Re-define your Curriculum Emphasis – Focus on learning and deepening understanding

The current emphasis on how the curriculum is planned and delivered should be a welcome opportunity for all senior leaders in schools to focus on ensuring their curriculum is all about learning and deepening understanding across a range of different topics, themes or subjects.  Amanda Spielman OFSTED’s Chief Inspector  started the debate, her concern, that the curriculum is narrowed to accommodate the need to teach to the test in Years 2 and 6 and in year 11 if not 10 as well is, in some cases, well founded.

Alongside this criticism is an acknowledgement that OFSTED may, in the past, have focused too much on the data and not enough on how that data is arrived at.  I have a long-held belief that focusing on passing tests and examinations at the expense of deepening learning over time is counter-productive.  Creating opportunities for pupils to access deep and rich text, apply numeracy skills to help to consolidate understanding of a problem or how to write to explain bias, cause and effect or express an opinion help to deepen their competence, strengthen their understanding and give them the resilience they need to see questions in a test or examination from different perspectives and give them a much better chance of coming up with the right level of response.

John West-Burnham in a research paper suggests that shallow learning is all about memorisation and leads to compliance and dependence and contributes very little in the pursuit of deep learning.  Read the whole paper here.Planning the curriculum should focus on what outcomes we want for pupils in terms of their knowledge and the skills that they need in order to access and apply that knowledge in a range of cross-curricular, thematic and subject contexts. Each school is different and that is why there is an imperative to focus on intent in relation to curriculum design that defines the right approach for individual school contexts.  Implementing that stated curriculum must focus on high quality pedagogy, teaching  that delivers inspirational learning and uses assessment strategies that lead to high levels of progression.  A positive impact is where all pupils have deepened their knowledge, are developing the core skills that will help them continue to make connections across all their learning and are mastering the wider cognitive skills that will ensure successful outcomes when they are tested or examined.

A good starting point is to have a detailed pro-forma scheme of work that everyone uses as part of planning in all departments, across all year groups and where appropriate for topic or sequential learning.  The headings should be built to ensure a consistency of purpose that mirrors the vision for deep knowledge and the development of the skills that will allow that vision to be realised.  These could include:-

  • What is the sequence of learning?
  • What do pupils know already to build on their knowledge and understanding?
  • What are the literacy skills that are intrinsic to the learning that are to be developed/further developed?
  • What are the numeracy skills that are intrinsic to the learning that can be developed/further developed?
  • What other learning skills will support the learning linked to deepening knowledge, fostering progression and demonstrating mastery?
  • What are the expected outcomes from this topic/series of lessons/theme?

The skills must be those that are naturally occurring as a part of learning. They do not need to be shoe-horned into the learning.  Also, pupils need to be a part of the process, continually re-enforcing their role in how they deepen their own learning, articulating what they need to do to make progress and improve their own work.

Whatever you do, don’t start from scratch.  In our last news-post we provided a tool called L.E.A.R.N. It starts with what will you leave in.  Always focus on what you do well before thinking about what needs to be changed.

Join us at one of our highly successful training days looking at how to re-define your curriculum, not for OFSTED but to reflect on how to make sure your curriculum is all about learning, highly effective pedagogy and the best outcomes for all pupils.

Read our news post that focuses on the skills/knowledge agenda

Focus on formative assessment to ensure the curriculum and how it is assessed is seen as a seamless process.

OFSTED, the Curriculum and moving towards a change of emphasis

OFSTED have this week released a commentary on the second phase of their research into curriculum design, implementation and impact. Amanda Spielman is clear in her assertion that the real substance of education is the curriculum and how it is structured so that all pupils can access it, learn through it and make progress linked to how it is delivered and assessed.
There will be, the report states, a new approach to inspection that moves away from simply focusing on outcomes linked to end of key stage data and more towards looking at what complements that data.

This, it suggests, includes evidence of:

  • a clearly defined and fit for purpose curriculum design that is linked to the school vision and purpose
  • positive leadership that includes devolved leadership to subject specialists and teachers
  • collaborative and whole school involvement
  • pedagogy that deepens subject knowledge and challenges the pupil’s ability to make connections across different subject disciplines
  • how pupils demonstrate competence in their use of skills that help them to access curriculum knowledge
  • a carefully sequenced content that builds depth and breadth of understanding over time

The research found that the sample schools used one of three approaches to planning their curriculum.

  • Knowledge – led approach -skills come from knowledge, “skills are the bi-product of knowledge”. Through the deepening of knowledge comes the ability to use associated skills. The characteristics of this approach are fewer topics that are taught in greater depth
  • Knowledge – engaged approach – “knowledge underpins the application of skills” This approach focuses on how the skills and the knowledge are integral, the pupil learns skills alongside knowledge acquisition. This involves planning which skills the pupil will use to access knowledge. Within this approach there is a greater emphasis on cross-curricular teaching, ensuring an understanding of how knowledge applies in a context
  • Skills – led approach – Skills have the higher priority in the planning process, knowledge is seen as a series of disconnected facts unless the pupil has the skills to place them in their context

There is no suggestion that one approach is better than another and schools remain free to make their own decisions as to the best model in their specific local setting. However, it is the reasons behind the choices made that will need to be clear and focused on holistic, deeper and sequential learning and not simply on how to achieve the best outcomes for the schools at times of testing or examination outcome.

Curriculum design, the report concludes, is a reflective process involving leaders, subject specialists and teachers. It suggests that there needs to be much more evidence of progression models that show how pupils will build their subject knowledge and their ability to use associated skills adeptly and competently. It is also clearly stated that curriculum and assessment are inseparable and welcome evidence that leaders in the sample schools believe that skilful formative and summative assessment strategies are integral to deep learning and are useful in identifying gaps in learning.

In conclusion:

  • No one design fits all, the National Curriculum is the benchmark, but the choice of design is up to the school and linked to the school’s context and the expertise of those involved
  •  The curriculum should be linked to the school vision and purpose. It should be the yardstick for what leaders want their pupils to know and be able to do by the end of their school life
  • The curriculum design should be clearly defined, the content should be carefully sequenced, have thoughtfully designed assessment practice and include an appropriate model of progression
  • The curriculum should have substance, depth and breadth and be more than preparation for tests and examinations
  • There should be a rich web of knowledge where skills weave opportunities for a continuum of learning that deepens understanding and allows for progression

The Learning Cultures Expert Curriculum team have developed two outstanding training opportunities that will give school and curriculum leaders an opportunity to reflect on what currently works well and how to ensure that new strategies and innovations create a curriculum design for now and the future that enriches learning and deepens knowledge and understanding. We weave our deep knowledge of curriculum design with our expertise in coaching to explore how to create a whole school, collaborative curriculum and assessment model that inspires and nurtures learning and achievement.

Re-defining the Primary Curriculum – Content, cohesion and purpose
Re-defining the Secondary Curriculum – Defining purpose, designing content and delivering impact

Character Education – Part of the tapestry of learning

Character Education is the subject of one of the reports to come out of the DfE this summer. It is a review of some research into Character Education in Schools. The research poses several questions linked to provision, the role of schools in teaching character, the approaches schools use and the challenges schools face.

Rising Stars provide a very good overview of the findings of the report in their document, DFE Publishes Character Education Report. 

Is it necessary to have a separate curriculum pathway called Character Education?

What is education if it is not a part of shaping the individual to be honest, have integrity and a respect for others?  All learning should stimulate curiosity and allow for problem solving that creates resilient and motivated learners. There are so many opportunities within the curriculum for learners to debate, focus on moral dilemma, learn self-respect and deepen their sense of fairness in order that they can contribute to society.

Subject specific learning is stuffed full of opportunities for pupils to develop their individual and unique characters.  English Literature or History allows us to analyse different characters and their influence on people, time and place. Maths and Science give us an awesome look at how the world is shaped and the part we can play in enjoying it, inventing it or using it.  Design, art music or drama provide us with a wealth of opportunities for creativity, expression and individuality. PE and sport develop the bodies and minds of learners and teach them how to win and lose, how to embrace competitiveness and how to be a team player.  Both the primary and secondary curriculum have the breadth and depth to encompass character education.

Most of the curriculum is currently taught in chunks, where the learning is not an interwoven tapestry that develops the whole person.  There are so many opportunities for pupils to develop a whole range of skills that will ensure they become independent and resilient, open to ideas and full of the possibilities that learning can bring.  School, especially upper primary and secondary stages often provides pupils with the facts and information they need to pass tests and examinations.  There is no other stage in their lives where they will learn in such small bite size segments that appear to be unconnected.

We don’t need an addition to the curriculum; we need to look at how we can shape the curriculum so that it builds character that will last a lifetime.

 

 

 

How do we focus on learning and not on teaching?

The business of a school is learning.  If we put learning at the heart of every goal we set and through professional coaching conversations we focus on how our pupils learn, how we learn and how our colleagues learn we will build a culture that celebrates what works well, identify what needs to change and be able to reflect on the impact our teaching has on how well pupils deepen their knowledge and progress.

Identifying the pedagogies that we use in the classroom is important.  The craft of teaching is a gift. However, if we don’t look carefully to how successfully it links to learning we cannot expect to find ways to continually improve.

Ponder on these questions

  • How does your teaching link with what learners are interested in?
  • How does your teaching allow pupils to learn concepts that will support them to deepen their knowledge?
  • How does your teaching allow pupils to make connections with what they have learnt elsewhere?
  • How does your teaching promote the use of higher level thinking skills that deepens their learning?
  • How does your teaching allow pupils to share their ideas and work well in groups?
  • How meaningful is what you are teaching to your learners’ own experiences and existing knowledge?
  • How can you be sure that your teaching is building on prior learning?
  • How do you create opportunities for pupils to talk about their learning and be able to say how they are learning as well as what they are learning?
  • How do you make sure that pupils understand what is said to them and comprehend what they read?

Make sure that with every plan and every decision made, whatever it is about, there is a link to learning. There is some serious research that suggests it makes an outstanding difference!