The kids in our classes learn what we teach them; Not what we want to teach them. Not what we try to teach them; not what we think we teach them; not what we’d like to teach them. They learn what we teach them, and a lot besides.
by Bill Page
Regular contributor to the Gazette
October 1, 2008
Curriculum is what schools do to kids. When kids go to school, curriculum happens. Everything schools plan to have happen to kids is curriculum. Everything that kids experience while in school is also curriculum. Here is a fresh, comprehensive, often neglected or forgotten view of curriculum.
The official curriculum, also called overt, manifest, or espoused curriculum, consists of everything that is taught, the way it is taught, the reasons for which it is taught, and who teaches it. It is the totality of experiences offered by the school and all its various staffs, including the course content, the methodology or teaching procedures used, and the explanations, descriptions, questions, objectives, purposes, and intentions. The official curriculum is supervised. It is the curriculum we talk about, write about, tell the world about, put in the curriculum guide, put in the public relations brochures and give reports on. We talk about our mission, citizenship, responsibility and independence. When we decide to add AIDS, school-to-work, multi-culturalism, drug abuse, conflict resolution, character building, creationism and patriotism to the content we are supposed to cover, it becomes official curriculum. I am unaware of anything ever being “taken out” of the official curriculum. They just keep adding more and more stuff.
The actual curriculum, which may or may not include a little or a lot of the official curriculum, lies in contrast to what is official. A student may experience a history lesson, class discussion, evaluation, homework, a pop quiz, an assembly, changing clothes for physical education, saying the pledge, passing in the halls, having lunch, hearing announcements, waiting for the doors to open in the morning, riding the bus, etc. All of that is curriculum. The medium is not only the message, it is also the curriculum.
Since everything that happens to kids is what they learn, there are actually several categories of curricula. Besides the official, there is “the hidden,” “covert,” or the "latent” curriculum. The latent curriculum consists of experiences in the affective domain. They are the emotional component; the feelings that go on while kids listen to the history lecture. These experiences are likely to be very powerful because they involve feelings and a full range of emotions. Students also experience the teacher's sighs, comments, sarcasm, slang expressions, the "rolling" of her eyes, snarl of the lip, a disgusted look, attitude, threats, biases, and behavior toward class members.
Teacher behaviors are not official, but they are learning experiences, however subtle, unintended, unconscious and personal. When a kid goes home from school crying, having had a bad day, having been picked on, laughed at and shunned by classmates, s/he has had some bad experiences. Surely it is the result of the latent experiences, not the official. The latent curriculum includes relationships, ideas, judgments and feelings. It can seriously affect the student's self-concept, which in turn affects his or her learning of the official curriculum.
Curriculum Is School; School is Curriculum
A student who graduates from high school has spent approximately 15,000 hours in school and school related activities. During this time teachers are probably the most dominant, pervasive, persuasive, influential adults in his/her life. And, it includes the stages of his/her life during which s/he is most impressionable, and is developing as an independent young adult.
Schools work hard at the manifest curriculum, but pay little attention to the “hidden curriculum.” Yet, this is the curriculum that affects students most profoundly. The attitudes and feelings about teachers, subjects, and schools deeply affect the meaningfulness of the manifest curriculum. It can last longer than the "stuff'” learned in the official curriculum. There are other categories of curricula that can be mentioned here because they can confuse and mislead us when we consider all of what kids are experiencing in school. Consider the following scenario:
Same Classes--Different Curriculum
Imagine three 10th grade world history teachers in the same high school, all about the same age, and having graduated from the same college and all with about the same teaching experiences… and all with similar students, using the same textbook. In one class the kids might be memorizing facts, details, dates and incidents, day after day. That's what the teacher emphasizes and tests on. That's what they do for homework, that’s what the lectures and discussions are about.
In the second classroom, the teacher shares stories, shows videos, assigns student presentations on outside reading and biographies, does re-enactments and has the kids draw a map of pre-war Europe on the floor in colored chalk, and has them work in pairs on research projects. S/he has student- led discussions; gives essay questions, reports, portfolios and projects for assessment.
In the third class, The teacher has a routine with daily work sheets, gives them class assignments to work on independently at their seats, has them answer questions in the text at the end of the chapters, and fill in blank maps of various periods of history, gives "pop" quizzes and preparation tests daily, and gives the tests out of the textbook, workbooks and teacher edition text.
Even though the curriculum is essentially the same, or at least “covers the same material” the students in each class are learning something very different. In the first, I suspect that they are learning that history is just a bunch of facts, or is pretty dull. In the second class they are probably learning to "think" about history. In the third, they are likely to be learning contempt for history. Regardless of my ability to judge what each class is learning, I think I could reasonably assume that the kids in each of the classes are having very different experiences in spite of the "same, official curriculum.” Conclusion: Kids learn more about who teaches it and how they teach it than they do what we teach.
What Are Kids Learning?
The Question is, “What are the kids learning in school?” The answer is, “Whatever they are experiencing.” What is taught is not necessarily what is learned and what is learned is not the same for all of the kids in same class, different classes or with different teachers. While experiences could be categorized and sub-categorized and listed in a variety of ways, here is a non-exhaustive, non-exclusive list of experiences-as-curriculum.
Consider these categories of Curricula:
There is the official curriculum as written by the schools. It’s in the book!
There is the actual curriculum. The experience of “going to school.”
There is the taught curriculum. The teacher’s twist on what the book says.
There is the learned curriculum. What is taught is not what students learn.
There is the tested curriculum. The fill-in-the-blank sampling of taught stuff.
There is the hidden curriculum. It is going on every minute of every school day.
There is the null curriculum. Important elements that should be taught but are not.
There is the retained curriculum. What is remembered from what was taught?
There is the personal curriculum. Each individual has his or her own experiences.
These are experiences that could stand alone, separately in the curriculum because of their impact and importance; including interpersonal skills, social, values, cultural, character experiences, and even lack of experiences. How shall we judge what is learned, what is taught and who or what did the teaching?
What Are Kids In YOUR Class Experiencing?
What are the kids in your class and in your school experiencing? Is it possible that they (and perhaps you, while you were in school) are learning that English is difficult, that Algebra is unnecessary, and that history is memorizing dates? I learned that most of the stuff I studied was for the purpose of getting a grade and credit. Once I got the credit, I could forget it all. So maybe the real question is, “If you learn it, get credit for it and forget it, does it still count as learning? Was it still of value to you?
What I learned in college was how to be a student, not how to be a teacher. I learned to take tests, not give tests. I learned how to read what I was told to read, not what is worthwhile reading. I learned how professors who had never taught in public schools or had courses in pedagogy taught. Mostly I learned “grade grubbing, credit gathering, credential getting, prerequisite learning, course taking, professor pleasing, and test taking.”
A smattering of what a primary kid might be learning (experiencing) might include these:
Waiting his or her turn
Sharing a teacher with 30 other kids
Sharing materials and toys with others
Refraining from talking
Sitting still, or quietly
Listening to the teacher
Observing, internalizing, imitating actions of classmates
Watching the clock (bells or time schedule)
Recess with limitation or rules
Lunch, physical education, art or music class
For a junior high student:
Reading out loud
Waiting to be called on, or for instructions
Responding when called upon
Bringing learning materials to class
Getting to class on times
Keeping track of his or her possessions
For a high school student:
Competing for attention, satisfaction and recognition
Sorting out school priorities
Trial and error learning
Controlling hormonal impulses
Interpersonal relations by trial and error
Doing what s/he is told.
For some students:
How some people react to your dialect.
How many prejudiced people there are.
What reaction you get to using foul language.
How to cover up your lack of knowledge.
That some kids and teachers think you are stupid.
How to ignore ridicule.
Make It Personal
To make it personal: try looking at a particular lesson on a particular day for a specific kid from that kid’s perspective. Interview that two kids, one who is in the category of a good student and one that is in the category of a poor student. Give the class a questionnaire that asks about their experiences beyond the intended subject matter. What would you say your students are learning? What do you think their schooling is teaching them? What will they retain, remember and use? What is worthwhile?
A Word or Two About Sex or Character Education
For those who discuss and debate the teaching of sex or character education in school, there is a singular consideration: Kids learn about character and sex. The only thing for schools to consider is whether they want to participate in the kids learning and whether to participate by official arrangements, by non-participation or by any one of several other curricular possibilities.
What Is The Bottom Line?
Now, consider some aspects of the over all schooling experiences for some of the kids in your school. If students think history is boring, if they say they don’t like to read; if they never read the newspaper or a book; if they say they think science is difficult; if they say they can’t write and spell well; if they say the only good thing about school was the extracurricular activities; what would you say they learned? What if we did an “exit poll” (interview type, not standardized tests) on the graduating seniors or on the 2.6 million annual school “dropouts”? What do you think their schooling taught them? What would they say they learned? What would you say about curriculum?
And Now Below The Bottom Line!
I am the curriculum in my class. My kids learn me! Part of what is me (I, to be grammatically correct) is my knowledge, my values and my offering of the various curricula, as well as everything else that is seen and heard while I am in a relationship with them. Every moment of every day, my kids learn about me as well as from me, I learn about my kids and I learn from my kids. With this knowledge, I determine the me I want to be – I am their curriculum.
Note: Bill Page defines teaching as:
“Teaching is taking credit for some one else’s learning. If a kid learned something and I think I caused that learning, I would say, I taught him or her. What if he or she didn’t learn , could I still say I taught him or her?”
Bill Page, a farm boy, graduated from a one-room school. He forged a career in the classroom teaching middle school “troublemakers.” For the past 26 years, in addition to his classroom duties, he has taught teachers across the nation to teach the lowest achieving students successfully with his proven premise, “Failure is the choice and fault of schools, not the students.”
Bill Page is a classroom teacher. For 46 years, he has patrolled the halls, responded to the bells, and struggled with innovations. He has had his share of lunchroom duty, bus duty, and playground duty. For the past four years, Bill, who is now in his 50th year as a teacher, is also a full time writer. His book, At-Risk Students is available on Abebooks, Amazon, R.D. Dunn Publishing, and on Bill’s web site: http://www.teacherteacher.com/
In At-Risk Students, Page discusses problems facing failing students, “who can’t, don’t and won’t learn or cooperate.” “The solution,” he states, “is for teachers to recognize and accept student misbehavior as defense mechanisms used to hide embarrassment and incompetence, and to deal with causes rather than symptoms. By entering into a democratic, participatory relationship, where students assume responsibility for their own learning.” Through 30 vignettes, the book helps teachers see failing students through his eyes as a fellow teacher, whose classroom success with at-risk students made him a premier teacher-speaker in school districts across America.