Components of a Curriculum

    When people use the word curriculum, they are generally referring to the content chosen to be taught—the official curriculum. In schools that have adopted standards, the official curriculum reflects the content of those standards. There is, however, more to a curriculum than the specific items listed in the official curriculum guide.

    The following sections describe several alternative perspectives on the total curriculum in schools—what is actually taught and learned.

The Four Curricula of Schools

Educational theorist Larry Cuban questions the myth that a well-defined curriculum determines what is taught (and learned) in a school. He suggests that there are at least four different curricula in use in our schools.

"The official curriculum is what state and district officials set forth in curricular frameworks and courses of study. They expect teachers to teach it; they assume students will learn it."

The taught curriculum is what teachers, working alone in their rooms, actually choose to teach. "Their choices derive from their knowledge of the subject, their experiences in teaching the content, their affection or dislike for topics, and their attitudes toward the students they face daily."

The learned curriculum. Beyond what test scores reveal about content learning, students also learn many unspecified lessons embedded in the environment of the classroom. Depending on what the teacher models, the student will learn to process information in particular ways and not in others. They will learn when and when not to ask questions and how to act attentive. They may imitate their teacher's attitudes. They learn about respect for others from the teacher's own demonstration of respect or lack thereof. The learned curriculum is much more inclusive than the overtly taught curriculum.

The tested curriculum. "What is tested is a limited part of what is intended by policy makers, taught by teachers, and learned by students." The farther removed teachers are from the actual construction of the tests, the worse the fit between the other curriculums and what is tested. Standardized tests often represent the poorest assessment of the other curriculums.

The taught and learned curricula are largely ignored in discussions of the effectiveness of schools. Yet they are perhaps the most influential in terms of the student. 

Cuban, L. (1995). The Hidden Variable: How Organizations Influence Teacher Responses to Curriculum Reform. Theory Into Practice, Vol. 34, No. 1, 4-11.

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