The definition of curriculum varies in terms of “scope, structure and breadth”, (Machin, Hindmarch, Murray, & Richardson, 2016, pp. 162-163) this is likely caused by the different roles within education, ranging from teaching assistants, principles or external verifiers and Ofsted. As a result of this obscurity many different models have been produced to clarify what the curriculum is and how it affects those that make use of it. The curriculum can be broken down into 5 areas, the official, actual, formal, informal and hidden curriculum.
The official curriculum is what is published in the prospectus, this will include the individual courses, the content of these courses including the syllabus, awarding body, number of hours of teaching required, etc. The official curriculum will also include legal requirements, such as the requirement for Maths and English.
The actual curriculum is the reality, ideally this will be as close to the official curriculum as possible, but is not always possible. An example of where the actual curriculum differs from the official curriculum in classes I teach is the official curriculum includes a wide selection of units from BTEC (Business and Technology Education Council) that may be included, the actual curriculum are the units which have the resources, staff expertise and time available. I would love to be able to deliver all possible units, while this would give students the maximum exposure to the widest selection of the course it would be unnecessary under BTEC rules and impossible as each unit requires a number of teaching hours, if the 49 units were actually delivered, the student would need to participate in 2940 hours of classes.
The differences between the official curriculum and actual curriculum can cause problems as some students will feel they have been mis-sold the course because areas advertised have not been delivered. I experienced this first hand from students who, 3 years after discovering they would not learn the programming language advertised and now about to complete their course, still felt bitter. This was particularly awkward as it was due to a short period in which there was a lack of staffing expertise before I had started, upon my arrival at the organisation I was able to begin offering the particular programming language again, resulting in no change being required to the official curriculum which aggrieved the students further.
The formal curriculum includes areas that are outside the scope of the core course material but are still included within the course. For example, this may include work placements, employability lessons, activities and Maths and English classes. This applies to each of the courses I have taught as although work experience was not a requirement to gain the qualification, it was a requirement of the organisation.
A step further away from the course is the informal curriculum which includes areas such as the Student Union, nurse, priest, sports activities and trips. None of these are managed by the staff of the courses I am involved with but are provided.
The hidden curriculum is understood to be caught rather than taught, these are the subconscious influences the management, staff and other students have within the teaching organisation. An example of the hidden curriculum is the requirements of lanyards and student identification cards, in the past the lanyards and IDs were laughed at by students as, although it was a requirement of the organisation, it was only enforced for the first 2 weeks. This made it very clear who the first year students were as they were the only ones that listened. This is a clear negative side of the hidden curriculum, in recent years the rule has been enforced and all students now wear their lanyards. This has not been caused by a hidden curriculum but is now an example of a self-perpetuating hidden curriculum and requires far less enforcement as it did in the first few years. Another example is the recycling bins available throughout the buildings, at no point has the organisation made it a requirement that students recycle but the recycling bin presence makes it more likely that students will recycle.
The product model focuses on the end result and that if you can produce a ‘product’ that meets the requirements you have learnt sufficiently to complete the course. “Using the analogy of a journey, it is the arrival at the destination which matters most.” (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 289) The origins of the product model can be traced back to the work of (Tyler, 1949) and (Bloom, 1956)
There are many benefits to using the product model, such as the structure and content are clear and concise while the marking is efficient, e.g. has the product been created successfully? If not there is no achievement otherwise the student is deemed successful. The product based approach can also be very motivational for students due to its behaviourist approach; they know what the goal is and have clear direction, along with what they will receive if they reach the goal.
The product model can become trite and unnecessary due its behavioural objectives, whereby the task is broken down into such small sections that limited actual learning is taking place due to insignificant achievements, this is frequently the case when working at lower levels such as level 1 & 2. The higher levels can also be challenging due to its simplistic behavioural objectives, at levels 4 and above students need to tackle complex tasks to verify they have understood at a satisfactory level. The product model will also discourage creativity for the learner and the teacher as they will not receive any additional reward for doing so.
I will frequently make use of the product model but to avoid the limitations I will not use it exclusively within my teaching. For example, towards the end of each semester I will implement workshop sessions in which I will give a task and by the end of the class students must have completed the task or they will need to complete the task for homework, this approach is based solely on the behaviourist approach and product model but is good preparation for the type of exam they will be facing.
The process model proposed by (Stenhouse, 1975) states that creating is more important than the result, an analogy is that the journey itself is more important than the destination. This model is excellent for engaging creative skills and getting people thinking as the primary goal is to improve. The final product is of little importance, to the point a final product may not even be required or even if the final product is of poor quality the student may still be deemed successful due to their process. This contradicts with real life, whereby there will always be a pressure to finish work and the final product will be what is assessed and your performance judged based on that product. This cognitive and constructivism approach is extremely evaluation based, in which if the student is effective at evaluating they will perform well no matter the subject, their skill or ability. As a result, students that do not perform well in an overly analytical environment will perform poorly. Many learners will not appreciate the value in a process model approach to learning and will see it as wasting time where they could be being productive. I am very careful where I use the process model for this reason and will implement a task but focus heavily on that they cannot make mistakes and there are no wrong answers.
The thematic model focuses on implementing themes within classes, this can be a very effective method as learners will enjoy a theme they are interested in while breaking the monotony of classes. It is very common for learners to become engrossed in topics as a result of the theme and will frequently relate the subject and theme to their own interests. There are some negatives to the thematic model, such as if learners aren’t interested in the theme they may feel the topic is irrelevant and ignore the material. As the classes will be theme based specific skills may not be taught and the focus of the class may become biased due to the theme and the teacher’s knowledge of that theme. I make use the thematic model in a web development class, students must produce a website based on the History of Bath.
“In a spiral curriculum, as proposed by Bruner (1960), a topic is revisited on different occasions, each of which builds incrementally on the previous learning, taking it to a deeper and more complex level.” (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 306)
The spiral method is featured throughout education, as a student moves from primary school to secondary school and then into further education the same topics are covered repeatedly, each time in greater levels of depth, further challenging students while building upon and reinforcing their existing knowledge.
While teaching programming I am continuously using the spiral method as knowledge within the subject builds on existing knowledge. While this can present challenges if students miss lessons as they may not be able to complete future tasks, it also gives me the opportunity to fill gaps in their knowledge. For example, in an early lesson within a programming unit, I will teach what variables are, what they are used for and how to use them. This builds on the students existing knowledge of algebra but is also revisited in every lesson as the use of variables is fundamental to programming, this allows more and more obscure variable usage to be covered. In the majority of the units I teach I make use of the Spiral model but will make use of the product and process model throughout, in both teaching and assessment.
Bloom, B. (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals. New York: David McKay Company Inc.
Gould, J., & Roffey-Barentsen, J. (2014). Achieving your diploma in education and training (1st ed.). London: Sage Publications Ltd.
Machin, L., Hindmarch, D., Murray, S., & Richardson, T. (2016). A Complete Guide to the Level 5 Diploma in Education & Training (Second Edition ed.). St Albans: Critical Publishing.
Stenhouse, L. (1975). An introduction to curriculum research and development. London: Heinemann Educational Publishers.
Tyler, R. (1949). Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.