Ball & Cohen (1996)

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Reform by the Book: What Is—or Might Be—the Role of Curriculum Materials in Teacher Learning and Instructional Reform?

Outline of Headings

  • Curriculum Materials as Agents of Instructional Improvement
    • Relations of Textbooks, Teachers, and Teaching: A Closer Look
  • How Might Curriculum Materials Contribute More?
    • Crossing Boundaries
    • Improved Instruction
    • Partners in Practice
  • Conclusion


Commercial curriculum has an enormous influence on teaching practice (Goodlad, 1984), but Ball and Cohen claim that the role of the textbook is not always well-defined. Sometimes new curriculum materials designed to carefully shape what students learn meet sources of resistance:

The idealism towards teacher autonomy and creativity, say Ball and Cohen, has led to a "hostility to texts" (p. 6) that interferes with the ability to consider the constructive role of curricular materials. Curriculum developers have typically believed that their materials had a direct effect on students (Dow, 1991) and rarely cooperated with teachers in curriculum design (Ben-Peretz, 1990). Ball and Cohen argue that curriculum materials could play a more positive role in practice in several ways:

  • Crossing Boundaries: If the goals and rationales of the curriculum developer were made explicit in teacher support materials, teachers could better understand the content, how it was intended to be taught, be prepared for issues that might arise upon enactment, and better understand how the learning of current content influences the learning of future content.
  • Improved Instruction: Instead of focusing on fidelity of implementation, curriculum adoption should be seen as an opportunity for professional development and teacher cooperation targeted at increasing teacher learning and effectiveness.
  • Partners in Practice: For curriculum of this quality to be developed, more research is required on teacher learning and curriculum use, instead of viewing curriculum simply as something for student use.

Ball and Cohen recommend that curricula be created that helps inform teachers about its use, what student work should look like, and strategies that have proven successful for other teachers. This requires focusing on curriculum as enacted, including both teachers' and students' thinking and the contribution curriculum makes to the classroom environment.


Ball, D. L., & Cohen, D. K. (1996). Reform by the book: What is - or might be - the role of curriculum materials in teacher learning and instructional reform? Educational Researcher, 25(9), 6–8, 14. doi:10.3102/0013189X025009006
author = {Ball, Deborah Loewenberg and Cohen, David K.},
doi = {10.3102/0013189X025009006},
journal = {Educational Researcher},
number = {9},
pages = {6--8, 14},
title = {{Reform by the book: What is—or might be—the role of curriculum materials in teacher learning and instructional reform?}},
url = {},
volume = {25},
year = {1996}