What are the four models of curriculum described in the article, and what are the main benefits and/or drawbacks of each? What model(s) of curriculum were prominent in your own schooling experience? What did these models make possible/impossible in the classroom? Reading response to: Smith, M. K. (1996, 2000) ‘Curriculum theory and practice’ the encyclopaedia of informal education, www.infed.org/biblio/b-curric.htm.
Smith describes four ways that educators conceptualized curriculum in North America during the 20th century. Below, I have listed the four approaches (copied verbatim from the article), described their benefits, and also described their defects and imperfections.
- Curriculum as a body of knowledge to be transmitted
Educators who adopt this approach aim to convey specific content to their students. If educators approach curriculum in this way, they will likely provide their students with access to important works (if selected) or the precise materials students will require in order to pass specific exams. This is a traditional, insufficient approach to teaching. It doesn’t consider learners’ needs nor does it account for the ways learners differ from one another. It doesn’t facilitate the building of skills or the development of behaviours. It doesn’t, by itself, adequately promote human flourishing, even if students read valuable classic works that specifically address humanistic principles; good books aren’t enough.
2. Curriculum as an attempt to achieve certain ends in students – product
School systems that adopt this curricular approach focus on achieving behavioural objectives. They adopt this approach because it appears to be an efficient, systematic method. School systems can select specific content, mandate specific instructional methods and then measure outcomes. But this approach, too, is insufficient. School systems that adopt this model treat students uniformly as passive recipients of knowledge and instruction; neither their collective nor respective individual needs are considered. Lessons are imposed and instructional techniques are systematized in hopes that students will develop certain behaviours. Students do not receive a holistic education. This method of instruction was adapted by people attracted to management theories – systems for workplaces. Those who conceptualized this approach did not consider how students and teachers actually interact in classrooms. This method suffers from an additional problem. It forces to educators to teach and assess certain behaviours, which means they may ignore unintended results, behaviours, skills and habits (positive or negative) they didn’t plan on fostering.
3. Curriculum as process
Educators who adopt this approach regard curriculum as an ongoing interaction between teachers, students and knowledge. This approach, unlike the two listed above, considers learners’ collective needs, and accounts for their individual needs and interests. Teachers who adopt this approach attempt strategies in the classroom and then determine whether or not they were successful in achieving what they intended to. Outcomes are secondary and learning is of primary importance. There are numerous problems with this approach: uniformity (and thus comparative assessment) is impossible; it ignores context and political realities (education systems are accountable to governments and/or other stakeholders); and it requires exceptional teachers.
4. Curriculum as praxis
This is similar to the process approach. Its distinguishing feature is a focus on emancipation. Educators who adopt this approach consider the structure of society and how education might help students think critically about that structure. Educators encourage their students to flourish, and do so by listening to them and by engaging their peers in reflective conversations. This approach shares defects with the process model: lack of uniformity, potential problems with context and requisite superb teachers.
My primary and secondary education was shaped by all four these approaches to curriculum. I grew up in Regina. My teachers were required to impart specific knowledge – at least a certain percentage of content in the formal curricula. They were also required to encourage the development of certain behaviours – writing, for example – and assessed me with a formal system. But my teachers also enjoyed significant leeway. They could decide how best to teach the material they were mandated to (partially) cover, and how best to foster development of the skills and behaviours they were required to assess. In high school I encountered teachers who embodied the praxis approach. I had some exceptional high school teachers. One, in particular, encouraged me to consider my privileges and think critically about systems of oppression. She did this in a positive, supportive way; she didn’t want me to question my own value and competence, and I didn’t. She helped me better understand social realities and my privileged place in them.
By adopting elements of all four models, my teachers provided me a holistic and practical education. I received necessary “content,” learned important skills and behaviours (“product”), and learned in interactive environments adapted to my peers’ needs and mine (“process”). Also, I had exceptional teachers who encouraged me to think critically about my society (praxis). I was very fortunate. My teachers helped me flourish.