Editorial: Curriculum and instruction: Whose life is this anyway?

Lederman, Norman G

Some of you may be old enough to remember the much celebrated movie starring Richard Dreyfus (Whose Life Is This Anyway?), from which we have derived the title for this editorial. We think it is a safe bet that most people reading this editorial are younger than we are, so a very brief summary of the movie’s story line is probably in order.

Richard Dreyfus plays a man who, as a result of an accident, is permanently physically disabled and is unable to survive independently of significant medical support. He decides that he would like to be taken off life support and allowed to die because he considers the quality of the life he will lead to be far less than acceptable. He would rather die, and the movie focuses on whether an individual of sound mind should be allowed to make such a decision. The most dramatic scenes have Dreyfus pleading his case to a judge, who will ultimately decide, “Whose life is this anyway?” – Dreyfus’ or the state’s.

So you are now wondering what this movie (or at least its title) has to do with curriculum and instruction. Curriculum and instruction are not matters of life and death. We are all well aware that victims of poor curriculum and/or instruction must live with the consequences(R) . Bear with us, there is a connection.

Lederman recently had the opportunity to attend a conference on science textbooks organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and, in particular, by Project 2061. The conference, which was one of a series, was supported through external funding. Basically, the conference brought together textbook publishers, scientists, science educators, teachers, and other appropriate stakeholders to discuss the nature and quality of science textbooks, instruction, and learning. A focal point of the conference was 2061’s well-known curriculum analysis procedure/tool. More about that later.

Conceptualizing Curriculum and Instruction

“Curriculum and Instruction” has multiple meanings to mathematics and science educators. To some of us, it was a set of courses that we had to take when becoming certified to teach and/or when completing our graduate degree programs. To others, it actually is the graduate degree we received. Most science and mathematics educators actually received their graduate degrees in Curriculum and Instruction, as opposed to receiving a degree from a distinct science or mathematics education department.

There is also little doubt that most of you reading this editorial teach one or more courses in curriculum and/or instruction. And, regardless of the depth of our experiences with the terms, somewhere along the line we have all been asked, or we have asked our students, “What is the relationship between curriculum and instruction?” There is little disagreement that a relationship exists, but the exact nature of the relationship is often a source of debate. The five following figures represent the most common perspectives/models on the relationship of curriculum and instruction.

The dualistic model depicts the relationship between curriculum and instruction as virtually nonexistent. What takes place in the classroom is viewed as independent of the overall curriculum for the course of study. Within such a conception, curriculum planners ignore the teachers, and teachers, and teachers, in turn, ignore the curriculum organization that has been developed. In many ways this model is an oxymoron as a depiction of the “relationship” between curriculum and instruction.

The interlocking model depicts an interdependent relationship, with neither curriculum nor instruction assuming a dominant role. Any attempt to clearly separate the two, as in the dualistic model, would do serious harm to both.

In the concentric model there is a clear relationship between curriculum and instruction, with one or the other subsuming the other. In one depiction, instruction is viewed as an integral part of curriculum, while in the other depiction, curriculum is viewed as an integral part of overall instruction. For example, a curriculum strongly emphasizing scientific inquiry would completely dictate the nature and kind of instruction taking place in the depiction represented on the left.

Finally, although the cyclical model views curriculum and instruction as separate entities, it is also implied that instructional decisions are made after curricular decisions, which in turn are modified after instructional decisions are implemented and evaluated. The process is viewed as continuous, repetitious, and never ending.

Each curriculum-instruction model has its supporters, with no definitively correct model from theory or practice emerging. What can be said in this regard is that most experts appear to agree with the following three premises: (a) Curriculum and instruction are related but different; (b) curriculum and instruction are interlocking and interdependent; and

(c) curriculum and instruction maybe studied and analyzed as separate, but they cannot function in isolation. We are fairly confident that the readers ofSchool Science andMathematics admit to a significant interdependent relationship between curriculum and instruction.

Back to the Conference

During the past five plus years, Project 2061 has developed an in-depth systematic approach for the analysis of curriculum materials relative to stated instructional goals/objectives. Originally, the approach to analysis focused primarily on whether curriculum materials effectively addressed the Project 2061 Benchmarks for Science Literacy. However, those familiar with the procedure quickly realized that it can be applied using any instructional goals (e. g., state standards or the National Science Education Standards). Naturally, Project 2061 prefers to apply the procedure with respect to their

Benchmarks. Recently, 2061 has published results of their analyses of various science texts and associated curriculum materials. And, as you may already know or have guessed, the materials evaluated mostly did not fair well when evaluated against the 2061 criteria for analysis. The criteria are far too extensive to review here, but suffice it to say that they analyze the subject matter content of the materials relative to the relevant instructional goals (e.g., Benchmark). They also analyze the materials relative to research-based pedagogical criteria (e.g., setting a purpose for instruction, identifying and addressing common student preconceptions/ideas, providing experience with phenomena, embedded assessment).

Project 2061 does not view itself as being in the business of curriculum development. But they do realize that teachers tend to “teach from the book/materials,” and they also have a strong commitment to helping promote the development of quality materials. Consequently, they have taken two approaches in attempting to impact/influence the quality of the materials produced by commercial publishers. One approach to this monumental task is to provide professional development to teachers, so they can become more informed consumers and decision makers when it comes to textbook selections. In short, if teachers and school districts vote with their pocketbooks, publishers will alter what they do to satisfy the consumer. A second approach is to inform publishers of the mismatch between what they say they are doing and what is actually included in curriculum materials and appeal to their commitment to student learning to effect change. Naturally, this latter approach involves educating the publishers with respect to the curriculum analysis procedure developed and used by 2061 in its evaluations. The Science Textbook Conference attended by Lederman was a beginning attempt at the second approach.

Ultimately, the explicit recommendation publishers received at the conference (and through 2061 published reports) was that curriculum materials can and should be improved by revising materials to include additional instructional aspects and teacher support materials. These additions, would help the materials fair better in evaluations performed using the 2061 analysis procedure, but more importantly, it is assumed, would promote higher student achievement relative to science literacy goals. Although all those involved in the conference would claim to have K- 12 students’ interests as a primary concern, debates and conversations revolved around the following representative paraphrased statements. Such statements were made at the conference, as well as during other similar events in the past few years. We will let you discern to which stakeholders the various statements could be attributed.

* If we add these things, the book won’t sell.

* We know it would be extra work for teachers, but if it improves student learning is there really a choice?

* Adding too much additional instructions for teachers will make the materials too prescriptive and teachers reject it out of hand.

* What parents and school districts really care about is whatever helps them meet state standards.

* We know you can’t do everything, but at least doing some of it is a move in the right direction.

* Do you have evidence that students learn better if they use materials like you envision?

* Materials are just a resource: an expert teacher can effectively use whatever materials they have, and a poor teacher can make a mess out of the best materials.

* No matter what materials you give teachers, they will revise them into their own style. The materials are not the solution; a strong program of professional development is the solution.

* We need good materials as well as strong professional development. One is not any good without the other.

* Teaching has a human and artistic side, scripting things too much only serves to deprofessionalize teaching.

As you listen to statements of the nature we have just presented, a voice inside your head begins to ask, “Curriculum and Instruction: Whose Life Is This Anyway?” When you get down to the basic issue, it seems to revolve around whose job it is to take responsibility for curriculum materials and who is responsible for instruction. Don’t forget the models we presented before. The perspective you take may influence your answer to this vexing question of responsibility. Is instruction part of the curriculum or is it separate? The National Science Education Standards never claimed to be a curriculum, but they certainly have strong instructional implications.

To our way of thinking, commercial publishers are just that, commercial. They are businesses for profit, and it behooves any CEO to do whatever is needed to increase profit margin. Then again, don’t they care about the kids? Isn’t this why they are in the business to begin with? There seems like there is, or should be, some higher level moral obligation than money. Part of this editorial was written on an airplane. Is it appropriate for airlines to sacrifice safety, and other less significant amenities, to increase profit margin? On the other hand, if publishers do not include what 2061 (and NCTM, 2000) so eloquently argues for, is it accurate to say that the publishers do not care about the kids?

Alternatively, it could be argued that there really is no higher moral obligation at play at all. Perhaps our airline has figured out that by touting a good safety record, and by providing some additional amenities that may reduce profit margin (e. g., extra leg room and edible food), they may increase their share of the market and achieve additional profits while giving the appearance of caring about customers.

How many ofyou believe those breakfast cereal companies are suddenly concerned about our health and the risks of colon cancer? Maybe they do. Look at the amazing change of heart the tobacco industry has demonstrated. They even have advertisements warning us ofthe dangers of the products they are selling.

Publishers maybe could be convinced to do the same. That is, by developing materials that are innovative and that actually conform to the visions of the national reform, they may increase their share of the market while giving the appearance of caring about kids. We do recognize that this analysis may be too cynical for even the likes of us. Or is it?

Whose Responsibility Is It Anyway?

Are teachers solely responsible for the quality of instruction they provide? Are publishers solely responsible for the curriculum that is enacted? How much attention should publishers give to what is usually considered the expert teacher’s job? How much enhancement of published curriculum should teachers be expected to provide?

The focus of the conference organized by AAAS/Project 2061 was noble indeed. The issues, however, are as complex as the conference was noble. At the end of the movie Richard Dreyfus wins his court case and is allowed to effectively commit suicide. In the movie, at least, it was decided that Richard Dreyfus’ life was his and not the state’s.

Unfortunately, there is not such an easy resolution to the question of deciding relative responsibilities regarding curriculum and instruction. We really don’t feel comfortable with an either/or decision as in the movie. We would prefer that publishers, teachers, and teacher educators, would take as much responsibility as possible for both curriculum and instruction. We are not adversaries; we are on the same team. We are not supporters of a dualistic model for the relationship between curriculum and instruction.

In the end we have no answer other than what the national reforms in mathematics and science have said already. That is, we are all in this together. The education of our youth is a community responsibility, not the primary or sole responsibility of one stakeholder or another.

Pretty idealistic for a pair of cynics, don’t you think? But we truly believe in the virtues of community responsibility. We have been well acquainted by the mantra “Science for All” for about a decade. Perhaps we need to add another mantra, “Educationby All.”

Copyright School Science and Mathematics Association, Incorporated Mar 2001

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

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