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Teachable Moments: Re-conceptualizing Curricula Understandings

reviewed by Marius Boboc - April 11, 2008

coverTitle: Teachable Moments: Re-conceptualizing Curricula Understandings
Author(s): Eunsook Hyun
Publisher: Peter Lang Publishing, New York
ISBN: 0820481416, Pages: 197, Year: 2006
Search for book at Amazon.com

Our current world of education is characterized by a constructive tension among the various definitions and concepts aiming at explaining the increasingly complex process of teaching and learning in diverse settings. On the one hand, we have a dynamic combination of three factors that support schooling: process, product, and participants. With this in mind, an in-depth analysis reveals patterns of practice termed the “pendulum swing” - a cyclical moving back and forth along a continuum, depending on political and economic parameters. On the other hand, we have renewed conversations involving educators, school administrators, parents, students, policymakers, legislators, and the public at large on what constitutes examples of schooling effectiveness in terms of both teacher and student accountability.  

If we were to poll a representative sample of classroom practitioners on what curriculum is and what its implications may be on their professional life, we would get a wide range of responses.  While reinforcing the idea that one's definition of curriculum can be evidenced by the teaching and learning process in one’s classroom, it is a matter of continuous professional development to investigate how such definitions should be fluid and centered on students’ performance and achievement. In this light, teacher dialogues could start out simply by sharing self reflections on one's pedagogy. The next step would be teacher networking designed to reach a more formal level of discrimination among the different types of curriculum or stages of curriculum implementation. Yet another level of focused conversations would look at appropriate ways to tie student learning assessment with the process of curriculum evaluation, be it at the classroom, school, or district level. Ultimately, curriculum - in all its diversity and complexity - would become an integral part of educators’ contributions to current school improvement efforts.

Faced with the reality of “standardized testing,” “teaching to the test,” “school choice,” and other similar influences on the educational establishment, Eunsook Hyun’s Teachable Moments: Re-conceptualizing Curricula Understandings prompts teachers to ponder the critical issues of what curriculum is and does, with direct implications on their interactions in the school/classroom environment. This important text addresses specific needs of early childhood pre-service teachers, in-service teachers pursuing a graduate degree, early childhood teacher educators, as well as faculty interested in current curriculum discourses. The main feature that makes the book appealing to a wide range of readers is the “field-based images of U.S. pre-K teachers’ curriculum work” (p. xvii) that capitalize on their “multiple/multiethnic perspective-taking ability” (p. xix). In an attempt to bridge curriculum theory with classroom practice, Hyun uses relevant examples of early childhood teachers’ re(de)fining their understanding of curriculum. The constant co-construction of knowledge, identification of meaningful “real life” applications, and increasing awareness of emerging dispositions engage teachers and learners in a non-differential status in the classroom. Therefore, the author emphasizes the need to ground the “developmentally meaningful and culturally congruent practices” (p. xviii) in daily teacher-students collaborations, while conceptualizing such findings as important to the formal preparation of teachers for diverse school settings.

Hyun takes the audience on an example-filled chronological trip from concepts such as “education that is multicultural” (ETM) to “developmentally appropriate practice” (DAP), then to “developmentally and culturally appropriate practice” (DCAP) – a current goal of teacher education programs across the country. This critical book is a revision of an earlier text by the same author [Making Sense of Developmentally and Culturally Appropriate Practice (DCAP) in Early Childhood Education, published in 1998], where the concept of “developmentally and culturally appropriate practice” evolves by placing an important emphasis on both teachers and students in terms of how the latter develop, learn, and interact in the social context of the classroom/school, organically connected to the home/community environment. Our contemporary society demonstrates a preference for individual, highly personal/personalized narratives that define and capture one's existence, compared to earlier, modern “grand” narratives that used to be passed down as “knowledge worth remembering.” Under these circumstances, Hyun places an emphasis on an important criterion teachers need to consider in their curricular plans for diverse educational settings – teaching, learning, activities, and resources that are meaningful “from a child’s point of view” (p. xvii).

The three main parts of the book follow a logical presentation of current representations of curriculum in culturally complex milieus, leading up to probing into the need for interconnecting reconceptualizations of current practices, with a particular focus on early childhood. Dewey’s (1902) analysis of the dichotomy between “the child and the curriculum” outlines the contrast between schooling as a rigid set of learning experiences (instruction) and schooling that accounts for students’ prior knowledge, experience, and dispositions. Hyun also opposes instruction with pedagogy, which relates to “power-sharing” (p. 18) and “relationship-building” (p. 21), thus underlining teachers’ moral obligation and ethical responsibility in the classroom.  

What curriculum is and does gains new meaning in the classroom-based evidence provided by pre-K teachers whose curriculum practice falls into three “aspects” on which the author elaborates: a) teachable-moment oriented; b) emergent-oriented; and c) negotiation-oriented.  

Teachable moments represent teachers’ “responses to the learner’s natural growth and interests” (p. 69). Such opportunities for meaningful classroom interactions depend on teachers’ generic knowledge of how children learn and specific knowledge of their students’ readiness to learn - “emerging learnable moments” (p. 74). In terms of developmentally meaningful and culturally congruent practice, a teachable moment-oriented curriculum taps into the invaluable resource represented by students by validating who they are, what they know, are able to do, and feel throughout the learning process in an interdependent classroom community.  

The dynamic nature of the emergent-oriented curriculum increases by integrating activities stemming from teacher-and-students co-investigations of learning interests and needs. One major difference from the previous category of curriculum practice is the “dual learning” (p. 97), which has to do with the teachers’ ability to take risks, at times, by seeing “children’s emerging capabilities” (p. 95), even when they may happen not to meet preset expectations or predictions.  In this case, the enacted/taught and learned curricula are more synchronous due to unanticipated, frequent, and meaningful changes initiated by teachers and students, and supported by the former’s continuous “multiple/multiethnic perspective-taking” (p. 109) and reflection on their practice.

The highest degree of correlation between opportunities deemed as teachable by teachers and learnable by students defines a negotiation-oriented curriculum. Looking at Schwab’s (1969) “commonplaces in educational thinking” – teachers, students, content, and context/milieu -, it becomes apparent that teachers need to identify appropriate configurations of these factors depending on their knowledge of: their content area(s); its (their) specific pedagogical strategies; their students; and the physical particulars of the learning environment. In other words, curriculum implementation relies heavily on “study-based, ethical, socially just, and morally sound” (p. 115) negotiations involving teachers’ inner forum, fellow educators, students, parents, and others with a vested interest in optimizing teaching and learning. The increasingly reflective and participative negotiation leads to intense scrutiny of what curriculum actually is and does in ways that are supposed to be meaningful to both teachers and learners. The enacted/taught and learned curricula become one entity that promotes democratic skills, risk-taking, self-evaluation and constructive evaluation of others, and co-authorship of protocols that connect school life and formal learning with community life and informal learning.

Daily curriculum practice demonstrated by effective constructivist pre-K teachers navigates among the three categories mentioned above. The more support there is for critical conversations on both the challenges and successes of teaching and learning in diverse educational settings, the more pro-active and equitable teachers are in engaging students in meaningful, content-rich interactions in learning communities that expand beyond schools.  Whether these teachers profess dialectical or radical constructivism, their students will become independent lifelong learners, vital contributors to the future of our democracies in the 21st century.

Teachable moments is a seminal text for educators whose definition of teaching includes knowledge and art/craft. As students learn what it means to assume the role of co-designers and co-implementers of curriculum, classroom practitioners distinguish between simply being and becoming a teacher through highly reflective curriculum practices. The outcome of such a complex, transformative, and participative process is the involvement of teachers and learners in the co-construction of “knowledge, text, desire, and identity” (p. 21), leading to the reconfiguration of the status quo and the “relationship among knowledge, authority, and power” (p. 22). Under these circumstances, classrooms and schools become venues for the “lived curriculum” that gets (re)negotiated on a continuous basis. According to Payne (2006), if a child does not have a future story, schooling means nothing to him or her. By the same token, if schooling does not reflect the child's individuality, future stories may end up having no meaning at all.


Dewey, J. (1902). The child and the curriculum. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Payne, R. (2006, September). A framework for understanding poverty. Invited presentation at the Greater Cleveland Educational Development Center, Cleveland, OH.

Schwab J.J. (1969).  The practical: A language for curriculum. School Review, 78(1), 1-23.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: April 11, 2008
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15209, Date Accessed: 10/16/2021 8:26:54 AM

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About the Author
  • Marius Boboc
    Cleveland State University
    E-mail Author
    MARIUS BOBOC is an assistant professor in the department of Curriculum and Foundations in the College of Education and Human Services as well as the Director of Student Learning Assessment at Cleveland State University. He is co-authoring an educational psychology-general methods of teaching textbook (McGraw-Hill) and a curriculum theory case study book (Sage).
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