Grand Designs. Ingenious structural architecture and carefully selected building materials see the home owners living in the buildings of their dreams. For some, the dream will be a concrete reality as they begin to build their home living within the walls of their perfected palaces. Others will find that the dream has to pop, a result of maxed out credit cards, building stresses and a bigger picture that didn’t connect and consider how such strains and change could stand the test of time. I think the same thinking can be applied to curriculums and schemes of work. From the foundations to the final pieces, learning progression should be organised and streamlined with conceptual structures that link, build and challenge. The curriculum and schemes of work were areas we focused on as an academy during the last school year. They formed part of the process of sustained thinking and faculty teams reflected, ruminated and reworked their subject material with conceptual rigour.
‘Design is not for philosophy, it’s for life’ Issey Miyake
Reflecting back on strengthening foundations
The end of the last school year ended as busily as it started, with field trips, enrichment activities and sports day dotted around and breaking up daily routines. Glimpses of the new September timetable and new groups to teach spurred on reflection of the school year that had gone by and brought us to the end of July. Raising awareness of the research informed ‘best bets’ for classroom teaching saw staff collaboration on developing new teaching approaches and ideas. I saw it as strengthening and extending the strong foundations of knowledge building for our students, ensuring layering and recall were at the fore as opposed to lots of information to be taught.
Ploughing through content gives a shallow learning experience which, for students, cannot be related to the bigger picture. Building stronger knowledge and recall bridges in our schemes has made way for further responsive teaching to be at the forefront of our lesson delivery.
Our Academy collaboratively worked on ensuring that metacognitive strategies were consistently applied to our teaching bread and butter. Considerations around metacognition shaped changes in long term and medium term planning and saw PowerPoint resources stripped down to the things that really matter – like a minimalist approach, striking a balance between simplicity and knowledge to be learned and layered on. The continuation of coaching time meant that colleagues had the time to discuss educational ‘research bites’, apply the ideas in their planning and teaching and pop in to lessons to collect descriptive data to inform coaching discussions. (Last school year we were visited by external colleagues who took part in this process – if you would like to absorb a strategic system of autonomy over CPD within a structure of effective teacher reflections, come and visit!)
Student independence is still a bridge that needs strengthening. Key study strategies, underpinned by the research highlighted by the Learning Scientists (here), has seen a higher proportion of our students begin to grasp specific techniques to support them in their revision. I think there is still a way to go on their independence journey – and with heart-warming honesty some of our 2017 leavers, based on their own approach to independent study, agreed.
So what of the new school year? The bridges built in becoming research informed now stretch from our academy towards the primary school. There is a learning buzz at the academy, a feeling that we are a team striving for the best from our students, using the ‘best bets’ to help take us further forward in our pedagogical approaches. DIRT and DEEP marking has supported colleagues in clawing back time from marking and is ultimately a strand attached to help drive student independence in them monitoring their own progress too. A continued sustained focus on academic success whilst not losing sight of staff workload is a fine balance. Strong, organised structures of learning help reduce that workload. I think of schemes like a map – the overarching final destination is clearly signposted by the most effective ways to get there. Schemes reflective of ‘grand designs’ don’t stand the test of time. These structures of planned progression need to be streamlined, providing a number of routes to get to the final destination. They should be mindful of metacognition and arm students with the tools to recognise, recall and apply knowledge within the subject skill sets they practise. Winston Churchill was once quoted saying “we shape our buildings; therefore they shape us.” The same can be said of the curriculum and schemes of work and how they shape our students of today.