Saturday, October 15, 2016

The complexities of curricula

When educators think of the curriculum, they often think of the documents the school district provides that they are to teach.  But curriculum goes much more beyond that view of curriculum. The curriculum is an extremely complex topic taking on many forms.  In many ways, the curriculum is similar to an onion in that there are multiple layers that can be peeled back to reveal another layer and another layer and yet another layer.  Here are a few layers of the complex topic of curricula.

Recommended Curriculum
It is the curriculum recommended by the scholars, professional organizations, etc. it is also the curriculum requirements of state and local governments. Examples of this curriculum include the Common Core State Standards, the Missouri Learning Standards, The Kansas College and Career Standards, and other state standards.

Recommended curricula are typically formulated at a rather high level of generality; they are most often presented as policy recommendations, lists of goals, suggested graduation requirements, and general recommendations about the content and sequence of a field of study, such as mathematics” (Glatthorn, Boschee, Whitehead, & Glattorn., 2015, p. 7).

Written Curriculum

The written curriculum is what often is thought of and referred to as the curriculum. “The written curriculum is intended primarily to ensure that the educational goals of the system are being accomplished; it is a curriculum of control” (Glatthorn et al., 2015, p. 9). Examples of the written curriculum include curriculum guides, scope and sequence charts, and lesson plans.

Chief functions of the written curriculum:
  1. Mediating – the ideals, the realities, what should be taught vs. what can be taught, expectations
  2. Standardizing – director or superintendent wants the buildings to teach the same curricula
  3. Controlling - a level of control over what is to be taught in the classrooms

Supported Curriculum:

“The supported curriculum is the curriculum as reflected in and shaped by the resources allocated to support and deliver it” (Glatthorn et al., 2015, p. 12).

Four kinds of resources:

  1. Time for a subject (e.g. social studies in grade 5)
  2. Time given by the teacher (e.g. time for unit on explorers)
  3. Personnel allocations (e.g. how many teachers needed if class sizes increase)
  4. Textbooks and other learning materials (e.g. when is it time to purchase new)

Taught Curriculum:

The taught curriculum is the delivered curriculum, a curriculum that an observer sees in action as the teacher teaches” (Glatthorn et al., 2015, p. 15).

“Statistical evidence provides a strong warrant that how we organize and operate a school has a major effect on the instructional exchanges in the classroom (Bryk, 2010).  Bergman and Bergman (2010) agree, noting that good teaching is like good writing – the principles of good writing can help teachers improve their style” (Glatthorn et al, 2015, p. 15).

Tested Curriculum:

“The tested curriculum is that set of learnings that is assessed in teacher-made classroom tests; in district-developed, curriculum-referenced tests; and in standardized tests” (Glatthorn et al., 2015, p. 15). The tested curriculum could include standardized assessments, district-created benchmark assessments, teacher-create assessments, and both formal and informal formative assessments.

Hidden Curriculum:

The hidden curriculum is the unintended curriculum - what students learn from the school's culture and climate. It includes such elements as the use of time, allocation of space, funding for programs and activities, and disciplinary policies and practices. For example, if an elementary school allocates 450 minutes each week to reading and 45 minutes to art, the unintended message to students is that "art doesn't matter" (Glatthorn, Carr, & Harris, 2001).

Null Curriculum:

The null or missing curriculum is what is excluded, intentionally or unintentionally, from a course.  This information can be content, analytical methods (political economy approaches) and to methods (avoidance of democratic methods and practices…). This is closely related to the amount of dissent the society is willing to accept in the prescribed curriculum. (Schugurensky, 2002).

Knowing curriculum is complex and encompasses many different elements, educators are wise to consider these forms of curricula as they plan, teach, and assess their students.


Bergman, D. J., & Bergman, C. C. (2010). Elements of stylish teaching: Lessons from Strunk and White. Phi Delta Kappan, 91(4), 28-31.

Bryk, A. S. (2010). Organizing schools for improvement. Phi Delta Kappan, 91(7), 23-30.

Glatthorn, A. A., Boschee, F., Whitehead, B. M., & Boschee, B. F. (2015). Curriculum leadership: Strategies for development and implementation (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Glatthorn, A.A., Carr, J.F., & Harris, D.E.. (2001). Planning And Organizing For Curriculum Renewal. Retrieved from

Schugurensky, D. (2002). The eight curricula of multicultural citizenship education. Multicultural Education, 10(1), 2-6.

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