The Hidden Curriculum

Math book resting on top of graph paper

What is the hidden curriculum?

The hidden curriculum is the curriculum we are unaware of.  Nevertheless, we teach it everyday.  It includes subtle things like how close we stand to other human beings.  Our students observe our social behaviors, and learn from it.  How we make eye contact, how we dress for work, etc.   It is not a conspiracy theory, and it is not intentional.  In fact, a lot of the time we give little thought to it.  It is, however, extremely important.  One part of the hidden curriculum is our choice of books that we read with our students.  Believe it or not, our choices of books to read (and not to read) is also part of what we are teaching our students.

Math book open resting on graph paper

Looking more closely at my literature choices

I was recently challenged to look closely at the literature I choose to read with my students.  I always make sure that I read literature that reflects the racial diversity of the world around us.  What I did not realize, was that I was subconsciously only telling one story about certain cultures’ experiences.  If you have not had the privilege of viewing Chimamanda Adichie’s Ted Talk on the single story, please view it now.

Chimamanda Adichie’s Ted Talk focuses on the importance of not simply looking at one aspect of a cultures’ experience.  For example, when studying the lives of Mexican Americans don’t just read a book which tells the story of migrant farmer workers.  If you do, that is the only part of the Mexican American experience that your students will learn.  Make sure that you also share stories that focus on middle class Mexican Americans, or famous politicians, novelists, teachers and others living today.  When we don’t share stories with a variety of lifestyles for a certain group of people, then students will believe that all people of a certain group have the same lifestyle.  There are many different experiences that all people have in their lives.


This sounds hard at first, but then think of all the books you actually share with your students each day.  Books which you include in your library, recommend to students, books which you share with guided reading groups.  Interestingly, students observe books shared with all of the guided reading groups.  So even if you don’t share a particular book with each guided reading group your students are still observing what is being read.  For more tips on guided reading click here.

Reaching out of my comfort zone

Chimamanda Adichie’s Ted Talk pushed me to reach out of my comfort zone and choose different novels to read with my class.  As a result, we recently read Zeely by Virginia Hamilton.  As we began the novel, I asked my students what they thought the book would be about.  One of my brightest students raised her hand and said she thought that the little girl in the story was going to have a bad experience, because of the color of her skin.  I had to take a deep breath.  There are not issues of discrimination in the novel Zeely, and nothing on the cover would make a student think there would be.  What led her to that conclusion was the fact that the two main characters are African American.

This experience made me realize that I had subconsciously been telling my students a single story of the African American experience.  I was delighted to share the wonderful story of Zeely with my class.  My students were able to read an engaging story about two middle class black children who spend the summer on their uncle’s farm.  My students broke away from the single story.


Making Changes

This experience has made me look at my choice of novels, guided reading lessons, and class read alouds.  I have made a lot of changes.  I have found many new favorites, and I will work to share more of them with you in future posts.  Hopefully this post encourages you to look at your book choices and break away from telling a single story about a group of people.  By the way, if you choose to read the book Zeely with your class here is a fun novel study unit that you can use with the book.


For more fun teaching ideas, check out these posts below:

April Teacher Talk Logo

The Hidden Curriculum
Multicultural teaching
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  • Reply
    Deann Marin
    April 15, 2018 at 10:24 pm

    Thanks for sharing this information. It really made me stop and think about the messages that we give to our students. We have to be so careful, esp. now-a-days

  • Reply
    April 15, 2018 at 10:40 pm

    Thanks for a great story about the power of self-reflection, and the unintentional impact we have on our students.

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    Sally Hansen
    April 29, 2018 at 9:19 am

    Thank you for sharing your experience with the read aloud. I haven’t thought about book choice in that way until now.

  • Reply
    April 29, 2018 at 2:56 pm

    Such an important idea for reflection! My staff took the challenge to look around our classrooms and our campus for who’s being left out. We intentionally tried to at least address images and art so that kids will see themselves in the surrounding environs.

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