In almost all curriculum posts I see a focus on the What of curriculum. What is it that children should learn, the phrase by Matthew Arnold ‘the best which has been thought and said in the world’ is oft quoted. Ofsted use it, Michael Gove used it. However, Arnold’s original quote was a little more nuanced.
“The whole scope of this essay is to recommend culture as the great help out of our present difficulties; culture being a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which must concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world, and through this knowledge, turning a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits.
Matthew Arnold ‘Culture and Anarchy’ 1848
The best that’s thought and said on all the matters that concern us gives it a different slant and perspective. IMO
We’ve spent a huge amount of time defining the WHAT for our school. Our starting point was the national curriculum but a curriculum that denies where we are and the history of the place, we live in is no curriculum at all. We’ve thought long and hard about the things we believe are important for children to learn in our school. We’ve thought about the ‘WHAT’ of each year and how it builds on the ‘WHAT’ of previous years. (This is something under constant review by our Curriculum team) What we were missing however was the WHY? We had a curriculum of learning without purpose. We created a curriculum that skimmed the surface, over-full, teaching lots of things without any purpose for knowing them. We had missed the WHY?
We used to start with a ‘hook.’ Sometimes it was a trip or a visit or some other showy thing to get the children interested. The initial enthusiasm wore off quickly. The buzz lost in a cavalcade of stuff without any reason to learn it. It had no impact and even less retention. Children did the Vikings, the Romans or Space. Facts were taught but not for a reason. Learning had no purpose. We taught everything in a hit and hope kind of way. It was curriculum by ‘Bugsy Malone Splurge Gun’
We came to the realisation that for our curriculum we needed a purpose, a reason to learn. (I know people will say learning is a goal in and of itself and I would agree.) The purpose however allowed us to focus the curriculum, to do less but better, to really think about what children needed to learn.
We created purpose in two ways, first was the design of a key question that children were going to answer through the learning they did in the subject. This acted as a lens on the thing’s children would be taught. Question design is vital for us. If we got the question wrong, then the curriculum would become unfocused. The core subject knowledge underpinning the learning would be the same regardless of the question (This is where Knowledge organisers fit for me creating the baseline of knowledge on which the deeper learning sits) but the choice then focuses that learning in to a certain area or aspect, creating opportunities for children to revisit, use and apply their learning.
In the Year 2 example below. The Question ” Why was the fire of London so destructive?” was the curriculum driver and the learning focused to exploring and answering that question. We still make stuff, we encourage children to use that knowledge and apply. The fire below came after a significant amount of work exploring the factors. The fire helped children crystallise their understanding as is evident in the writing.
I believe that work of excellence is transformational. Once a student sees that he or she is capable of excellence, that student is never quite the same. There is a new self-image, a new notion of possibility. There is an appetite for excellence. After students have had a taste of excellence, they’re never quite satisfied with less; they’re always hungry.
I want students whose work is strong and accurate and beautiful; [I want] students who are proud of what they do, proud of how they respect both themselves and others.
I believe that work of excellence is transformational. Once a student sees that he or she is capable of excellence, that student is never quite the same.
Either way, my role as teacher is not as the sole judge of their work, but rather like that of a sports coach or play director: I am helping them to get their work ready for the public eye. There is a reason to do the work well, and it’s not just because the teacher wants it that way.
Ron Berger Ethic of Excellence 2003
That could take many forms. Clarity around the product allowed us to clearly see the teaching sequence leading to that, both in terms of the knowledge and how we support children in achieving excellence. Sometimes it will be a piece of writing, a piece of art, a debate speech, a letter, a presentation. The product however reflects pupils learning and an application of their knowledge. Part of the teaching therefore is equally about how we support the pupil to create that product. This is still ongoing, allowing children to create work they are proud of, is a key part of the purpose. Effective use of modelling and precision teaching is equally as important. Teaching is the key. Expectation is part of it, pupil’s intrinsic motivation however is key. Curriculum purpose (when we get it right, sometimes we don’t) gives our children that in spades.
We’ve been working on this for a while, knowing stuff is one think being able to use it is another for us that’s the point.
Below is a snippet from our Ofsted last June. It’s a work in progress but when it works the impact is powerful.
One typical Year 5 pupil wrote a persuasive argument about the greatest scientific discovery that began: ‘Copernicus ‘theory of the solar system, Albert Einstein’s discovery of the speed of light and Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution will be discussed. Upon evaluating the strengths of each discovery, an argument for the most significant will be presented. ‘This is typical of the high quality of writing that key stage 2 pupils produce across the wider curriculum.
We’ve also been exploring how we get children to write in different subjects. This is helping to focus our writing.
Coming soon The Purpose…Part 3 (The Devil is in the Detail)