Tony Gurr

FORGET Wiki – Try Asking YOURSELF!

In Curriculum, Our Schools, Our Universities, The Paradigm Debate on 18/10/2011 at 8:49 pm

No apologies for the…



I promised to do a follow-up to yesterday’s post on allthingscurriculum or rather how to TAKE a curriculum PERSPECTIVE.

However, I was reminded me (by one of my dearest Akademe friends) that I should really be backing-up some of myEDUrants” with pearls of wisdom from “authorities“…in the field.

So, off I went to Wikipedia


I really do not know why so many educators  and academics get so upset when LEARNers mention the “W” word.

I mean…it was set up as a “peer-reviewed, free encyclopedia“, an encyclopedia of the people, for the people – if you will. Is it not…the living, breathing embodiment of both the free culture and open-source movements?

Besides, they have a great logo!

Cool….so what does Jimbo and his gang of “peer reviewers” have to say about “curriculum“?

They tell us that curriculum is:


“…the set of courses, and their content, offered at a school or university”.

Wikipedia has got it soooooooo WRONG….Give us a bloody break…


Even my dogs do not buy that (and they are pretty “chilled”)!

Jimbo – love your work – most of it! But, gotta tell you…

I know you are a busy guy and can’t get through all your mail…but:

And, in case you “missed the meeting”, too…


Hang on a minute as I was reminded – maybe I should look into the “authorities” behind this definition. So, I checked out Jimbo’s “sources“. This was tougher than I imagined.

Basically, I was LEARNed that if I want to “disagree” with what Jimbo is telling me – I have to “take on” the World Council for Curriculum and Instruction and J F Bobbit (a member of the esteemed “Efficiency-Minded Thinkers“). One of these is not too much of a worry (sadly, he passed away in 1956 – and Dewey did a good enough job on my behalf before that)…


But, I would like to introduce the WCCI to my other little doggy…”Cuddles“:

Here goes nothing…

Any understanding of the term curriculum that is strongly linked to the notion of a “teaching plan”or worse – the “order of content” (as with the traditional textbook approach to TEACHing) is fundamentally flawed.

It confuses the “means”(TEACHing) with the “ends” (LEARNing) in education, sees LEARNing as a body of knowledge to be “transmitted”, and views LEARNers as little more than passive walk-on actors on a sound-stage designed for someone else – the TEACHer

Furthermore, curriculum planning processes that focus almost exclusively on content also fail to fully expose LEARNers to the processes used by professionals and “real people” to practice their arts and crafts and gain knowledge by carrying out tasks requiring higher order thinking, collaborating with others and developing their own generic and discipline-specific abilities in the process.

Bit of a mouthful, I know…

More importantly, this approach to designing “LEARNing experiences” and environments for LEARNers fails to adequately consider orientations to problem-solving and creative thinking, student dispositions towards LEARNing and collaborative practices (their talents), and the need to understand and value multiple “voices” in planning and decision-making.


Why do I say this?

I guess I could tell you that the original (Latin) meaning of the term “curriculum” was “racecourse” (Wiki does this, too) – and the understanding that a curriculum represents a meaningful and purposeful progression to some predetermined goal.

But, I won’t…a student expressed my thoughts on this that far better than I ever could:

So you get here and they start asking you, “What do you think you want to major in?” “Have you thought about what courses you want to take?” And you get the impression that’s what it’s all about – courses, majors. So you take the courses. You get your card punched. You try a little this and a little that. Then comes GRADUATION. And you wake up and you look at this bunch of courses and then it hits you: They don’t add up to anything. It’s just a bunch of courses. It doesn’t mean a thing. Willimon and Naylor (1995: p.57-8)


What I will do is tell you what the “mother” of all curriculum questions needs to be:

  • What are we here to do for our students? 

Closely followed by her two “younger sisters”:

  • What should students be LEARNing?
  • How do we know that LEARNing is taking place? 

Sadly, like many questions in our schools, colleges and universities – these three are so often ignored because they are so important.


The problem here is that we cannot just stop with three questions – TAKING a curriculum PERSPECTIVE (as the folks at Alverno have showed us) requires a great deal of “reflective savvy” and even more questions.


There are other questions, for example, that touch more directly on the level of Curriculum Literacy across an institution or team of teachers:

  • What is curriculum for us?
  • What type of metaphors do we use when talking about curricula?
  • How do we conceptualise the process of curriculum design?
  • What type of metaphors do we use when discussing the planning of curricula?

We can of course top these off with the “trinity” of Educational Literacy questions we have been looking at these past few weeks – applied to Curriculum Literacy:

What really bakes the noodle, however, is when we have to think about the following:

  • What is the relationship of curricular to TEACHing?
  • What is the relationship of curricular to LEARNing?
  • What is the relationship of curricular to assessment?
  • What do we know about the curricular-to-TEACHing-to-LEARNing link?


This is because we have to delve deep into LEARNing Literacy, too – sorry!

And, then – tackle a few of the “bigger boys” (or “girls“):


And, that’s without touching on a few of the issues raised by Discipline Literacy:

  • What is the nature of knowledge?
  • How is knowledge created – or “co-created”?
  • Where is all this knowledge? 
  • What different “types” of knowledge do we “value”? Why?
  • What does it mean to truly “know” a discipline – or a range of disciplines? How do we know this?


Where teachers and educators do not ask these types of questions (or their institutions do not support them in such “philosophical time-wasters” – trust me, I have heard them called far worse “names”) – they continue to equate curriculum with “TEACHing plans” and they are even more likely to limit their planning to a consideration of “content”.

This, in turn, is likely to maintain the fragmented view of this content (we have had since the 19th Century), a mono-disciplinary view of education (we have had since the 19th Century) and a tendency to focus on decontextualised “just-in-case” TEACHing (we have had since the 7th Centurythe same type of TEACHing that happens without being accompanied with a great deal of engagement or “real” LEARNing!

Curriculum is not a collection of courses that are “delivered” and on which content is “covered” – it certainly is not “…a basket of instructional bricks to be stacked in any order” (Tagg, 2003) …or even instructional bricks that must be stacked in a “certain” order…’cos that’s the way we have always done it!

Curriculum needs to begin where it ends – with the LEARNing of individual students and with the LEARNing of teachers and educators about how this can best be realised.


OK – I will admit that many educational institutions, recognising the weaknesses of such conceptual models of curriculum, have turned their attention to outcomes-based approaches or “LEARNing objectives”. In doing so these institutions have worked to “improve” their curriculum by identifying and defining the LEARNing outcomes they use to answer the key question of “what should students be LEARNing”.

Sadly, many of these curriculum renewal initiatives have failed as the “LEARNing objectives” or outcomes developed are, in fact, TEACHing objectives and are often cast in the language of curriculum planners (Watkins, 2003) – not the language of LEARNers and what LEARNers can DO with what they KNOW and LEARN.


Why is this?

Many TEACHing teams and curriculum planners embark on their task by defining what LEARNing outcomes are, running workshops that draw on concepts from Bloom’s taxonomy (or the updated, and very fashionable, version produced by Anderson and Krathwohl), telling teachers and educators what “verbs” they must use to prepare an “effective” curriculum and then (probably to avoid any loss of “face”) sending off individual departments to “re-write” their own curriculum documentation.

Nothing wrong with this, if workshop facilitators are not operating with the “read-a-book-and-tell-the-world” model of training – and the departments being “trained” really “get” it!

In this approach, however, curriculum renewal is all too often seen as the process of writing a new curriculum or “new teaching plan” and often ends up as little more little more than reorganising the deckchairs on the Titanic – “tweaking” curriculum documentation rather than exploring the core purpose of the institution and assumptions about the nature of LEARNing.

No-one’s fault…perhaps


The type of questions I have touched on today are by no means exhaustive – but they are exactly the stuff that gets the “reflective savvy” pumping through the veins (if we bother to “ask” them and “make space” for people to consider them)…

They are the type of questions that help institutions and their teachers “move” to the type of conceptualisation that sees curriculum as an expression of educational values and beliefs (à la Alvernoand a coherent roadmap for supporting the holistic development of all students (à la what-we-all-should-be-doing).


It’s not rocket-sciencebut this is never an “easy task” (I mentioned blood, sweat and tears – in my last post) and, after reading all these questions, a few of you might be thinking over a couple of other questions around about now:

  • Should we bother to spend the time and effort to LEARN about and implement this type of curriculum perspective? 
  • Should we bother to spend the effort to LEARN about and implement new ways of TEACHing and ASSESSing and LEARNing students?

Hell, yes!


It’s nigh on impossible for me to thank everyone who contributed to this list of questions (and LEARNed me) – I have “gathered” them over many years, from many people and even more books or articles. To mention a few – obviously, the Faculty at Alverno are top of my list. Also, Terry O’BanionPeter Koestenbaum, Edgar Schein, Peter Block, and “Cuddles“! My thanks also to Mark Smith (of InfEd – a “source” we can all trust) and Laurence Raw – who always reminds me of “what matters” in the “game“!

  1. Very good, Tony. Will send this link to a journalist who challenged me over national standards and the need for parents to know how their children are doing compared to other children of the same age.


    Allan Alach

  2. Allan – that would just be “mean” 😉

    I do get it – as I mentioned in the post – many (including parents and journalists – and politicians) can only see as far as their own experience and focus on “what’s new” (or – “what’s in the news”), Far too few focus on “what matters” – because it is such hard going. We, as teachers and educators, have to carry some of the can for this…

    Schools, colleges and universities can help this by evidencing the LEARNing they create (very few, at present, do this – this pushes other stakeholders to look for “alternative sources”) – exam results are “easy” – the problem is they do not fully evidence LEARNing. Standardised tests evidence what was tested. The problem for me is not that parents might want to see how “little Ahmet” is doing in comparison to “little Ayşe” (though I do not wholly get that either) – it is whether the test meets its purpose and also the wider consequences of such tests (and, we all know what many of these consequences are).

    EDUinstitutions need to take the lead (by asking the type of questions I suggest – and doing something about them) – and take back the agenda. Alverno is a great case – they “broke” the rules…and it has worked.

    That having been said “journalists” can help – by asking the right questions, too – a case in point – “the league tables” we all love so much. Instead of talking about the “rankings” – maybe they could help parents (and kids) “see” what is behind the rankings (not a great deal…….)

    Take care,


  3. For those of you interested in more allthingscurriculum – see below:


    Part 1
    Part 2
    Part 3
    Part 4
    Part 5
    Part 6

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