Tag Archives: Curriculum

Ofsted says learning is…

fredy-jacob-764477-unsplash…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:

  1. When you’ve finished, what will be different?
  2. How will you make sure that you always know this?
  3. Why can you do this?

The first question has three kinds of answer:

  1. A wild stare; a furious mental scrabble for the correct thing to say.
  2. A shrug.
  3. 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):

  1. Design learning around the Curve of Forgetting.
  2. Ask pupils the three questions.
  3. Teach memory skills.

And here’s a premium Thinking Classroom tool based on an ancient memory technique:

Memory Theatre Thinking Tool

Thinking Classroom

3 Questions To Find Out If Your Curriculum Is Fit For Purpose

cel-lisboa-73969-unsplashThe 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:

  1. 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?
  2. Is it flexible, responsive, dynamic and evolving?
  3. 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?

www.thinkingclassroom.co.uk

Photo by Cel Lisboa on Unsplash