In my book, School and College Curriculum Design 1: Intent, I articulated a six-step process for curriculum planning…
You can read about each step here.
In the second book in the series, School and College Curriculum Design 2: Implementation, I have also set out a six-step process as follows…
Here, I will summarise Step 1...
Before I explore the learning environment, a note about evidence-informed teaching…
One of the best ways to ensure we implement the curriculum effectively – that is to say, in a way that leads to long-term learning – is, I think, to follow the evidence…
These days, there’s a surfeit of research evidence about what works and what doesn’t. From the darkness there is light.
Evidence tells us, for example, that feedback is a highly effective teaching strategy. It tops the EEF chart as the most impactful tool at a teacher’s disposal and so it would follow that schools should invest time and money in improving the effectiveness of feedback…
However, caution should be exercised because the term ‘feedback’ is a slippery one and can mean many different things.
The EEF say that feedback is “information given to the learner or teacher about the learner’s performance relative to learning goals or outcomes. It should aim towards (and be capable of producing) improvement in students’ learning. Feedback redirects or refocuses either the teacher’s or the learner’s actions to achieve a goal, by aligning effort and activity with an outcome.”
Feedback, say the EEF, can be about “the output of the activity, the process of the activity, the student’s management of their learning or self-regulation, or them as individuals (which tends to be the least effective).”
According to the EEF, studies tend to show very high effects of feedback on learning. However, some studies show that feedback can have negative effects and make things worse. It is therefore important, the EEF say, to understand the potential benefits and the possible limitations of feedback as a teaching and learning approach. In general, research-based approaches that explicitly aim to provide feedback to learners, such as Bloom’s ‘mastery learning’, tend to have a positive impact.
One thing to note is that, just because the EEF toolkit says that feedback is good does not imply that teachers should do lots more of it. It does mean that, when done well, it can really benefit pupils and so feedback should be done better, which is to say that feedback should be meaningful and helpful to pupils.
In practice, effective feedback tends to:
• be specific, accurate and clear (e.g. “It was good because you…” rather than just “correct”);
• compare what a learner is doing right now with what they have done wrong before (e.g. “I can see you were focused on improving X as it is much better than last time’s Y…”);
• encourage and support further effort;
• be given sparingly so that it is meaningful;
• provide specific guidance on how to improve and not just tell students when they are wrong; and
• be supported with effective professional development for teachers.
Broader research suggests that feedback should be about complex or challenging tasks or goals as this is likely to emphasise the importance of effort and perseverance as well as be more valued by the pupils.
It’s also worth remembering that feedback can come from peers as well as adults.
In order to ensure marking and feedback don’t become behemoths, we must sense-check our assessments for their purpose, process and validity, and ensure marking is always meaningful, manageable and motivating.
Evidence also tells us that metacognition and self-regulation are equally impactful. Indeed, they take equal top-billing on the EEF toolkit and, like feedback, are said to add an extra eight months of learning per year.
Also akin to feedback, metacognition can mean different things to different people.
The EEF say that metacognitive approaches aim to help pupils think about their own learning more explicitly, often by teaching them specific strategies for planning, monitoring and evaluating their learning.
Metacognition gifts pupils a repertoire of strategies to choose from and the skills to select the most suitable strategy for any given learning task.
Metacognition, then, describes the processes involved when learners plan, monitor, evaluate and make changes to their own learning behaviours. Metacognition is often considered to have two dimensions:
1. Metacognitive knowledge, and
Metacognitive knowledge refers to what learners know about learning. This includes:
• The learner’s knowledge of their own cognitive abilities (e.g. ‘I have trouble remembering key dates in this period of history’)
• The learner’s knowledge of particular tasks (e.g. ‘The politics in this period of history are complex’)
• The learner’s knowledge of the different strategies that are available to them and when they are appropriate to the task (e.g. ‘If I create a timeline first it will help me to understand this period of history’).
Self-regulation, meanwhile, refers to what learners do about learning. It describes how learners monitor and control their cognitive processes. For example, a learner might realise that a particular strategy is not yielding the results they expected so they decide to try a different strategy.
Put another way, self-regulated learners are aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and can motivate themselves to engage in, and improve, their learning.
We approach any learning task or opportunity with some metacognitive knowledge about:
• our own abilities and attitudes (knowledge of ourselves as a learner);
• what strategies are effective and available (knowledge of strategies); and
• this particular type of activity (knowledge of the task).
When undertaking a learning task, we start with this knowledge, then apply and adapt it. This is metacognitive regulation. It is about “planning how to undertake a task, working on it while monitoring the strategy to check progress, then evaluating the overall success”.
Ok, now the learning environment...
Once we’ve used research evidence to help us determine which teaching strategies will lead to long-term learning, we need to attend to the learning environment because we know with some degree of certainty that the physical, social and emotional conditions in which pupils learn really do matter.
Pupils need to feel comfortable if they are to accept the challenge of hard work, and their basic needs must be met if they are to attend to teacher instruction. And the environment must help ensure pupils focus on the curriculum content we need them to learn and avoid unhelpful distractions or detractions.
How we use our classroom space and the rules, routines and expectations we establish are therefore crucial considerations.
In terms of the physical learning environment, we should consider factors such as room temperature, light, noise, layout, and the use of displays.
In terms of the social learning environment, we should consider how we create a whole school culture which promotes good behaviour and positive attitudes to learning, tackles poor behaviour including low-level disruption, and protects all staff and pupils from harassment and harm.
In terms of the emotional environment, we should consider how to create a classroom culture in which pupils feel safe and secure enough to willingly take risks and make mistakes from which they can learn. Here, the first few days spent in a new learning environment are perhaps the most pivotal in determining a pupil’s academic progress. Here are five ways to create a ‘growth mindset’ culture: 1. Use frequent formative feedback, 2. High levels of challenge for every pupil, 3. Explicitly welcome mistakes, 4. Engaging in deliberate practice, and 5. Reward effort not attainment.