Sequencing learning, mapping subject concepts, content and skills to build a continuum of learning

This is one of the articles in our latest Newsletter Crafting a Creative Curriculum: Planning for a Continuum of Learning . Read the whole newsletter here.

Learning is made up of all sorts of stimulations that force the brain to open up neural pathways that will eventually ensure that what we are learning remains in our long-term memory.  The curriculum offers us a wealth of experiences so that learners can make connections, build on their prior understanding and use the skills they have learnt in English and Maths across a range of contexts or subjects. The careful sequencing of the knowledge and skills learners will learn as they follow the National Curriculum is essential.

OFSTED clearly states in the Quality of Education judgement of their new framework that curriculum planning must demonstrate how content builds on prior learning and leads learners towards stated end points that define progress made. It is not always easy to see clear pathways for learning the knowledge. For instance, in History, the teaching of certain periods does not necessarily have to be chronological. What is taught in one year may focus on the Romans in the next the Tudors. If there is no synergy and no communication across the whole learning spectrum it is unlikely that a sequence of learning will emerge.  It is therefore essential that there is a collective and whole school map that defines the content of the foundation curriculum in primary school from early years to year 6, with an eye on what will be taught in year 7. In the secondary school the map needs to cover what will be taught in year 7,8, and 9 with an eye to what has already been taught in at least years 5 and 6. The content and requirements of GCSE or vocational specifications should also form an integral part of the planning process so that pupils can have an opportunity for exposure to relevant concepts during their key stage 3 experience.

This is quite difficult to manage and requires a degree of expertise in the understanding of the relevant subject in its entirety.  The place to start is with the aims of the National Curriculum programmes of study. If we focus on History, once again, the specification does not prescribe in any way a logical sequence to the learning. It is suggested that there should be a coherent, chronological narrative and the need to deploy a historically grounded understanding of abstract terms (concepts) such as empire, civilisation, parliament and peasantry.  The programme of study suggests that key stage 1 pupils should ‘develop an awareness of the past’ in key stage 2 ‘they should note connections, contrasts and trends over time..’ In key stage 3 ‘Pupils should understand how different types of historical sources are used rigorously to make historical claims and discern how and why contrasting arguments and interpretations of the past have been constructed.’ It seems clear that part of the planning must be to look at concepts that are key to how the learning should be sequenced. If time is a concept then deepening our understanding of how where we are now has been carved by past historical events should shape the content of the planned curriculum. To take a generic example, an understanding of the concept of power has a very different meaning in History, Geography, Science or PE.  The concept however that power can be destructive, can drive change and can shape and form something new will aid understanding and allow for connections to be made by pupils across a range of learning experiences.

However we determine the sequence of knowledge acquisition, skills competence and conceptual understanding it is essential that subject specialists and leaders create opportunities for serious collaboration across year groups, in departments, across the curriculum divide and at points of transition.  We need to ask the questions,

  • ‘What are we sequencing and how can we create a continuum of learning that will be meaningful for all pupils?’
  • ‘How will pupils learn the curriculum and remember the important learning points that will support them in the next phase of education?’
  • ‘How can we identify and develop the skills pupils need to access knowledge that will ensure they deepen their learning over time?’
  • ‘What are the essential concepts that run through many subjects that will support pupils to recognise the connections that knit their learning together?’

The curriculum is not a strait jacket, it is a guide and gives those with subject expertise an opportunity to be innovative and create seamless learning that will knit together a rich vein of conceptual and subject specific vocabulary, opportunities to use a wide range of literacy, numeracy and the wider skills that lead to deep learning and high levels of progression. The key to this is positive collaboration, joint planning and a map of learning over time. We explore these ideas as part of our course for subject leaders and Heads of Departments.

For Senior and Curriculum leaders

This is one of the articles in our latest Newsletter Crafting a Creative Curriculum: Planning for a Continuum of Learning . Read the whole newsletter here.