The Tyler Rationale- Systematic Approaches to Curriculum and The Learner

In this week’s reading for ECS 210 we take a look at curriculum development from a traditional theorist point of view. In my response to this week’s reading I will focus on the Tyler Rationale as it is presented in  In Understanding and shaping curriculum: What we teach and why by Thomas Hewitt.

According to Hewitt Tyler’s Rationale “bridged the curriculum dualities- curriculum as what was to be taught in schools and curriculum as as scholarly body of knowledge and curriculum as knowledge building about content to be taught and as knowledge about the processes to construct that knowledge” (2012, p. 31). Tyler’s theories on curriculum “changed and recentered the discussions and energized the search for knowledge through different methods of inquiry” (Hewitt, 2012, p. 32). This new understanding and approach to curriculum served to create a more efficient mode of creating, distributing, formalizing and unifying content and delivery. The Tyler Rationale answered not only the question of what should be taught but also how and provided a streamlined framework that allowed “plug and play” creation of curriculum for any student, any subject, any teacher, anywhere.

The Tyler Rationale creates efficiency by allowing any curriculum to be created by following these four basic steps:

State Purposes ⇒ Identify Experiences ⇒ Organize Experiences ⇒ Evaluate Experiences

The Tyler Rationale has definitely impacted curriculum and content delivery in Canada and in my own experience as a student.

As a student in Saskatchewan throughout close to four decades I can see elements of the Tyler Rationale in many areas. In my younger years of schooling through the 80’s and 90’s the Tyler Rationale was very evident in the way that course content was delivered. The instructional methods used in all subject areas were very similar. Looking back it is easy to see how curriculum and lessons were structured around the idea that a lesson could be created delivered and evaluated using the Tyler Rationale in almost all areas. It is easy to think back to examples where teachers followed this rationale strictly to deliver the standardized content of courses like math, science and ‘grammar’. I can envision a lot lessons that were simply for this lesson we want to learn ‘x’… so, here it is… memorize this information… give it back to me on a test. This may be the first issue with the Tyler Rationale. It is based on the end goal. For the Tyler Rationale the goal was creating efficient standardized curriculum with an idea of what the ideal student would look like at the end of the process. This focus on efficiency and end goals linked directly to the social climate of the time but is not necessarily valuable when looking at the needs of the student.

Some major limitations with the Tyler Rationale can also be viewed as potential benefits depending on the lens one views this approach through. Let’s start by looking at the “plug and play” style of content creation and lesson plans that go hand in hand with the Tyler Rationale. First using this method lessons can be created for any subject. This at first glance appears to be a potential benefit. If step one is stating the purpose of the lesson this method can be applied to any lesson in any subject area. However it also risks the issue that the purpose of the lesson is subjective and some teachers may view the same lesson as having different purposes therefore the consistency that was supposed to be brought out in this method is already at risk. The second step starts to address the idea of any student- by identifying the potential learning experiences and how they will be organized and presented the teacher is able to use the Tyler Rationale to answer the ‘how’ of the curriculum. However some teachers may also miss the mark here and assume that on learning experience will create a lesson that all students should walk away with the appropriate knowledge. This “any student” concept does not actually take the individual student into account and is likely to place the blame for students who don’t take away the requisite knowledge on the student themselves- “Johnny understood the lesson so why can’t you?”. The obvious problem here is that not all learners will come to the classroom with the same experiences and therefore your single concept for learning experiences may not relate to some students. Finally the methods used to evaluate learning will tend to be standardized as well. The standardizing of curriculum content and delivery combined with standardized goals for outcomes and evaluations will create an efficient system for some students but does not allow for individual experience, knowledge or expression- in other words the Tyler Rationale lacks context.

However if you were to take this same template and apply the same methods while making decisions that take context into place and avoid the trappings of ease and efficiency there is a strong foundation for creating curriculum and lessons that are valuable. If you  State Purposes ⇒ Identify Experiences ⇒ Organize Experiences ⇒ Evaluate Experiences a particular set of students within a particular context in mind then you can use this rationale to create valuable curriculum. Systemization of education only becomes an issue when you remove the context and don’t evaluate the implicit biases that can be built in. The Tyler rationale is an example where you might not want to “throw the baby out with the bath water” although on some levels it may seem flawed and full of issues there are some fundamental ideas that when used properly can be a very valuable tool for teachers.

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