• Ruth Ashbee

Curricular Objects – And A Warning

Updated: Jul 30, 2020


Categories are useful: words denote sets, and they allow us to talk with meaning. Exploring the meaning of words can help us to think more carefully about the delineation of the things they denote.

I think we should probably spend a bit of time thinking about the categories of knowledge within our curricula. Words help us to think but the other thing about words is that they are very quick, throwaway even, and this can be dangerous. Fast is often flawed when it comes to thinking about curriculum.

“Curricular objects” is a useful term, I have found. It allows us to distinguish things that can sometimes be hard to see; to identify “things that we want to teach” from “things students will do” or “ways we’ll get them to learn”. All three are important of course, but they are (often) distinct, and it is wise to be clear about this.

In our subjects, we find different classes of curricular objects. We can taxonomise: fact, technique, process, concept, idea, theme. Words. Quick, useful, and dangerous.

We must resist the cavalier use of words and instead seek robust specialist lexica. To speak expansively of “concepts” or “themes” or indeed any other category in “curriculum” is enticing but it is a false friend. These categories mean different things in different subjects. In some subjects, you can teach a concept in one lesson. In other subjects, it must emerge from many. We must not make generic statements about curricular objects of any kind. Enticing though it is, such generalisation is deeply problematic, and runs against the championing of specialism at the core of the curriculum movement. It’s more work, for sure, but the only correct way to use the language of curricular objects is within a specialist paradigm. Words, like so many things, are constructive in precision- and devastating in indiscrimination.

Thank you to Christine Counsell for helping me develop the thinking in this post.

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