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Emergent Curriculum
2006 Jeffrey W. Bloom (please cite original material, if used)

Emergent Curriculum


Emergent curriculum is associated with the adaptation of complexity sciences to education. The notion of emergence relates to how particular patterns of organization emerge or arise from seemingly chaotic or random events. In the case of curriculum, emergence relates to how particular avenues of exploration, inquiry, problem-solving, project development, and other aspects of learning unfold as teachers and students proceed through the enacted curriculum.

In contrast to the traditional sense of curriculum as a pre-planned sequence of events (lectures, activities, discussions, etc.), the emergent curriculum may begin with a planned event, such as an initial exploration or other activity. However, the direction of future activities is based upon the emergent questions, interests, and concerns of students and their teacher.

Such an approach may seem very open-ended and unstructured. However, from the perspective of planning the curriculum, there is probably a great deal more work involved than for a traditional approach. This work involves planning for the multiple possible directions in which such an emergent curriculum may unfold. At the same time, even though one may plan for many different possible directions, unforeseen directions may emerge. In such cases, teachers must return to planning.

The following figures depict two views of emergent curricula:




Figure 1. Helical view of emergent curriculum.

Figure 1 depicts the emergent curriculum as helical strands or themes that emerge from a central initiating activity, question, or problem. As students engage with this initial activity, multiple questions, interests, and concerns can lead to emergent directions of further study and investigation.




Figure 2. Emergent curriculum as divergent thematic strands arising from central tension involving various contexts of curriculum.

The representation of emergent curriculum in Figure 2 provides a view of the central initiating activity or event as a conflicting binary. This conflicting binary may be embedded in multiple curricular contexts (click here for more information on some possible contexts), other more specific subject matter contexts, and/or social, political, or environmental contexts.


"An unfolding, enfolding curriculum requires the students to become active agents in their own learning. A few seem uncomfortable with that notion. Some hide behind the expression, 'Just tell me what I have to learn for the test.' Others say, 'I know what I believe about the teaching/learning process. Don't expect me to change my views.' It appears, though, that these students are afraid to take the risk of reflecting on self as it relates to the curriculum." (Bowman & Haggerson,1990)

Benefits of an Emergent Curriculum

  • Increases students' sense of ownership over the curriculum and their learning.

  • Increases student responsibility and initiative.

  • Increases relevance and meaning of the curriculum.

  • Increases potential for complex learning and thinking.


References

  • Bowman, A. C., & Haggerson, N. L. (1990). Empowering educators through the processes of enfolding and unfolding curriculum. In J. T. Sears & J. D. Marshall (Eds.), Teaching and thinking about curriculum: Critical inquiries. New York: Teachers College Press.

  • Fleener, M. J. (2002). Curriculum dynamics: Recreating heart. New York: Peter Lang.



Go the next page on the integrated curriculum

Return to Integrated Curriculum Index Page



2006 Jeffrey W. Bloom (please cite original material, if used)

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