Reflecting on…curriculum

One of the reasons I applied in the end to step up to the temporary position of HOD was because I wanted to work on our KS3 curriculum which I didn’t feel was particular strong, especially given the incredible pupils we have in front of us.

Curriculum has always been something I have been passionate about – it is our bread and butter.  I have said many times before that the difference between a RI school and a good school comes down to two things: behaviour and the infrastructures – which I take to include the curriculum offering.

I have read many books around curriculum: Curriculum: From Gallimaufry to Coherence, The Secondary Leader’s Curriculum Handbook, ResearchEd: Curriculum and, most recently, Symbiosis.  I look forward to reading Ruth Ashbee’s new offering.  I am also a big fan of the Ofsted framework and think that the research behind curriculum there is very strong.  Finally, I think Christine Counsell has offered some really great questions when considering the quality of one’s curriculum.

I think curriculum is one of the hardest things we do as practitioners (and leaders).  This is because we can’t do everything, although we might like to, and therefore we have to make well considered choices for our particular context and the needs of our pupils.  I also think it is difficult because it is never a completed process – it is ever evolving and developing and can change according to the intake of your children.

For me, good curriculum design is a triangulation of three things: conceptual understanding, knowledge and skills.  This is where I first began with our department.

Triangulation

Initially, we looked at skills progression, focusing on what it was we wanted our pupils to be able to demonstrate if they were to attain a grade 7 at IB and a grade 9 at IGCSE.  Not everything we do is so focused on exam attainment but it is a necessary facet to consider.  In addition, not all facets are examined for us.  Writing, as in creative or transactional writing, is not formally assessed within the IB but we felt it important that we build in opportunities for this, regardless.  Similarly, we do not do the speaking and listening component at IGCSE but know that developing our pupils’ speaking and listening skills, especially as we have a large EAL / English as a Second Language population is of paramount importance.

As a department, we worked together to create a skills progression grid for reading, writing and speaking and listening.  What we have come up with is below:

Reading progression grid

W grid

SL grid

From this, this enabled me to create unit assessment sheets.  Last year, how we assessed pupils in terms of the mark-schemes used was not as consistent as it should have been so the creation of these sheets has meant that we are, at least, assessing pupils in a consistent way.  It was for this reason more than any other that we started by exploring skills progression.

Reading assessment sheet

This is something I want to unpick a little further.  I really enjoyed Kirsten’s session (@teach_music_ldn) at ResearchEd Surrey on using assessment criterion and it made me really think about how we do this.  Getting the balance between this, Kirsten argues for specific assessment criterion for each unit – which I do see value in, versus decontextualized success criteria, which Hattie argues for, is an interesting contrast in the approach to assessment.  I want to pick up what we do with regard to this and where (I’ve been thinking about big questions as an area where this is unpicked further) and will write more about this at another point.

I am also particularly interested in learning to learn at the moment.  This has been sparked by a limited dialogue with pupils at IB with regard to the IB learner profile and the new book, Generative Learning, by Mark and Zoe Enser.  And whilst, this isn’t learning to learn as I know it, it is the start of building in opportunities for pupils to reflect on their work – something I would like to do more of.

Once the skills progression grids had been completed we explored the notion of what knowledge we wanted our pupils to have.  Again, thinking backwards: when they leave us, when they reach KS5 and when they reach KS4.  The department spent time discussing what they felt was important and fed this back.

Knowledge

From this, I was able to construct a first draft of our long term plans which you can see below. (Actually, I fully completed the year 7 one and the KS3 team developed the year 8 and year 9 LTP). I shared this, initially, with our KS4 co-ordinator and we met to thrash out some of the things he felt needed working on.  This robust professional discussion I think is so wonderful to strengthen anything we do.  This process then happened again with the KS3 team and other members of the department.

Y7 LTPY8 LTPY9 LTP

Now these aren’t quite complete (dates, our individual oral tasks, further enquiry questions etc) and as I said previously will need working through but there are a number of things built in that we felt were important.

  1. Access to a range of texts
  2. A focus on conceptual understanding.  We teach three quite distinct programmes at our school: KS3, IGCSE and IB and they don’t necessarily blend so in using the concepts from the IB Diploma, we felt we could bring in a sense of cohesion to the work we do lower down the school.  We have identified both our key concepts from the DP programme and related concepts from the MYP programme.  For the key concepts, we have created an enquiry based question that acts as a focal point for the unit.  However, we need to unpick both this and the focus on the specific related concepts when we turn our attention to medium term planning next term. We are also going to run the enquiry questions through our history team who are superb at this to check we are on the right lines!
  3. Another focus area for us is in creating a specific grammar programme.  As an international school, we have a large EAL / English as a second language cohort (only a third of our year 7 pupils are native speakers) and we have a real variety in terms of language proficiency across year 7 ranging from A1 to C2.  For this reason, we want to include more grammar teaching in our work.  Now, this may be contextualized or decontextualized – that debate is for another day but what we do know is that it has to be a more integral feature of our curriculum.

We have ended the term with these initial frameworks in place.  I feel like, as a department, we have achieved so much in just six weeks.

Next term: we will be working on our units.  At the moment we don’t have medium term plans or schemes or work and the sharing of resources is not all that common.  Again, something for another time, perhaps.

I am currently working on a medium term plan document, and whilst we won’t go to lesson by lesson schemes here (it just wouldn’t work), offering staff the opportunity to work collaboratively next term on a medium term plan / guide will ensure consistency and from this we will seek to improve our resourcing…

In addition, I am going to go back and consider the different ways in which we assess our pupils. Having watched the fantastic Barbara Bleiman in action in her webinar this week on writing and having seen the incredible work by Louisa Enstone, I am keen to move away from the same formulaic assessment types. As part of my work with CTeach, this will be a considerable focus for me moving forward.

More to follow on this….

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