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As an educator, developing curriculum is essential for classroom management to be efficient. Identifying goals and objectives, creating specific lessons, and developing unique activities to reinforce the lessons being presented are essential components of a curriculum that teachers themselves must be comfortable with. The use of curriculum can be mandated by a school district or state; some instructors have greater freedom in designing a curriculum they feel is most effective. No matter what the requirements are, though, all educators need to be able to incorporate the various components of a teacher's instructional strategies if their students are to succeed.
Curriculum seems like a pretty straight forward concept in academia. It is a necessary component of school functioning, the plan by which instruction and content are planned throughout the primary and secondary parts of education, in order to elicit predetermined learning outcomes. However, this perception of curriculum, the operational curriculum, is only a starting point from which an actual, working curriculum evolves within the implementation of the curricular plan. While many, probably most, teachers would assert that their operational curriculum is synonymous with the official curriculum, in truth there are a multitude of factors which impact the true lessons a student learns in the classroom. Teaching curriculum must also include what is not officially acknowledged and has the potential to teach deeper, more durable lessons than the official curriculum in quality schools.
The Hidden Aspects of a Teacher's Curriculum
It is noted that when teaching curriculum, although they are not expressed intentions, teachers often impart information to their students on sex roles, social and moral roles, appropriateness of behavior, guidelines on what constitutes work and play, the characteristics which are important to success, and the legitimacy of certain kinds of knowledge of other kinds of knowledge. Teachers can offer implicit messages about student roles, how they learn, the meaningfulness and legitimacy of particular content, the necessity of busy work, neatness, promptness, creative capacity, and/or teacher authority. Through their teaching styles and methods, instructional focus and methods of evaluation, the school and its educators impart much more than they ever intended. And while theoretically teaching curriculum has the potential to impart essential information about a culture, all too often our hidden culture contradicts our country’s most fundamental values. It is inevitable to some degree that in any interactions or relationship people will end up giving away more than they actually say.
Using a curriculum to teach can guide one’s instructional processes. A curriculum should serve the following purposes for the teacher:
- Designate the various topics that are going to be presented to students
- Provide instructors with ways that the lessons can be reinforced even after the classroom lesson is over.
- Address the need for accommodations, addressing the unique needs of students with learning disabilities, physical handicaps, or other needs.
- Outline methods of assessment.
Thinking outside the box when creating a curriculum can keep the classroom model varied and provide students with the best opportunities to showcase their unique abilities, no matter how diverse they might be.
There is More to Curriculum Than Meeting Standards
Communication skills play a large part but body language, connotation, and action. Teaching curriculum also refers to the social and emotional processes which are inherently part of any subject or content specific curriculum. It involves those situational or contingent issues, often unconscious or unintentional, which impact instruction. It is a process by which, as teachers pass along relevant content knowledge, they also inform, through their actions, words and practices, the social ideals and norms which they accept and value. We pride ourselves as a country on embracing diversity, championing free thinking and innovative creativity, and yet all too often our educational system, at its core, functions on a foundation of rote memorization, standardized expectations, and uniform schooling.
School culture is a significant contributor to the hidden curriculum. Wren (1999) reinforces the idea that students “internalize a specific program of social norms… in order to function effectively as members of a smaller society, the school, and later on as productive citizens of the larger American society”. There are both beneficial and detrimental consequences of the hidden curriculum’s process of socialization. Expectations of positive social behavior can provide a guideline for students. However, students who do not internalize or easily adapt to the rules and routines of the class can be, students can become reluctant to challenge teachers, a detriment to our goals of producing critical thinking, democratically minded adults. And inevitably there are characteristics of the hidden curriculum which are not consistent with our official objectives.
Paper Masters offers the example that, in teaching subjects out of order, disconnected from other relevant subject matter and without personal meaning, teachers do more than just fail to teach content, they successfully teach confusion. We suggest that confusion is, along with teacher expectations, class position and the ideas that students need constant surveillance and do not deserve personal privacy, among the most consistent things taught in schools. Schools which promote the importance of standardization and authoritarian teachers who accept no questioning of their knowledge or authority do not promote independent learners, but intellectual dependency. In this atmosphere, students are motivated to conform, not to question. They learn that to excel is to play the game, not to tread out on one’s own. These circumstances create dependency, a lack of curiosity, and a generation of students ready to complete the assignment but with no joy of learning. Students might learn content this way, but the most pervasive and far more damaging constant they learn is that the most important thing about school is to conform to rules.
The Influence of the Educator on Curriculum
Paper Masters suggests that curricular form determines what students are able to experience and the ways in which they are allowed to act, which imparts the implicit messages of the hidden curriculum. Our hidden curriculum is comprised of decidedly antidemocratic practices and relationships within a school and has been depicted as the probable sources of public apathy, of mass political incompetence and the rational disengagement of people from their community and government (Defeating the ‘Hidden Curriculum’). Feelings of alienation are also a frequent consequences of a hidden curriculum which does not value individuality.
Educators are the most frequent contributors of hidden aspects of a curriculum. Instructional practices are rife with unintended meaning. For instance, many teachers allot a significant portion of the assigned grade to homework completion. This practice is often justified as a necessary practice to ensure that students do their assignments. While there is logic in ensuring students get necessary practice, it can backfire when a student who knows the subject, aces the test and has a mastery of the content, receives a lower grade for not turning in assignment. In this case, the student is being taught that completing work, even if it is not meaningful and is not necessary for him to understand the concept, is more import than his knowledge of the content or his academic ability. In this way, students are taught that following orders is most important, and academic success secondary to being able to jump through the hoops.
Students who prefer to work individually and who don’t enjoy creating, hypothesizing or problem solving and who have no difficulty adhering to the rules are more likely to high achievers. “Evaluation practices… testing, assessment and reporting, are the most powerful forces influencing the priorities and cultures of schools, the hidden curriculum”. Teachers may also neglect a variety of student learning styles by choosing to focus on the methods by which they themselves learn best, supporting some ways of learning as more important than others. In fact, educators often impart through their actions and words that certain content is more or less important. In developing activities, assigning groups and facilitating learning, teachers invariably impact students’ self concept. If we want to teach students to be thinkers, we need to give them opportunities to think showing in our acceptance and value for their ideas that it is not always our voice that matters in the classroom. We must align our goals with our practices.