Tag Archives: Curriculum

Notional-Functional Syllabus of TESOL

The notional-functional syllabus was an innovation developed in the 1970’s and 1980’s in Europe. The pragmatic focus of this innovation has to this day had an influence on language teaching.

This post will define what a notional-functional syllabus is by looking at each word that makes up the phrase “notional-functional syllabus.”


In TESOL, “notions” is a synonym for the word “context” or “setting.” Notion has to do with what is called pragmatics in language acquisition but the setting can be intellectual rather than a physical setting. As such, a notional-functional syllabus is focused on the various situations in which language is used.

There are two levels at which notions take place. General notions are highly abstract philosophically concepts such as existence, space, and time. Normally, TESOL does not deal with such concepts except when teaching about temporal relational terms such as before, after, during, etc.

The second level of notions is specific notions. Specific notions deal with clearly defined fixed situations. Examples of specific notions include animals, politics, education, and sports.  Although these can still be considered abstract that are not nearly as abstract as general notions. As such it is better to look at general and specific notions as ideas along with a continuum rather as either/or concepts.


The functional aspect of the notional-functional syllabus relates to how language is used. Prior to this focus on function, language was taught with a focus on grammar and learning was organized around grammar use. In a functional focus, language is used to do any and all of the  following

  • explain
  • describe
  • discuss
  • argue
  • agree
  • apologize
  • compare
  • contrast

As you can see, there is almost an infinity amount of variety when combining the  notion with the function. This leads to our need to understand what a syllabus is.


Syllabus is the European term for what is called curriculum in America. A syllabus/curriculum has been defined on this site before. In short, a syllabus/curriculum is a systematic plan toward achieving educational goals. Often, the syllabus/curriculum has goals/objectives that are in reality a combination of a notion and an or function. Below are some examples. The brackets indicated what the preceding phrase is, whether it’s a function or a notion.

  • Introduce self [function] to other people [notion]
  • Ask for information [function] at a bank [notion]
  • Give directions [function]
  • Read the text [function] and answer [function] the questions [notion]

From the examples, it is clear that you can have function with a notion, a function alone, or several functions with a notion. Without getting too technical there is endless potential in designing a syllabus/curriculum with this framework in mind.

Final Thoughts

There is little difference of notional-functional syllabus from the development of regular objectives in a curriculum. If you are familiar with how objectives are made you know objectives have an action, proficiency, and condition.

The “action” of a regular objective is in many ways the same as the “function” of a functional-notional syllabus. In addition, the “condition” of a regular objective is similar to the “notion” of a notional-functional syllabus. Notional-Functional objectives do not address proficiency in their objectives. As such, it is common for different fields to discover similar concepts while still giving these new concepts different names.

Evaluation Models Part III: Eisner’s Criticism Model

In the last few posts, we have looked at evaluation models that come from a scientific approach. In this post, we look at evaluation from a humanistic perspective.

Curriculum evaluation models that come from a humanistic approach see evaluation as more qualitative than scientific models. Humanistic evaluators believe that the process of assessing curriculum is too complex and messy to rely so heavily on quantitative methods. There should be fewer numbers and more written descriptions  The purpose is not to answer questions completely but to add to the conversation by exposing additional questions.

One example of an evaluation model that adheres to the principles of humanistic approaches is Eisner’s Criticism Model.

Eisner’s Criticism Model

Eisner’s Criticism Model is used for evaluating a new curriculum and not necessarily to examine a curriculum that is established. This model has four steps as follows

  1. Describe
  2. Interpret
  3. Evaluate
  4. Identify themes

The steps are mainly self-explanatory. First, evaluators describe the setting and curriculum of the study. Second,  the evaluators explain the reasons for the new curriculum by explaining the need. Third, The evaluators present their understanding of the value of the new curriculum. Fourth, various themes are identified within the curriculum that are meaningful.

This four-step process involves qualitative activities for data collection. Evaluators might participate in classes, observe classes or other activities, analyze student work,  use video, photos, interviews, of teacher and students in action. The goal is to notate what is happening but also what may not be happening in the data. This involves written narrative much more the numerical summaries.

In order to complete such an evaluation, an individual needs to have an expert knowledge in education. Eisner refers to such individuals as connoisseurs. These are people who know what to look for as well as how to value and appreciate what is happening.


Although not nearly as common as scientific models such as Stufflebeam or Stake humanistic models such as Eisner’s Criticism model has its place in education.  For smaller schools or smaller programs, this model is an excellent way to go beyond just numbers and to describe the effectiveness of a curriculum with words. However, for larger schools or programs it is challenging to use such an approach when there is so much happening that needs to be summarized succinctly.

Evaluation Models Part II: Stufflebeam’s Model

In the last post, we began a discussion on evaluation models of the scientific variety. In this post, we conclude are look at scientific evaluation models by examining Stufflebeam’s CIPP model. Daniel Stufflebeam is a famous educator and evaluator of curriculum.

Stufflebeam’s model is called the CIPP model which stands for

  • Context
  • Input
  • Process
  • Product


Context is about studying the context in which the curriculum is used. The purpose is to assess what is happening and examine why needs of the stakeholders may not be met. Common activities at this stage include the following.

  • Physical environment
  • Philosophical foundations of the curriculum
  • Determine stakeholders
  • Background of the context

Of course, there are other activities that could take place but these just provide some examples


Input is about determining whether there are adequate resources to conduct an evaluation. Evaluators look at the goals and strategies of the evaluation. If there are concerns, other approaches may be suggested in order to evaluate the curriculum.

In many ways, this is when the methodology of the evaluation is checked rigorously. Common questions assessed at this level include the following

  • Do goals and objectives align?
  • Are teaching strategies suitable?


Whereas context and process take place before implementation,  process evaluation takes place during implementation. At this stage, evaluators examine if the plan is actually happening in the classroom. Evaluators look for defects in the implementation or use of the curriculum. Whatever problems are identified, strategies are developed to address them.

Normally, process happens at a pilot stage before a larger implementation. For example, the algebra teachers might experiment with a new teaching approach before using it in the entire math department at a school. In many ways, process evaluation is formative evaluation.


The product stage involves collecting data to make a decision about the curriculum. Information is gathered to see how well the curriculum is meeting objectives. From this decision are made. The product stage is really a type of summative evaluation.


Stufflebeam’s model involves analyzing the context and the appropriateness of the curriculum to this context. From there, a formative and summative evaluation is used to assess the impact of the curriculum among the stakeholders. This practical model is useful for educators who are seeking ways to examine the various programs under their care.

Evaluation Models Part I: Stake’s Congruence-Contingency Model

Evaluation models are used in curriculum as a process for assessing the appropriateness of a curriculum for a context. As with approaches to curriculum evaluation, evaluation models can be divided into scientific and humanistic models. For the next few post, we will look at scientific models of curriculum evaluation. Our first example is Robert Stake’s Congruence-Contingency Model.

Congruence-Contingency Model

Stake’s model of curriculum evaluation is more than just an evaluation process. Stake’s model also looks at the development of the curriculum. When using this model, it is necessary to compare the developed curriculum with what actually happens in the classroom.

There are six key terms, broken down into two groups of three, that we need to know in order to understand Stake’s model and they are as follows.

Development Stage

  • Potential prerequisites
  • Potential Curriculum
  • Potential results

Evaluation Stage

  • Prerequisites applied in context
  • Evaluation of operational curriculum
  • Actual results


The prerequisites is another way of saying “before” or the state of the context before the intervention of teaching. This includes student’s attitude, motivation, prior academic performance, teacher characteristics, and more. In the development stage, the teachers need to identify what are some potential prerequisites that may impact learning. In the evaluation stage, the evaluators determine what prerequisites actually impact the curriculum. In other words, there is a comparison of what was anticipated and what actually was the case in terms of the prerequisites.

Potential & Operational Curriculum

Potential curriculum is the “dream” curriculum that is developed. It includes everything that the teachers want to do. The Operational curriculum is what was actually used. There is normally a discrepancy between the two as it is difficult to cover all of the material and use all of the activities. The evaluation will examine the difference between these two aspects of curriculum as another criterion for assessing the quality of the curriculum.

Potential vs. Actual Results

Potential results are what the teachers hope to see as a result of the use of the curriculum. Actual results are the real performance of the students. The difference between the potential or desired results and actual results is another indicator of the quality of the curriculum in Stake’s model.


Stake’s Model provides evaluators with an opportunity to compare the desired outcome with the actual outcome. The benefit of this is that it is the curriculum developers that set the criteria of evaluation. All the evaluators do is determine if the curriculum performed in a manner that is consistent with the ideas of the developers.

Approaches to Curriculum Evaluation Part II: Intrinsic vs Payoff Approach

In the last post, we looked at scientific vs humanistic approach to curriculum evaluation. In this post, we continue the discussion by examining the intrinsic vs payoff approach to curriculum evaluation

Intrinsic Approach

The intrinsic approach is used to assess the overall quality of a curriculum. This involves looking at the various components of curriculum design such as the scope, sequence, articulation, balance and other aspects. Aspects of curriculum development are also assessed which means examining the teaching methods, content, and learning experiences. However, initially, at least, the criteria of evaluation is not determined but emerges after the process begins.

The intrinsic approach not only examines the value of the curriculum but also how well a given curriculum reaches its goals and objectives. This involves collecting some form of data whether quantitative or qualitative. As such, most evaluators normally approach evaluation with some of the characteristics of the intrinsic approach.

Payoff Approach

In the payoff approach, clear evaluation criteria are set from the outset. Normally, evaluators look at the impact of the curriculum on its stakeholders, which often includes, students, teachers, parents, and administrators. This approach to evaluation is among the most popular in education because of the clear criteria which makes data collection smooth and efficient.

Which Approach to Use?

The intrinsic approach may be most useful when it is unclear exactly what the stakeholders want to know. In other words, it is useful for exploratory purposes. Nobody is sure where they are going and the intrinsic approach helps to setup a map of strengths and weaknesses within a program. From there, other approaches can be used to refine the evaluation if necessary.

The payoff approach is best when the evaluation team knows exactly what it wants to know. Clear evaluation questions/criteria has been set and it is only a matter of answering the questions or assessing the level at which the curriculum meets the criteria by collecting data.

As such, the purpose is not to declare one approach superior to the other but to keep in mind the context when deciding which tool to use.

Approaches to Curriculum Evaluation Part I: Scientific vs Humanistic Approach

Curriculum evaluation is the process of collecting data in order to make decisions about the curriculum in question. Curriculum can mean a host of things. It could refer to a particular subject such as 7th grade reading, it could refer to a particular grade such as 8th grade in general, it can also refer to an entire school such as elementary or secondary school. As such, one aspect of curriculum evaluation to consider is the scope or what is being evaluated.

There are meaning different approaches or ways of seeing curriculum evaluation. For whatever reason, approaches to curriculum evaluation are always explained in extremes. In this post we will look at the following approach to curriculum.

  • Scientific vs Humanistic Approach to Curriculum Evaluation

Scientific Approach

The scientific approach is probably the oldest approach to curriculum evaluation as it dates from modernism and the emphasis on the scientific method of the 19th to 20th century. This approach to curriculum evaluation focuses on using quantitative data generate by the learners. This allows for statistical analysis. Furthermore, the results are compared in order to determine the level of success. This comparison is at the heart of decision-making when this approach is employed.

There are natural issues with such a heavy emphasis on numerical data. For one, the students narrative is missing. A lickert scale analysis is not as rich in content as an interview. Another issue is the assumption of similar circumstances. The diversity in student ability and even in teaching ability makes it difficult to assume that students are facing similar challenges and circumstances.

Humanistic Approach

In a more post-modern worldview the Humanistic approach looks at the individual rather than the numbers. Data is much more qualitative in nature. The rationale behind this is that life has multiple perspectives to it and quantitative data only provides one perspective.

Humanistic evaluators want to understand the complexities of the environment they are assessing. This involves capturing narratives through interviews and focus groups. Observation is used not to count frequencies but to take notes of what is happening in the classroom.

The major issues with this approach is the smaller sample size that is required. It is not feasible to interview 400 students but perhaps 20 is doable. In contrast, conducting a survey with 400 students should not be a challenge for a scientific evaluator. Furthermore, there are questions as to the objectivity of the results.

Since qualitative data is processed by the researcher their own perspective can filter what they report when they share the perspective of the respondents, In contrast, scientific approaches are more objective in that computer processes and reports the results.


Instead of having a bias towards scientific or humanistic approaches to curriculum evaluation. It is better to look at the context of what needs to be evaluated and determine the most appropriate approach. It should be the context and not the preference of the evaluators that should decide which direction to take. In many situations, a mixture of both approaches may be appropriate but this involves much more work and complexity.

Scope of the Curriculum

When designing curriculum, there are certain considerations to keep in mind. In this post, we will look at the following question.

  1. How wide and deep should the curriculum be?

How wide and deep should the curriculum be? This first question relates to the scope of a curriculum. The scope is breadth and depth of a curriculum. Some curriculum are broad, in that they have many different ideas and subjects discussed, while not being very deep because nothing is discussed in detail. An example of this would be any kind of music or art appreciation class.  There are many topics that are discussed in a shallow way. This is because the goal of the course is often exposure to unfamiliar content rather than mastery of it. Other classes are much more narrow in focus but concepts are dealt with in great detail.

One example of this would be an upper division education class such as classroom management. This class is highly focused on one particular aspect of teaching.  The students have learned the fundamentals and now need deeper knowledge of this one facet of teaching. The scope of a curriculum is determined by the goals of the designer. Do the students need more breadth or depth? What do they need to know for the future? Scope addresses these concerns. One cannot say a curriculum is too broad or narrow unless it does not match the needs of the students and or the goals of the institution. In other words, scope can only be inappropriate in comparison to the goals and needs of the stakeholders.

Curriculum Development & Philosophy

Philosophy is the collection of attitudes, beliefs, experiences, and worldview that people have. These perceptions of reality are summarized and defined as a personal philosophy.  A person’s philosophy influences their thinking and actions. Within curriculum,  a teacher’s philosophy impacts how they design and implement curriculum.

For example, a teacher who believes that general knowledge is most important will emphasize this in their curriculum. Their philosophy or belief is that general knowledge will prepare students to handle many different problems in life. Where these beliefs come from is the teacher’s own experiences and the values that were passed down to them from their parents and teachers.

There are several different philosophies that we are going to look at over the next few post. Each of these philosophies continues to impact curriculum not only in the US but worldwide.

Types of Curriculum

There are many different types of curriculum. Below is a partial list of the many forms of curriculum.

  1. Formal curriculum: The goals and objectives students are expected to achieve as they learn. This is written down and is the basis for most teaching
  2. Informal curriculum: The goals and objectives of the school that students learn but are not written down in an official capacity
  3. Operational curriculum: This is the parts of the formal curriculum that teachers use in their classroom. It is not practical to teach everything and what is taught is the operational aspect of curriculum.
  4. Null curriculum: The parts of the curriculum that are not taught to students. There are many constraints to teaching such as time, testing, field trips, etc. These as well as other factors limit what can be taught, which leads to some concepts being left out.
  5. Hidden curriculum: The values of the teachers and peers that students learn in school. It is not explicit but learned through social observation

This is not all forms of curriculums but it provides some basic information.

What is Curriculum?

Curriculum comes from the Latin word currere which means to run. In many ways curriculum is used to ran the race of education as demonstrated through learning. Curriculum can be seen in many ways among them includes…

  1. A plan for achieving educational goals
  2. The experiences that an educational environment provides its students.
  3. An organized field of study
  4. As a subject matter such as science and or math, which is the most traditional way to view curriculum.

Regardless of how a person sees curriculum. The purpose of curriculum is to provide some sort of framework in which learning can take place. How that framework is designed and how it works is left to the discretion of the educator.