Ralph W. Tyler's Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction

Ralph W. Tyler's Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction

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In 1949, a small book had a big impact on education. In just over one hundred pages, Ralph W. Tyler presented the concept that curriculum should be dynamic, a program under constant evaluation and revision. Curriculum had always been thought of as a static, set program, and in an era preoccupied with student testing, he offered the innovative idea that teachers and administrators should spend as much time evaluating their plans as they do assessing their students.

Since then, Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction has been a standard reference for anyone working with curriculum development. Although not a strict how-to guide, the book shows how educators can critically approach curriculum planning, studying progress and retooling when needed. Its four sections focus on setting objectives, selecting learning experiences, organizing instruction, and evaluating progress. Readers will come away with a firm understanding of how to formulate educational objectives and how to analyze and adjust their plans so that students meet the objectives. Tyler also explains that curriculum planning is a continuous, cyclical process, an instrument of education that needs to be fine-tuned.

This emphasis on thoughtful evaluation has kept Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction a relevant, trusted companion for over sixty years. And with school districts across the nation working feverishly to align their curriculum with Common Core standards, Tyler's straightforward recommendations are sound and effective tools for educators working to create a curriculum that integrates national objectives with their students' needs. In essence, Tyler’s Rationale is represented by the four-step sequence of identifying objectives, selecting the means for the attainment or achievement of these objectives that is through educational or teaching-learning experiences provided for students, organizing these educational or teaching-learning experiences, and evaluating the outcomes or what have students attained or achieved. Tyler suggested when developing curriculum, objectives data should be gathered from three sources, namely; the learner, society, and subject matter.

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Resulting from this, are specific instructional objectives which state the kind of outcomes that are observable and measurable. The next step is the selection of educational experiences which enable the attainment of the stipulated objectives. Tyler talked about the organization and sequencing of these learning experiences. He emphasized that the experiences should be properly organized so as to enhance learning and suggested that ideas, concept, values and skills be used as organizing elements woven into the curriculum. Finally, Tyler proposed that evaluation should be an important part of the curriculum development process. It was necessary for educators to know whether the selected learning experiences produced the intended results.
There is no denying that Tyler’s thinking has greatly influenced the field of curriculum, especially curriculum development. The four questions that he raised had and still have great appeal because it is very reasonable and workable. The prevalence of this approach is due to its systematic nature and considerable organizing power.
However, there has been concern over the mindset of teaching and learning on which this approach is based: a linear-technical conception of teaching and learning that undermines the dynamic, unpredictable nature of human interaction and personal growth. It is important to note that learning in school is more complex and organic than this model is able to describe.
In this traditional approach to curriculum, someone other than the student controls what is taught. The mandated curriculum is predetermined by a set of experts. Curriculum is organized around content units and the sequence of what is taught follows the logic of the subject matter. This model omits the importance of learner experience, requiring a learner to accept, rather than challenge, the information being transmitted. Hence, the student's role becomes passive while the expert teachers deposit knowledge into the student. This perpetuates a power dynamic in which the teacher has more control than the student.

Tyler’s curriculum model which is also regarded as a product model is fundamentally dependent on the setting of behavioral objectives. Some implications of a curriculum that embraces the product model are content rich, clinical and standardized curriculum. In such curriculum, rather than rethinking the nature of it, new content is being moved to earlier and earlier years and levels to give more space for new information.
Furthermore, the objective under Tyler’s straight line model has a behavioral orientation. The target of teaching therefore, is aimed at developing student's behavior. Behavioral objectives have many advantages if applied to curriculum design, but they have some limitations on execution. They do not apply to all subjects or the design of a subject’s content.
Implementing new curriculum into practice is never easy. Goals and objectives are set. Then a plan and strategy is drawn up, applied and implemented. Finally the outcomes are measured. Despite the structured process, there is a gap between intended and implemented curriculum. Closing this implementation gap requires understanding the insight about the process of curriculum change and the key drivers that make for successful curriculum implementation into practice.

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