According to the article Curriculum theory and Practice by Mark Smith, there are four ways of approaching curriculum. These four ways are viewing curriculum as knowledge to be transmitted, as an attempt to lead students to a specific result, as a process, and as a praxis.
If the curriculum is considered as a body of knowledge to be transmitted, then it is seen as a syllabus. This model of approaching curriculum is often connected with courses that lead to exams. Teachers transmit knowledge from textbooks connected to the curriculum in the most effective way they can. The downside of looking at curriculum this way is that not every student is able to learn in a way that prepares them for exams. Exams are a way to test a student’s ability to memorize information, not to test what they have learned. This view also is likely to limit their planning to a consideration of the content that they wish to transmit.
Viewing curriculum as an attempt to lead students to a specific result is also known as approaching curriculum as a product. Smith wrote, “Education is most often seen as a technical exercise. Objectives are set, a plan drawn up, then applied, and the outcomes (products) measured.” (Smith, M. K. (1996, 2000) ‘Curriculum theory and practice’ the encyclopaedia of informal education, www.infed.org/biblio/b-curric.htm, pg 3). This view provides outcomes so that the content can be organized to help strengthen the end result. From the outcomes, teachers plan lessons and units in order to teach their students and evaluate their understanding of topics at the end. According to Smith, there are many issues with this approach. The first issue is that the teachers’ plan is very important to students learning and reaching a specific educational goal. The learners are being told what they have to learn and how they have to learn it instead of having the opportunity to learn in the way that best suits them. For example, some students may be visual learners, but the teacher may not accommodate for that, which makes it hard on those students to learn the material. Another problem with this way of thinking is that having a specific goal may hinder the learning experience. Learning is much more than writing notes and studying, it is also exploring topics and ideas in ways that may not be considered standardized in education. Having a specified goal may cause teachers to go through a topic too quick for some students, and then the students will not be getting the learning experiences they need to succeed.
Instead of viewing the curriculum as a product, it can also be viewed as a process. This means that the curriculum is not a physical thing; it is the interactions that take place in a classroom. Teachers look at the curriculum and see it as steps that can be taken to achieve a certain goal. The focus of this model is on the interactions that take place between teacher, student, and knowledge. It also allows students to explore topics by engaging in-depth with topics. The negative side to this approach is that it cannot be directed to an exam without losing the quality of the model. If there is a wide variety of content, it would be hard to follow this model because teachers have to make sure that everything gets studied in the time that they have. Rushing the students learning may affect the information they retain. This model also relies on the quality of teachers. If teachers don’t put in the effort to make this model work, then this model turns into students having to demonstrate skills to show they have completed the process.
The fourth model of curriculum is viewing the curriculum as a praxis. This is a development on the curriculum as a process model. The praxis model does not explicitly state its interests, which means that it will not continually reference the goals of learning. This practice does not focus on individual students learning, but rather pays attention to collective understanding and structural questions. The problem that could arise when using this method is that students learn at different paces and in different ways, which may make it hard for the students that need more exploration on a topic.
Looking back at my school experiences, I have seen each of these models of curriculum, however the most prominent were curriculum as a body of knowledge and curriculum as a process. The model that was used depended on the subject and teacher for the class. For example, in most math classes, teachers use the curriculum as a body of knowledge to be transmitted. We learned from a textbook with the help of teachers, but we were guided towards knowing everything we needed for an exam. This model made it hard for students that need extra help in the subject area, as well as students that struggled with writing exams. In elementary school, many of the subject areas used the model of the curriculum as a process. This allowed for the exploration of topics guided by the teachers. It made it possible for students to explore aspects of topics that interested them. In my experience, this approach could negatively impact some of the students learning. Some students like structured environments where they are told what they need to know, this model stays away from strictly ‘textbook’ teaching. None of these models are perfect, but teachers try their best for the students that they have.