2016) made clear that curriculum should be “sufficiently flexible to allow for adaptation” and that changes to the curriculum “should be anticipated and planned for” (p. 16). Although still more rigid than my own definition, they later made clear that “good quality curriculum enables and encourages learning differentiation...it provides teachers with the flexibility to ensure that their treatment of the content is appropriate to their students’ needs and capabilities” (p. 18).
3. [Curriculum] inspires students to continue their learning outside of the classroom or as UNESCO (2013) puts it, “raises the enthusiasm of teachers, families, and communities, and encourages students to engage in their learning” (p. 1). For my sign language students to have a desire to learn outside of the classroom, they must see the relatability of the curriculum to real life. Dewey (1938) warned that too often what students “learn [were] so foreign to the situations of life outside of school” (p. 9). Tyler (1949) made clear that “the student was much more likely to apply his learning when he...was given practice in seeking illustrations in his life outside of school for the application of things learned in school” (p. 63).
In conclusion, my definition of curriculum focuses on setting clear priorities. Various teaching influences in my life and the course readings have molded and added to this definition.
Eisner, E.W. (2001). What Does It Mean to Say a School is Doing Well? In Phi Delta Kappan, 82:5, pp. 367–372. https://chrisdavidcampbell.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/eisener-2001.pdf
Ewing, R. (2013). Curriculum and Assessment: Storylines. (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. http://lib.oup.com.au/he/Education/samples/ewing_curriculum2e_sample.pdf
Tyler, R. (1949). Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. In Flinders, D. J., & Thornton, S. J. (Eds.), The Curriculum Studies Reader (4th ed.), pp. 59–68. Routledge. https://talkcurriculum.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/tyler-r-2013-basic-principles-of-curriculum-and-instruction.pdf
UNESCO International Bureau of Education (UNESCO-IBE). (2013). The Curriculum Debate: why it is important today. UNESCO-IBE. http://www.ibe.unesco.org/sites/default/files/resources/wpci-10-curr_debate_eng.pdf
UNESCO International Bureau of Education (UNESCO-IBE). (2016). What makes a quality curriculum? Current and Critical Issues in Curriculum and Learning (2), pp.1-41. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0024/002439/243975e.pdf