Curriculum DesignSubject curriculum design.  Three words that for me, ignite everything teaching and learning.  Subject curriculum design is story telling – that learning arc that spans across the key stages, each with its own chapter fulfilling its part in the student learning journey.

Schemes of learning are re-visited, tweaked, changed, adapted and re-written.  It can be frustrating and hard to remove the journey from the key skills required in GCSE specifications and to begin telling that KS4 story at KS3.  We shouldn’t forget to inspire and excite.  Perhaps there will always be students who experience the contents page and the index in the mad dash to plug gaps, their successes also hinging on how well they can use their revision guides.  Cue for the importance of a scheme of work and knowing what a scheme of work can actually be.

On my journey of this scheme of work discovery, I have recalled the times when I used to arrange music.  The notes had to be arranged in a sequence, and if the harmonies didn’t fit, it created dissonance and an unsatisfying feel to the sound I wanted to achieve.  I couldn’t leave anything out, otherwise the musical story I wanted to tell would be incomplete.  If I didn’t keep returning to that musical motif, then the musical idea would be lost and forgotten amongst the new material.  Try singing the theme tune to Raiders of the Lost Ark – this melody is repeated and co-ordinated with the many different parameters of the music with various facets of the thing it represents, in this case, Indy himself.  Think of a text, topic or concept that is taught within your subject.  As a teacher of English, Macbeth becomes the example; the different parameters of his character being created through the events and characters Shakespeare crafted.  Macbeth’s soliloquies, intertwined with Lady Macbeth’s and weaved with other character perceptions of Macbeth, present various facets and dramatic functions to set off the particular intellectual problems implicit in the action of the central figure.  This leads us to question the operation of evil in all its manifestations and show its effect once it has been unleashed by one man’s sinful moral choice.

For every student to be able to follow a story, it’s essential that every teacher knows exactly what part of the story they are responsible for passing on.  The structure of the narrative has to be communicated, embracing pedagogical strategies that are the best bets in making knowledge stick.  The groundwork for each concept established carefully in great detail, and pupils coming to know that detail well.  It takes collaboration and it takes time.  It involves debates, discussion, deciding and deciphering (and tea and biscuits), but it is a privilege to play a part in the writing of a great story.

Educators and psychologists alike have more knowledge and understanding on how to help make knowledge stick.  It’s a game changer.  This knowledge has to be embedded in the structure of our schemes of work – it has to define the story we tell and be embraced through pedagogical strategies that breathe life into learning and a teacher’s philosophy of education.

On the Same Page

‘Great things are done by a series of small things brought together’ Vincent Van Gogh

Coherence and consistency across the subject and its specialists is key – anchors are needed as a base on which knowledge can be returned to and built on and most importantly recognised as part of a bigger picture of knowledge as the journey progresses.  Dual coding and vocabulary can be used as such an anchor and here I reflect on both.  A concrete example can be used as a starting post for more abstract ideas.  Let’s go back to Shakespeare’s Macbeth as an illustration in using dual coding to create coherence and concreteness fading within a subject.

Concrete to Abstract  

concrete to abstract

Vocabulary Vortex

‘Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic’ J.K Rowling

Threading vocabulary through a scheme of work is like the golden thread of a knowledge tapestry.  Words in a whirlwind of usage, without contextual value, with the expectation that with enough usage they will be absorbed, will stay a whirlwind.  In reality, vocabulary needs explicit rehearsal time.  The stronger the thread of words with contextual connection, the more of a knowledge tapestry will be held together.

Vulnerable: exposed, susceptible


Using active practice vocabulary to grow concepts and develop debating skills to support oracy development is a win.  Take the word vulnerable.  As an English Literature teacher, this word can be applied to Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Banquo, Duncan and also Eva Smith in An Inspector Calls, and is also mirrored in My Last Duchess, Remains and Prelude for example.  The contextual understanding can become the tapestry on which knowledge is crafted and honed to create secure concepts and understanding as clear as the history behind the Bayeux Tapestry itself.  The power is in the reflection – reflecting backwards to progress forwards.  Macbeth’s flaw perhaps made him vulnerable to the prophecies, Eva Smith was maybe vulnerable due to the flaws in the Victorian society, and the Duchess was vulnerable to the Duke’s jealousy and his need for control.  The new significance this can bring to contextual understanding is rich, encouraging the use of synonyms through discussion and debate, rather than instantly grabbing for a dictionary.  It has to be routine, engineered and deliberate.

 Schema Signposts

‘Don’t just be a part in someone’s book. Instead, play a role in such a way that yours will be the defining chapter’ Rahan. R. Pednetar

Opportunities for student self-regulation with a toolkit of strategies to plan, monitor and keep a check on learning is as crucial as electricity is to a lightbulb.  Task focused work should step aside for lines of learning where big ideas are grown and knowledge is nurtured through the exploration of schema; students exploring their own schema and questioning their own understanding.  Building confidence is key – at the end of their journey are examinations where independence and having the confidence to run solo across the finishing line is the ultimate goal within the context of the examination system.  Part of the story is developing this thread of independence.  Memory retrieval, models, routine reflection, feedback, thinking space to rehearse and craft responses to questions (verbally and written) are some of the vitamins supporting and supplementing this journey.  Every student is an equal protagonist in every chapter of a scheme of work.  We root for them, empathize with them and they are central to the phases in the schemes of work that we write.

Good stories have signposts – those noticeable points in a text that stand out as a key point in a story.  They provide insight and raise questions.  For signposts in schemes to point in the direction of progress, knowledge is the driver, and it is through Knowledge building, with its twists and turns, sink holes and subject concavities that the craft of writing a scheme of work is honed, strengthened and developed.  If signposts provide insight and raise questions around student understanding of content, those posts have to be carefully placed and intrinsically used.  A historian, for example, would perhaps want to shape and craft their subject curriculum through an enquiry based lens using a causation model.  Maybe signposts such as causal webs (understanding of short and long term causes of events identified and explained), followed by ranking causes (causes of historical change analysed) and underlying causes (historical change explored through interplay of events) would shape the progressive learning journey through the key stages.  Reflecting on my own Macbeth scheme of work, it follows a similar framework, where the short and long term causes of Macbeth’s flaw are identified and debated, as to who is ranked first in playing the largest influential part on Macbeth is considered and how all the connecting events interplay alongside any underlying conditions (in this instance, the idea of a character flaw and a prophecy).  My goal?  Students to think independently, critically and objectively.

The flip side is when those stories are passed on incoherently and vocabulary isn’t grown.  It happens.  Maybe learners hear the same chapter over and over again and are not given opportunities to debate using contextual vocabulary within the subject material.  Maybe some parts are taught without a backstory.  A great story has coherence, is focused on the progression of the plot and the characters within it.  A subject scheme of work is no different.  It too has to have coherence, progression and be focused on those big ideas and concepts that are considered to be the most important knowledge.  I’ve learned that writing schemes of work is a journey in itself; there will be problems to solve, lessons to be learned and experiences to enjoy through shared pedagogical knowledge within subject specialisms and a growing understanding of all the best bets that help to make knowledge progressive and to stick.

I remember my favourite books – it’s why I read now.  As I grew up, those paperbacks and hardbacks instilled in me a love of literature.  I see schemes of work as parallel in that they should foster the growth of a true subject interest by utilising teachers’ own strengths to shape the content taught and impart a love of learning and curiosity in the students we have the privilege to teach.