This is an edited extract from the book, School and College Curriculum Design 3: Impact. For more information on this book and the first two in the series, as well as to access a raft of free curriculum resources, visit our Curriculum Central page.
School & College Curriculum Design 3: impact is the third of three guides to the school and college curriculum design process.
Taken together, this series seeks to navigate you through the process of redesigning your school or college curriculum, in order to ensure that it is broad and balanced, ambitious for all, and prepares pupils and students for the next stages of their education, employment and lives.
The journey began in Book One with curriculum intent – the ‘Why?’ and the ‘What?’ of education.
The second book, meanwhile, tackled curriculum implementation – the ‘How?’ of education.
This book concludes our journey with curriculum impact – the ‘How successfully?’
The story so far…
To read a summary of Book One in the series, click here. What follows is a summary of Book Two…
Book One was about all the planning that happens before teaching happens. Book Two was about all the teaching that happens next…
In other words, it dealt with curriculum implementation, the way in which teachers translate curriculum plans into classroom practice with pupils and students.
We began Part One of Book Two by asking the question, ‘What is implementation?’
Implementation, we said, is the way in which the curriculum is taught at both subject and classroom level.
Accordingly, implementation is about how teachers enable pupils to understand key concepts, presenting information clearly and promoting appropriate discussion, how teachers check pupils’ understanding effectively, identifying and correcting misunderstandings, and how teachers ensure that pupils embed key concepts in their long-term memory and apply them fluently.
Further, implementation is about how disciplinary curriculums are designed and delivered in a way that allows pupils to transfer key knowledge to long-term memory and are planned and sequenced so that new knowledge and skills build on what has been taught before and towards defined end points.
In short, effective curriculum implementation is about high quality teaching which leads to long-term learning.
In Part Two of Book Two, we turned our attention to the matter of evidence-informed teaching…
We said that 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 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. However, caution should be exercised, we said, because the term ‘feedback’ is a somewhat slippery one and can mean many different things.
Just because evidence says feedback is good, this doesn’t 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
• 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.
In Part Two of Book Two, we also noted that evidence tells us metacognition and self-regulation are as impactful as feedback. Also akin to feedback, though, metacognition can mean different things to different people.
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.
Next in Part Two of Book Two, we explored the importance of creating an effective learning environment…
Once we’ve used research evidence to help us determine which teaching strategies will lead to long-term learning, we said, 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 said, we should consider factors such as room temperature, light, noise, layout, and the use of displays.
In terms of the social learning environment, we said, 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 said, 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. We explored five ways to create a ‘growth mindset’ culture, these were: 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.
Then, in Part Three of Book Two, we explored the three steps of teaching for long-term learning…
There are myriad factors that determine a pupil’s success, not least their own hard work, diligence and, yes, innate intelligence. 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, we said, 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) 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 domains. 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 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, as I explained in Book Two – 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
Coupled with this 3-step process of teaching for long-term learning, I recommended we use a 4-step teaching sequence whenever pupils are introduced to new information…
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.
Next in Part Four of Book Two, we turned our attentions to the subject of differentiation and explored ways of ensuring equal access to teaching for long-term learning…
When we talk about differentiation, we said, we often have in mind ways of scaffolding learning for our ‘less able’ pupils. But pupils – like learning – are complex and no pupil is uniformly ‘less able’ than another. Rather, some pupils have acquired more knowledge and skills in one area than another pupil or have practised a task more often. Of course, some pupils have additional and different needs – such as those young people with learning difficulties or disabilities – and they sometimes require a different approach. But to say they are ‘less able’ is, I think, an unhelpful misnomer.
What’s more, the term ‘less able’ infers an immovable position – if you are ‘less able’ you are destined to remain so ad infinitum, living your life languishing in the left-hand shadow of the bell-curve.
As I explained in Book Two, I’m not suggesting that every pupil performs the same – or has the same capacity to do so. We are not all born equal. But defining someone as less able as a result of a test means we are in danger of arbitrarily writing off some pupils by means of a snapshot taken through a pinhole lens.
We said that when approaching differentiation, therefore, we would be wise to remember that all pupils – like all human beings – are different, unique, individual. Differentiation, therefore, should not be about treating ‘less able’ pupils – or indeed those with SEND or eligible for Pupil Premium funding – as a homogenous group. Rather, we should treat each pupil on an individual basis.
Nor should we assume that what works with one pupil will work with all and that what was proven to work with ‘less able’ pupils in another school, in another district, in another country, (according to research evidence and meta-analyses) will work in our classroom.
To promote challenge in the classroom for all pupils, we need to reduce the threat level, we need to ensure no one feels humiliated if they fall short of a challenge. Rather, they need to know that they will learn from the experience and perform better next time.
Once we’ve created a positive learning environment in which pupils willingly accept challenge, we need to model high expectations of all. Having high expectations of pupils is not only a nice thing to do, but it also leads to improved performance.
It’s common practice to talk about three waves of intervention for disadvantaged pupils and those with SEND.
According to the now-defunct National Strategies, Wave 1 is “quality inclusive teaching which takes into account the learning needs of all the pupils in the classroom”. As such, if we do not first provide pupils with quality classroom teaching, then no amount of additional intervention and support will help them to catch up.
But even with the provision of ‘quality first teaching’, some pupils will require more – and more tailored – support in the guise of Wave 2 in-class differentiations and Wave 3 additional interventions which take place outside the classroom and off the taught timetable.
The ultimate aim of such additional support, in most cases, is for it to become redundant over time. In other words, we want pupils with SEND to become increasingly independent and for the scaffolds to fall away. Indeed, this is the stated aim of Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) and High Needs funding: over time, discrete funding should be reduced as its impact is felt and pupils require less and less support.
Also in Part Four of Book Two, we explored ways to motivate pupils to learn…
As well as supporting pupils to access our curriculum, we said, we need to motivate them so that they want to learn. Motivation, we said, requires:
1. A destination to aim for – knowing what the outcome looks like and not giving up until you reach it.
2. A model to follow – an exemplar on which to base your technique provided by someone who is regarded as an expert and who sets high expectations.
3. Regular checkpoints – waypoints to show what progress has been made and what’s still to do, coupled with regular celebrations of ongoing achievements and timely messages about upcoming milestones.
4. Personalisation – the ability to make choices about how to carry out tasks in order to increase enjoyment and engagement.
In the classroom, there are two types of motivation that matter most: intrinsic and extrinsic.
1. Intrinsic motivation – this is the self-desire to seek out new things and new challenges, in order to gain new knowledge. Often, intrinsic motivation is driven by an inherent interest or enjoyment in the task itself. Pupils are likely to be intrinsically motivated if they attribute their educational results to factors under their own control, also known as autonomy, they believe in their own ability to succeed in specific situations or to accomplish a task – also known as a sense of self-efficacy, and they are genuinely interested in accomplishing something to a high level of proficiency, knowledge and skill, not just in achieving good grades – also known as mastery.
2. Extrinsic motivation – this is the performance of an activity in order to attain a desired outcome. Extrinsic motivation comes from influences outside an individual’s control, a rationale, a necessity, a need. Common forms of extrinsic motivation are rewards (for example, money or prizes), or – conversely – the threat of punishment. We can provide pupils with a rationale for learning by sharing the ‘big picture’ with them. In other words, we can continually explain how their learning fits in to the module, the course, the qualification, their careers and to success in work and life.
We said we can also motivate pupils to learn if we engender a culture of excellence in our classrooms because the first step towards motivating pupils to produce high-quality work is to set tasks which inspire and challenge them, and which are predicated on the idea that every pupil will succeed, not just finish the task set but produce work which represents personal excellence.
We also said that we can ensure classwork is personally meaningful – for example by triggering pupils’ curiosity and by posing a big question that captures the heart of a topic in clear, compelling language, and we can give pupils some choice about how to conduct the work and present their findings.
We can also ensure that classwork fulfils an educational purpose – for example by providing domain-specific opportunities to build metacognition and character traits such as resilience, collaboration and communication, as well as study skills such as note-taking, critical thinking and self-study, and by emphasising the need to create high-quality products and performances through the formal use of feedback and drafting.
We then focused on ways of supporting disadvantaged pupils…
In order to help disadvantaged pupils to learn, we said, we can follow a three-point plan:
1. Identify the barriers
2. Plan the solutions
3. Agree the success criteria
Identify the barriers
Before we can put in place intervention strategies aimed at supporting disadvantaged pupils, we must first understand why a gap exists between the attainment of disadvantaged pupils and non-disadvantaged pupils. In short, we need to ask ourselves: What are the barriers to learning faced by our disadvantaged pupils? Are these barriers always in place or only for certain subjects, topics, skills, etc?
Plan the solutions
Once we have identified the barriers our disadvantaged pupils face towards learning, we need to plan the solutions. And one of the most effective solutions, though by no means the only one, is to focus on developing pupils’ cultural capital…
Cultural capital takes myriad forms and is highly complex. There is not one single solution, but we have to start somewhere, and in Book Two of this series I suggested we start with vocabulary because we know with some certainty that a lack of early language and literacy skills is a major cause of disadvantage. The explicit instructions of tier 2 and 3 vocabulary – as defined by Isabel Beck – is therefore advisable but this must be done in domain-specific ways and only when relevant to disciplinary learning.
Agree the success criteria
The third and final action on our three-point plan is to agree the success criteria. Once we’ve identified the barriers to learning faced by our disadvantaged pupils and have planned the best solutions to help them overcome those barriers, we need to be clear about what success will look like. We need to ask ourselves: What is my aim here? For example, is it to: raise attainment; expedite progress; improve attendance; improve behaviour; reduce exclusions; improve parental engagement; or expand upon the number of opportunities afforded to disadvantaged pupils?
Whatever our immediate goal is, we said, ultimately, we should be seeking to diminish the difference between the attainment of disadvantaged pupils in our school and non-disadvantaged pupils nationally, as well as narrowing our within-school gaps. As such, if our initial aim is pastoral in nature, for example to improve behaviour and attendance, or reduce exclusions, then we must take it a step further and peg it to an academic outcome.
In Part Five of Book Two, we set out ways of creating the culture for implementation…
In Book One we said that senior leaders in schools and colleges have five key roles in terms of creating the right culture to implement an effective curriculum: firstly, they need to agree the vision for their whole school or college curriculum which involves defining what is meant by the term ‘curriculum’ and making decisions about the national, basic, local and hidden curriculums; secondly, they are key to determining how broad and balanced the whole school or college curriculum will be and why; thirdly, they need to articulate the purpose of education in their school or college – and therefore guide middle leaders in determining the broad ‘end-points’ (schools) or ‘body of knowledge’ (FE) to be taught; fourthly, they need to create the culture in which a curriculum can flourish; finally, they need to be the gatekeepers and defenders of staff skills and time.
Then, in Book Two, we said that the fourth and fifth roles were critical because, if we are not careful, curriculum intent and implementation are in danger of becoming a fad to which a considerable amount of time is dedicated.
As I explained in Part Five of Book Two, I am not suggesting improving curriculum design and ensuring teaching leads to long-term learning are not important endeavours and deserving of more of our time – I think they are – but I am saying that, if we decide we need colleagues to dedicate more time to these important processes, then we must also decide what they can stop doing in order that their overall workload does not increase; rather, that they focus their time on doing the things that will have the biggest impact on pupils.
As well as protecting our colleagues’ workloads, we need to ensure they are helped to develop the knowledge and skills required to engage in effective curriculum thinking, design and delivery. This includes designing programmes of CPD that perform a dual function: firstly, that they help teachers and middle leaders to develop their pedagogical content knowledge so that they know more about effective teaching strategies and approaches; and secondly, that they help teachers and middle leaders to develop their subject-specific knowledge so that they know more about their chosen disciplines.
As well as creating the culture, in Part Five of Book Two, we explored ways of creating the systems for implementation… because a school, we said, also needs to attend to the following systems if their curriculum is to be effectively implemented: performance management and quality assurance.
We also need to address the issues of teacher recruitment and retention if we are to have qualified subject specialists teaching all our pupils. In addition to dealing with the issue of workload, we said we could start to do this by:
• Addressing the nature of teachers’ workloads
• Providing more opportunities for flexible working
• Improving pay and rewards
• Improving the quality of school facilities
• Improving the support leaders give to staff
• Providing more encouragement to teachers and make expectations clearer
• Improving the quality of initial teacher training
• Improving the availability of continuing professional development
• Improving the quality and relevance of CPD
• Tailoring the support offered to new teachers
• Providing opportunities for career progression including into leadership positions
• Improving the professional recognition and social standing of teachers
And that whistle-stop tour of Book Two in this series brings us to the here and now…
Now visit our Curriculum Central page for more curriculum resources including a preview of Book Three.