Research Spotlight – April

Research Focus – Curriculum and Progress

Curriculum has been a topic of increasing interest in the education community over the past few years; reflecting a concern that a focus on generic pedagogy (how we learn) was drawing focus from the subject itself (what we learn). One interesting idea that has been bouncing around concerns the link between assessment and curriculum and suggests that in the past assessment has driven curriculum (we teach what we will assess) and progress becomes defined by how well they do in assessments. An emerging view is that we treat the curriculum as the progress model. In other words, learning what is on the curriculum is in and of itself progress (See this excellent discussion of the issue by Paul Moss Assessment is Curriculum is Assessment). The curriculum then becomes ever more important.

It would seem that OFSTED have been listening to these discussions and the new inspection framework will have curriculum at its heart. Something that has been welcomed by many – explained in this post “Why I Love the New Ofsted Framework” by English teacher and director of CPD Zoe Enser.

Others are more concerned about this new focus on curriculum and the distorting effect that high stakes accountability will have. What work is going to be created just to make a curriculum that looks good for OFSTED?

However, whether for Ofsted or not, curriculum sits at the heart of our school and is a topic that deserves to be part of the conversation. So what is being said?

Mary Myatt, in her talk at ResearchEd last year, reminded the audience that the word curriculum referred originally to the route of a race, it is a journey from A to B. This idea of our curriculum being a journey is a powerful one and can help us to consider what we intend our curriculum to do – what is the journey we want to take them on? What is the destination?

Once we have the destination we can think about the steps that need to be taken to get there. If the curriculum is the progress model then we need to ensure that what we teach next is grounded on what we taught before. If we aren’t careful we can end up teaching distinct topics that all stand alone and with no sense of progress between each one. A question to ask of each part of the curriculum is “when will they encounter this information again? When will they use this in future topics?” If they aren’t ever building on what they have previously learnt then they are:

1) going to struggle to recall it (there is an increasing realisation that pupils should actually recall what they have been taught – see James Ramsey Curriculum Matters) and

2) not going to form connections between different topics. See this post on Cooking up the Curriculum.

Some departments have begun mapping out their entire curriculum to find the links and opportunities to ensure progression – see for example 7 Year Curriculum Design by Michael Chiles.

Another approach to progress in the curriculum is through the idea of Mastery. In her post Adventures in Mastery 2: Writing a Scheme of Work, Jemma Sherwood discusses aspects of the mastery curriculum in maths which include

Spend longer on the most important topics (those that form the foundations of most of the rest).

This could be an important consideration in a number of subjects with a more hierarchical structure (some things are more difficult than other things and the harder things build clearly on the easier things). Are we ensuring that we plan to spend adequate time on the basics and do we ensure that every single pupil has grasped it before we move on? If we move on too soon, they may never catch up.

Another approach we could consider is that of what some teachers call “interleaving” of different topics (for a discussion on the problems of calling this interleaving and why I’d prefer interweaving see this post Interleaving: Are We Getting It All Wrong). This approach – explained beautifully in Susan English’s Why I Love… Interleaving the Curriculum and The Plans and Pitfalls of an Interleaved Curriculum – can involve anything from teaching topics out of sequence (this tends to only work once the course has been covered and we are moving on to revision) to looking for opportunities to revisit previously studied material in later topics (sometimes in class where there is a natural cross over or through retrieval quizzes, homework tasks or assessments).

The discussions around curriculum reveal that there are many ways of approaching it. What they tend to have in common is a belief that what pupils learn matters and that the way the content is structured should not be arbitrary but have a strong rationale behind it. Things pupils have studied in their first topic in Year 7 should not simply sit in a box marked “done” but should be returned to and built on throughout the next 7 years and beyond as we take them on our curricular journey.

Education Conferences

There are now FourResearchEd Conferences in our area.

Durrington’s event is was on April 27th and was a brilliant event with a lively atmosphere. The two most common areas being discussed were to do with memory and to do with curriculum structures.

London (national conference) is September 7th – tickets here

Surrey event is October 19th – tickets here

Kent event – November 30th – tickets here

For those who like a more informal Teach Meet style event – BrewEd (teachers meeting in pubs for a chat and sharing of ideas) is coming to Tunbridge Wells on the 8th of June! Tickets available here. Ticket price includes a buffet lunch and a drink.

Research at Heathfield CC

As ever we are busy running small scale, and slightly larger scale, research projects here at the college.

We are looking at:

  • How academic transition can be improved between KS2 and KS3 through using learning journals in Year 6 science lessons.
  • How effective teachers are at identifying pupils in need of wave one intervention, and whether that intervention is then effective.
  • Whether retrieval quizzes have an impact on pupil outcomes in Year 8 Geography and History.
  • The use of interleaving during homework tasks in science.
  • How exemplar pieces can be used in assessment in the arts.
  • Comparative judgement as a way of making assessment more reliable in English.
  • The way assessments, and revision lessons, are carried out in Maths.
  • The use of rank order assessment in Geography.

We also have people working on the Assessment Lead Programme and Assessment Essentials courses run by Evidence Based Education.

We will soon begin leading a significant piece of research with Professor Becky Allen and working with schools across East Sussex looking at how we can best support disadvantaged students.

If you would like to know more about any of these trials, and would like to get involved yourself, get in touch. Please also let me know of any I am missing.

Journal Club

This month’s recommending reading is this short piece by Johnathon Firth on The Applications of Interleaving and Spacing Approaches in the Classroom. I’ll be interested to hear what you make of it. 

Mark Enser – Head of Geography and Research Lead

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