The Taught, The Written, The Tested Curriculum



For many years as a teacher, I had questions about what curriculum actually is.  I visually saw the curriculum.  The curriculum was posted on the district’s website.  I followed it. I taught it.  And now and then, friends of mine wrote it.  Unknowingly, I was testing it.  Later in my teaching career, I learned more about curriculum, a topic that is often the focus of national debate.  

For many years as a teacher, I had questions about what curriculum actually is.  I could see the curriculum.  The curriculum was posted on the district’s website.  I followed the curriculum when I planned. I taught it.  Now and then, friends of mine wrote it.  Unknowingly, I was testing it.  Later in my teaching career, I learned more about curriculum, a topic that is often the focus ofnational debate.  You know the story about Common Core?

Curriculum is divided into three parts.  There is the written curriculum.  There is the taught curriculum and there isthe tested curriculum.  Much of thedebate about curriculum falls in one of these three areas.  What written product, that reflects the standards, do you present to students to master?  How should you teach your students? What should you test for after you have taught what it is that you want your students to know?  I am guessing that the Common Core movement was an attempt to pattern the American educational system after the educational systems of the higher performing countries.  Those standards, called the Common Core, mark the first time there’s been near-national consensus on what students should learn in math and language arts in kindergarten through 12th grade (Bowie, 2012). China, Canada, Australia, Finland, and Singapore all performhigher than our (USA) students according to 2016 PISA results.  Each of these countries has a national curriculum or a national governing body. I know the arguments about why the ranking exists, but even if we allow every student to attend public school and the other countries do not; having a national curriculum does point everyone in the right direction.  What do we want our students to know as a country? It is a question that we should give serious thought.  How we teach the curriculum is another thing that is relatively undecided.  There area lot of theories floating around about how to improve education and a lot ofpeople are getting rich from participating in the debate.  Marzano, Defuor & Defuor, Putnum, Darling-Hammond, and Bloom, have all made significant contribution to educational research.  Where have the many contributions left thecurriculum?

You may be employed by or have a child that attends a school in a school system that has taken curriculum management into their own hands.  Some school systems write their own curriculum and post the curriculum as digital content for students to access.  Other systems continue to use textbooks.  What is the point?  But a significant body of research suggests that choosing better curriculum — often meaning textbooks — can lead to notable gains in student achievement (New Studies Suggest Choice of Curriculum and Textbooks Can Make a Big Difference for Students, 2017).  The point is that teachers, not school districts or government, control the curriculum.  You can have PLC meetings, frequent observations by administrators, discuss the curriculum with your department, but it is ultimately the teacher that decides what will be taught in the classroom and how it will be taught.  So teachers, what you decide to teach and how you decide to teach it will have a grave impact on student learning.  The impact can be good or bad, depending on the written curriculum you select to teach and how you teach it (the reasons for the long discussions during the PLC meetings and the many admin observations to see what you are teaching).  Since what you teach and how you teach it is important, it is reasonable to assume that all teachers should know something about curriculum.  Instead of saying in a meeting “the curriculum says to teach this by the third week” why not ask the question, “why are you teaching the content and how does it fit in the overall scheme of things.”  How does it fit in the progression of what you want your students to know? The main question, possibly the most important, is, are you teaching your students in a way that meets their needs. You have to know a great deal about your students to answer this question.  Teachers have a powerful impact on the growth of students’ ability to develop and maintain positive social relationships by what they model, what they teach, the types of relationships they have with students, and the way they manage classrooms (Linton, 2016). Do you scaffold your instruction andactivities?  Do you select material thatis both applicable to the real world and culturally relevant?  Do you know and incorporate research strategies that are known to work in the classroom ( if you don’t know any, take the time to do research and learn them). There are many articles out there about best practices for teaching.  I will sum this section up by saying what you teach and how you teach it is important. 

The tested.  The tested is the “ugly” part of the curriculum.  It is the truth in what you do unless you believe that testing lies about what you do with students in the classroom.  Whichever side of “that” fence you are on, testing is still a necessity.  How much is another question?  I will say one thing about testing.  In some of the leading countries in the world with a higher academic ranking than the US, with regard to academics, the educational systems do not administer many tests to students.  Finland is well-known in the education world for primacy of classroom-based assessment, using no external standardized student testing until the open-ended matriculation exam that is voluntary for students in 12th grade (Darling-Hammond, 2017).  By the way, Finland ranks in the top-fiveglobally for science and math (Coughlan, 2016).  (Darling-Hammond, 2017).  By the way, what high-ranking officialslearning from administering all those test to students?

As teachers, you are the gatekeeper to what curriculum is used in your class.  Give thought to the written curriculum, what you are putting in front of your students.  Make sure what you give them is appropriate for them and aligned with the district, state, and national goals (if the three align).  Each of the tree parts of the curriculum is important.  As with everything else in life, you have to discover what works and what doesn’t. 

References

Bowie, L. (2012, August 28). School year starts with new curriculum. Retrieved 12 17, 2018, from The Baltimore Sun : https://www.baltimoresun.com/bs-md-common-core-20120823-story.html

Coughlan, S. (2016, December 6). Pisa test: Singapore top in global education rankings. Retrieved 12 18, 2018, from BBC News: https://www.bbc.com/news/education-38212070

Darling-Hammond, L. (2017). EmPowered Educators. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Linton, J. (2016). Electronic Learning Communities as a Support for Building Relationships wit Students in a Statewide Virtual High School. Journal of Online learning research, 419-445.

New Studies Suggest Choice of Curriculum and Textbooks Can Make a Big Difference for Students. (2017, May 1). Retrieved 12 12, 2018, from www.the74million.org: https://www.the74million.org/article/new-studies-suggest-choice-of-curriculum-and-textbooks-can-make-a-big-difference-for-students/

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