9 April, 2016
Curriculum refers to the lessons and academic content taught in a school or in a specific course or program.
- In dictionaries, it is often defined as the courses offered by a school, but it is rarely used in such a general sense in schools.
- The knowledge and skills students are expected to learn, which includes the learning standards or learning objectives they are expected to meet; the units and lessons that teachers teach; the assignments and projects given to students; the books, materials, videos, presentations, and readings used in a course; and the tests, assessments, and other methods used to evaluate student learning. An individual teacher’s curriculum, for example, would be the specific learning standards, lessons, assignments, and materials used to organize and teach a particular course.
Types of Curriculum:
- Standards requirements:When new learning standards are adopted at the state, district, or school levels, teachers typically modify what they teach and bring their curriculum into “alignment” with the learning expectations outlined in the new standards. While the technical alignment of curriculum with standards does not necessarily mean that teachers are teaching in accordance with the standards—or, more to the point, that students are actually achieving those learning expectations—learning standards remain a mechanism by which policy makers and school leaders attempt to improve curriculum and teaching quality. The Common Core State Standards Initiative, for example, is a national effort to influence curriculum design and teaching quality in schools through the adoption of new learning standards by states.
- Assessment requirements:Another reform strategy that indirectly influences curriculum is assessment, since the methods used to measure student learning compel teachers to teach the content and skills that will eventually be evaluated. The most commonly discussed examples are standardized testing and high-stakes testing, which can give rise to a phenomenon informally called “teaching to the test.” Because federal and state policies require students to take standardized tests at certain grade levels, and because regulatory penalties or negative publicity may result from poor student performance (in the case of high-stakes tests), teachers are consequently under pressure to teach in ways that are likely to improve student performance on standardized tests—e.g., by teaching the content likely to be tested or by coaching students on specific test-taking techniques. While standardized tests are one way in which assessment is used to leverage curriculum reform, schools may also use rubrics and many other strategies to improve teaching quality through the modification of assessment strategies, requirements, and expectations.
- Curriculum alignment:Schools may try to enhance a curriculum’s quality by bringing teaching activities and course expectations into “alignment” with learning standards and other school courses—a practice sometimes called “curriculum mapping.” The basic idea is to make a more consistent and coherent academic program by making sure that teachers teach the most important content and eliminate learning gaps that may exist between sequential courses and grade levels. For example, teachers may review their mathematics program to ensure that what students are actually being taught in every Algebra I course offered in the school not only reflects expected learning standards for that subject area and grade level, but that it also prepares students for Algebra II and geometry. When the curriculum is not aligned, students might be taught significantly different content in each Algebra I course, for example, and students taking different Algebra I courses may complete the courses unevenly prepared for Algebra II.
- Curriculum philosophy:The design and goals of any curriculum reflect the educational philosophy—whether intentionally or unintentionally—of the educators who developed it. Consequently, curriculum reform may occur through the adoption of a different philosophy or model of teaching by a school or educator. Schools that follow the Expeditionary Learning model, for example, embrace a variety of approaches to teaching generally known as project-based learning, which encompasses related strategies such as community-based learning and authentic learning. In Expeditionary Learning schools, students complete multifaceted projects called “expeditions” that require teachers to develop and structure curriculum in ways that are quite different from the more traditional approaches commonly used in schools.
- Curriculum packages:In some cases, schools decide to purchase or adopt a curriculum package that has been developed by an outside organization. One well-known and commonly used option for American public schools is International Baccalaureate, which offers curriculum programs for elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. Districts may acquire all three programs or an individual school may purchase only one, and the programs may be offered to all or only some of the students in a school. When schools adopt a curriculum package, teachers often receive specialized training to ensure that the curriculum is effectively implemented and taught. In many cases, curriculum packages are purchased or adopted because they are perceived to be of a higher quality or more prestigious than the existing curriculum options offered by a school or independently developed by teachers.
- Curriculum resources:The resources that schools provide to teachers can also have a significant effect on curriculum. For example, if a district or school purchases a certain set of textbooks and requires teachers to use them, those textbooks will inevitably influence what gets taught and how teachers teach. Technology purchases are another example of resources that have the potential to influence curriculum. If all students are given laptops and all classrooms are outfitted with interactive whiteboards, for example, teachers can make significant changes in what they teach and how they teach to take advantage of these new technologies. In most cases, however, new curriculum resources require schools to invest in professional development that helps teachers use the new resources effectively, given that simply providing new resources without investing in teacher education and training may fail to bring about desired improvements. In addition, the type of professional development provided to teachers can also have a major influence on curriculum development and design.
- Curriculum standardization:States, districts, and schools may also try to improve teaching quality and effectiveness by requiring, or simply encouraging, teachers to use either a standardized curriculum or common processes for developing curriculum. While the strategies used to promote more standardized curricula can vary widely from state to state or school to school, the general goal is to increase teaching quality through greater curricular consistency. School performance will likely improve, the reasoning goes, if teaching methods and learning expectations are based on sound principles and consistently applied throughout a state, district, or school. Curriculum standards may also be created or proposed by influential educational organizations—such as the National Science Teachers Association or the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, for example—with the purpose of guiding learning expectations and teaching within particular academic disciplines.
- Curriculum scripting:Often called “scripted curriculum,” the scripting of curriculum is the most prescriptive form of standardized, prepackaged curriculum, since it typically requires teachers to not only follow a particular sequence of pre-prepared lessons, but to actually read aloud from a teaching script in class. While the professional autonomy and creativity of individual teachers may be significantly limited when such a curriculum system is used, the general rationale is that teaching quality can be assured or improved, or at least maintained, across a school or educational system if teachers follow a precise instructional script. While not every teacher will be a naturally excellent teacher, the reasoning goes, all teachers can at least be given a high-quality curriculum script to follow. Scripted curricula tend to be most common in districts and schools that face significant challenges attracting and retaining experienced or qualified teachers, such as larger urban schools in high-poverty communities.