PME 810 My practice and conceptions of curriculum

My practice:

As always, the first thing I appreciate about PME courses is the new understanding and even just new vocabulary I now have to explain my own teaching philosophy and approaches. My first reaction was that I feel very strongly that a humanistic, personalized approach is best. Self-actualization, social-reconstructive and cognitive processes conceptions all appeal to me in an idealistic sense! However, I also realized that my approach doesn’t always fit those ideals. This is both a problem in my approach, and a natural way to balance ideology with practical concerns for my students and from my school administrators.

Elizabeth Vallance talked about how self-actualization approaches have become just a part of each teachers’ approach to their students’ education (Vallance, 1986, p. 27) and the New Zealand curriculum document discussed how teachers often agree with each conceptions and draw on several conception orientations at once in each situation (Brown, 2006). With that in mind, I’ve broken it down into the five original conceptions and I’ll briefly discuss how each is related to my teaching practices:

Development of cognitive processes:

This is how I’ve always described my class. My job is to teach students “higher order thinking” skills that they can apply in a variety of situations, regardless of the content or English level of the text. When I first started teaching I fell into the “Formality Fallacy” (Eisner and Vallance, 1974) and always said the skills were more important than the content. The more I studied, the more I realized that the skills don’t exist in a vacuum. I found PME 801 incredibly useful because it made me realize that all of those skills are applied differently depending on the problem-solving domain we’re working in.

As a result, my cognitive processes approach tries to be an adaptive, learner-focused approach that works with the students to build an understanding on a comprehension level (I’m working with ESL students in China) and then on to the higher order thinking skills to understand the texts on new levels through analysis, connection to social issues, and students’ own interpretations. They can then take those same skills and apply them uniquely to each new situation.

Curriculum as technology:

My first reaction to this approach is that it’s most useful for things like mathematics and language acquisition. However, the more I read, the more I realized that this approach can still be dynamic and adaptive. You can create a delivery method and system that accounts for student response. One of my main weaknesses is not planning each lesson or even unit as carefully as I should, because I’m always preparing for student response and my own improvisation. But creating a framework still leaves room for that: it doesn’t have to be a scripted lecture or activity session.

Self-actualization and “personal commitment to learning”:

As Vallance (1986) wrote, this is a part of my general teaching philosophy. I only see my students 80-120 minutes each week, but I hope to create learners and humans who are curious, open-minded and kind. We try to implement goal-setting and self-assessment in the class, so I hope that I am helping the students to develop as individuals as well as their cognitive skills.

In terms of developing my students as permanent learners, I try to engage my students with my passion in what I’m teaching, to develop their self-efficacy through well-structured approaches to comprehension and analysis, and to choose texts and other media that they will genuinely be interested in. If I can make my class engaging, achievable, and (sometimes) fun, my students will hopefully make education a part of their life long after they leave my class.

Social reconstruction-relevance:

I use this mostly as a motivator to get my students more engaged. We do a unit on ethical shopping and the Fair Trade organization, and I find that relating each new topic to purchases they make and the clothes they wear makes them much more engaged in the unit. We work together to become aware of a world issue, discuss the frustrations of trying to solve it, and use that understanding and feeling to understand and appreciate the logic behind ethical shopping and effectiveness of fair trade. All of this also helps to engage the students in analyzing text and video to create their own articles and responses.

Similarly, the Giver, Holes and Fahrenheit 451 all have clear connections to the societies they were written in, modern Western society, and the students’ daily lives. They’re all books about examining our own perspectives and why our societies work the way they do. I try to engage students in discussion about issues related to prison reform, societal values, and mass media using these novels.

Academic rationalism or cultural transmission:

Interestingly, this is the one I disagree with the most as a teacher, but – other than cognitive processes- this might be the most relevant to my job. I have a specific objective to prepare my students for Grade 9 or 10 in a Western learning environment. This means that I need to:

  • model a Canadian classroom environment and teacher-student interactions,
  • use texts that students in Canada, America, the UK and Australia might read in Grade 7, 8, and 9, and,
  • try to practice skills and impart knowledge that their Western counterparts are using at a similar age.

Essentially, my class and the international program in my school is attempting to engage in “cultural transmission” of knowledge, environment, skills, and even the Western context that students overseas will be getting by simply living and being educated in those countries. Which is impossible, of course!


I mentioned in my introduction that my current course is a “Frankenstein’s monster” I’ve developed over the last few years. It was nice to read that pulling from multiple conceptions, having conflicting ideas, and consistently re-evaluating priorities are all regular parts of developing curricula. I have a lot more new vocabulary to describe my course, and I’m interested in trying to implement more humanistic approaches and to develop a better framework for delivery of my course content.


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.

Vallance. (1986). A second look at conflicting conceptions of the curriculum. Theory into Practice, 25(1), 24-30.

Brown, G. T. L. (2006). Conceptions of curriculum: A framework for understanding New Zealand’s Curriculum Framework and teachers’ opinions. Curriculum Matters, 2, 164-181.

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