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What is an Open Curriculum?

By Celia Gaillard
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A curriculum is a basic outline that teachers follow when creating their lesson plans for the year. Curricula vary by country, region, grade level, and subject matter. The curriculum might also state what objectives each student must achieve regarding reading, writing, and speaking by the end of the school year. Curricula can be very specific, clearly delineating what a teacher can cover in her classroom, or can be very broad, allowing the teacher to personalize the curriculum. Depending on the educational level, an open curriculum is one in which the student or teacher determine the educational topics covered and the amount of time spent on each.

High schools are typically bound curricula set at a national or regional level, so open curriculum high schools may be alternative schools or charter schools. The goal in an open curriculum is to engage the teacher and student in the individual learning process. Depending on the school, teachers may be able to choose what works they want to cover in Language Arts, what time periods to focus on in World History, what labs to do in Chemistry, and how to address concepts in Geometry. Teachers and students must work closely in an open curriculum school, so class sizes tend to be smaller than those found in most public schools.

Students at the high school level may work one-on-one with their teachers to come up with an individualized learning plan. The plan may include educational goals and how the student would be assessed after completing a unit or assignment. In an open curriculum, students are encouraged to engage in hands-on work in the classroom and more independent work at home. In schools following an open curriculum, teachers are considered facilitators of learning and students are held responsible for meeting their learning gains.

Curricula at the college level vary greatly, and is usually less restricted then that for high school. Some colleges follow core curricula where all students must meet specific course requirements for graduation. Colleges that follow curricula with a distribution requirement expect students to complete a certain number of classes in each subject area. Schools that follow a completely open curriculum have no restrictions regarding courses, except that students must choose a major and complete a designated number of semesters to graduate. Students attending colleges with open curricula are able to take any class they choose, as long as they meet any necessary prerequisites.

Students attending colleges that follow a core curriculum will have multiple classes in common with the rest of the student population. In schools with an open curriculum, students have the opportunity to take a wide range of courses. Some students instead choose to delve deeply into their chosen area of study.

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