Tag Archives: Curriculum

Blog of the Week: 19 March 2021 – Curriculum, Connections and Covid-19

Catalysing Learning

It’s been a very long term. We deserve a break. But already I find myself thinking of the challenges that await us in the autumn.

Many of my students had very successful lockdowns. I am proud of them. Next year they deserve a curriculum that builds upon the work they have done in remotely. Others have not been so lucky. I feel for them. They deserve the chance to go back over the work they missed or misunderstood, for you cannot build on sand. So I have been wondering, how can we use the curriculum to give all our students what they deserve?

Revisiting content

Chemistry is full of connections and we have done our best to emphasise these in our GCSE curriculum. Below you can see a map of this curriculum, which is based on the OCR 21st Century Science course. The boxes are our modules and the lines…

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Blog of the Week: 4 December 2020 – Zooming In and Out

My wife is a photographer. She really enjoys photographing everything from births to kindergarten graduations to senior pictures. When she began, she had a pretty good camera and stock lens. Over the years she has acquired, among other photography gadgets, different types of lenses. One specializes in wider angles, one allows her to zoom in and photograph tiny newborn fingers and toes, and one is fixed (she calls it her ‘nifty 50’). I have been lucky enough to be privy to her editing of photos. It is quite interesting to see how different lenses provide unique perspectives on the same scene. Zoom in and a family seated on a blanket appear surrounded. Zoom out and you see they are actually in a large field and the focus changes to mountains in the background. An array of lenses allows for the ability to photograph the same information from different perspectives. 

I see knowledge the same way. Knowledge gives us the ability to zoom in and out, to see both…

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Blog of the Week: 23 October 2020 – Booklets, Rosenshine, Teach Like A Champion, and Knowledge-Rich Curriculum

Booklets are a brilliant tool in delivering an ambitious, knowledge-rich curriculum. While a curriculum can never be reduced to booklets, it can be highly codified in them and in doing so is much more likely to be consistently enacted in lessons. The subject of planning with booklets has often been misunderstood: it is necessary for teachers to plan for lessons delivered with booklets, and planning consists of three strands. For two of these strands, Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction provide a useful structure as a starting point, but caution is advised. Any generic model will eventually fall foul of subject specialism if applied unthinkingly; instead of mandating rigid structures to all teachers of all subjects we should proceed with questions and trust, ultimately, in what the subject tells us is appropriate.

Let us first briefly outline the benefits of booklets. The booklet model can provide:

A minimum guarantee – If your department uses booklets to codify curriculum as far as possible, then you are immediately lifting the minimum guarantee in several key areas. The content itself is no longer left to individual teachers’ interpretations of a section of the spec, what they think will or won’t engage that particular group, or what was free on TES when they were planning on Sunday night. Subject leaders are empowered to really lead their subject and assure excellence in the substance …

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Blog of the Week: 1 May 2020 – Curriculum is for ever – but not how you think

Thinking about curriculum as a priority is relatively new for most of us, having lived through the poundland pedagogy years, and so it’s easy to view it as an important job to be started and finished. But this is wrong. Curriculum isn’t a task or a project. It’s not like a house you build and then move into, no further work needed. Sure you can have, and many schools and departments need, a project of “curriculum reform”. But once it’s done, it’s not done. Once you have thought hard about your curriculum, sequenced it, and codified it through booklets or whatever- you are not finished. You have plugged the gap and made significant progress- but really, you are just beginning.

The strongest departments are those with not only a well-thought out and codified plan for curriculum, but a continuous culture of discussion, debate, disagreement and exploration in the field of…

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Blog of the Week: 24th April 2020 – Curriculum metaphors: Journeys

Birmingham Teacher

Lakoff & Johnson in Metaphors We Live By (1980 and 2003), state that “Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature.” They argue that our conceptual system is not something we’re normally aware of, but that one way to find out about our conceptual system is by looking at language. I have irreverently had a look at elements of our conceptual system in education before. I was fascinated and frustrated by the seemingly all-pervasive medicalised language in teaching. What I found was funny and interesting – and very revealing. You can find the blog post here. It’s an old post but the pathologic language still lingers in education like a cold sore. Tom Rees, Executive Director of School Leadership, Ambition Institute, explores the linguistic concepts associated with transformational leadership. You can find his blog here. I am interested in…

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Blog of the Week: 13 March 2020 – What does knowledge-rich mean when not all disciplines seek knowledge?

“Man lives in the meanings he is able to discern. He extends himself into that which he finds coherent and is at home there”

– Michael Polanyi, “Meaning”, 1975

What is the purpose of human endeavour? It’s not just knowledge. We seek beauty , expression, joy and delight. Art, music, literature and dance light up the world and lift up the heart, and it isn’t through knowledge, not in any standard or commonly shared meaning of the word.

There is a further issue with the term “knowledge”. The standard definition is “justified true belief” – but this doesn’t fit in pursuits like philosophy, theology and history, where interpretivism reigns.

“Making meaning” is a better term for what we do in our disciplines. We do the things we do to find patterns, rules, laws and principles, but also to make loveliness, humour, stories and sense. Out of the near-infinite data set…

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Blog of the Week: 6 December 2019 – Deep learning (2): structuring and organising knowledge – responsive teaching update

What comes next?

  1. James I, Charles, I, Charles II, James II, _________
  2. 2, 3, 5, 7, __
  3. Je suis allé, je vais, j’irai; j’ai été, je suis, _________
  4. A B A B C D C D E F E F _ _
  5. Helium, Neon, Argon, Krypton, _______

Some of these clues may feel frustratingly cryptic: readers know A, 2, and perhaps ‘je suis’; they know about neon lights, and probably something about Charles I.  Answering depends not just on what we know however, but on how it’s organised: the answer seems obvious once we recognise the structure (answers below).  Deep learning means developing mental models – organised knowledge structures – which allow students to apply their knowledge flexibly: this post discusses the architecture of mental models; what structures and organisation make knowledge usable?

Mental models: organising knowledge usably

Flexible knowledge is an important step towards deep learning.  If an item of knowledge is flexible, students can access it via a range of cues, not just the ones they originally learned.  So – for example – flexible knowledge of Charles I would allow them to think about him when asked about the Stuarts, Ship Money, or the Divine Right of Kings (more on this here).  This flexibility supports transfer of knowledge to …


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Blog of the Week: 8 November 2019 – Taking Curriculum Seriously

Curriculum is all about power. Decisions about what knowledge to teach are an exercise of power and therefore a weighty ethical responsibility. What we choose to teach confers or denies power. To say that pupils should learn ‘the best that has been thought and said’ is never adequate. Start the conversation, and questions abound: ‘Whose knowledge?’; ‘Who decides on “best”?’.

Such questions reflect concern about whether schooling reproduces inequalities or interrupts them. Such questions matter. But reducing knowledge to voice will not get us far either. The contentious questions – Which works of literature? Which historical stories? Which art? – cannot be resolved by some optimal blend of diversity, some nirvana of neutrality, as though distribution across the sources of knowledge or types of knower will settle things. No matter how redemptive of former injustice, no holy grail of content selection will be reached.

Nor does adding in preparation for the 21st century help. How can we decide what is relevant to the ever-shifting ‘now’? Worse, relevance quickly merges with perceptions …


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Blog of the Week: 1 November 2019 – The curriculum as progression model

Clio et cetera

What does it mean to get better at history? One of the problems we have in answering this question is that history is an incredibly diverse discipline: there are thousands of possible things that one might legitimately study at school. In one school pupils might be learning 18th-century French history, but in the next town pupils might never study this, and instead learn about 15th-century Italy. In one school pupils might learn about analysing monastic records from the eleventh century, yet pupils in another school might never encounter this source material, and instead focus on analysing Cromwell’s speeches in Parliament in the 1650s. To get better at history, you have to have learnt a sufficient number of things, but very few of those things can be understood as strictly necessaryin the sense that someone has to have studied them in order to be understood as…

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Blog of the Week: 12 July 2019 – Thinking Curriculum: The One Stop Shop

A Chemical Orthodoxy

Thinking deeply about curriculum is new to most of us. For a long time, we’ve focussed a lot more on the how than we have on the what. Recent changes in mood have been revelatory to me and, I imagine, many others. Perhaps ironically though, most of us who are now interested in curriculum, didn’t follow a formal curriculum when learning more about curriculum. As such, and I’m happy to only speak for myself here, my knowledge came in drips and drabs, bits and pieces and stops and starts. That’s probably just the nature of the beast.

I was asked by school to deliver some training on curriculum, and argued that the thing that would be most useful would be to introduce staff to some of the key terms that are bandied around when thinking about curriculum. Familiarity with these concepts isn’t just important in and of itself, but is…

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