The summer term is often a time when people gather their thoughts for the year ahead. The work I do with schools and colleges is largely driven by a medium term improvement agenda: combining some initial support – establishing areas to improve in current practice, setting some goals for the next 12-18 months – and the more complex process of ensuring that things are seen through – leadership capacity, knowledge of evidence or of good practice, structures and systems to underpin the ideas over time.
From what I see and hear, this list is common agenda for lots of schools – and it might serve as a good one for yours:
No point denying that the new inspection framework isn’t partly responsible, but, without doubt, more schools are getting into the fine detail of curriculum thinking. Very often – very sensibly – this starts with leaders getting to grips with what they’re already doing in their schools. For many leaders who have spent the last decade largely chasing data goals, it’s quite a learning curve to develop a new set skill-set around curriculum design.
My suggested review process looks like this – as outlined in this post: 10 Steps for Reviewing Your KS3 Curriculum
The main thing is to develop some principles that drive your thinking and to harness the expertise of subject specialists inside and outside the school. Curriculum is partly shaped by school values but it should also be partly shaped by the subject communities that exist across the systems – the body of geographers, historians, scientists and linguists that help shape their respective subject curricula. It’s important to have people in school who are in contact with the discussions that go on in each of the specialist fields.
Principles of Instruction
Increasingly I think schools are moving away from a general ‘research engagement’ stand-point towards something more focused. What does it all look like in the classroom? Whilst it’s really positive to have professional teachers who are up-to-date with ideas from various educational research fields, it comes to nothing if classroom practice doesn’t really change. However, it can be very effective to have a set of ideas where research-evidence translates into classroom practice more directly – in a language people can relate to. Often it’s more effective for a nucleus of more active research-leads to support the wider body of staff in developing through a set of ideas about good instruction rooted in their context.
Along with many others, I’m a big fan of Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction for this exact reason: it’s sensible practical advice based largely on what effective teachers are observed to do, not gimmicks or fads. I would suggest that most teachers should be aware of what these principles are and at the very least be given the opportunity to discuss where and how they apply to their curriculum area.
I’m happy to be a major advocate for Rosenshine – and I’m excited to have a short book coming out this month both in the UK and the US, providing some additional guidance.
Methods of Retrieval Practice
Taking the principles of instruction a stage further, I think it’s important for teachers to understand the notion of retrieval practice and, as part of that, to recognise that it takes many forms. I wrote a blog about this here: 10 Techniques for Retrieval Practice
I am pleased to see lots of schools working on this aspect of teaching, going beyond the initial interest in knowledge organisers and now looking to integrate the knowledge specification process with a repertoire of routines that support students in their capacity to build knowledge and apply it in ever more complex ways, based on secure recall. Some of this is about low-stakes quizzing but that’s only one possible method. The important thing is for all teachers to be thinking explicitly about how their students will build fluency over time – teaching them how to engage in retrieval practice has got to feature if that is going to happen.
Effective feedback and assessment
I feel we’re shifting in a very healthy direction in this area. More schools are taking on the messages about workload, excessive marking, data validity, the inherent flaws in the excessive use of trackers, flight-path and micro sub-group analysis every half-term and the issue of a heavy assessment tail wagging the curriculum dog.
I’m seeing more schools reducing the frequency of data-drops, re-thinking how they track and report progress, exploring ideas around comparative judgement, supporting the use of whole-class feedback and, more generally, placing more weight on low-stakes teacher-owned. authentic assessment than the central data machine. This feels like the direction of travel – albeit that plenty of schools are still deeply stuck in the data-machine accountability pit. They will see the light eventually.
Mindsets and Metacognition
My final agenda item is one that I think is due some revisiting and reframing. Even where a lot of thinking about curriculum and teaching approaches has been done, changing the attitudes of students towards their learning can still feel like a major factor in securing success. We’ve seen a lot of false starts with big Growth Mindset School launches leading to the poster cheese-fest that I see around school corridors everywhere, and not much change to any student’s actual learning.
However, I think there is huge mileage in schools exploring the ideas of metacognition and self-regulation where teachers explain and model strategies for success explicitly, guiding practice and ultimately supporting students to work independently. This process is covered very well in last year’s EEF report on this topic:
Some kind of synthesis between growth mindset and self-regulation seems to be rich territory to explore – all located in the classroom alongside the teaching of specific curriculum elements, not in assembly halls where it tends to dissipate into airy guff.
I could make a longer list touching on wider issues – especially on behaviour and inclusion – but five is plenty for now.