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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Foundations Series: What is Intended Curriculum?

Last month, I continued my Foundations Series on Curriculum Alignment by exploring the question "What is Curriculum?" Recall that I took issue with the idea that things like textbooks and related materials hold the exclusive right to be called "the curriculum," no matter how practical it may be to do so. I of course left this as the big cliffhanger to get you to check back in this month. ;)

Let's take a step back first, and set the stage for this discussion. This month, I am going to dig a little deeper into one aspect of curriculum, the intended curriculum. The intended curriculum is part of a multi-dimensional framework for working with curriculum developed by Andy Porter, with the other three dimensions being the enacted, assessed, and learned curricula (Porter, 2006). Visually, this is how I picture it:

In this framework, the intended curriculum is:

the content target for the enacted and assessed curriculum, statements of what every student is to know and be able to do. It is often captured in content standards or other similar documents that define specific points in time when students are to learn the knowledge and skills.

In other words, the intended curriculum is what students are supposed to learn. This may be a reasonable description of what the intended curriculum is (I'll let you decide that), but it does not address who should define the intended curriculum and how it should, or at least could, be defined.

Who and How Should the Intended Curriculum Be Determined?

This is a very sticky issue, one full of emotion for most educators. From my experience working with teachers and administrators, I'd say there is a strong feeling out there among many (I won't say most, because I don't know that) educators that the intended curriculum should be determined locally, not by politicians, test and curriculum developers, and other talking heads.

At the same time, I have also worked with many (again, I won't say most) educators that say that with all of the growing stressors and challenges of being a teacher, they would just like to be told what to teach, and be left alone as to how they should teach it. I'll get into the latter part of that statement when I blog about the enacted curriculum. For now, I'll stick to the what part of the conversation.

I'm guessing that many of you can appreciate this perspective (i.e., tell me what but not how). For me, I think it's completely understandable, and maybe even a partial explanation as to why many teachers rely so heavily on textbooks and related materials for their daily instructional decisions.

Currently, the United States continues more and more towards content being defined centrally/nationally, so to speak, not at the local level. No Child Left Behind created perhaps the most centrally-directed defining of intended curriculum at the time, requiring states to codify their own state content standards. The ante was significantly upped with the creation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English/Language Arts and Mathematics, which was led by the National Governor's Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). And it appears that there is now movement to create similar  documents in the areas of Science and Social Studies. You can see how these standards were developed here, at least for the English/Language Arts and Mathematics.

Even if a state adopts/adopted the CCSS, there is still room there for states (as in, state departments of education/instruction) to define an "additional 15%" of content (i.e., intended curriculum) that students are to learn. I put 15% in "" because there really isn't any guidance as to how you would determine how much is 15%. Still, it's latitude for states to define intended curriculum.

Now, I'm no math major (I was a psychology major). But reading what I just wrote, it looks like the CCSS and state's additions add up to no local/district decisions about content. So now I'm really shifting from the "who" to the "how" the intended curriculum should be determined. I do believe that their is an important role for folks at the national/federal, and state levels to determine the intended curriculum. Honestly, if the work is done defensibly well (a big if for many of you I'm guessing), I'm perfectly ok with the foundation of the intended curriculum being developed at the national/federal and state levels.

Why on earth would I say such a thing  you ask? I'll tell you why...the process these groups use is usually pretty rock-solid. Some really smart, experienced educators (i.e., folks from universities, national organizations, administrators, and teachers) get together and hash out their ideas to come up with what they think is best. Their ideas get nationally vetted by virtually every stakeholder group in education. They have professional editors polish up their work. As a result, the finished product is usually pretty darn good.

Now, that's not to say that it's perfect. There are often holes in this work. It will be biased to some extent 100% of the time. It will be missing some things and have things that many think shouldn't be there. Human beings write these documents. The voices of dissension can help shape and improve this work over time. In addition, decisions made at the district, building, and teacher level can help balance out many imperfections in the national/federal/state work. This compensation, if you will, comes in many forms. Discussions in professional learning networks, materials adoption and development, and lesson planning are just a few examples of work that can be done to bring both clarity, local context, and specificity to the intended curriculum.

At the same time, hopefully the national/federal/state work can provide compensation for shortcomings in the district/school/teacher level of decision making and implementation around the intended curriculum. In my mind, their are two big areas in which having a national intended curriculum can provide a tremendous benefit for teachers and students. First, having a common instructional target can help, if followed by teachers, eliminate discrepancies in opportunity to learn for all students. Second, a national intended curriculum can provide local educators freedom to use their dwindling resources focused on other things that repeatedly trying to write standards without the experience or resources necessary to do it well.

So...where do textbooks and related materials fit into this approach to defining curriculum?

You didn't think I was going to forget to respond to my very own question, did you? :) Let me try to address this question with a hypothetical example. Consider this scenario:

A district is planning to adopt and acquire new curricular materials for K-3 reading. They want to know the alignment between the content of materials from multiple companies and the Common Core State Standards. What sort of alignment comparison would they been making?

I would say they are making an intended-to-intended curriculum alignment comparison. The Common Core defines what students are supposed to learn in this example. The materials can't be enacted or assessed yet, because they haven't been adopted or acquired. The materials can't be learned, because students are the focus on what is learned, not materials. Whatever materials the district in this scenario selects will still be intended before they are implemented by teachers and students.

Ok, there it is. I have made my declaration: textbooks and related materials are intended curriculum. You know what though? I also think textbooks and related materials can be enacted and/or assessed curricula as well. "What" you say? Didn't I just say textbooks and related materials couldn't be enacted or assessed curricula? Well, guess what? You're just going to have to check back in next month when I explain myself with my next installation in the Foundations Series: What is Enacted Curriculum?

Thanks for taking the time to read. See you here next month!

Resources Used

Porter, A. C. (2006). Curriculum assessment. In J. L. Green, G. Camilli, & P. B. Elmore (Eds.), Complementary methods for research in education (3rd edition). Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.