cheesemonkey wonders

cheesemonkey wonders

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Unspoken/Unconscious Curriculum - keeping it both urgent AND important

Setting up my new classroom has caused me to think a lot about what is often called "the hidden curriculum" or "the unspoken curriculum" — the idea that we speak volumes about what value through the unconscious messages we send kids through the way we organize our classrooms, our schools, and our teaching.

Wikipedia has a nice brief overview of the idea of the hidden curriculum:

When I first arrived at my new school and got my classroom, it took me several days to figure out why I felt so depressed whenever I unlocked my classroom. It was only after about a day of taking down the previous occupant's wall hangings that it hit me: everything hanging up was about rules, schedules, and basic skills. Without saying so explicitly in words, it all said, "I the teacher am more concerned with managing your behavior than I am with inspiring your learning." It said, "I too am counting the minutes until the end-of-day bell rings."

It was a big "Ouch" moment.

Now teachers don't do this because they are bad people or boring people. It is simply a conditioned habit of teaching behavior. It's a trance (or a ditch) we've fallen into. But as my mentor always says, "Noticing shifts the energy." And once I've noticed it, I can address it.

So I made a radical U-turn in my classroom design and decorating philosophy. As much as it bothers me to have disorganized shelves and messy cabinets, this both more urgent AND more important:

In my classroom, I want students to be focused on things that are both urgent AND important.

I'll add some pictures later but I wanted to get these thoughts down. In the meantime, I'm wondering, what unspoken curriculum is being emphasized in your classroom?


  1. Around the top of the walls of my room, I have math-themed/inspired artwork. Some are commercial posters and some are excellent student work. I don't tend to fiddle much with these from year to year. I leave space lower on the walls for current student work. I haven't given much thought to what that says about my hidden curriculum, I just like to have pretty things to look at. But I suppose the message might be "This stuff is so cool. Really, really, so awesome. I want you guys to think it's awesome too."

  2. At the Math Technology Bootcamp in Muskegon, Maria Andersen talked about how much difference it made to have these cool kidney bean shaped tables (which seat 4), instead of individual desks. In these classrooms, students didn't resist working on groups, but they did in the conventional classrooms.

    I've had my students move their desks to groups of 4 (facing sideways) this semester, and it's working.But I'd love to have those tables.

    I am in rooms that other teachers use, so I don't get to do much decorating. I used to have good stuff up in my office, but haven't redone it since our January move to a new building. I really want to get my map up (it has South at the top), and my 'history has set the record a little too straight' poster. Then there are just some cool art posters, one from a Nicaraguan artist.

  3. Right now, I think my classroom just screams my inner panic of, " Oh God, don't fail!!!". Everything in my room is just so. I spent hours cleaning out my closets and shelves, chucking the vestiges of the previous teachers (I'm the fourth in the room in as many years) and organizing the left overs. My walls are bare, and the room is kind of sterile.

    Hopefully, I can combat this once the year starts. I've built activities into the first few weeks of school that should result in some interesting student work that I can plaster the walls with. Then, I hope the hidden message is, "this room isn't about me, it's about you and what you can create".

  4. I have always been inspired by the book "Utopia." I'm sure it was a throw-away description in the book to most people, but it always stuck with me. There's a part where he describes the churches and how they are all very boring. No stained glass windows or ornate furniture. This was to make the congregation focus on the important pieces (the people within, the mass being said, etc.).

    So, until recently my room has been very stark. Like, most other teachers (and many students) would walk into my room and wonder why there wasn't anything on the walls.

    For me, that is the ideal situation. No distractions = ultimate focus.

    I have come to realize that most people don't feel that way. So, I've started to put up some math as art pictures and the like. I have a binary clock up that is a real distraction for many students, but at least they're thinking about math while trying to figure it out. That's what I tell myself anyways.

  5. I don't think it matters whether your classroom style is spare or abundant, anal-retentive or freestyle, artistic or scientific or mathematical, so long as it's an authentic reflection of who you truly are and how you understand your own learning. Then you are acting with integrity and modeling something deeply resonant that will stick with them long after they leave your class.

    This is why it feels important not to bombard students with silly "do this, don't do that" messages that contradict what learning is really about.

    For me, teaching and learning is a transformative encounter of hearts and minds. So I wanted everything in my room -- and especially on the walls, where the eye turns when a person spaces out and lets their guard down -- to suggest that possibility. I want my classroom to be a stimulating place that cultivates curiosity everywhere and through every possible dimension.

    - Elizabeth (aka @cheesemonkeysf on Twitter)

  6. @Sara - It sounds like you have set up the perfect kind of environment you need -- one that casts a wide safety net that won't let you fail. By taking good care of your own inner fears, you are helping students to know that they are free to do the same for themselves. What could be better than that?