Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

Curriculum: The Inside Story

Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

Curriculum: The Inside Story

Article excerpt

"Curriculum is a destination you must reach by passing all the right checkpoints. Each checkpoint is a standard or objective."

--Jay Meadows, teacher candidate

In our curriculum classes with our teacher candidates, we often find that curriculum is something they view as separate from themselves and from their teaching practice. It exists outside of their lives as teachers. Meanwhile, our past experiences as classroom teachers have enabled us to see curriculum through a wider-angle lens. We believe this broader understanding of curricular practices, built on years of our experience, is central to rewarding teaching. Helping teacher candidates to reimagine what curriculum can be is the focus of this study.


We are associate professors teaching in the College of Education at Northern Arizona University. During our regular course assignments, we each teach curriculum content at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. These courses could be described as having a "methods-based" approach to curriculum as opposed to a subject-specific approach. The syllabi identify goals for each course, including exploration of theories and philosophies related to curriculum and instruction "as well as how to design, plan, and implement effective curriculum in the K-8 classroom." In addition, the syllabus identifies that students will "explore various methods of organizing instruction, including direct instruction, cooperative learning, project- and problem-based learning, and inquiry learning." Normally, the content of this course serves as a capstone to the methods classes they take through their initial certification program.

The conversations we have had over the past year about our curriculum classes led us into this project. They often highlighted for us how curriculum meant something different to our students than it did to us. Clandinin and Connelly (1992) identify the dichotomy of curriculum as a "course of study" versus a "course of life." While many view curriculum as something external to be implemented in the classroom, we believe it is rather "an account of teachers' and students' lives over time" (p. 356). The nexus of our investigation was stirred by our discomfort with the message our undergraduates were giving back to us about curriculum. We were worried that our students' conceptualized curriculum as an outside-of-themselves process. This mirrored our own experiences as young teachers, and we wanted to take advantage of the wealth of practicum experiences the teacher candidates in the College of Education typically encounter as part of their program.

We regularly teach as part of a dual major program. Our teacher candidates take both elementary education courses and special education courses as well as completing field experiences related to both majors. Throughout their program, they complete more than 600 hours of fieldwork in classrooms. In our interactions with students in this three-semester program, we see them develop personally and professionally. One aspect we value in their growth is their wonderful connections with children. They are deeply committed to making a difference with the students with whom they work. So, what was really troubling to us was the disconnect from their students as they planned lessons and spoke of curriculum. For this reason, we chose to focus in on the most current group of teacher candidates in this dual major program. We were looking for ways to interrupt the "plotline" of curriculum as an outside story in their lives.

We left for the summer to consider how we might explore this further and think about ways that we might address curriculum in a different way with this group of students in the fall.


In our quest to determine how to help our teacher candidates feel more connected to curriculum, we began with summertime discussions. We decided that we would encourage our students to reflect more on what they were doing in the classroom. …

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