Learning is a complex and developmental process that requires pupils to build on previous knowledge and relate that knowledge to new concepts and ideas. It is, therefore, essential to ask the question ‘What do pupils already know? in relation to planning a new concept, topic or subject. The pupil needs to be able to make links between what is being taught and what they already know. New knowledge is connected with what has already being learned and this leads to deeper understanding and the real possibility that the knowledge enters the long-term memory.
Subject specialists and collaboration
The first step in creating the conditions for this to happen must be ensuring that subject and curriculum specialists consider the key concepts, knowledge and skills pupils will learn in order to achieve outcomes defined at the end of a topic or a specific time frame. The second step is to create the opportunities for those with responsibility for facilitating the learning and teaching the concepts to collaborate on how to ensure the content does, in fact, build sequential learning opportunities.
Understanding the key concepts that underpin subject specific learning
Subject specialists need to define the key concepts that underpin core and subject specific learning and reflect on how these can be interwoven to deepen learning. There must be a commitment from leaders to provide meaningful planning time for inter-departmental and cross curricular dialogue so that there are opportunities to identify how the learning can be assimilated so that teachers can support pupils to make links between what they are taught and what they already know.
Sequencing the learning
If we agree that there is an imperative to ensure that knowledge and skills are taught in a sequential order that enables pupils to make connections, it is essential that we reflect carefully on how the curriculum is planned over time. If teachers from different year groups, different subjects and different key stages plan in isolation and are unaware of the connections themselves then how can they help their pupils towards seeing the relationship between prior learning and new learning or between the concepts being taught in the core and those that are used in the context of learning elsewhere?
One of the most obvious and often neglected ways to create opportunities for pupils to see connections and to build on their learning is for them to know how the concepts that are integral to the core learning in Maths and English are used to access meaning across all of the foundation subjects. Simply, give foundation subject specialists copies of the age related programmes of study for English and Maths when they are planning their schema. History requires the need to read and understand source material. Interpreting a map in geography requires an understanding of scale, the use of percentages is needed to measure the steepness of a slope and the knowledge of co-ordinates is essential when finding a place from an index. Building a bird table roof requires the ability to accurately measure angles for the apex and the sides.
Creating a strategy for collaborative curriculum planning
Collaboration is key to success here and must create opportunities for all staff to engage in professional conversations that foster new thinking and bring together expertise from across the subject spectrum. In the primary phase early years should work closely with KS1 teachers to ensure that learning has a continuum. There should be opportunities for the sharing of schemes of work from the end of EYFS into year 1 and between KS1 and 2. Collectively year 3 and 4 teachers take the baton from year 2 and build on what has been taught before. Equally year 5 and 6 work together to build again on the learning. Transition from year 6 to year 7 needs very careful consideration and both primary and secondary schools must take responsibility for creating seamless learning across the transition bridge. KS3 needs to be a stand-alone stage where skills and knowledge enrich prior learning and equip pupils with the breadth and depth they need for GCSE and other NQF qualifications.
Having the right CPD to make this happen
All of the above is at the heart of the philosophy that underpins all of the courses and CPD programmes that Learning Cultures design and deliver. We have changed nothing in light of the current debate about curriculum intent, implementation and impact or about skills and knowledge. Coaching fosters collaboration. Seamless transition is essential at the end of EYFS, KS1 and 2. Embedding literacy and numeracy effectively across the foundation subjects deepens learning and formative assessment shapes future learning. Simply excellent practice that leads to deep and profound learning and is sustainable and cost effective continuing professional development.