Explicit Instruction: Unveiling the Hidden Curriculum

student seated at their desk in a classroom looking puzzled

In the pursuit of educational equity, educators must not only focus on the explicit lessons within textbooks but also recognize the impact of the hidden curriculum. This often unnoticed set of norms, values, and behaviors shapes students’ experiences and can inadvertently perpetuate inequality in the classroom.

What is the Hidden Curriculum?

The Center for Teaching, Research & Learning (CTRL)↗(link opens in new tab/window) at American University defines the hidden curriculum as:

…the set of tacit norms, policies, and expectations in an educational context that insiders expect all students to follow but are often not taught explicitly.”

The hidden curriculum encompasses the unspoken lessons students learn through daily interactions, school culture, and societal expectations. It can reinforce biases, contribute to stereotype perpetuation, and create disparities in educational outcomes. As educators, understanding and addressing the hidden curriculum is pivotal in fostering an equitable learning environment.

What Can Educators Do?

The hidden curriculum might include skills like how to participate in class, how to take notes, how to study, and how to ask a teacher or professor for help. One powerful way to address these challenges is by explicitly teaching executive function strategies. Executive function, encompassing skills like organization, inhibition, remembering, and goal-setting, plays a crucial role in academic success. By providing direct instruction of executive function strategies and offering opportunities for building metacognition, educators can empower students with the tools they need to navigate the challenges posed by the hidden curriculum.

Incorporating executive function strategies into the curriculum can involve teaching organizational skills, time management techniques, and goal-setting exercises. These explicit lessons can help level the playing field for all learners, regardless of background or learning style. To download a free lesson from the SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum, click on the links below:

Moreover, integrating executive function strategies into the hidden curriculum promotes a culture of inclusivity and support. By acknowledging that every student may require different tools to succeed, educators can create a learning environment that caters to individual needs, fostering a sense of equity.

A Path Forward

In conclusion, unveiling the hidden curriculum requires a multifaceted approach, and explicitly teaching executive function strategies is a crucial component. By consciously addressing the hidden curriculum, educators can create a learning environment that empowers all students to thrive, fostering a truly equitable educational experience for every learner.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

About the Author

Caitlin Vanderberg, Ed.M., is a SMARTS Associate and an Educational Specialist. She leads the development and piloting of the MetaCOG Surveys & Toolkit and provides academic support to elementary and middle school students with learning, attention, and executive function challenges. Before joining ResearchILD in 2020, Caitlin worked as an assistant elementary school teacher and with many arts education programs. Caitlin holds an Ed.M. in Mind, Brain, and Education from Harvard University Graduate School of Education.



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