In the reading ‘Curriculum Theory and Practice’, Mark K. Smith presents four different ways to approach curriculum theory and practice – curriculum as a body of knowledge to be transmitted, curriculum as product, curriculum as a process, and curriculum as praxis. These four different ways of approaching curriculum all have their strengths and weaknesses.
Curriculum as a body of knowledge to be transmitted is essentially approaching the curriculum as if it were a syllabus – that is, the subjects of a series of lectures. A syllabus in terms of a class, as we are assuredly all familiar with, tells us what to expect from a given subject and what ideas will be discussed in that class. When viewing curriculum this way, one is really only concerned with the content of the curriculum. Thus, we search for the most effective methods that the content of the curriculum can be transmitted to the students, which is one of the benefits of this model of curriculum. A drawback, however, is that this model of curriculum is solely focused on the content and not much else, which could leave very little consideration for other aspects of a classroom that do not involve direct transmission of the curriculum.
Curriculum as product views education as a technical exercise rather than just knowledge to be transferred to the students. A benefit of viewing curriculum as a product is that it can be very efficient in theory – objectives are set and a plan is drawn to meet those objectives. Afterwards, this plan is applied and then the outcomes (or products) are measured. However, there are quite a few problems with this model. Firstly, it takes out a lot of the voice that students have in the classroom. As Smith puts it, “[The students] are told what they must learn and how they will do it”. If the plan that the teacher has made up doesn’t click with a student, there is not much they can do about it as this model does not stray far from the plan. Another problem with this model is the question of how you measure the ‘outcomes’. You can not objectively measure what a student has taken away from a lesson – there are ways to make good indicators to what they learned, sure, but you can never be fully sure that they completely understand what is being taught or if they are only memorizing what was being said temporarily to fake an indicator of learning.
While curriculum as product is very dependent on objectives, curriculum as process is focused on the interaction of teachers, students and knowledge. As such, the curriculum is not a physical thing – it is an active process. With this view, teachers enter a class with an ability to think critically, and they encourage conversations in the classroom. The idea is that this creates thinking and action among the students to show growth in their knowledge. A benefit of this model is that it allows the students to have a voice in the classroom – the discussion, while lead by a teacher, is flourished through the thoughts and actions of the students participating. A drawback to this is that the quality of the teacher matters a lot more than usual. If the teacher is the one who is to lead the discussion to allow the students to voice their own thoughts, the teacher has to be on point with critical thinking and have a great ability to act on their toes to adjust to whatever directions the students may bring the conversation in. If a teacher is unable to do this, the conversation likely will not end up being very informative or beneficial to the students.
Curriculum as praxis is a development of the process model. While the process model does not make explicit statements about the interest it serves, the praxis model makes an explicit commitment to emancipation. In this approach, the curriculum develops through the interaction of action and reflection. A benefit of this model is that the curriculum does not follow a strict plan, but is instead more ‘off-the-cuff’ and reflective, which may give it less of a stressful feeling to the students. A drawback to this model is that it puts very little value on context and is mostly about what is happening in the room at any given time.
In my personal experience, I experienced curriculum as product most of the time. While this let us have a very structured outlook of what every lesson was going to look like and what we were expected to learn, it was very restrictive in terms of how we were going to learn these things. If the way that was done by the teacher did not click for you, you either had to rely on self-study (usually through peers or through research, mostly on the Internet). The odd time we experienced a different model of curriculum, it was often curriculum as context – we would discuss on a topic that was brought to us by a teacher, and they would control the direction of where they wanted the conversation to be at, but the bulk of the thought and action was from the students. In a practical setting, this model still has a lot of the same drawbacks as the more common curriculum as a product – if this type of learning did not click with you, you were not going to have a positive takeaway from that class or lesson.