An Exploration of the Tyler Rationale

Considering the many approaches to Education and Curriculum, the traditionalist approach has had great influence in the past and present. The idea that education should be based around a set of goals, and a way to determine if those goals have been met. Ralph Tyler’s rationale around curriculum is very much in this efficient idea, and it is the prominent foundation for many educational institutions around the world.

The Tyler Rationale is a process and cycle for the development of curriculum. The idea is that you start with set objectives/goals, then an educator will identify the content and experiences that will attain these goals, determine an organised way to transfer that knowledge, and finally assess/evaluate the progress towards the attainment of these goals.

Personally, I have experienced this from grade 1 through to grade 12. All of my classroom teachers followed some format of provincial curriculum, translated that into lessons, and taught the lessons to the students. After the transfer of knowledge, they would always evaluate us in some format. Most of my time in school, this involved some sort of paper examination, and the grade would determine the bulk of your progress in that portion of the subject. However, in my later years, and also in my home schooled years (grades 3 and 4), I had some teachers, and my mother, attempt to use different approaches to evaluation. My mother would use a conversation at a museum as a way to test on some recent history material we were covering. All throughout elementary, and the beginning of high school, we had Science Fairs, and that was a way to evaluate some portion of our learning. Finally, in grade 12, my social teacher still used a midterm and final (as a form of preparation for university). However, for the ends of units, instead of a paper examination she required some cooperative project as proof of our progress and understanding.

I think some people will see the Tyler rationale, and immediately determine that it must end with an exam. This is what I like about Tyler’s wording: he does not say a type of assessment, and instead just says to determine a way to know the goals have been attained. Considering this point, all of my grade school experience was almost exclusively based on this rationale, and simply used different interpretations of the steps.

One limitation of the Tyler rationale is in its very purpose. It dictates what should be taught, and while being somewhat broad, can still be an extreme limiter. I am not suggesting that I think we should have a free for all curriculum. Structure is important, and curriculum satisfies that need. However, when curriculum is implemented, sometimes it can be hard to explore different subject areas that might not be represented in the provincial curriculum, and many teachers decide to take the easy route, sticking to the curriculum, rather than trying to add in some extras along with the required content and goals.

Another way this process is limiting is for student-guided learning approaches. The idea that the student should have some say in what they learn, and should be able to explore and guide their own education. Sure, using Tyler Rationale they can choose elective courses, many of which are explicitly structured with required goals. This works until you reach a creative subject, at which point this rationale can be more of a inhibitor to the student learning progress if it is too strictly implemented.

So one might ask, with these limitations, why are we still seeing Tyler’s Rationale dominate education across nearly all subjects, both creative and logical? The main reason is the idea of uniformity and simplicity. With an implemented curriculum, the government can know what a teacher teaches, and can also ensure that particular course is similar across all school divisions. It also gives teachers direction, and ideas, making the creation of lessons and plans easier. The article spoke of this when Hewitt explored American schools, and how you could change entire states and have similar, or identical content. For simplicity, consider our provincial system. A Saskatchewan teacher can simply look up the curriculum and they already have the beginning and end of their lesson complete, making the content for the middle portion incredibly easy to put together.

Another potential, yet controversial, benefit is for uniformity in grading. Some areas take the evaluation part to the extreme, and implement standardized testing. This has its benefits, and its downsides, but the one thing for sure is that it assists businesses and post-secondary institutions during the process of selecting potential students or employees. You know that an 80 in this city should mean the same thing as an 80 in another city, and that makes life easier for the people in charge of selections.

Whether good or bad, the one point we can agree on is that Tyler’s Rationale has influenced education, and still has an extreme presence in modern education. I also believe it won’t be going anywhere too fast, as it is too ingrained in society and education. The good news is that it is flexible, and that the newer ideas (my assessment experiences) around education can be implemented alongside Tyler’s process, effectively allowing it to be modernized for future generations.

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