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What is a teacher education curriculum, and what does it contain?

This section discusses what a curriculum is, as well as the differences between the curriculum as developed by those responsible, the curriculum that is implemented in teaching and the curriculum which is attained by those participating in the teacher education programme.

To answer these questions, we first need to decide what we mean by a curriculum for teacher education. There are parallels between curricula for teacher education and school curricula. The content of national or regional school curricula which concern language is focused on in Building block 2.

A curriculum, sometimes called a learning or study programme, is usually a written document with a description of the content of the courses or modules included in the curriculum, as well as the objectives that students need to meet and the competences they are expected to develop during the study programme.

In the Building blocks, the related term ‘syllabus’ is used to mean the equivalent of a ‘curriculum’ or programme for an individual course or module on a given subject. Individual courses or modules are the focus of Building block 4.

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A teacher education curriculum might not include all of this, but one would probably expect to find at least:

  • the intended learning outcomes (i.e. the learning objectives) of the whole teacher education programme, including the competences student teachers are expected to develop;
  • an overview of all the courses/modules which student teachers are required to take and of the various optional or ‘elective’ courses which they can choose to take, and in which semester these can be taken;
  • the kinds of assignments and projects student teachers are expected to work on;
  • the evaluation criteria and standards that student teachers need to meet in order to pass the examinations and other means of assessment and to become qualified teachers.

The purpose of such a curriculum is to provide a clear overview of (in this case) the teacher education programme as a whole and its structure and to show how the different modules and other elements fit together over its whole duration (in the case of pre-service teacher education, several semesters). It may also contain information about any higher-level goals and principles underlying the whole programme.

A curriculum can take different forms:

  • Often it is a written list with an introduction that can be easily referred to by teachers, or in this case teacher educators, and other staff responsible.
  • Especially in further and higher education, it can be consulted by those interested in registering for the programme and those who are already enrolled. For this audience, the curriculum may be in shortened form with less detail and may be made available online.
  • Sometimes the curriculum is just a list of courses with a brief description of content and whether the courses are compulsory or optional. More details are then provided separately for each module or element when participants enrol for them.

TASK A  In the institution(s) that you are familiar with, is there a curriculum that teacher educators and students can consult? If so, what form does it take? If not, what kind of information about the whole teacher education programme is available to staff and to those wishing to enrol?

TASK B  Look at the diagram below. Then click on the boxes to read the explanations of these different versions of a curriculum. Do these distinctions seem useful, and relevant to teacher education curricula?

 The intended curriculum is determined by the educational organisational system (macro level) […]. It usually includes goals and expectations set by the curriculum policy makers and curriculum developers along with textbooks, official syllabi or curriculum standards set by a particular nation or organisation […]. When the ideas of the developers are written down to produce a document or converted into curriculum materials, that constitutes the formal curriculum.
 The implemented curriculum which is enacted at the school level (meso-level) comprises content, instructional strategies and time allocations which are meant to guide teachers with regard to the way the intended curriculum should be put into practice. [….]. =?

 The attained curriculum refers to the reactions and outcomes of the learners after receiving instruction


(van der Akker 2003, 2009 and others, cited in Phaeton and Stears 2016: 724-725)

TASK C  In your context, are there differences between the teacher education curriculum intended by the institution and the curriculum as it is implemented by lecturers/teacher educators? If so, what differences are there, and what impact do they have on the teacher education being provided?

TASK D  To what extent does the ‘attained’ curriculum, i.e. what student teachers actually learn and the competences they develop by the end of the programme, reflect the contents of the intended curriculum? In other words, how realistic is the intended curriculum?

TASK E  In your opinion and experience, how easy or difficult is it to achieve alignment between the ‘intended’, ‘implemented’ and ‘attained’ curricula?

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