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The Role of Functional Curriculum and Active Learning to Students in Learning

Knowledge and Skills in School


Mbah, Stephen Udoka 08035001669 AIFCE, Owerri, Imo State, Nigeria.

Concept of Curriculum

Many scholars have defined curriculum in their various views, continually, present and

upcoming scholars will not fold their hands against their view on the concept of curriculum

that is why, many views are still coming up concerning the same curriculum as either a field

of study or as a document for learning or to be learnt. Among the definitions that have

already arrived in books, none is generally accepted with consensus as the definition of

curriculum or what curriculum mean rather all of them are scholars view curriculum to be.

Nevertheless, some of these efforts by scholars on what curriculum is will be examined.

Brubacher (1969:155) viewed curriculum as the ground pupils and teachers must cover in

order to achieve the goals of education. This definition is faulted for failing to specify

precisely what the grounds to be covered comprise. This vacuum is to an extent filled by

Bobbit (1969) who adds that a curriculum refers to the series of things which children

and youths must do and experience by way of developing abilities to do things that make up

the adults life. This definition by Bobbit has equally been found deficient as it limits

curriculum to the things to be done by only children and youths, implying that adults are

excluded from acquiring school experiences and the listed completeness. This definition

seems not to recognize the importance of a well-planned and organized curriculum as well

as the need for evaluation in order to determine if the abilities identified have been


Cookey Gam (1980) asserts that a curriculum is all what pupils do or learn at school from

the day they are admitted until the day they leave school. This definition too has been

criticized for being too broad as it included both the negative and positive learning that

takes place while the child is at school. Bishop (1985) sees curriculum as all the learning

experiences which are planned and guided by the school, whether carried out in groups or

individually, inside or outside the school.

Furthermore, Esu (2007) and Lawton (1975) defined curriculum along the line of guided

activities. Esu (2007) sees it as those knowledge, activities and experiences both formal

and informal, planned and guided by the school for the benefit of the learner. To Lawton

(1975), curriculum is nothing but a selection from culture which embraces the way of life,

certain kinds of knowledge, certain attitudes and values regarded as important that their

transmission to the next generation is not left to chance. The various scholars on the

definition of curriculum confer on the curriculum the challenge and mandate of not just an

agent of social reproduction but also according to Indiana Deaf Blind Service Project

Focus (2003), an instrument of social efficiency which brings order into the process of

schooling. Essentially, there are two widely used curricula models and these are

developmental curriculum and functional curriculum.

As education is concerned with the acquisition of worthwhile knowledge and behaviour, a

balance has to be struck between the too narrow and broad definitions and this was

provided by Tamnner and Tanner (1975) who reflects on the changing conceptions of the

curriculum by defining curriculum as planned and guided learning experiences and intended

learning outcomes, formulated through the systematic reconstruction of knowledge and

experience under the auspices of the school for the learners continuous and willful growth

in personal social competence.

The above definition, to a large extent resolves all the problems created by earlier

attempts to define curriculum, as it resolves the means-end distinction, the curriculum-

instruction distinction, as well as precisely stating what a curriculum does not entail

passing on from one generation to the other, static and stale knowledge, rather it

recognizes the fact that what is learnt changes (systematic reconstruction of knowledge)

reflecting new needs, emergent problems, desires of the learner; society and new subject

matter. It also makes a distinction between the roles of the school as distinct from that

of other socializing agencies in ensuring that the competences acquired enable the learner

to contribute meaningfully in his/her society.

However, it is obvious that these varied conceptions and definitions of a curriculum stem

from scholars views on the role of the school in achieving the educational goals of society;

their notions of the nature of knowledge as well as their perceptions of the intricate bond

that exists between educational aims, society, the learner and the curriculum. The varied

definitions of a curriculum can be categorized as follows:

Curriculum as body of knowledge that s sacrosanct

Curriculum as plan for action
Curriculum as race experience
Curriculum as guided learning experience
Curriculum as learning outcome
Curriculum as a reconstruction of knowledge and experience.

This implies that the experiences must be in written document and must be carefully

planned and guided by someone in the person of a teacher. The interest of this paper is on

functional curriculum.

What is Functional Curriculum?

The term functional have several meaning. In relation to education, it refers to education

that comes spontaneously from the influence of the environment. It is a king of

undirected, natural education that is different from the deliberate, goal-oriented

education that is directed by human (Unamma, 2017). For any school curriculum to transmit

such education, such should base on childs interest as a mechanism for activating him/her

towards desirable activities. This implies that curriculum planners have to put the child in

the center of the curriculum, which will no longer be made according to principles external

to the child. This is based on the premise that education develops the intellectual and

moral abilities of the child rather than force feeding the learner with many facts, which

are quickly forgotten, or are accumulated in the memory like foreign substance without

any connection to the childs life.

The Nigerian society needs a more pragmatic, dynamic, learner and job oriented curriculum

which should be seen as the master key to individual and group capacity building. That is

why Esu (2005) noted that the framework for sustainable capacity building curriculum

development requires adequate preparation for manpower or individuals who will interact

with such curriculum. That the individual needs functional education, on the job training,

and formal and informal skills development to accomplish tasks and solve problems of

capacity building.

As an alternative curriculum, functional curriculum came out of the need to address

particular educational vacuum. According to Evans & Frederick (1991), functional

curriculum is an alternative curriculum that replaces either in part or whole the traditional

secondary school curriculum. That functional curriculum is designed to teach students

skills which will allow them to function as competent and accepted adults. Functional

curriculum is different from the traditional curriculum in that it emphasizes independent

living skills, vocational skills and above all communication and social skills. Functional

curriculum can also be skills needed by a student in the current environment in which he or

she is functioning, the life skills needed in the students immediate next education

environment and the skills the students would need after leaving school to function in

vocational, residential and recreational environments. This definition presupposes that a

functional curriculum is more comprehensive, more learner oriented and more futuristic as

it covers all domains of ones life.

According to the Indiana Deaf Blind Services project Focus (2003), the functional

curriculum model is based on the current and future needs of the students. Here students

are not taught skills to progress through developmental milestone; rather, the focus is on

skills that will best prepare them to function throughout life.

The student assessment is based on criterion-referenced instruments. Performing a

variety of skills and the curriculum is developed from this assessment (Unamma, 2017).

The skills are taught across life areas, including independent living, work creation/leisure,

regular education and community life. In using functional skills curriculum, the instructional

skills and materials are based on the chronological age of the student, and adaptations and

modification made to increase learners participations in a wide varieties of activities.

Furthermore, Parsons (2009) defined functional curriculum to be those skills which

significantly affect quality of life in the community. They are all group together as life

skills. Parsons added that life skills require the student to take into consideration, another

perspective, to be self-reflective, to incorporate past experiences into current situations

and to make judgments based not only on past experiences but also on the particular

events occurring at the moment.

Functional curriculum according to Evans Frederick (1991) is a curriculum that focuses

upon independent living skills and vocational skills emphasizing communication and social

skills. Students with autism have significant difficulty learning life skills. Learning

functional curriculum is critical to helping students with autism spectrum disorder reach

their potentials as active participants in home, school and community environments. This is

because functional curriculum is responsible of capturing the learners interest and equips

them with workable and applicable knowledge and functional skills. Also, the area of

functional curriculum instruction covers the following areas:

Personal Care Skills: Covers bathing, grooming, toileting, sexuality, medical


Domestic Skills: Covers shopping, cooking, laundry, housekeeping.

Recreational Skills: Covers swimming, skating, bowling, exercise.

Community Safety Skills: Covers street crossing, use of crosswalk, use of walk

button, store recognition, public transit use.

Employment Skills: Covers pre-vocational skills and work experience.

Behaviour Management and Social Skills: Covers self-regulation, recognition of

emotions and social awareness.

Modified/functional Academics: Covers partial integration, small group

instruction in areas supporting community life, food recognition, safety signs,

time and money (Parsons, 2009).

When curriculum document is able to cover the following areas above, such curriculum

could be viewed as responsive curriculum. In line with this, Esu (2010) opined that any

curriculum document that covers the above areas must be able to meet the need of the

society by equipping the learners with functional skills. Therefore, functional skills will be

discussed as result or effect of functional curriculum.

Functional skills according to LINC (1992) are the variety of skills which are frequently

demanded in natural, domestic, vocational and community environments. Whereas non-

functional skills are those skills which have an extremely low probability of being require

by daily activities. A significant feature of functional skills is that they are built around

real life experiences as the students and teachers collaborate in the planning of the

learning experiences.

From the activity point of view, functional skills are those core elements of English,

Mathematics, Sciences, Humanities and ICT that provided individuals with the skills and

abilities they need to operate confidently, effectively and independently in life, in their

communities and work. Individuals equipped with these are able to progress in education,

training and employment and make positive contribution to the communities in which they

live and work. However, functionality within the curriculum is not limited to the above

subjects alone. Rather, the curriculum opportunities in the programmes of study for all

subjects encourage working beyond the school and making links with other subjects and

many key processes that have the potential for functional skills development.

Established principles that guide the planning of functional skills indicate that such skills

should be integrated into the curriculum. For such skills to be effective, instructional

activities must be relevant to the needs of the learners and more so provided them with

the opportunity to engage in real life situation in the world. According to Indiana Deaf

Blind Service Protect Focus (2003) learners need opportunities to:

Apply their skills in plausible contexts or use their skills for real purposes.

Engage with the world beyond the classroom.

Integrate learning by linking knowledge within and between the functional areas.

Spend time planning and developing their work.

Make choices and decisions, think creatively and act independently.

Experience success in real situation as a result of using their skills effectively.

From the above assertions, one can deduce that functional curriculum is the stone or rock

bed upon which functional skills rest. This is because functional curriculum included the

process/procedure of acquiring functional skills stated in the curriculum document. It also

stated how best the curriculum could be implemented. This steps or strategic instructional

steps, guide, directives and principles were noted in the components of functional


Components of Functional Curriculum

According to the Division of Student Support Service (2008), the following are the

necessary components of a functional curriculum:

State the intent or purpose of each domain: this includes the rationale and the

intended learning outcomes

State the outcomes to be achieved by the student in each domain

Provide an outline of the content to be covered in each domain: the topics and


You have to specify the instructional strategies to be used to support students

achievement of the learning outcomes: this of course requires both direct and

indirect strategies

Specify the learning environments

Specify the strategies for evaluation of students achievement of the stated

outcomes and

Finally, specify the learning resources appropriate to the students need and

interest, which will be used to stimulate students achievement of the intended

learning outcomes.

These components are important so as to guide the curriculum executors (teachers) in

dealing with knowledge and the learners, by so doing it promote active learning in the


Active Learning as a Concept

Active learning is a form of learning in which teaching strives to involve students in the

learning process more directly than in other methods. The term active learning "was

introduced by the English scholar R W Revans (1907-2003). Bonwell (1991) "stated that in

active learning, students actively participate in the process of learning, than passively

listening. Active learning is "a method of learning in which students are actively or

experientially involved in the learning process and where there are different levels of

active learning, depending on student involvement. They must read, write, discuss, or be

engaged in solving problems. It relates to the three learning domains referred to as

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knowledge, skills and attitudes (KSA), and that this taxonomy of learning behaviours can

be thought of as "the goals of the learning process" (Bloom, 1999). In particular, students

must engage in such higher-order thinking tasks as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

Active learning engages students in two aspects doing things and thinking about the

things they are doing.

Bonwell and Eison (1991) suggested learners work collaboratively, discuss materials while

role-playing, debate, engage in case study, take part in cooperative learning, or produce

short written exercises, etc. The argument is "when should active learning exercises be

used during instruction?". Numerous studies have shown that introducing active learning

activities (such as simulations, games, contrasting cases, labs) before, rather than after

lectures or readings, results in deeper learning, understanding, and transfer. The degree

of instructor guidance students need while being "active" may vary according to the task

and its place in a teaching unit. In an active learning environment learners are immersed in

experiences within which they engage in meaning-making inquiry, action, imagination,

invention, interaction, hypothesizing and personal reflection (Cranton 2012).

Examples of "active learning" activities include:

A class discussion may be held in person or in an online environment. Discussions can be

conducted with any class size, although it is typically more effective in smaller group

settings. This environment allows for instructor guidance of the learning experience.

Discussion requires the learners to think critically on the subject matter and use logic

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to evaluate their and others' positions. As learners are expected to discuss material

constructively and intelligently, a discussion is a good follow-up activity given the unit

has been sufficiently covered already. Some of the benefits of using discussion as a

method of learning are that it helps students explore a diversity of perspectives, it

increases intellectual agility, it shows respect for students voices and experiences, it

develops habits of collaborative learning, it helps students develop skills of synthesis

and integration (Brookfield 2005). In addition, by having the teacher actively engage

with the students, it allows for them to come to class better prepared and aware of

what is taking place in the classroom.

A think-pair-share activity is when learners take a minute to ponder the previous

lesson, later to discuss it with one or more of their peers, finally to share it with the

class as part of a formal discussion. It is during this formal discussion that the

instructor should clarify misconceptions. However students need a background in the

subject matter to converse in a meaningful way. Therefore, a "think-pair-share"

exercise is useful in situations where learners can identify and relate what they

already know to others. So preparation is key. Prepare learners with sound instruction

before expecting them to discuss it on their own. If properly implemented, it saves

instructor time, keeps students prepared, helps students to get more involved in class

discussion and participation and provide cumulative assessment of student progress.

The "think-pair-share" method is useful for teachers to hear from all students even

those who are quiet in class. This teaching method functions as a great way for all the

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students in the class to get involved and learn to work together and feel comfortable

sharing ideas. It can also help teachers or instructors to observe students and see if

they understand the material being discussed. This is not a good strategy to use in

large classes because of time and logistical constraints (Bonwell and Eison, 1991).

Think-pair-share is helpful for the instructor as it enables organizing content and

tracking students on where they are relative to the topic being discussed in class,

saves time so that he/she can move to other topics, helps to make the class more

interactive, provides opportunities for students to interact with each other

(Radhakrishna, Ewing, and Chikthimmah, 2012).

A learning cell is an effective way for a pair of students to study and learn together.

The learning cell was developed by Marcel Goldschmid of the Swiss Federal Institute

of Technology in Lausanne (Goldschmid, 1971). A learning cell is a process of learning

where two students alternate asking and answering questions on commonly read

materials. To prepare for the assignment, the students read the assignment and write

down questions that they have about the reading. At the next class meeting, the

teacher randomly puts students in pairs. The process begins by designating one student

from each group to begin by asking one of their questions to the other. Once the two

students discuss the question, the other student ask a question and they alternate

accordingly. During this time, the teacher goes from group to group giving feedback

and answering questions. This system is also called a student dyad.

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A short written exercise that is often used is the "one-minute paper." This is a good

way to review materials and provide feedback. However a "one-minute paper" does not

take one minute and for students to concisely summarize it is suggested that they have

at least 10 minutes to work on this exercise.

A collaborative learning group is a successful way to learn different material for

different classes. It is where you assign students in groups of 3-6 people and they are

given an assignment or task to work on together. This assignment could be either to

answer a question to present to the entire class or a project. Make sure that the

students in the group choose a leader and a note-taker to keep them on track with the

process. This is a good example of active learning because it causes the students to

review the work that is being required at an earlier time to participate. (McKinney,

Kathleen. (2010). Active Learning. Normal, IL. Center for Teaching, Learning &

Technology.) To create participation and draw on the wisdom of all the learners the

classroom arrangement needs to be flexible seating to allow for the creation of small

groups. (Bens, 2005)

A student debate is an active way for students to learn because they allow students

the chance to take a position and gather information to support their view and explain

it to others. These debates not only give the student a chance to participate in a fun

activity but it also lets them gain some experience with giving a verbal presentation.

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(McKinney, Kathleen. (2010). Active Learning. Normal, IL. Center for Teaching, Learning

& Technology.)

A reaction to a video is also an example of active learning because most students love

to watch movies. The video helps the student to understand what they are learning at

the time in an alternative presentation mode. Make sure that the video relates to the

topic that they are studying at the moment. Try to include a few questions before you

start the video so they pay more attention and notice where to focus at during the

video. After the video is complete divide the students either into groups or pairs so

that they may discuss what they learned and write a review or reaction to the movie.

(McKinney, Kathleen. (2010). Active Learning. Normal, IL. Center for Teaching, Learning

& Technology.)

A small group discussion is also an example of active learning because it allows

students to express themselves in the classroom. It is more likely for students to

participate in small group discussions than in a normal classroom lecture because they

are in a more comfortable setting amongst their peers, and from a sheer numbers

perspective, by dividing the students up more students get opportunities to speak out.

There are so many different ways a teacher can implement small group discussion in to

the class, such as making a game out of it, a competition, or an assignment. Statistics

show that small group discussions is more beneficial to students than large group

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discussions when it comes to participation, expressing thoughts, understanding issues,

applying issues, and overall status of knowledge.

A class game is also considered an energetic way to learn because it not only helps the

students to review the course material before a big exam but it helps them to enjoy

learning about a topic. Different games such as Jeopardy! and crossword puzzles

always seem to get the students' minds going. (McKinney, Kathleen. (2010). Active

Learning. Normal, IL. Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology.)

Learning by teaching is also an example of active learning because students actively

research a topic and prepare the information so that they can teach it to the class.

This helps students learn their own topic even better and sometimes students learn

and communicate better with their peers than their teachers.

Gallery Walk is also an example of active learning where students in groups move

around the classroom or workshop actively engaging in discussions and contributing to

other groups and finally constructing knowledge on a topic and sharing it.

Using active learning does not mean abandoning the lecture format, but it does take class

time. Students and their learning needs are at the center of active learning. Active

learning stands in contrast to "standard" modes of instruction in which teachers do most

of the talking and students are passive.

Benefits of Functional Curriculum to Students Learning

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From the definition of functional curriculum as a curriculum that helps our students learn

their world around them, a curriculum that helps our students learn how to interact in this

world and a curriculum that teaches our students in a systematic way what other students

might gain through incidental learning. This curriculum can help in students learning and

enable students to acquire the following skills:

Self Care Skills: tooth brushing, dressing, shoe tying, self feeding, bathing,


Functional Academic Skills: telling time, counting money, following directions,

reading signs, balancing a check book, reading a bank statement.

Social Communication Skills: greetings, saying thankyou, understanding social

context and behavior/language appropriate to different contexts.

Job Related Self Regulation Skills: staying at the job site until completion, clocking

in, asking for toilet and lunch breaks.

More so, The Indiana Deaf Blind Project Focus (2003) and LINC (1992) documented the

following as the benefits of functional curriculum:

It uses extensive parental and student input.

It uses highly individualized content.

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It uses skills sequences that are relevant and meaningful to a student with


It contributes to the quality of life and enables students to participate actively and

effectively in major adult life by:

i. Assisting with transition into adulthood.

ii. Enhancing generalization of learning.

iii. Meeting the needs of the individual

iv. Providing meaningful education, based on real-life experiences

v. Building on the needs of adulthood beginning in elementary school.

From the above views, if functional curriculum is properly implemented, that is by

incorporating active learning, where learners enjoy autonomy during instruction; it will

equip in the learners functional skills which is workable, applicable, desirable and

acceptable by the larger society for work force and self reliance of the graduate



We can now appreciate the fact that a functional curriculum is a curriculum that focuses

on independent living and vocational skills which emphasize communication and social skills.

It is therefore expected that the prime beneficiaries of a functional curriculum: the

students need to be given a new hope and orientation in terms of exposure to the current


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