810 Module 3

** See below for new content (in italics) **

Working through these articles challenged many of my views of curriculum. I thought I had a basic understanding of what curriculum was, the different views, and why we have it… but now I’ve been left with much to learn, and much to ponder.  As Aristotle said, “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” Indeed this is true!

To begin to organize my thoughts and conceptions of what curriculum is, view the mind map that I started:


What is curriculum? Definitions for this word vary, but include the lessons and academic content taught, or the knowledge and skills students are expected to learn.   Curriculum refers to the means and materials with which students will interact for the purpose of achieving identified educational outcomes.   Within curriculum, one can look at the scope (the breadth of the curriculum), the continuity (the ideas and themes), and the sequence in which something is taught (the recurrence or repetition of content).  Within the Mindomo concept map, you can find the five main conceptions of curriculum. Different authors and theorists have labelled these as different things, but each of them fall within five main categories.  Some of these have become more popular over the years, while others have lost their popularity.  The humanist approach has become more popular, and I believe it will stay popular as it encourages autonomy and personal growth, and allowing the student to discover things for themselves.  Much of the focus of our society in past years has been on fulfilling one’s own destiny and dreams, in comparison with working for a greater societal goal, as was evidenced in the past. Children from a young age are encouraged to think for themselves, but also much of our media portrays an attitude that fits under a humanist.  However, for the good of our society, I’m unsure that this should be the focus of our upcoming curriculum.  Social reconstructionist was more popular in the past than it is today, especially when I think of the first curriculum written for Canada with a focus on the economy and a greater sense of patriotism. Society today seems to have a multitude of problems, so perhaps in the future this type of curriculum will become more of a focus as the government realizes the power of education and how this could change our society.  Skills based training was much more popular in the past when many of the jobs were based on a specific skill. Today with technological changing so fast, teaching a specific skill will likely be pointless, and it will be better to teach our students to deal with the problems they will face, and how to innovate to meet the needs of society.  The technological conception of curriculum is focused on processing, and HOW a person learns, rather than on the specific content that needs to be taught. The academic conception of curriculum is focused on getting our students ready to cope with the ‘western culture’, using the knowledge and skills that have been gained in the past to equip our students. Although this was popular, the shift I see occurring is away from this, and towards encouraging our students to find their own meaning, critical thinking, and problem solving, rather than giving them the specific skills and knowledge.  However, in some subject areas this view of curriculum may be necessary, especially when there are some facts that need to be acquired in order to make wise and reasoned judgements about a topic.   Each of these different conceptions depends on what societies view on what the purpose of education really is.  If the purpose is for the individual student (what their needs and interests are), then the focus will be different than if they view education as filling a social need, or preparing students for the workforce.

As mentioned in an earlier post, I hope to begin a new position as curriculum coordinator for a K-8 Christian School. The school has in the past years defined their mission and vision, but currently has no curricular documents in place. These readings have challenged me on what my role at the school will be.  Using the mission and vision statement will be where I have to move forward: both of which would fall under social reconstructionist and skills.  However, I think this may need to be something that is challenged when I start, because after spending a year at the school, immersing myself in the new community and culture, I think although their vision may state those two things, the reality of how teachers are teaching may fall much more under the technological or academic conception.  This topic is one that I will need to ponder more, but also one that I will need to gain insight into by asking & gathering information from teachers, staff & administration.  Regardless of exactly what is gathered by our brainstorming, I thinking coming together with a more clear idea of what our goal is as a school will be the first point in improving the teaching and having a more cohesive vision.


Different conceptions of curriculum

Philosophical foundations

Curricular designs

One view of curriculum is that knowledge and the accumulation of content is the most integral part of school.

Many resources and textbooks follow this conception of education.


Traditional education takes place in this format: with the teacher being the one to impart the knowledge they have accumulated onto the students. This is essentially a ‘dumping ground’ of piles of information.

Realism: focuses on the search for truth in the physical universe, and uses structured, basic methods to teach skills, content, and knowledge. The basis of this view is orderliness, and teachers are subject matter specialists who impart their knowledge on their students.  The goal is to promote the intellectual growth of the individual, and to educate them into a competent person.


Essentialism: the teacher is trained in a specific subject area, then then through lecture, direct instruction and large-group discussion, then imparts essential knowledge to the students.


Vocational: This foundation began in the Industrial Revolution, based on pragmatism.  Individual growth is important, and skills and knowledge must be acquired to prepare students to be productive members of society.  Technology is developed to be the answer to culture, economic or political needs.  Acquiring knowledge can then prepare our students to develop existing technologies to improve the human condition.

Assessment here is focused on ‘weeding out’ students for certain industries.  Assessment then prevents students from having to learn things for other vocations that they will not use.

Subject Matter: designs that use subject matter as their organizing foci.  Curriculum is well defined and pre-planned, with little room for integration.

Teaching in this way is systematic and efficient, but it can lead to fragmentation of knowledge that students easily forget.



Assessment in this realm is based on standardized testing, accountability, and staying focused on the curriculum mandated by the government.  They believe in essential ideas that need to be taught.

In this view the curriculum creators view curriculum as the means to change our failing society.  As our students are the ones who will be growing up to make the changes, focusing on education is the logical choice.  Education then becomes the vehicle for making the changes they wish to see in our society. Reconstructionism is the philosophical position that curriculum should foster social action aimed at restructuring society.  It should promote societies social, political, and economic development, while advancing social justice. Reconstructionism works on the premise that society is in need of a change, and that education is the vehicle for such change.  Each citizen has the responsibility and abilty to contribute to altering the society.


The belief that individuals can reinforce cultural traditions, as well as address unmet needs of the community and society.  Individuals are viewed within a social setting, so the student has choice within their interests, but also within the community problems.  Learning extends beyond subject boundaries, and also addresses students needs, concerns and abilities.

Society-Culture:  designs that are based on the needs of society and culture.  This is usually based around major social problems, social-human relation skills, rather than on acquiring content.  They use explicit objectives, but not necessarily planned in advance or having a major role.

The view that curriculum should fit a function in humanities existence, and that social action can improve society through direct involvement of the schools.


Problem-Centered design: based on students lives, needs and interests. Learning should not be separated from the students, and knowledge is an outgrowth of experiences.  Students use knowledge to advance their goals, and actively construct their own understandings.


The shift in education has been towards a student-centered approach. Various examples of these types of schools were explored, and some trends of this type of assessment:

·      Different ways of assessment should be used to meet the needs of all learners.

·      Students should have a choice in how they will demonstrate their learning.

·      Rather than all written assessment, much assessment comes orally: by listening to the students.

·      Reporting to parents takes a different form: although there are still report cards, it becomes more of a dialogue with parents viewing the learning themselves.

The basis of this view is the child: what they want and are interested in is the most important.  By using child psychology and developmental standards we can have some beginning of curriculum development, but a lot of the curriculum must flow naturally out of the needs, desires and interests of the child. By allowing the students having choice, they will be more interested and find school more meaningful, as well as learn more about certain subject areas. Humanism:  the belief that the whole child is the most important aspect of education: and that as humans we make decisions based on meaning and feeling.  Learning is not just an acquisition of knowledge, but involves accepting self, solving problems, being open to experiences, and making democratic decisions.


Pragmatism: education based on an individuals experiences with the world. The role of the teacher is to facilitate and contribute to the experiences of the student.  This is an activity-oriented approach that balances process and content.  Knowledge leads to growth and development, which can improve and reconstruct society.



Learners: curricula organized around the needs and interests of the learner. The student helps select and organize the purposes for learning, and then the subject areas become the means by which they pursue the topic of their interest.  Teachers do some preparations in advance, but no predetermined objectives. The emphasis is child-centered, experience-based learning, with integrated content areas.

Benefits of this design are that students will perceive the learning as relevant and meaningful because they are actively involved. However, they may lack a common body of knowledge, don’t meet the social goals of education, and perhaps may miss the scope and sequence.


The purpose of assessment here is to prepare people for living in an unstable, changing world and to reform society.  Assessment then needs to measure critical thinking, active citizenship, and preparedness for post-secondary studies.


If we start with what our beliefs are, the philosophical foundations for those beliefs, we are then led into a specific way of teaching.  These styles differ from one another. But what flows out of a way of teaching then is assessment. We start with planning, we follow with instruction (the lived or experienced), and we then move into assessment, which is the learned.  As can be viewed in the above table, what our philosophy is will impact how we assess. (see italics)

Standardized testing is a controversial subject today.  As we move towards this model of education, we find teachers teaching-to-the-test, students becoming disengaged and dropping out, and schools rated based on their scores.  Although tests will always be a part of assessment, I do not believe that they need to be such an integral part. In the words of John Ralston Saul: “they are reducing us to a cross-word puzzle approach to life”… when in fact we live in a time of rich changes and opportunities.  Sir Ken Robinson spoke of how each human being is diverse, and how we naturally grow up curious. By testing us all in the same way, we are killing that spark of curiosity and creativity.  The standardized testing debate then leads to the debate about basic facts. Does it matter that our students no longer can do long multiplication (in their head?).  This is a debate which I hear often in the school where I teach currently: “when I was young I could…”  For all of this testing and teaching that we do, are we thinking about the way that WE learned, or are we thinking about the future of our students?

If our philosophy is focused on subject matter, then that will determine our assessment. But before we can talk about assessment, we have to have a shared vision for what is important to you (as a school, a district, etc.).  We need to discuss what we want our students to know, value, understand and be able to do.  This needs to be the basis for assessment, as following the quote: “you measure what you treasure.”  If you don’t know what you treasure, how will you decide what to measure?  Our full curriculum needs to be aligned: so that our instruction and assessment reinforce and support one another.  Some factors that should influence teaching and assessment:

  • Important 21st century learning skills: a deep understanding of fundamental concepts, cognitive skills, creativity, global perspectives, and communication skills.
  • Principles of cognitive and sociocultural learning and motivation: we must teach and assess in alignment with what we know about how children learn and what motivates them (based on their prior knowledge & interests, self-regulation skills, constant feedback, and a belief that they can succeed).
  • Standards based: we must use the curriculum given by the government as benchmarks and broad guides.
  • High-stakes testing: there is always some testing that is mandatory (such as math and literacy tests mandated by the Ontario government for certain grade levels, entrance exams to university, etc.)

Regardless of our philosophy for education, we must include these 3 types of assessment:

  1. Pre-assessment (before instruction to ascertain students knowledge, attitudes and interests. The starting point for designing instruction)
  2. Formative assessment (during teaching. A way to assess progress, provide feedback, and make decisions about further instructional activity)
  3. Summative assessment (after instruction as a way to document what students know, understand, and can do)
Purpose Measurement Interpretation Use
Why am I doing this assessment? What techniques should I use to gather information? How will I interpret the results? What standards and criteria will I use? How will I use these results?
Various purposes:

To diagnose strengths and weaknesses, to monitor student progress, to assign grades, to determine instructional effectiveness, to provide students feedback, or to motivate student’s.

The process by which traits, characteristics or behaviour are differentiated. This is usually done by tests, ratings, observations or interviews.


Alternative assessments that are being used today focus on portfolios, exhibitions, demonstrations or journals that require the active construction of meaning rather than just regurgitating facts.

This is placing a value on different numbers and observations. Some of this comes from government mandated standards, while others comes from a teachers professional judgement. For diagnosis (about a group or individual), for grading (to give feedback), or for instruction (making decisions based on information gathered to adjust instruction)

 As a teacher with a student-centered philosophy (but also slightly society-culture), I must then ask myself how I can use assessment to further the learning in my classroom.  A learning culture is one that focuses on LEARNING, not just tests separate from learning.  I think assessment should be informative, and should be the basis for further learning for myself as teacher, and for my students. Shepard (2000) gives several strategies to ensure that assessment is truly beneficial:

  • Dynamic and on-going: it needs to occur throughout all stages as a guide for further learning.
  • Based on prior knowledge
  • Feedback: it should be used as a tool for self-correction and improvement, and to maintain student motivation and self-confidence while not ignoring student errors.
  • Assessment needs to focus on the transfer of knowledge to different situations, but also should give multiple opportunities to demonstrate this.
  • By having explicit criteria of how they will be assessed, students can then self and peer assess to improve metacognitive skills, and to increase the student-teacher relationship.
  • Assessment should be used to examine and improve my own teaching practice.

After working in various schools, with a wide range of teachers (many with differing philosophies from myself), it has again reminded me of the importance of having a common philosophy and teaching practice that aligns with the assessment that is being done. For the good of a whole school, each of these components needs to flow into one another, and be consistent across teachers to ensure that we are ALL meeting our end goal. Assessment is one of the most difficult aspects of education, but starting wit the end in mind (what do we want our students to know and be able to do) should be the basis of all assessment and curricular plans.



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