The good news is you’re probably already at stage 4. Here are the five:
And here’s what they look like:
Remember stability, clarity, security? Early 2020? Feels like decades ago don’t you think? The curriculum was known and effective. Things were generally clear. We knew what to do, how to do it and (if we had the time to think about it), why we bothered. Concerns were: Ofsted, Year 9 (or Year 6), and keeping the staff room cup-washing rota viable.
March 2020. We fell off a cliff. Chaos. Completely unknown territory. We had no idea at all what to do. The curriculum became erratic or non-existent. We couldn’t get to it because of two barriers:
Technical: How do we/they get online and what do we press when we get there?
Pedagogical: How do we do what we did so well in class when all we have is a tiny rectangle in which to do it?
OK. So it wasn’t good, but after the shock we took a peek at the new landscape and began to play around with our new tools: Zoom, Teams, Google Classroom, Jamboard, Mentimeter, Desmos. We crossed into the curriculum by using the barriers within our lesson design – a bit of technical skill, a bit of remote pedagogy, a bit of the literacy. The new gold standard was not wall-to-wall live teaching but creative learning design.
And here we are now, February 2021, about to return to school. We’ve worked hard, we’re exhausted, but we’ve learned so much about learning – because we’ve had to. The barriers are significantly thinner. Well done you.
But how will we preserve our learning back in school? How will we use this opportunity we’ve had to grow personally and professionally?
So here’s my hope for the future. A richer curriculum. See the grey rings? That’s a legacy of the barriers. A reminder that struggle teaches, failure strengthens and frustration breeds success. The curriculum can be enriched because of this lengthy, uninvited and exhausting training course on which we’ve all been delegates: COVID-19
How well do these stages match your own experience? Did you miss any? Squeeze others in between? Linger too long? I hope we don’t ever go back to stage 1, but at least if we do, this time there’s a roadmap.
I’m walking in the country with R. It’s a professional catch up. Executive coaching. (Coaching walks really work, try them). We’ve each got a Starbucks, black Americano, 4 shots. The sun is out, the air is clear.
We cut through bushes and emerge to find 40 beech trees spaced evenly and set in two parallel lines – just over 2 meters apart – stretching left and right. The trunks are too wide for us to reach around; they must be 150-200 years old. Looking up, the canopy is pastel green and sunlight washes through.
There is intent here, there is purpose. Someone, along time ago, decided to plant these trees – right here and in parallel lines. A car would fit between them and maybe, when the trees were younger, two carts could pass.
The trees are on a ridge. To the east is an ancient track, to the west an abandoned military camp. Neither offer any clues but our curiosity is peaked. We want to know – need to know – who planted these trees, when they did it and why.
We ask a man walking his dog. He doesn’t know. A phone search brings up nothing. As experienced educators it’s unspoken that neither of us will now rest until we have this knowledge. This is necessary knowledge.
We plan some blended, lockdown-ready learning for R.’s primary learners:
Study trees. Become beech experts. Have 10 key facts to hand. Learn through expert lectures, online research, reading. Be ready.
Visit ‘Beech Avenue’ (school visit or streamed live). Apply your knowledge. Come at the task visually, linguistically, existentially, mathematically, alone, in groups.
Get creative. If you walk the full length of Beech Avenue, where will you be transported? If the trees talk when we leave, what will they say? What have these trees seen?
Develop the absolute best question you can about Beech Avenue.
Back at school, or at home, seek out local history experts. Zoom Q&A. Locals who’ve moved away are now within reach.
Present learning live, online, face to face – whatever works best.
Review the project. What do we now know and how does it connect to what we already knew and want to know next? How will we remember it? What skills did we need? What attitudes did we need for this?
COVID has forced us online. It’s forced us to consider how we teach.
If you taught in ‘way A’ before lockdown, you’ll probably seek out tools online to teach in ‘way A’. If you taught in ‘way B’ before lockdown, likewise, you’ll seek out tools online to teach in ‘way B’.
What if online offers way C? What are going to do?
The majority of the children whose futures you are nurturing will be alive when the years begin with ’21’. We’re going to need a pretty strong evidence base to continue to use teaching methods that dominated when the years started with ’19’ or even ’20’.
It’s not this: What was your best experience in lockdown?
It’s not this: What was your worst experience during lockdown?
Nor is it any of these: What have you lost, gained, what’s changed? What are your challenges, threats, opportunities, hopes, fears?What did you do, feel, think, say?
No, the 12-word recovery curriculum question is this:
Which of those questions do you least want to answer and why?
Try it. You’ll find that children and adults alike begin to talk about what’s most important to them. It’s a respectful route to a meaningful conversation.
By all means buy the catch-up and recovery resources; design them yourself; attend the training; write the curriculum; ask the experts; address the emotional and intellectual catch up.
But at the end of the day, however you do this, it’ll depend on your relationships; on your ability to let your children tell their stories; on your willingness to empathise with them, and on your capacity to authentically hear them as they speak.
Start with the 12-word question and take it from there.
You can go here (until 13th April 2020) to find out:
Or read on if you’re not in London before then…
All play means something. Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens
In 1938 Dutch historian and cultural theorist Johan Huizinga published Homo Ludens in which he argued for the importance of play in society and for its role in generating culture. He gave play 5 characteristics:
It is free; freedom.
It is not real life.
It is distinct from real life by where it happens and for how long.
It creates order.
It is not connected to any material interest; no profit can be gained.
Huizinga’s thinking made play central to human development and to society’s success. But decades before, Friedrich Fröbel, a German educator, whom we can thank for the word ‘Kindergarten’ – and for a set of eponymous educational toys – firmly and formally embedded play into early childhood experience.
The active and creative, living and life producing being of each person, reveals itself in the creative instinct of the child. All human education is bound up in the quiet and conscientious nurture of this instinct of activity; and in the ability of the child, true to this instinct, to be active. Friedrich Fröbel
Fröbel’s 20 gifts are a progression of play materials helping children to understand their environment and their relationships. For example Gift 3 is a cube made from 8 smaller ones designed for the hands of a 2-3 year old who can assemble, destroy and reconfigure the original shape. Under expert facilitation, the child is given opportunities to represent their experience, to make connections, to gain new knowledge and to develop a concept of beauty.
So profound was the effect of the gifts that it directly inspired abstract art, the Bauhaus movement and several modernist architects – all of whom had experienced Fröbel’s materials as young children.
The smooth shapely maple blocks with which to build, the sense of which afterwards never leaves the fingers: so form became feeling. Frank Lloyd Wright
So there you have the connection. Fröbel’s gifts in part inspired Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural thinking. But where are the gifts now?
I recently visited the Wellcome Trust’s engaging and superbly curated exhibition. From Fröbel to Huizinga to Barbie to Fortnite it tells the story of play and includes some surprisingly forward-thinking historical artifacts – and also some culturally awkward ones.
I left inspired but then reality dawned.
I see superb practice in the ‘Kindergarten’ settings in which I work. I see play and laughter and frustration and resilience and failure and success. I see humanity nurturing humanity with skill and love and intelligence. I see adults playing ‘for’ young children. But then these little bundles of curiosity and furious, furious creativity turn 6, then 7, then 8. They are made to sit and to write and ‘behave’. They are tested on the thinnest sliver of the world’s rich knowledge and judged, labelled, condemned because of it. Play becomes playtime and equates to ‘running around a bit’ and ‘not working’.
When play is designed out of curricula, health is designed out of society.
Something to think about: How did you play as a child? How do you play now? Where is play in the lives of the children that you teach? What are your gifts to the next generation?
29th December 2019 was just another Black Friday in Carnaby Street, London. But unlike its neighbours, the Raeburn clothes store was closed. A sign outside read, ‘Buy Nothing Repair Something’. The sign is now a poster inside the shop,
Today we are closed for business and open for creativity. We’ve disabled our online shop and closed our physical stores.
Raeburn’s design lab up the road in Hackney stayed open and offered a free community drop in repair service – of any brand or no brand of clothing.
Why is it that Timberland, The North Face, Disney and many others seek out Raeburn and, more specifically, founder and lead designer Christopher Raeburn? Why do they want to collaborate and co-create? The answer is simple: it’s the company’s integrity; approach to design and because of its care for our precious planet. Christopher says,
I think as a designer you have an obligation to consider what you are doing and why; ultimately, we want to make strong, sustainable choices…
Companies want his thinking. They want his why and his how more than his what. He’ll help them remake their own what (their product) into something that’s far, far more than it was before.
The Raeburn philosophy comprises 4Rs – the first eponymous, the rest world changing and we’ll look at them here in turn:
There’s a great deal of excess military clothing and equipment out there – unused, unusable or unsafe – and Christopher Raeburn hunts it down with archaeological rigour. It’s then taken apart and rebuilt.
Imagine a bomber jacket that was once a fighter plane’s parachute air-brake; a silk dress cut from a cold war battlefield map or a jacket that used to sit poised and packed as a Chinese air force parachute.
It’s all about value, about thinking in lifetimes not days. Each garment is numbered so you know you’ve bought one of a small run. You also know Raeburn will repair it free of charge forever, and when it’s beyond repair will remake it again: jacket to cushion to handkerchief to wallet is a wholly probable evolution over decades. Put simply, less clothes, lasting longer.
The principle: seek out the surplus, find the excess, bring it out of storage and make it into something new (but with a design nod to its heritage, its provenance).
RÆDUCED products come from new natural fibres; generally (GOTS Certified) Organic Cotton items, but also wool and silk. The RÆDUCED ethos looks at decreasing impact through addressing CO2/water/transport issues.
The principle: think long term across a product’s whole lifetime – its birth, life, journey, changes and death – and only then judge its value and its cost. And ask, just how many clothes do I actually need?
If it can be used again, use it again. Wool can be respun, cotton can be respun. Plastic can be gathered and reformed. Raeburn sell a cashmere sweater. Not quite 100% – a mix of Tencel (from wood pulp), Polyamide (reused plastic) and reclaimed cashmere. They argue, why use new when used can be reused?
The principle: Why is it sitting there in landfill? What can it become instead and how can this transformation best happen?
Raeburn brand thinking is inspiring, necessary, and scalable. Its transformative and transferable. That’s why, from this learning designer’s perspective it is so compelling.
In an educational environment veering dangerously close to a retro and reductive 3Rs ethos, we desperately need this kind of 4R thinking.
The Reading, wRiting and aRithmatic will take care of themselves – these skills are functional, foundational and easily acquired through systematic proven programmes – which will become ever more effective once we fully commit to and trust machine learning and artificially intelligent products.
But currently that’s all we seem to do – drill the basics – especially in primary schools. Children loose their childhood, their play, their chances to create. Design has been designed out of the curriculum; the future hobbled by a mis-remembered ‘golden’ past and troubled by an overloaded, anxious present. We must design and produce a transformation of learning through principles like Raeburn’s Rs.
Something to think about:
In your day to day teaching, what can be remade, reduced, recycled – practically as in actual materials and objects, or pedagogically as in ways of teaching and learning?
What are your 4 principles of teaching and/or learning?
I’ll be creating a series of resources this year linked to ethical design and principles like Raeburn’s. Look out on the website and in the monthly mailing.
…a change in long-term memory. Other definitions are available but let’s explore Ofsted’s, starting with three questions I ask children in class and finishing with advice and a powerful memory technique.
Try asking children these questions:
When you’ve finished, what will be different?
How will you make sure that you always know this?
Why can you do this?
The first question has three kinds of answer:
A wild stare; a furious mental scrabble for the correct thing to say.
A clear articulation of what’s being learned, usually with reference to success criteria stuck in an exercise book or displayed on a whiteboard.
The occasional child will say, ‘I’ll be at play time’ or, ‘having lunch’.
The question is powerful because it’s vague and ambiguous: Finished what? – this work? today? school? this question, word, line?
Different? – for me? in my book? in my head? in my life?
Each child brings their own meaning to the answer which is why it’s valuable to us. They reveal what they think is happening and what finishing it means to them. They have to think for themselves, about their learning, and about how things will change while learning is happening. They can’t look to the teacher for help and there is no ‘right’ answer.
Once a child can describe what will be different; what is being learned, then I’ll ask the second question: ‘How will you make sure you’ll always know this/always be able to do this?’
It stumps most children. ‘Write it down again.’ they say, or ‘do it another time.’
And the final question really hurts. It requires a child to reflect and connect. ‘Why can you do this?’ Some say, ‘because I work hard’, or ‘because my teacher helps me’. It’s rare for a child to refer back to previous learning as a foundation for current success.
I’m hoping Ofsted will take a broad, deep and authentic view of what a change in long-term memory actually means, and that its inspectors will value curricula that include lessons on memory skills and thinking skills. If not then it’s missed its own point.
A change in long-term memory is more than knowing the capital city of Iceland because it was drilled in to you 3 months ago. A change in long-term memory means that you can drive a car without referring to an instruction manual every time you sit in the driver’s seat. It means you can remember what to do, how to do it, and actually do it in different contexts (that’s called lateral progression).
So may I offer you three ways to develop long-term memory (Ofsted-defined learning):
The challenge with having a curriculum that’s fit for purpose is knowing whose purpose it’s fit for.
Is yours? Answer these 3 questions to find out:
Does it anticipate the kind of knowledge, skills and qualities that your students will need in order to be successful citizens and global contributors, not now, not 10 years ago, but in 2030?
Is it flexible, responsive, dynamic and evolving?
Do your students authentically enjoy it?
Curriculum is an arena where opinions, biases, preferences and specialisms do battle for minds. If you’re as old as I am (52) you’ll remember the very first drafts of the National Curriculum and the reviews and revisions that followed. You’ll recall the struggles and the strife as we wrestled it into a workable format. You’ll also know that from 1999 (I think? I am 52 after all) we didn’t have to follow it any more. With a sigh and an eye roll we wondered what all the fuss had been about.
Science had started out with 17 attainment targets, each one broken down lovingly and accurately into sub-targets and descriptions of finely tuned academic success. It was a work of art (how ironic) – broad and balanced coverage, interesting and relevant content. And created with no regard whatsoever for the other curriculum areas – whose authors also believed that their subject deserved a big slice of the learning pie.
Eventually (Dearing Review) some sense of order prevailed and we had a workable document. Until the national literacy strategy hoved in to view. Urban myth has it that visiting Russian educators gasped in awe at the hierarchical rigor with which it was disseminated, noting that not even in Stalin’s hey day would a national requirement be delivered with such mechanistic precision.
And herein lies a problem: everyone wants a say. Everybody feels they deserve a piece of YOUR curriculum, because everybody knows how powerful a document the curriculum is and everybody knows what’s best for (y)our children. It tells the next generation what to know, what to do, how to be, and, ultimately what to think.
So with Ofsted’s re-polish of their inspection lens to look at what is taught and how (and why if ‘intent’ means what we think in means) we see a scrabble. Companies are betting on the curriculum content with new resources, consultants and trainers are reworking old material in anticipation of a scramble for curriculum help, and schools are wondering if what remains in their long term planning is enough, after the data driven content famine which laid their provision bare.
Is your curriculum fit for purpose? Is it fit for your children’s purposes? If not, how might you redesign it?