How’s the View? Four Lenses for Looking at Your Curriculum


While paging through a recent addition to our in-house library at the GMCTE by Blackmore and Kandiko, I encountered a reference that I find quite helpful for understanding why it is important to view curricula from different perspectives.   The work referenced is by Basil Bernstein who was a sociology of education scholar in the UK, until his passing in 2000.  Bernstein suggested that the curriculum can be viewed through four lenses.  I frame these first in the form of questions curriculum review committees can ask themselves and then add Bernstein’s terminology below.

Magnifying glasses

With respect to our curriculum….

  1. ….what do we say we will do?
    This is the “planned or intended curriculum” often most directly documented through course syllabi when taken together.
  2. …what do we do in practice?This is the “created or delivered curriculum” which is how intentions are translated into practice in the actual teaching of courses.
  3. …what do students get out of it?This is the “received or understood curriculum” and refers to the way the intended and delivered curriculum is understood, in the end, by the students.
  4. …what else are we doing?This is the “hidden or tacit curriculum” where additional knowledge, skills or values are conveyed, even though they are not formally or explicitly part of the curriculum.

Blackmore and Kandiko point out, and my experience would agree, that it is usually the first two questions that occupy curriculum committees with little to no attention to the last two.    To understand the full richness, rigour, and complexity of curricula we surely should try the view from each of these lenses.

Picture courtesy of MatthewH via Flickr with a Creative Commons license (AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved)

Bernstein, B. (1975).  Class, codes and control (Vol. 3):  Towards a theory of educational transmission.  London:  Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Bernstein, B. (2000).  Pedagogy, symbolic control and identity; Theory, research and critique.  New York:  Rowman and Littlefield.

Blackmore, P. & Kandiko, C. B. (Eds.) (2012).  Strategic Curriculum Change:  Global Trends in Universities.  Society for Research into Higher Education Series.  New York:  Routledge.

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