In the article, Curriculum Theory and Practice, Smith outlines a number of approaches to curriculum, including the Tyler rationale. The Tyler rationale focuses on:
- predetermining what students need to learn and creating objectives that outline what they should learn
- selecting and organizing methods to teach these objectives to the students
- specifying how to evaluate if the students met each objective
It is a highly systematic approach with a great deal of focus on organization and managed learning. The approach looks to determine whether pre-specified changes are seen in each student’s behavior and uses this to determine if the student was successful in their learning.
I experienced this approach throughout my schooling in a number of different subject areas. For example, I remember in elementary school we would spend year after year learning how to write in cursive from those awfully boring workbooks. Somebody decided we needed to learn how to write in cursive, they created a workbook where we could repeatedly trace each letter to memorize how to write, and they evaluated our learning based on how well our letters matched the printed examples. This is just one example of how the Tyler rationale was used in my own schooling, it was also present in many of my high school classes. Math teachers would use a PowerPoint to teach us the material and then evaluate our learning with a standardized test. It is important to note that most of my teachers were not even allowed to create final exams for their students, as they had to be given special permission and have specific qualifications to do so. Needless to say, the Tyler approach is still widely used and very present in schools today.
One of the benefits of this approach for educators is that the outcomes they are expected to teach are clear. The high level of organization present in this approach provides teachers with a clear and detailed outline of what they are to teach, how they should teach it, and how to assess student’s learning. This saves a lot of time for teachers, and makes lesson planning much easier. The Tyler rationale also holds potential benefits for students, as it was initially intended to provide the specific skills and knowledge required for students to live as adults and work a future job. Students are always asking when or if they will be using the material they are learning in “real life”, so they are much more likely to engage in a model of teaching that prioritizes the skills and knowledge they will need to succeed in their future workforce.
Despite the possible benefits, there are some major limitations to the Tyler rationale. While the outcomes and objectives educators are to follow may be clear, they do not allow for teachers or students to make any choices based on how they believe learning should take place. Teachers are not given much freedom in their classroom and are not provided the opportunity to encourage other methods of learning. The approach treats teachers more like robots that can be wired to follow instructions than educated human beings who are capable of adapting to their student’s needs and making choices within their student’s best interests.
In addition, students are not given a voice and are not provided any choices in their education. As Smith mentions on page four of the article, the amount of importance this approach places on pre-determined methods and outcomes “takes much away from learners,” since “[t]hey are told what they must learn and how they will do it.” When students are not given a voice, it causes school to feel like a chore. Students are much more likely to be actively engaged in learning and trying their best when they feel like their opinions will be heard. Providing students with choices, such as what method they will use to research a topic, also encourages them to be more interested, engaged, and motivated in their learning. Without any space for student choice, individuality is also suppressed. In this way, the Tyler rationale limits student’s ability for individual expression and creativity.
Another major drawback to this approach on curriculum is that it includes no adaptations whatsoever and assumes that every student will succeed in learning from the exact same method. This, of course, is highly problematic. Students who do not learn well from the methods chosen in this approach are likely to fall through the cracks. When evaluated, it will be recorded that such students failed to learn the expected objectives, even though they actually may have been able to learn the material just fine had it been taught in another way. The Tyler rationale puts every student through the exact same process and then fails any student who does not learn the intended objectives. It only values these pre-determined learning outcomes, completely discarding the value of any other learning that may take place within the classroom.