Types of curriculum

Leslie Owen Wilson’s useful post on types of curriculum is well worth a read. Before I read it my idea of ‘a curriculum’ was narrow. I thought of it as a group of subjects that are taught, plus the skills or knowledge you hope to develop. Hmmm.

So the curriculum is taught, it’s not learnt? And it’s about what ‘you’ as the educator hope for your learners to develop? And its about skills and knowledge, not dispositions or mindsets? Etc…

Wilson’s summary made me realise that there’s so much more than just an overt curriculum, which I guess is the one I tried to describe. I knew that in practice, because I used to spend most of my time as an EFL teacher rejecting the prescribed resources and teaching things that were more relevant or interesting for the learners (shhhh!). Most teachers do that anyway, but the fact that no one ever really checked what was going on in my classroom meant I had tonnes of flexibility with my ‘curriculum-in-use’. Trust me, P4C went down a lot better with the learners than grammar gap fills, so I don’t feel guilty.

The hidden curriculum and the absent curriculum are certainly worth considering in ELT. In the recent IATEFL thingy on inclusion in ELT materials Alex Popovski really made the most out of her five minute slot by highlighting the issue of tokenism in the resources we use. The in-house materials we were using for teens were tokenism-central, and the message portrayed through (for example) the use of images drums home certain stereotypes of learners in our context. The use of (mostly) Eurocentric texts/contexts/topics/images in the regional adaptations of resources for Asia was no doubt a cost-cutting measure, but the message it sends to learners is… Well, er, who knows?! Maybe they don’t care or don’t notice these things. Damn, I should have explored that more with my learners.

Anyhow, Wilson’s work, and further reading such as Wilkinson (2014), has helped me realise that absence is as important as presence in a curriculum. As a teacher-writer I try and avoid a knee-jerk reaction towards what I feel is representation though, as it probably appears more as tokenism. Hmph. Need to be more principled.

The internal curriculum and the concomitant (huh?!) curriculum are interesting me most at the moment. Finding out what has meaning for the learners and what they take from lessons is really interesting in my new EAL context. I’m no longer teaching kinda lock-step, systematic classes. Instead, I’m reacting far more to learner needs, plugging holes, and helping them make meaning and connections in the context of a fairly organic unit of inquiry. It’s great to encourage students to direct their own learning, but I need to find better ways to assess their progress and development. There wasn’t really much of that in EFL, so I need to learn quickly!

Also, the current crisis means some learners might receive more support than they would otherwise from family. Parents inevitably recall their own values and experiences of teaching/learning, which might come to shape their own child’s approach to learning. I guess I’ve understated the influence of home life on learning in the past (yes, naively), but it’s pretty evident to me now!

What was my point? Er… actually I just wanted to share that Wilson post with you. I guess I’ve just captured a few recent thoughts too. Let me know what you think of those curriculum types and how you think they play out/relate to your context – in my view it’s worth exploring.


Wilkinson, M. (2014). ‘The concept of the absent curriculum: the case of the Muslim contribution and the English National Curriculum for history.’ Journal of Curriculum Studies, 46:4, 419-440

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Categories: General, reflections

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6 replies

  1. Breaking down the concept of ‘curriculum’ in this way makes a lot of sense! I’d like to suggest another ‘flavour’, somewhere between curriculum-in-use and received curriculum – that’s the ‘negotiated curriculum’ that results when the students affect the flow of the lesson in some way. For instance, someone interrupts to ask for more clarification, or someone make an observation about something that happened in town recently, and the teacher makes a strategic decision to let things go off at a tangent.

    The gaps between what is imposed by schools, planned and then taught by teachers, and received by students is one of the reasons why I really don’t like the fixation that so many schools have with the wording of lesson aims… We’re told that aims are supposed to relate to learning and not teaching, but if this is the case, why not leave it until after the lesson to figure out retrospectively what the aim was?

    If the aims are part of the lesson plan then really they relate only to the curriculum-in-use-at-the-planning-stage (which really needs a niftier title), and this would suggest they don’t really deserve the prominence they’re given as a way of ensuring measurable progress. All that’s being measured there is the extent to which the teacher is able to stick to what was in the lesson plan, and I think most ELTers would agree that good teachers *don’t* stick rigidly to the plan but go off-piste whenever necessary to meet the needs of their students.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah totally agree re: negotiated curriculum (syllabus). I decided to do this with my learners for a 5 week module where they decided the content from the prescribed resource that they wanted to learn. Turned out it was about 10% of it! I struggled to get skills coverage in the way I adapted the resource, but I certainly got more engagement than I would have!

      Cheers for commenting 🙂


      • Cheers for the reply 😉

        Props on getting the students to decide the content in advance! I’ve rarely had much success doing this but I can imagine that getting them to prune a prescribed syllabus is more fruitful than just asking them to say what they’d like to learn.

        I find that negotiation often also happens during the course, including at pretty much any point of a lesson. Even when it’s just a bit of vocabulary that students are curious about and we end up spending longer on it than I’d anticipated.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Jill Hadfield has written and spoken about hidden curriculums, but can’t remember now where. Might be worth investigating!

    Liked by 1 person


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