Revisiting old posts: Evaluating and growing learning

POSTED ORIGINALLY IN JANUARY 2020

Teaching a new curriculum is an overwhelming and daunting prospect for any classroom teacher.  There are a multitude of decisions to make and the first teaching of any new curriculum can often lead you to question what you are doing in the classroom even before you consider the level of coherence between units and how your curriculum works in a progressive way.  It is something you often feel yourself mulling over as you reflect, review and make plans for improvements the following year.  A good curriculum, after all, takes 3-5 years in the making.

However, two things that I used and worked well today which have given me cause to reflect are a. a learning dump and b. thinking explicitly about the links between units.  These are both really simple activities but have been really interesting as I move forward with my curriculum planning.

Learning dumps

Ahead of starting a new unit, I took an idea from @MrsSpalding (Brain vomit, I think it was called) and asked pupils to complete a learning dump with regard to their learning from last term.

In the main, I wanted to do this because I had felt that whilst I had taught the text well, I hadn’t taught the text well with regard to my new context and the specific focus or needs of my class and I wanted to see whether this came to fruition in their own thoughts.  Consequently, I didn’t give them a wide range of prompts but simply asked them to reflect upon what they felt they had learnt from the previous term.

Here are some examples of what I got back

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This was a really interesting exercise.  I learnt that my pupils took two things away from the unit: the core messages from A Christmas Carol and how to construct an analytical paragraph of writing.  This was a focus in the planning.  Whilst I am trying to construct a curriculum that is knowledge rich, I am also trying to choose texts that will foster the traits I want my pupils to develop as they go out into the world – traits such as kindness and compassion.  A lot of pupils reflected upon this message in A Christmas Carol which was pleasing.  Similarly, when I inherited the class, I ascertained that they needed to strengthen their analytical writing so introduced them to WHAT HOW WHY and spent some time on method analysis using this framework.  To that end, reading the reflections from my pupils enables me to see that my planning and their takeaways are somewhat aligned (albeit somewhat variable in parts) as many reflected upon the introduction of WHAT HOW WHY and analytical writing.  What is potentially more interesting for me is how I use this moving forward.  For example, whilst the majority of pupils referenced WHAT HOW WHY, not as many referenced some of the key methods we explored throughout the unit and this information is enabling for me as I plan our next unit with regard to reviewing and revisiting prior learning.

Although a really quickly put together task, it was really useful and interesting and I am now going to think of ways I could develop this after the next unit I teach.

Making quick links at the end of one unit and the start of another

Making links between units is something that has been given prominence with the new Ofsted framework.  Whilst we continually teach linguistic and structural method analysis and other core skills, thinking about how our units connect beyond this – in terms of concepts – is something that might organically develop as we become more familiar with our curriculum offering.  This is the first time I have taught year 9 at my current school and so I am planning my curriculum as I go.  Last term I taught A Christmas Carol and this term I am teaching Long Way Down.  I am fortunate that when I watched a short interview with Jason Reynolds when planning a lesson yesterday, he explicitly stated that a Long Way Down is comparable to A Christmas Carol.  It seemed perfect then to try and connect these two texts from the outset of my new unit.  Before my pupils watched the interview with Jason Reynolds, I asked them to consider how the concept of social responsibility was relevant to A Christmas Carol and after they noted down their thoughts, we discussed their responses – how richer folk have a moral responsibility to try and help those who have less than them and the importance of traits such as kindness and compassion.  Pupils then watched the video interview with Jason Reynolds in which he discussed his background and the background to the novel and I ended the lesson by asking my pupils how the concept of social responsibility might be applicable to the text we were about to read and we discussed their thoughts with regard to how the decisions we make and actions we take can not only affect us directly but can have a significant impact on others.

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Again, although a simple task, the insight was interesting with many pupils making links between the two texts from the outset whilst also developing their understanding and awareness of the concept as they focused on subtle differences between the two.

For me, as I continue to write my year 9 curriculum and my KS3 curriculum and think about KS4 and beyond, I will continue to develop and strengthen the conceptual links but it is nice to know that simple things like a learning dump or an exercise at the start of a new unit can help to foster the connections between what we do for both me and my pupils in the interim as I work to build a more sustainable curriculum.

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