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What is Curriculum & Instruction?

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Shaundra Boyd
Expert Contributor
Lesley Chapel

Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

A curriculum is the academic material that is being taught through the act of instruction, typically involving a teacher presenting material to a group of students. Explore the significant role that both of these concepts play in implementing education. Updated: 11/10/2021

Curriculum and Instruction in Schools

What is curriculum? What is instruction? Have you ever wondered about these two concepts? What we choose to teach in the classroom is based on curriculum. How we teach it is the instruction. That seems simple enough, right? Not as simple as it looks. Curriculum and instruction are elements that can change from one school to another, across school districts, across states, and even internationally.

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What will my daughter's first grade teacher teach her this school year? This question can best be answered by understanding the term 'curriculum'. Curriculum is defined as the lessons and academic content taught in a school or in a specific course or program. There are varying forms of curriculum that help us understand its purpose more.

Imagine Sally is in her first year of teaching, and she has to make some curriculum decisions that will impact what happens in her classroom. When she reviews the state and local school systems' written curriculum, she gets an understanding of what she is expected to teach to her students. The written curriculum provides many details that outline the standards and learning objectives for that given school year.

Additionally, she also has the opportunity to learn what supported curriculum is in place. The supported curriculum includes the textbooks or multimedia resources that can be used to teach her students. If Sally has Web-based resources that she can use daily to help students practice math facts, then that is an example of the supported curriculum.

More curriculum considerations for Sally include the tested, taught, and learned curriculums. When Sally considers the information that students will be tested on, she is focusing on the tested curriculum. Testing that is designed by her, the district, or the state all play a part in the tested curriculum. Therefore, Sally must sometimes teach what she knows may be on an upcoming assessment.

What Sally ultimately chooses to teach everyday in her classroom is taught curriculum. From one classroom to another, this type of curriculum may vary. And lastly, what the students ultimately learn will be the learned curriculum.

Each of these curriculum types play a major role in the classroom. Understanding how each of them work, helps teachers make better classroom decisions.

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Additional Activities

Prompts About Curriculum and Instruction:

Graphic Organizer Prompt:

Create a poster, chart, or some other type of graphic organizer that lists and defines curriculum, along with the different sub-categories of curriculum.

Example: Tested curriculum includes what material and information students will be examined on.

Essay Prompt 1:

Write an essay of approximately one to two pages that defines instruction and describes the four approaches to instruction noted in the lesson (direct instruction, indirect instruction, experiential learning, independent study).

Example: Students are often expected to take notes when the teacher is using direct instruction.

Essay Prompt 2:

In approximately one to two pages, write an essay that explains the differences between curriculum and instruction and explains how they relate to each other.

Example: Curriculum accounts for the content that is taught, while instruction refers to the manner in which that material is taught.

Letter Prompt:

Imagine that you are a teacher and you and your students are about to embark on a new school year. Write a letter to your students' parents in which you explain the meaning of curriculum and how it is decided. Then explain how you plan on presenting the material in the curriculum to your students.

Tip: Discuss the various forms of instruction in your letter, and provide examples of each so that your students' parents will understand your teaching techniques.

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