Curriculum leadership: Good questions to ask subject leaders

Below is a series of questions that senior leaders could ask subject leaders and teachers in order to help them articulate their curriculum design decisions.

Let’s start with the simplest iteration…

Why this? Why then?

Asking ‘why this?’ gets subject specialists thinking about their content selection – the value choices they make about what knowledge, skills and understanding (KSU) students are taught. We can’t teach it all so we make decisions about what to give precious time to and about how much time to give it. Have we thought carefully about the key concepts in our subject? About what students need to know and be able to do in order to develop the foundations required for further study, and in order to prepare students for the next stage of their education and life?

Asking ‘why then?’ gets subject specialists thinking about sequencing – the order in which KSU are taught and how connections are made between what was taught before, what is being taught now, and what will be taught next. Sequencing is about activating and building on prior knowledge and building towards clear end points. Sequencing is also about keeping prior learning active by engaging in frequent retrieval practice, then connecting that prior learning to new learning to forge ever-more complex mental maps or schemata.

Diving deeper

Below are some more questions it’s helpful for senior leaders to ask of subject specialists to support their thinking…

Why?

• Why teach this subject? Why does it matter? In what way is it or will it be useful?
• Why teach this qualification? Why this level of study?
• Why (for examined courses) use this awarding body and this specification?
• Why teach this module/topic? Why is this knowledge more important than this?
• How does this subject relate to other subjects? How will you make the links explicit?

What?

• What do you expect pupils/learners to know and be able to do at the end of the topic/scheme/term/year/course/school or college?
• Why is this knowledge important? Who decides and why?
• What knowledge and skills will be most useful to pupils in the future? Says who? Is this likely to change?
• What knowledge gaps (inc. vocabulary) might some pupils need to have filled before they can access the curriculum? How will you identify the gaps and the pupils? How and when will the gaps be filled?

When?

• When do you expect pupils/learners to have acquired this knowledge/skills?
• Why then?
• What must be taught before and after this knowledge/skills? Why?
• How will the learning be sequenced? Is this a logical order?
• How will the curriculum build increasing complexity over time?
• Does each entry-point to the curriculum lead to a higher level of study and/or into meaningful employment? (If you offer a Level 1 course, do you also offer a suitable Level 2 course, and so on?)

How?

• How will this knowledge/skills be taught to ensure long-term learning? Will all teachers teach in this manner? How will you know?
• How will prior knowledge be activated? How will pupils be helped to transfer knowledge/skills from one context to another, and from the classroom to life/work?
• How will retrieval practice be built into the curriculum to ensure prior learning is kept active?
• How will the curriculum be spaced and interleaved to aide long-term retention?

For more top tips about curriculum intent, implementation, and impact, take a look at Matt’s trilogy of books…