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Conceptions of Curriculum

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Nicki Rawn

on 24 July 2017

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Transcript of Conceptions of Curriculum

Conceptions of Curriculum
What are conceptions of curriculum?
Conceptions of curriculum are considered to be “the ways in which curriculum is viewed or defined by those who develop, implement or evaluate it and include underlying beliefs about what is real, true and valuable” (Thomas, 1990). Sowell (2005) states conceptions of curriculum are the “particular purpose of education with appropriate content and organization”. Conceptions of curriculum are important because they help educators develop different approaches to education. Educators need to remember
as Pratt (1994) states “the basis of education is helping learners to construct meaning in their lives”.

Interpretation of Conceptions of Curriculum

How I use conceptions of curriculum as tools or frameworks to analyze planning, instruction, and assessment within my specific context of practice?

Why some approaches become Non-Mainstream?
While some of which have lasted decades “other conceptions have not stood the test of time”(Al Mousa, 2013). As Shiro (2008) suggest, educators have an opportunity to see some concepts of curriculum as a 'fad'. These conceptions may not be considered as mainstream because of their inability to always implement (like Pratt's Feminist Pedagogy). That is not to say that they were not as important, but rather that they didn’t have the same longevity as the other conceptions did. Some “new conceptions are based on existing conceptions that have been dropped and replaced to shed light on new ones” (Al Mousa, 2013)
Why are some conceptions of curriculum continue to be used
over time?
There are many different terms and titles given to curricular conceptions by different theorists. All of these conceptions of curriculum are a cucial part of education, however it is clear that some are used more than others for many different reasons.
Education is continuously changing and it is important that these conceptions of curriculums do the same. Al Mousa (2013) states, “revisions are always ongoing for purposes of improvement.” It is these conceptions that are more open to change that seem to beat the test of time. “History shows that because of changes in social policies, more than one curriculum conception is viable at one time in this country. In recent years, schools have offered mini-curricula based on conceptions other than transmitting cultural heritage” (Sowell, 2005). Mainstream “curriculum content originates from the same sources that give rise to the purposes of education-subject matter, needs of society and culture, and needs and interests of learners” (Sowell 38).
Al Mousta (2013) suggests that there are some general patterns that allow us to generalize four main categories. “Many of these conceptions have several elements in common and have remained important to the field of curriculum over time” (Al Mousta, 2013). These are; Individuals, Society, Technology, and Academia.

I am going into my 20th year of teaching and my 5th school (two have been over seas overseas). I have taught the new play based kindergarten, special education, grade 1 to grade 4. Through the years, I have seen so many curriculum changes. It seems that swing of the curriculum pendulum has gone back and forth so many times. For example in language, there was a focus on whole language to direct phonics instruction to balanced literacy.
At my current school we are in the process of huge changes. We have adopted the common core, NGSS for science, C3 for social studies and responsive classroom is our philosophy for classroom management. It is so true that there has to be teacher buy in for any program to be effective.

(Eisner and Vallance)
Individual Fulfilment
(Pratt )
Personal Success and Commitment
Social Reconstruction
(Eisner and Vallance)
Al Mousa (2013)
Al Mousa (2013)
Social Reconstruction
Social Transformation
Social Reconstruction
(Eisner and Vallance)
Systemic or
Al Mousa (2013)
Academic Rationalism
(Eisner and Vallance)
Cultural Transmission
Cumulative Tradition of
Organized Knowledge
Academic Rationalism
Al Mousa (2013)
Academia is said to be the oldest, most mainstream and the one that is used the most in the education systems. It's predominately focused is on giving the child the tools to participate in society and provide them with the access to some of the world’s greatest ideas (Eisner & Vallance, 1974). It is popular because "through study of the disciplines (e.g., mathematics, languages) students learn to think with precision, generality, and power in solving problems in all areas of life" (Sowell, 2005). Academia's main goal is “to cultivate the child’s intellect by providing him with opportunities to acquire the most powerful products of man’s intelligence” (Eisner & Vallance 12).
 The Individual conception focuses on the individual and their needs and interests (Schiro, 2008).  It helps each student develop into the fullness of their capabilities. "It is child centered, autonomy and growth oriented, and education is seen as an enabling process that would provide the means to personal liberation and development" (Eisner & Vallance, 1974). Its student oriented and child centred meaning children can pursue their individual choices. It sees education fully supporting an individual's life and development meaning the whole child (Eisner & Vallence, 1974; Pratt, 1994; Sowell, 2005).  The Individual conception is about developing the child’s fullest potential where the curriculum should be responsible for developing a child identity, personal growth, individuality, personal freedom and autonomy (Eisner & Vallence, 1974; McNeil, 2006; Schiro, 2008)
The Society Conception purpose is " to prepare people for living in an unstable, changing world" (Sowell,2005). Its main goal is for each individual to care about how they are contributing to and participating in their community so that society can function at its best.  McNeil (2009) states that the primary purpose " is to confront the learner with the many severe problems that humankind faces". Education should be structured to prepare students for living in a changing society by providing them with tools they can use to function appropriately. It’s about giving the learner real life situations they can experience inthe curriculum.  (Eisner & Vallence, 1974)
The Technolgy Conception focuses on making learning systematic and effecient. Eisner & Vallance, 1974) state "that learning does
occur in certain systematic and predictable ways and that it can be made more efficient if only a powerful method for controlling it can
be perfected". Its is focused more on the ‘how’ of education more than the other conceptions. Through this conception you're focusing less on the individual and and more on the organization and presentation of materials to the learner. Everything is decided before students come into the classroom (Eisner & Vallence, 1974).
The "feminist pedagogy curricular conception focuses on a more equitable balance among gender-related characteristics and interests" (AlMousa, 2013). Pratt (1994) suggests that men and women have different "modes of though and action". This non-mainstream curriculum conception "focuses on a more equitable balance among gender-related characteristics and interests (Pratt 1994). This conception does challenge educators to think differently.
Humanistic Approach
(Orntein and Hunkin)
Systems Approach
Orntein and Hunkin
Academic Approach
Orntein and Hunkin
Like Thomas (1990) states I am a strong believer that “teachers' beliefs guide their curriculum practice”. I also believe that “Most teachers share some of the concepts of each orientation, as well as of value systems other than the four described” (Pratt, 1994). For my planning, instruction, and assessment I feel that I use a combination of Academia, Individual and Society. I use UbD for planning. I start at where the students need to be (the standards), where they are at (individual assessment) and how I am going to get them there. My classroom is very child centred and I am constantly doing assessments (formative and summative) to inform my instruction. My instruction is very student centred and in which they students are doing inquiry and solving real world problems.
Teaching is a life long journey where I am constantly learning.
Al Mousa, N. (2013). An examination of cad use in two interior design programs from the perspectives of curriculum and instructors, pp. 21-37 (Master’s Thesis).
Eisner, E., & Vallance, E. (Eds.). (1974). Five conceptions of the curriculum: Their roots and implications for curriculum planning. In E. Eisner & E. Vallance (Eds.), Conflicting conceptions of curriculum (pp. 1-18). Berkeley, CA: McCutchan Publishing.
McNeil, J. D. (2006). Contemporary curriculum in thought and action (6th ed., pp. 1-13, 24-34, 44-51, 60-73). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Ornstein, A. C., & Hunkins, F. P. (2009). Curriculum: Foundations, principles, and issues (5th ed., pp. 2-9). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Pratt, D. (1994). Curriculum perspectives. In D. Pratt, Curriculum planning: A handbook for professionals (pp. 8-22). Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace College Publisher.
Shiro, M. S. (2008). Introduction to the curriculum ideologies. In M. S. Shiro, Curriculum theory: Conflicting visions and enduring concerns (pp. 1-12). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Sowell, E. J. (2005). Curriculum: An integrative introduction (3rd ed., pp. 37-51). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Thomas, C. J. (1990). Conceptions of curriculum and classroom practice: An ethnographic study of family life education teachers, pp. 26-34 and 74-112 (Doctoral Dissertation).
Vallance. (1986). A second look at conflicting conceptions of the curriculum. Theory into Practice, 25(1), 24-30.

Philosophical Foundations of Education and Curriculum Design Planning
Philosophical Foundations

“Our philosophy of education influences, and to a large extent determines, our educational decisions, choices, and alternatives” (Ornstein,1990/1991) . Ornstein (1990/1991) further states that “it helps them answer what are the school's purpose, what subjects are of value, how students learn, and what methods and materials to use”.
By: Laura McEwen & Nicki Rawn

Realism is its philosophical base
It is a traditional philosophy and focuses on the past
“The focus is to teach ideas that are everlasting, to seek enduring truths which are constant, not changing, as the natural and human worlds at their most essential level, do not change” (Philosophical Perspectives in Education)

The instructional objective is to “educate the rational person” (Ornstein,1990/1991)
Focus of curriculum is the traditional subjects and the search for truth
Teacher leads students to rational thinking by getting them to question, debate, and uncover truths.
“Teachers are seen as subject matter specialists who impart their knowledge to their students” (Hill,1994).


Idealism and Realism are its philosophical base
“Essentialists believe that there is a common core of knowledge that needs to be transmitted to students in a systematic, disciplined way” (Philosophical Perspectives in Education)
It is a traditional philosophy and focuses on the past
The instructional objective is to “promote the intellectual growth of the individual”(Ornstein,1990/1991)
Subject content and skills can be mastered.
The teacher is the expert and passes knowledge on to the students.
“The teacher brings together the world of ideas and the world outside of the classroom, understands stages of development and learning, plans activities accordingly, and is a role model representing the ideal adult” (Hill,1994)
Curriculum focus is on essential subjects and essential skills (the 3 Rs).


Education is based on individuals' experiences in the world (Hill, 1994)
The teacher is the facilitator or "group leader" by using experiments, projects, and problem-solving approaches (Hill, 1994)
Students learn by doing.
Emphasis on the development of attitude and particularly the desire for students to be motivated to keep learning.
Interdisciplinary subject matter (Ornstein, 1990/1991)


Planned and purposeful in producing social and political change.
Skills and knowledge is used to produce "reflective and critical sociocultural members" (Hill, 1994).
Learning is active
Teacher acts as a "project director and research leader" (Ornstein, 1990/1991).
Emphasis on social sciences including social, economic, and political problems.
Technology should be used to improve human and global conditions (Hall, 1994).

Curriculum Designs

The organization of content, objectives, learning experiences, and evaluations.
Subject Centred
Curriculum is organized into different subjects or disciplines.
The content is preplanned and well defined
Materials are standard and traditional
“Subject-centered designs are by far the most popular and widely used. Knowledge and content are well accepted as integral parts of the curriculum” (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2013)
Curriculum is designed to introduce individuals to essential knowledge

Learner Centred

Student over subject matter is the focus
Knowledge as an "outgrowth of personal experience" (Ornstein and Hunkins, 2013)
Lots of choice given and mistakes are seen as part of the learning process (growth mindset)
Child-centered design – students must be active in their learning environment and teaching should suit a child's developmental level. Subjects are integrated to help students solve problems.
Experience-centered design - Curriculum is continually changing in response to children's growth and development.
Romantic design – Students find their true selves by looking to their own nature (Ornstein and Hunkins, 2013). This design is influenced by Freire who professed that education should "enlighten the masses about their oppression, prompt them to feel dissatisfied with their condition, and give them the competencies necessary for correcting the identified inequities" (Ornstein and Hunkins, 2013, p.167).
Humanistic design – Values questioning which fosters deep thinking and learning. There is a deep relationship between learning and feeling and self-actualization is the end goal.


Real-life problems are examined to address the needs of the community.
Curriculum is planned before student arrival, but is open to change.
Life-situations design – Curriculum is organized around life situations, integrates subjects, and is relevant to students.
Reconstructionist design – Schools should help students develop into "social beings dedicated to the common good" (Ornstein and Hunkins, 2013, p.171).

The Relationship of Each Conception to the Different Philosophies and Curriculum Designs

Perennialism and Essentialism Philosophies
Subject Centred Curriculum Design

Academia conception comes from the traditional philosophies of Perennialism and Essentialism. Educators who follow these philosophies believe the “education is viewed as instruction” (Ornstein, 1991). It is the teacher’s job to fill the student’s mind with facts and knowledge. Teachers are the authorities on subjects. Ornstein (1991) suggests that there is an emphasis on cognitive learning. “Teachers are seen as subject matter specialists who impart their knowledge to their students” (Hill, 1994).
Perennialism and Essentialism philosophies fits into Subject-Centered curriculum design. Ornstein and Hunkins (2013) states that “Subject-centered designs are by far the most popular and widely used. Knowledge and content are well accepted as integral parts of the curriculum”. This curriculum is organized into different subjects or disciplines. Materials for teaching subjects are standard and traditional (Sowell, 2005). Sowell (2005) also writes that these “designs typically use one of these approaches: Single subject, correlated subjects, or broad-fields subjects, and curriculum is usually developed using the outcomes approach”.

Technology/ Systematic /Cognitive
Essentialism Philosophy
Subject Centred & Technology Curriculum Design

The Technology curriculum conception comes from the traditional philosophy of Essentialism. Educators who follow this philosophies believe that the educational objective is to “promote the intellectual growth of the individual”(Ornstein, 1991).
Idealism, which is one of Essentialism’s philosophical bases, is related because it provides “depth of thought, encourage[s] conceptualization, and lead[s] to inner conviction” (Hill, 1994). Realism, which is another one of the Essentialism’s philosophical bases, also is related because knowledge is considered to be fixed truths. “Facts and information about the external world are of great importance in a realistic education” (Hill, 1994).
Essentialism philosophies fits into Subject-Centered curriculum design because curriculum is organized into different subjects or disciplines. Sowell (2005) also provides additional curriculum designs. The Technology curriculum conception fits into Technology as Curriculum. She states that “the technology as curriculum design features explicit, behaviorally stated objectives toward which learners are directed through a carefully sequenced set of activities, and it usually uses subject matter as its source of content”(Sowell, 2005) .
Individual/Learner Centred
Progressivism/Idealism Philosophy
Learner Centred Curriculum Design

One of Eisner’s conceptions of curriculum is the curriculum for self-actualization and consummatory experiences (Eisner and Vallance, 1974). Others have termed the concept as humanistic or learner-centered. Consistent in these, however, are the philosophical values of progressivism and idealism. Idealism, influenced by philosophers like Descartes, Berkeley, Kant, Hegel, and Royce, asserts that character development and self-realization are of utmost importance. Holistic learning through active participation of students and conceptual thinking develop deeper learning and a broader understanding of the world (Hill, 1994). Progressivism also encourages learning through individual experiences. Both idealism and progressivism profess that education provides the content and tools for students to make discoveries on their own which provides personal satisfaction for individual learners (Eisner and Vallance, 1974).

The learner-centred curriculum design approach also see students over subject matter as the program’s focus (Ornstein and Hunkins, 1991). Knowledge is seen as “an outgrowth of personal experience” and teaching should be suited to children’s’ developmental level (Ornstein and Hunkins, 1991). Questions foster learning and deep thinking, and mistakes are seen as opportunities to grow and learn.

Social Reconstruction
Reconstructionism & Pragmatic Philosophy
Problem-Centred Curriculum Design

The concept of curriculum for social reconstruction emphasizes curriculum content within the larger social context. It places societal needs above individual ones, and sees schools as agents for social change (Eisner and Vallance, 1974). Reconstructionism, coinciding with this view, is a philosophy of education that is planned and purposeful to produce social and political change. Skills and knowledge is used to produce "reflective and critical sociocultural members" (Hill, 1994). Technology, for example, should be used to improve human and global conditions and teachers need to plan to be part of the decision-making processes in curriculum implementation. Pragmatic philosophy may also be relevant to social reconstructivism as it sees how each individual in a democracy has an opportunity to alter the structure of society.

The problem-centred curriculum design seems to coincide with both reconstructivism and pragmatism. This educational structure uses real-life problems to address needs in a community, and curriculum extends beyond subject boundaries in order to apply problem-solving procedures (Ornstein and Hunkins, 1991). Schools are venues to help students develop into social beings to help the common good and promote social, political, and economic development.


Eisner, E., & Vallance, E. (Eds.). (1974). Five conceptions of the curriculum: Their roots and implications for curriculum planning. In E.

Eisner & E. Vallance (Eds.), Conflicting conceptions of curriculum (pp. 1-18). Berkeley, CA: McCutchan Publishing.

Hill, A. M. (1994). Perspectives on philosophical shifts in vocational education: From realism to pragmatism and reconstructionism. Journal of Vocational and Technical Education, 10(2), 37-45.

Ornstein, A. C. (1990/1991). Philosophy as a basis for curriculum decisions. The High School Journal, 74, 102-109.

Ornstein, A. C., & Hunkins, F. P. (2013). Curriculum: Foundations, principles, and issues (6thed.). Boston, MA: Pearson. Read Chapter 6, pp. 149-173.

Philosophical Perspectives in Education (n.d.). Retrieved July 17, 2017, from https://oregonstate.edu/instruct/ed416/PP3.html

Sowell, E. J. (2005). Curriculum: An integrative introduction (3rd ed., pp. 52-54, 55-61, 81-85,103-106). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

By: Nicki Rawn
Planning, Instruction, and Assessment Approaches in Different Curricular Designs

Subject-Centred Design

When planning, the content is selected and organized before instruction.
The teacher organizes their lesson plans based on what students are expected to know in each subject.
Backwards by design (UbD) could be used for planning. Planning comes from the curriculum directly and is based on the specific subjects and what students are expected to know about those subjects.
The content is preplanned and well defined. Planning is standardized and focused on the main subjects expected to mastered.
When planning educators are mindful that “knowledge and content are well accepted as integral parts of curriculum”(Ornstein &
Hunkins, 2013).


Based on the academia philosophy, the subject-centred design brings knowledge to its learners.
“Education is viewed as instruction” (Ornstein, 1991).
It is the teacher’s job to fill the student’s mind with facts and knowledge.
Teachers are the authorities on subjects.
“Teachers are seen as subject matter specialists who impart their knowledge to their students” (Hill, 1994).
The instruction is teacher directed and is based on standardization.
Instruction is done through the curriculum and is based on getting children to gain the skills teachers want them to achieve
The curriculum is organized into different subjects or disciplines.
The teacher uses formative assessment to make decisions about instruction (reteaching, pace etc.).


Learning occurs when a student has acquired information so assessment is usually done after instruction but it is also done throughout in both formal or informal ways. Mastery of a concept is assessed using a standard measure. Assessments are usually pre-planned before the learning activities are determined (Hayes, 2003). Assessments are done to support specific instructional goals that the teacher puts in place. (Shepard, 2000).

Standardized tests is one form of assessment that is most commonly used. These types of assessment provides information on the content provided in the classroom. Teachers rely on data to make decisions about future planning and instruction. They can also focus a lot on test prep by aligning tests in the classroom to support these large scale test formats. McMillian (2014) suggests that “it is not appropriate to use classroom test items that essentially mimic items that are used in the high-stakes tests. This is closer to teaching the test, rather than teaching to the test. Also, remember that your ultimate goal is increasing student learning, not achieving high test scores”.

Some assessments that are done in a subject centred classroom include both selected response assessments or constructed response assessments. This could come in a form of multiple choice, matching, true and false, short answer, label a diagram or show your work responses. There is usually one right answer for these type of assessments. Tests and exams at the end of a unit are fundamental to assessing children’s understanding and knowledge in subject-centred design. “Well-constructed selected-response and brief constructed-response items do a good job of assessing subject matter and procedural knowledge, and simple understanding, particularly when students must recognize or remember isolated facts, definitions, spellings, concepts, and principles. The questions can be answered and scored quickly, so it is efficient for teachers. These formats also allow you to adequately sample from a large amount of knowledge. ” (McMillian, 2014).
Assessment includes pre, formative, summative, and self assessment.

Learner-Centered Design

Student-centered – people are naturally inquisitive and creative and schools should foster that
Exploring big questions (inquiry-based)
Students are part of the decision-making process
Teachers collaborate
Plans are based on how students best learn
No age-related expectations (http://www.summerhillschool.co.uk/)
Principals as co-teachers?
"Curriculum outlines should be flexible in nature and enable access to the curriculum for all learners." (http://www.summerhillschool.co.uk/)
Teachers know all of the outcomes and help kids get there by exploring
Teacher is the facilitator
Mini-lessons to help kids deepen their learning (ie. What does it look like to collaborate effectively?)
Unstructured and open to address individual needs and learning styles
Mistakes are seen as opportunities to learn
Formative – as an ongoing part of instruction
Summative – have they met the criteria?
Feedback given during learning (from teachers, self, and peers)
Assessment is varied because all individuals are different (student choice)
Students speak of their learning, self-assess, and self-reflect
Students decide how they will show what they have learned
Report cards may be individualized – Where are they now? Where have they come from? What are their next steps?
Social Reconstructionist Design

Not focused on subject content but social issues and particularly local involvement
Core values include being a community of learners, connecting knowledge, with a spirit of inquiry, democracy and social justice (Ursula Franklin Academy)
Backward planning – What do we want our students to "know, value, understand, and do?" (Hayes, 2003, p.232).
All citizens are responsible and can make valuable contributions to society – like a "pot luck" (CBC interview with Ursula Franklin)
Professional dialogue and reflection is necessary (Hayes, 2003, p.227)
Problem-solving, communication, collaboration, personal excellence are skills embedded into curriculum (Hayes, 2003, p.230)
Morality, ethics, and social justice are motivators to make sound judgement and responsible decisions (Hayes, 2003, p.230)
Job-related skills including technology are important.

Authentic instruction is what leads to more learning across cultures, socio-economic status, etc.
Cooperation over competition
Teachers inspire kids instead of force them to learn (
Expectations are visible and clear (Shepard, 2000, p.8)
Strong technological component
Less formal learning environment and relationship between student and teacher
Inquiry-based and backwards design
Critical thinking
Co-construction of curriculum and criteria – students are actively involved which "ensures relevance, practicability, and usefulness." (Hayes, 2003, p.230)
Assessment for and as learning. It is an ongoing process – therefore assessment and instruction are not separate (Shepard, 2000, p.8).
Self-assessment, self-reflection, feedback from peers, and teacher's close assessment of student understanding are all valuable (Shepard, 2000, p.4)
Show higher order thinking through written communication and conversation (Hayes, 2003, p.233).
No standardized tests – it is utilitarian and efficient for business, but does not uphold the democratic process of debate and thinking (Ralston,
Lots of choice to demonstrate student learning.
Assessment is individualized to ensure equal opportunity for all.
More autonomy for teachers compared to other designs.

A Teacher's P.O.V. on Starting Inquiry-based Learning in the Classroom. 

Hayes, D. (2003) Making learning an effect of schooling: aligning curriculum, assessment and pedagogy, Discourse: studies in the cultural politics of education, 24(2), 225-245.

Imagine Student Success Ursula Franklin Academy

John Ralston Saul: Where is the Standardized Testing Trend Taking Us? 

McMillan, J. H. (2014).  Classroom assessment: Principles and practice for effective standards-based instruction (6th ed., pp. 1-20,  57-64,74-88). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Orstein, A. C., & Hunkins, F. P, (2009). Curriculum: Foundations, principles, and issues. (5th ed., pp. 31-57). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. Specifically, refer to Table 2.4 “Overview of Educational Philosophies” on page 56.

Shepard, L. A. (2000). The role of assessment in a learning culture. Educational Researcher, 29(7), 4-14. doi:10.3102/0013189X029007004


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