Jan. 29, 2004

A good definition of curriculum: A structured set of intended learning outcomes.

  • Structure is an essential characteristic. The curriculum is structured by
    • Sequence (what topic follows another in time)
    • Hierarchical relationships between various content elements.

  • Learning outcomes usually come from three sources:
    • Knowledge (e.g., facts, concepts, generalizations)
    • Skills (e.g., processes, techniques, abilities)
    • Values (e.g., the affect, viewpoint, attitude)
Three sources of curriculum are the:

  • Needs and Interests of Learners (focus on individual -- choice of material based on individual needs, interests, abilities) [Rousseau]

  • Values and Problems of Society (focus on the people interacting with each other often looking to the future) [See for example, SCANS Workshop Skills - SCANS stands for Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, U.S. Dept. of Labor]

  • Realm of Organized Knowledge or Subject Matter (belief that there is a common knowledge foundation that every student must acquire) [Disciplinary view]

A balance among these three sources is important.

Three general principles of curriculum formation are:

  1. Keep the students up front in the planning process. These means taking into account concerns about:
    • Quality -- promotion of student development intellectually, psychologically, physically and socially
    • Equality -- quality experiences for all students
    • Personalization -- assignment and allocation of programs to the specific set of individual differences represented in the student body
    • Relevancy -- appropriate to the needs of the student, society, and school purposes.

  2. The organization of the curriculum should foster coordination and collaboration among teachers and media specialists to allow unified learning across specialization and grade level

  3. The school day should be balanced with a variety of learning experiences and a variety of teaching activities (e.g., balance between quiet and intense activities)

Several curriculum design patterns can be identified although few operate in pure form. Most draw elements from several designs and fuse them into a plan for a particular situation. Common organizing elements for all curriculum designs include:

  • Determination of what is important following a study of the learners for whom plan is devised, the societal requirements and goals, and the knowledge required to fulfill these needs and goals. This establishes the context for the curriculum.

  • Broad goals are formulated followed by more specific objectives. Required skills, understanding, attitudes and affects, and abilities are then determined.

  • Appropriate learning experiences are designed and systematized into a logical and hierarchical pattern.

  • Evaluation procedures and techniques are determined for both student progress and curriculum validity.

Six curriculum design patterns will be examined, as follows:

  • The Subject-Centered Design
  • The Broad Fields Design
  • Social Processes and Life Functions Design
  • The Activities and Experiences Design
  • The Core Curriculum Design
  • The Process-Oriented Curriculum Design

Remember, there are few pure forms but most schools favor certain approaches more than others. Each of these design patterns will be considered below with a definition and diagram and a comment about the impact of the pattern on the school library media center.

The Subject-Centered Design. The origins of these go back to the Trivium and Quadrivium of classical times (the seven Liberal Arts). Each subject is separated. Mastery of the subject matter is the central task. Standards are set for the amount of subject matter covered and for learner mastery of content. Learning sequences are usually in a step-by-step pattern. A textbook is the primary instructional tool. The breadth of the subject-centered curriculum is determined by the number of subjects taught. Each subject has three characteristics:

  1. a unique body of content
  2. its own intellectual discipline (e.g., scientific method, historical method, etc.)
  3. its own pattern for organizing the content.

Objectives are derived from the important generalizations found in the field of study and the intellectual processes inherent in that field. The library is used primarily in content-oriented ways with a focus on selection and use of specific materials in a single content area. Interrelations between various subjects are not stressed. Questions focus on "what" rather than "how" or "why."

A diagram of this design is as follows:

The Broad Fields Curriculum Design. The broad fields design combines two or more related subjects into a single broad field of study, for example, Language Arts combines the separate but related subjects of Reading, Spelling, Writing, Speaking, Listening, and Composition. The Broad Fields, commonly found in elementary and middle grades, is an attempt to overcome the fragmentation and compartmentalization characteristic of the subject-centered design. The intent is to achieve a greater integration of learning experiences.

Use of the broad fields design cuts down on the amount of factual detail often found in subject-centered designs but still allows little integration between the broad fields themselves. The design stresses content coverage and acquisition of information. The school library will be used more extensively than in the subject-centered design and can help reinforce the interrelationships among the subject areas within a broad field of study.

A diagram of this design follows:

Social Processes and Life Functions Design. This design is focused heavily on society. Social processes, functions, or problems become the center for the design of the curriculum. One way to look at this approach is to see it as using social studies to become the general background of the entire curriculum. A major goal is the improvement of society through the direct involvement of the schools.

The curriculum is structured around the various aspects of problems and processes of community life with the subject areas subservient to the problem. Careful development of continuous themes for the entire curriculum is important. This design is more subjective than is either the subject-centered or broad fields. Cooperative planning occurs more frequently. The curriculum is more flexible. Skills taught are skills students can apply to everyday living. Many resources and materials are used in addition to, or in place of, the traditional textbook. The library media center is used extensively to work out solutions to social problems by drawing from many sources.

The validity of this approach may be questioned by parents and others. The diagram below shows some examples of "content" elements that might be included: communication, transportation of goods and people, freedom of the individual, exploration, production of goods and services, distribution of returns of production, education, aesthetics, recreation, protection and conservation of life, property and natural resources. All elements are interrelated and collectively known as social processes and problems of living.

The Activities and Experiences Curriculum Design. This design focuses on student interests and the integration of content from any subject field. This approach might be considered more a teaching method than a curriculum design because it can be used in conjunction with several other design models. The emphasis is on learning as an active, dynamic process. Learners are encouraged to use problem-solving skills and methods and to set their own tasks. Subject matter is drawn upon as needed for a particular task. Specific skills and knowledge are acquired on an as-needed basis.

The needs and interests of the learners determine what will be studied. Thus, one often sees this design in private schools or in alternative schools where students have had difficulties adjusting to a more structured classroom. The school library has be heavily used in this design and can become the major vehicle for "delivery" of the curriculum.

The major disadvantage of this design is that it is difficult to build a systematic system of knowledge. In practice, efforts to take this kind of information into consideration for any type of curriculum planning are encouraged. The diagram below shows how the learner's needs and interests drives the curriculum. The dotted lines connecting subjects and skills suggest that learning in these areas may not receive consistent attention.

Core Curriculum Design. This design focuses on the set of learning experiences that are felt to be essential for all students. Its underlying purpose is to create a universal sense of inquiry, discourse, and understanding among learners of different backgrounds and aspirations. Broad areas of concern are examined and set of learning experiences intended to promote a common body of knowledge are carefully prepared. We use such an approach in SILS as do most professional schools

In K-12 schools, a general education is the goal of the core curriculum. Integration and unfification of learning is stressed and accomplished by the systematic correlation of subject matter around themes drawn from the contemporary problems of living. Problem solving through reflective thinking is encouraged. Examples of possible themes include: civic responsibility, an understanding of economic systems and how people relate to one another within these systems, family relationships, informed consumerism, development of aesthetic appreciations, proficiency in spoken and written language. The school library media center can be an essential component in providing the wide variety of learning experiences expected in the core curriculum design.

Subject matter lines are cut across and attention given to the needs of the learner. Learner respect for one another is promoted. Learners have the opportunity to test their own values and ideas. Cooperative teacher-student planning is emphasized and learners are grouped homogeneously. A wide range of ability levels can be accommodated because the problems being investigated are considered to be universally significant.

The diagram below shows the philosophical orientation and doesn't show the specific subject matter or themes within the core. The different groups of learners are shown as they enter the core. Upon completion of the core, learners of diverse background are able to interact with one another based on a set of shared understandings and a sense of shared responsibility.

The Process-Oriented Curriculum Design. This design focuses on personal attributes and skills of the individual learner. These may include such aspects as: working well with others, effective leadership, knowing how to take and follow directions, communicating effectively, making accurate observations, learning independently, making decisions, making good judgments, inventing, forecasting, planning, monitoring the effects of one's own activities, taking correction action when necessary, creating, initiating, developing a sound value system, having self-confidence, being sensitive to others.

The development of skills and traits that will serve the learner for a lifetime characterize this design. There is a higher degree of carry-over into everyday living experiences than in other designs, and a better balance between affective and cognitive considerations. The library media center can provide materials, resources and services promoting independent learning and creativity.

This curriculum design suffers from a difficulty in assessing learning outcomes due to subjective judgments. Parents may be skeptical. The diagram below shows how the learner transfers these process-oriented skills in ever-widening circles from himself, to his schooling, to life as a productive member of society.

Horizontal and vertical organization are two necessary dimensions of any curriculum design. Vertical organization (sequence, continuity) deals with the longitudinal arrangement of the design components. Horizontal organization (scope, integration) deals with the side-by-side arrangement of the components in the curriculum design.

A spiral concept of the curriculum provides for both horizontal (widening of knowledge) and vertical (deepening of knowledge) aspects of the curriculum design simultaneously. The figure below shows the concept of horizontal and vertical articulation from preschool to adult.

Questions or comments about these notes may be directed to Evelyn Daniel.