POSTED ORIGINALLY IN MAY 2018
So we began this process nearly two and a half years ago and we are finally getting to the point where we have a curriculum which we think is fit for purpose and has lasting power.
The first thing I did when the new specifications were announced was to look at the AO breakdown and the specimen assessment materials to have an understanding of the core skills being assessed and to what degree. I popped these onto a document and then, using old style APP, tracked these skill sets / AOs back so that we could provide a cohesive narrative across the three key stages.
This progression map helps staff create learning goals; focus on the development of specific skills and supports our approach to assessment using Learning / Mastering and Extending. It really underpins everything that we do and is looped through the planning, work with pupils and our assessment process.
Deciding upon the curriculum
We then sat down as a department to arrive at our curriculum. As a Head of Department, it has always been instrumental to me for a department to plan a curriculum together, so it was nice for our KS3 lead to lead on a shared approach to curriculum planning with the team. Everyone had input. We decided upon our key core texts and tagged the AOs to the units, establishing core tasks.
What did we decide?
- Because our team is relatively new – made up of NQTs, Teach-first, graduate assessment only etc, we decided we were all going to teach the same units to share expertise and resourcing.
- We wanted pupils to read a range of texts and fore-fronted all of the planning with our text choices.
- We wanted to prepare pupils for GCSE but not teach the GCSE in KS3. We decided to teach Oliver Twist to prepare pupils for A Christmas Carol and Our Day Out to prepare pupils for Blood Brothers.
- We wanted knowledge to take more of a leading role.
What we arrived at was 4 lessons focused on a literary text teaching both reading and writing and 1 lesson which alternated between a library/reading lesson and a knowledge / drilling lesson.
Where has my thinking changed this year?
After stepping back into the Head of Department position, alongside my Teaching and Learning role, I have been thinking and reflecting upon what has been working for us and what hasn’t.
What is working?
- We are teaching great texts with great scope
- We’ve really focused on reading skills and pupils have greater confidence with language and structure and writing well-organised responses.
- The knowledge lessons have really helped staff to see how little pupils know / retain. This has been incredibly useful. Having knowledge tests as part of a fortnightly cycle and our summative assessment has been awesome.
What did I want to change?
- For us and our context, I’ve spent a lot of time focused on reading. The pupils we inherit from primary schools in our area write beautifully and I feel, therefore, we have neglected this and our KS4 writing suffers as a result. I wanted to give writing more prominence in our KS3 curriculum.
- Reading lessons are hit and miss. We still have pupils who are distracted readers, in that they will do anything not to read so I’ve questioned the productivity and value of this.
- When marking the GCSE mocks, I felt there was a real lack of preparedness for the language paper. Whilst we look at speeches and documentaries, I felt that there was a real omission of non-fiction and some of the skills associated with the GCSE papers.
How have I amended?
We have shifted how we organise the curriculum. Now we have three lessons focused on a literary study, one distinct writing lesson and one reading non-fiction lesson. Here are the curriculum maps:
All units have a ‘big question’ which increases in complexity, according to Blooms (which I know is contentious) across the years.
The year 7 Big questions begin with Explain
The year 8 Big questions begin with Explore
The year 9 Big questions are evaluative.
Across key stage three, the writing lessons address all of the main forms of writing and the main purposes for writing. We love Chris Curtis’ 200 word challenge but want to ensure a solid foundation in terms of knowledge first. Seeking advice from primary, the lessons follow a set structure:
- They begin by analysing examples of the form to identify the key features
- Then we work on developing content
- Before looking at specific linguistic and structural techniques to build into our writing.
Pupils then have two lessons to construct their written piece. My aim is that writing will be peer-assessed with a checklist and pupil-friendly marking criteria.
Reading non-fiction lesson
The non-fiction topics will tag into the literary study. So, for example, year 9 are studying Romeo and Juliet next term and ‘family’ is our key focus in the non-fiction lessons. Again, I’ve decided to stagger the approach so beside skills in decoding and comprehension
Year 7 will focus on analysing language and structure
Year 8 in term 1 (big term) will revise analysing language and structure before introducing the skill of comparison.
Year 9 in term 1 (big term) will revise analysing language and structure; in term 2 will revise comparison and in term 3 will be introduced to the skills of evaluation.
All non-fiction lessons will start with a drilling test.
In terms of knowledge, we recap prior learning every lesson through 5-7 quick questions and will continue with a knowledge / drill test at the start of the non-fiction lessons. Our summative assessments will continue to have a separate knowledge section.
Each unit has a Medium Term Plan and a pupil assessment sheet:
And, of course, we are a booklet department. For an example of some of our booklets, check out the KS3 resources and KS4 resources section of this blog.
Reading has shifted to tutor time. I am fortunate that my school has supported tutor time reading and fronted up £3,000 to supply every year group with book boxes. A tutor group reads the same book with the tutor taking on the role of performer before everyone reads a section. Initially, we did this for one tutor time slot a week but we are moving to doing this every single tutor time for 15 minutes.
During the non-fiction reading lesson, pupils who have a reading age of below 10 work with our librarian in a guided reading session.
In addition, we have just set up peer reading. Two tutor times a week, our year 8 pupils listen to our year 7 pupils read. Again, these have been identified from their reading ages.