The 6 steps of curriculum implementation: Steps 2, 3 and 4

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 Steps 2, 3 and 4.  If you haven’t already done so, you can read the summary of Step 1 here.

There are myriad factors that determine a pupil’s success, not least their own hard work, diligence and, yes, innate intelligence. As we have just seen, environmental factors play their part, too, as does the amount of support and influence that a pupil receives from their community of friends and family.

However, there is a 3-step learning process that teachers can follow in order to maximise the chances of pupils acquiring and retaining knowledge over the longer term so that it can be applied in multiple contexts.

The act of acquiring new knowledge and skills is the start of the learning process, it is what happens (or begins to happen) in the classroom when a teacher – the expert – imparts their knowledge or demonstrates their skills (perhaps through the artful use of explanations and modelling, of which more later) to their pupils – the novices.

Next, pupils store this new information in their long-term memories (via their working memories) where it can be recalled and used later.

The process of storing information in the long-term memory is called ‘encoding’. The process of getting it back out again is called ‘retrieval’.

A pupil could demonstrate their immediate understanding of what they’ve been taught by repeating what the teacher has said or by demonstrating the skill they’ve just seen applied. But this immediate display is not necessarily ‘learning’. Rather, it is a ‘performance’. It is a simple regurgitation of what they’ve just seen or heard and takes place in the working memory, without any need for information to be encoded in the long-term memory.

We can all repeat, rote-like, something someone else has just said or mimic a skill they’ve just demonstrated. But unless we can retain that knowledge or skill over time, we haven’t really learnt it. And if we can’t apply that knowledge or skill in a range of different situations, then – similarly – we haven’t really learnt it, or at least not in any meaningful sense.

However, if we simply repeat the information over and again verbatim, we will only really improve pupils’ surface knowledge of that information. To improve and deepen pupils’ understanding, we need to teach curriculum content in different contexts. We need to model examples of its use in a range of contexts. And when we repeat learning we should do so in different ways.

The process of learning, then, is the interaction between one’s sensory memory and one’s long-term memory.

Our sensory memory is made up of:

• What we see – this is called our iconic memory;
• What we hear – this is called our echoic memory; and
• What we touch – our haptic memory.

Our long-term memory is where new information is stored and from which it can be recalled when needed, but we cannot directly access the information stored in our long-term memory.

As such, the interaction that takes place between our sensory memory and our long-term memory occurs in our working memory, or short-term memory, which is the only place where we can think and do.

In summary, there are – to my mind – three steps to improve the process of teaching for long-term learning:

1. Stimulate pupils’ senses to gain the attention of working memory
2. Make pupils think hard but efficiently to encode information into long-term memory
3. Embed deliberate practice to improve pupils’ storage in and retrieval from in long-term memory

A 4-step teaching sequence

Coupled with this, I recommend we use a 4-step teaching sequence whenever pupils are introduced to new information.

Research by Kirschner, Sweller and Clark (2006) compared guided models of teaching, such as direct instruction, with discovery learning methods, such as problem-based learning, inquiry learning, experiential learning, and constructivist learning, and found that the latter methods didn’t work as well as the former. It didn’t matter, they argued, if pupils preferred less guided methods, they still learned less from them (see also Clark, 1989).

In his book, Visible Learning, Professor John Hattie found that the average effect size for teaching strategies which involved the teacher as a “facilitator” was 0.17, whereas the average effect size for strategies where the teacher acted as an “activator” was 0.60.

Direct instruction had an effect size of 0.59 compared to problem-based learning with an effect size of just 0.15.

Therefore, direct instruction – it seems – is more effective than discovery learning approaches. But what, exactly, does good direct instruction look like in practice?

Personally, I think direct instruction works best when it follows this four-step sequence:

1. Telling
2. Showing
3. Doing
4. Practising.

Telling – or teacher explanation – works best when the teacher presents new material to pupils in small “chunks” and provides scaffolds and targeted support.

Showing – or teacher modelling – works best when the teacher models a new procedure by, among other strategies, thinking aloud, guiding pupils’ initial practice and providing pupils with cues.

Doing – or co-construction – works best when the teacher provides pupils with “fix-up” strategies – corrections and “live” feedback.

Practising – or independent work – works best when the teacher provides planned opportunities in class for extensive independent practice.

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