Steven Weber

Superintendent or Asst Super

Fayetteville, AR

Interests: Curriculum design and...

  • Posted 7 Years ago
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Curriculum Development: What Would Tyler Do (WWTD)?


“The ultimate validation of a curriculum lies in its results; that is, did it help students achieve the desired outcomes?”


Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe
Schooling by Design (2007)


Sixty years ago, Ralph Tyler wrote Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction.  In the Introduction to the book, Tyler outlined four fundamental questions which should be answered in developing any curriculum and plan of instruction.

Tyler’s Four Fundamental Questions:

1.  What educational purposes should the school seek to attain?

2.  What educational learning experiences can be provided that are likely to attain these purposes?

3.  How can these educational experiences be effectively organized?

4.  How can we determine whether these purposes are being attained?

The book is organized into four chapters.  The first four chapters are summarized above.  The final chapter is titled, "How a School or College Staff May Work on Curriculum Building."  Whether you are a beginning educator or a veteran curriculum coordinator, this timeless classic will provide direction for supporting your work and the work of curriculum development teams.  This classic can be purchased on Amazon  for $6 - $10. 


As you reflect on 2010, do the terms curriculum chaos, curriculum clutter, or disjointed curriculum come to mind?  Rookie teachers and veteran teachers have experienced feelings of frustration when a new curriculum is implemented.  Educators also experience frustration when a team of teachers spend five years developing and revising curriculum documents and then a majority of the teachers within the school slowly begin ignoring the district’s curriculum. Curriculum clutter impacts student achievement.  "When school staff have a more informed conception of curriculum, a teacher's daily decisions about how to deliver instruction not only affect student achievement in that classroom but also future student achievement, for it is assumed that students will be entering the next classroom prepared to handle a more sophisticated or more expansive level of work" (Zmuda, Kuklis & Kline, 2004, p. 122).

Teachers and administrators can benefit from Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction.  Tyler (1949) wrote, “It is essential therefore to select the number of objectives that can actually be attained in significant degree in the time available, and that these be really important ones.”  The Tyler Rationale supports educators in identifying the important goals and objectives for each course.  Whether you are beginning to develop curriculum or you are revising existing documents, take a moment to ask What Would Tyler Do (WWTD)?  The answers to Tyler’s questions will provide your team with purpose and direction.


Ralph W. Tyler (April 22, 1902 – February 18, 1994)
Ralph Tyler wrote Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction in 1949. 
The book was originally designed as the course syllabus for students enrolled in EDU 360 at the University of Chicago.  Tyler served as an adviser on educational issues to seven presidents: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter.  His contributions to the field of education have impacted thousands of educators and students.  One of his most famous students was Dr. Benjamin Bloom


Bellack, A.A., & Kliebard, E. (Eds.). (1977). Curriculum and evaluation: Readings in educational research. Richmond, CA: McCutchan Publishing Corporation. Retrieved from

Tyler, R. W. (1949). Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2007). Schooling by design: Mission, action, and achievement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Zmuda, A., Kuklis, R., & Kline, E. (2004). Transforming schools: Creating a culture of continuous improvement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.


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10 Dec 12, 11:05 AM

Fantastic blog!! Tyler is so relevant today... UBD, curriculum mapping, and CCSS.


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29 Dec 10, 08:16 AM

Last year's administration was a driving force encouraging our department to implement learning goals. We were instructed to develop methods and assessments to review what would become the departments best learning practices. Our department worked together all year, although with much complaining. We have a new administration this year and last year's "driving force" is gone and the department has reverted back to the 'old' way of teaching. It is frustrating when I think of what was accomplished and now it has been trashed. Rather than continuing with curriculum development, I am spending my time working on what this new administration's agenda is: Student nterventions. It seems my work has been all for naught.

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21 Dec 10, 10:00 AM

Right on, Steven! I am stunned at how people do not refer to Tyler when writing and (especially) self-assessing and reviewing their curriculum.

Here are some of my favorite Tyler quotes:

Basic assumption in the 8-Year Study:

“The kinds of changes in behavior patterns in human beings which the school seeks to bring about are its educational objectives. The fundamental purpose of an education is to effect changes in the behavior of the student, that is, in the way he thinks, feels, and acts. The aims of any educational program cannot well be stated in terms of the content of the program or in terms of the methods and procedures followed by teachers, for these are only means to other ends. Basically, the goals of education represent these changes in human beings which we hope to bring about through education.. The kinds of ideas which we expect students to get and to use, the kinds of skills which we hope they will develop, the techniques of thinking we hope they will acquire, the ways in which we hope they will learn to react to aesthetic experiences – these are illustrations of educational objectives.”
from the 8-Year Study Vol. III in Adventures in Education (p. 102 in Madaus)

from his follow-up Kappan article in 1964:

“In working with different individuals and groups, I make clear that these sources can be used in any order.” [otherwise, he stands by his original four questions and general approach of sources of objectives, cited below].

“The greatest change in my thinking relates to the conceptions of the learner... The idea of learning by discovery takes on more meaning to curriculum workers when they treat knowledge as a growing product of man’s effort to understand....”

...Learners can understand the structure of the discipline, that is, the questions it deals with, the kind of answers it seeks, the concepts it uses to analyze the field, the methods it usees to obtain data, and the way it organizes its inquiries and findings. When they gain this understanding of the structure, they learn more effectively and efficiently...”

“The level of generality appropriate for an objective is perhaps the most puzzling question about objectives currently faced by curriculum workers.....[Key is to aim for a high degree of generalization, based on very specific objectives.]


“The purpose of a statement of objectives is to indicate the kinds of changes in the student to be brought about so that the instructional activities can be planned and developed in a way likely to attain these objectives; that is to bring about these changes in students. Hence it is clear that a statement of objectives in terms of content headings or generalizations is not a satisfactory basis for guiding the further development of the curriculum.” Pp. 45-6

“The most useful form for stating objectives is to express them in terms which identify both the kind of behavior to be developed in the student and the ... area of life which this behavior is to operate.” pp. 46-7.

“By defining these desired educational results as clearly as possible the curriculum-maker has the most useful set of criteria for selecting content, for suggesting learning activities, for deciding on the kinds of teaching procedures to follow, to carry on all the further steps of curriculum planning.” P. 62.

“The term ‘learning experience’ is not the same as the content with which a course deals nor the activities performed by the teacher. The term ‘learning experience’ refers to the interaction between the learner and the external conditions in the environment to which he can react. Learning takes place through the active behavior of the student; it is what he does that he learns, not what the teacher does. It is [thus] possible for two students to be in the same class and for them to have two different experiences.” P. 63

On pp. 72ff Tyler describes better ways of teaching information for mastery. Lack of remembering, rigidity of responses, lack of organization to the learning and inability to turn to relevant sources. The most important suggestion relates to transfer p. 74: “Use important items frequently, in varied contexts, and important that students not conceive of the information n one scheme of organization alone...Learning should involve reorganization of information in varied ways appropriate to different situations...” p. 74
Interview with Tyler

In 1938, the curriculum staff complained that the schools were saying they were getting more help for the evaluation staff than from the curriculum staff. Alberty explained this by saying: "Tyler has a rationale for evaluation and there isn't any rationale for curriculum. So when we were having lunch, I said to Hilda Taba, my right hand associate, "Why, that's silly, of course there's a rationale for curriculum." I sketched out on the napkin what is now often called "The Curriculum Rationale." It indicates that in deciding what the school should help students learn, one must look at the society in which they are going to use what they learn and find out the demands and opportunities of that society. To learn something that you can't use means that in the end it will be forgotten. One must also consider the learner -- what he has already learned, what his needs are, and what his interests are, and build on them; one must also consider the potential value to students of each subject. After lunch I said to the curriculum people, "Here's a rationale you might want to follow," and that kind of outline of a rationale began to be developed.

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