Negotiating Curriculum

December 06, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

When we talk think about ‘negotiation’ we directly relate it to negotiating price of an article or negotiating salary. It directly or indirectly takes us to monetary aspect of negotiations. So ‘negotiating curriculum’ came as a surprise to me despite being a teacher for past several years.

Boomer (1992) defines a model of negotiated curriculum in his book. His concept is the complete opposite of what Freire (1970) has described as the ‘banking education’. In the banking education, students serve as banks (minds) in which the money (education) is deposited and taken out only in time of need (during exams). Freire educated against the banking education and was supportive of a reformative education that focuses on developing learners’ critical skills by two-way communication.

Boomer on the other hand believes that students should be as involved in designing the curriculum as teachers. Teacher introduces the topic to students and builds curriculum on what students already know and what they would want to further know. He has compared educational model based on ‘Motivation’ with ‘Negotiation’. The former touches upon only some of the aspects of the core interest of students whereas the latter includes core learning and products in their entirety. Even the assessments in the latter are based upon the reflections of content students have learned. The ‘negotiation’ model is ideal in every way and can work only in ideal situations where all students have more or less same knowledge and would like to learn more or less same aspects of a topic. I am unable to find its use in a class with large number of students each at a different level of knowledge and also wants to learn different things. In this case, how is it possible for the teacher to ‘negotiate’ a curriculum? Does he/she pick only choices of few students and considers the knowledge of another few? How will this curriculum practice be able to cater to a class with high diversity? I cannot imagine following this approach in my Biology class where I am required to teach ‘The Cell’. There would be some students who would already be familiar with it in detail and those other very few coming from a mathematics background who would not know anything about its structure. I cannot choose the majority of students and just skip the structure and move onto the physiology. That would not be fair to those others to build their knowledge on something they do not know about.

According to me, a more ‘real’ approach to having students’ involvement in curriculum would be Banks’ (2007) ‘additive approach’ in which concepts, themes and perspectives are added to the curriculum without changing its basic framework. This approach leaves enough space for students to contribute their thoughts to curriculum building and it also caters to the diversity of the class. After all teachers and curriculum developers put a lot of effort and thought into designing a curriculum that is apt for the learners.

Wiggins (2005) believes it is very important to decide between what knowledge is worth going in depth with and what can just be dealt with superficially. It is the teachers’ job to make students learn beyond textbook by way of role-plays and activities. These additional learning ways can be decided with the help of students. But again there should be a thorough balance between activity based learning and learning by questioning and understanding the content of a topic. For example, the apple vignette from Wiggins does a lot of experience-based learning but it did not necessarily touch upon any aspect of the learning in depth.

We live in a world where people have started talking about ‘global citizenship’. It is a far-fetched reality to have a ‘global curriculum’ too but it can definitely be diverse enough to cater to the needs of all students in a class. Students coming from different parts of the world and different family backgrounds should be able to build upon their existing knowledge.



  • Boomer, G., Onore, C., Lester, N., & Cook, J. (1992). Negotiating the curriculum: Educating for the 21st century. Routledge.
  • Freire, P. (1970). The banking concept of education. 2004) Educational foundations: An anthology of critical readings, 99-111.
  • Wiggins, G. P., & MCTIGHE, J. A. (2005). Understanding by design. ASCD.
  • Banks, J. A. (2007). Educating citizens in a multicultural society. Teachers College Press. 1234 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10027.


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