It's Elementary!

by Jamie Forrest

From Here to There – Reflections on Curriculum January 23, 2011

Filed under: Class reflections,Opinion pieces — Jamie @ 1:50 pm
One of this week’s readings for my class was the following:

Jackson, P. (1992).  Conceptions of curriculum and curriculum specialists.  In P. Jackson (Ed.), Handbook of Curriculum Research, pp. 3-40.  New York: MacMillan.

Much of this reading focused on different definitions of curriculum.  There was one particular section that really got me thinking.  This was a very short section that named and briefly explained each level of curricula from planned to fulfillment.  They names offered were: official curriculum, enacted curriculum, delivered curriculum, and experienced curriculum. (p. 9)

The official curriculum is the entire set of course offerings possible from a particular institution.  For example, in Saskatchewan for K-12, this would include every curriculum guide developed and available to teachers.  This is the body of work K-12, every subject area.

The enacted curriculum is the course offerings actually available within a particular school/institution.  This MAY eliminated some of the curricula from the official curriculum.  At the elementary level, this may not include separate languages.  At the high school level, depending on the size of the school, they may not offer courses in all the elective classes.  With further refinement, this may also be boiled down to the course outline or year plan for a specific class; what a teacher actually wants to teach.

The delivered curriculum is that which the teachers actually teach.  This may follow exactly what the teacher intended with their course outline or year plan, but it may also differ depending on time, situation in the class, the students in the class or other circumstances.

Finally, the experienced curriculum is what the student actually takes from the delivered curriculum.  This may be the whole thing or just a small part of it.


I think that the reason this section jumped out at me is because more and more often we are seeing huge academic gaps between our strongest and weakest students in a given classroom.  The older the students get, the bigger the gap gets.  We wonder why, given that the students have had roughly the same schooling experience and exposure.


It is obvious that these students have the same official curriculum.  This is determined by the Saskatchewan government and the local school board.  Especially when it comes to the core subject areas, it shouldn’t matter whether a student goes to school in Regina, Moose Jaw, North Battleford or Rosetown, the students should have the same official curricula.  After that, there may be differences.


However, if a student goes to the same school, the initial enacted curriculum should be the same.  The classes taught in a particular grade would be the same.  They would be decided by the school board or the school administration.  It is also true, though, that the second level of the enacted curriculum may be different.  Once the initial enacted curriculum has been decided, it is left to the teacher to organize said curriculum.  Different teachers may choose different orders of presentation, plan to use different books, media, projects, etc. and even plan to use different people to teach.


This flows directly into the delivered curriculum.  A further separation may occur in the actual presentation of the curriculum.  Some teachers have a more traditional delivery while others have more interaction.  Some teachers choose to use textbooks while others use the inquiry method.  Some of class sizes of 16 while others have 30.  Each teacher brings their own experiences, beliefs and teaching style to the enacted curriculum.  All of these factors can, and do create large differences in what the students are exposed to.


Finally, what the child actually takes of the delivered curriculum, even though they have been exposed to exactly the same curriculum, could be completely different.  Just as the teacher’s experiences and beliefs effect the delivery, so do the students’ histories affect what they experience of the curricula.  It is really no wonder that our students come to us with so many different levels of academic abilities.


Since I really only have control over one level of this curriculum hierarchy, the question to me then becomes: how can I change the way I deliver my curriculum to respond to these differences in abilities and experienced curriculum?  I have been seeking out professional texts that aim to answer this question.  One of the best when it comes to reading is Donalyn Miller’s book The Book Whisperer.  This book underlines the importance of individualized instruction (based on student interests and needs) to teach common outcomes.  It is a must read.  I have two books on my TBR (to be read) pile that have come highly recommended in the area of writing: Spilling Ink by Ellen Potter and Notebook Know-How: Strategies for the Writer’s Notebook by Aimee Buckner.


I am always looking for suggestions of professional reads that take into consideration students’ experiences.  If you have suggestions, I would appreciate them!  I am particularly interested in oral language, math, science and physical education.  Thanks!


4 Responses to “From Here to There – Reflections on Curriculum”

  1. Hi Jamie,

    Just read your blog (picked it up on twitter) you raise some of the same points that I have been considering about the incongruence between what is in the curriculum, what is taught, and what the learner learns.

    Look forward to reading more of your thoughts.


  2. Al Smith Says:

    Very nice…I always find Sunday reading so deep…why is that? Anyway, great post…good recommendation for writing curric. books. At a glance they look like items I need for my school’s small Teacher Professional Collection.

    I really was intrigued with ‘experienced curriculum’- what a phrase! All the curricula that gets researched written, re-written, debated, channeled, in-serviced, legislated, is just words until a gifted and skilled teacher understands it. Most of the time curricula is politically motivated anyway or is off the realism chart, so an experienced teacher needs to skillfully design lessons that actually fit the students in a specific classroom. Delivered Curric is often what school test for and Experienced Curric is what kids take with them as they exit the class. As a Teacher-Librarian I always see and hear my teens talking about this class or that teacher and almost always when it is a positive tone it reflects the intrinsic gifts and personality of the teacher not the content. enjoying your posts and blog. Good luck.

  3. I really like how you have succinctly explained what happens to curriculum and instruction depending on what place in the curriculum / instructional delivery continuum it happens to be. Thanks for the post.

  4. […] again for me.  You can see parts of them in my blog post “Teacher as Curriculum Maker” and in “From Here to There – Reflections on Curriculum.” Many of these questions are also raised in this RSAnimate video “Changing Education […]

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