Curriculum Ed 2019

I toyed with writing a post about Curriculum Ed, mainly because I didn’t want to misinterpret any of the vast information that was presented by speakers far more knowledgeable than myself. But then if I have misinterpreted, it could always be a starter for discussion, and I’ve been really keen to think through what I’ve heard, and the best way to do that is through writing about it.

The Ofsted bit

Although Sean Hartford (@HarfordSean) didn’t start the conference, it is his talk that introduces the focus on curriculum. There’s already been quite a bit of comment over what Sean said, the two “controversial” points being that both academisation and Ofsted’s focus on data have led to a narrowing of the curriculum in English schools, and that Sean can’t believe that over 90% of schools have good behaviour, despite Ofsted figures showing this. I, for one, am pretty pleased that Ofsted are reviewing their practices and looking to improve, rather than thinking it’s already good enough. Isn’t that what we all do? The behaviour issue was with respect to schools being able to support students for one, or two, days to be on their best behaviour! It will be interesting to see Ofsted’s approach develop, as the initial idea of talking to those who get the brunt of poor behaviour does feel like it may have a few road bumps in the way. With regards to the personal development part, Sean did say that schools can’t solve society’s problems by themselves, but they can implement quality programmes that will support in this quest.

So by reviewing the framework, Ofsted have developed the Quality of Teaching judgement to include a focus on curriculum, and particularly a curriculum which has a narrative, otherwise it only serves the top few percentage of students who remember everything. The curriculum shows the intent, but Ofsted will also be looking at how this is enacted in the classroom. Ofsted will go from top level overview discussions with subject leaders, and then making a “deep dive” into classroom practice for current aspects of the curriculum, looking at books whilst in discussion with teachers and students. For me, the opportunity to explain my pedagogical reasoning for what and how I’m teaching is really positive, rather than a judgement with no discussion. Sean did talk about group work verses Direct Instruction, emphasising that research has shown both methods to be effective, if either are implemented in a way that makes them effective.

Along with the three keynote speakers, delegates all had the daunting job of selecting which 3 speakers’ sessions they would attend out of a cast of 20. Not an easy choice with the calibre of speakers there. For the sessions I attended, there were two main themes. One being curriculum as a narrative and the other along the lines of what do we teach and powerful knowledge.

Curriculum as a narrative

Clare Sealy (@ClareSealy) stepped in to open the conference as Christine Counsell (@Counsell_C) was not at all well at the start of the day (and very graciously, Christine hung around and spoke for the final keynote, and on her birthday no less!). Before developing the metaphor of the curriculum being like a box set, Clare took a few minutes to revisit building schema, and the differences between assimilating schema (nicely slotting in new knowledge to what we already know) and accommodating schema (where we have to rearrange what we know to take into account the new knowledge), as described by Piaget. Although both are a part of progress, it is the accommodation that plays the more significant part.

The box set metaphor comes in the difference between a series, such as The Simpsons, and a serial, such as Game of Thrones. Whereas the series are a group of stand alone stories, a serial will build over time, with both character development, sub plots that link into the main plot and conflicts. I’d never heard of the phrase “Chekhov’s gun” before, but liked the idea that if something is going to be a part of the narrative, there needs to be a reason for it. Clare went on to extend the metaphor to show how in her setting, primary, they are creating a whole Chekhov’s armoury for KS3.

Christine also spoke on a similar context for secondary English and Humanities. Using the example of teaching Animal Farm at KS4, Christine suggested how much richer the learning could be had the students been exposed to the Russian Revolution in KS3 and taken that knowledge into their Animal Farm lessons for the English teacher to draw upon and extend in terms of the literature. This is then a narrative that goes across subjects in the curriculum.

Clare explored how a serial of lessons would look, beginning with quite shallow learning where what could seem to be unconnected bits of knowledge are introduced. In subsequent lessons though, the students are being directed to the knowledge required to make connections. These begin with the “Previously…”, recapping those bits of knowledge which need noticing as students start to accommodate new knowledge in their schemes. This all leads to the deep learning, “to understand the relationship of the parts” (Willingham).

Knowledge, Powerful Knowledge and Knowledge about Knowledge

To quote Christine from the end of the conference “teachers must have a relationship with the knowledge they teach”.  Earlier, I attended an encapsulating session from Di Swift “Enabling Teachers to Build Knowledge about Knowledge”, which echoed Christine’s sentiments.

I discovered here that there were far more types of knowledge than I realised, and came across the term “Social Realist” for the first time, which I’ve been able to delve a little more into since Saturday. Di differentiated between craft knowledge, the know how, and the need to understand the why. This was aimed particularly at teachers being able to explain their pedagogical reasoning for what and how they are teaching, and I would imagine links in to what Sean was saying about the deep dive when making judgements about the curriculum and how it is enacted in the classroom. Di also pointed out how activities should serve the knowledge being taught. This is something I’ve been passionate about when planning and working with ITTs; that we begin with knowing what we want students to learn, and the resources we use have to fit into this.

Ruth Walker’s (@RosalindPhys) session was entitled “Powerful Knowledge”, and I could tell that she was very passionate about the works of Michael Young and, for her, the importance of implementing this into schools in the most effective way possible. Di had already introduced Michael Youngs opinion on Powerful Knowledge to me in her session, and how this changed over time, from an elitist version of just forcing what powerful people thought was knowledgable onto others, to a knowledge that is empowering and allows others into making informed choices about that knowledge.

Ruth used the definition of powerful knowledge as a combination of both substantive knowledge and disciplinary knowledge.  Although Ruth gave definitions in her presentation, I needed more clarification, and found Christine Counsell’s description in her article for Impact (Taking Curriculum Seriously, Sept 2018) to help:  “Substantive knowledge is the content that teachers teach as established fact….Disciplinary knowledge, by contrast, is a curricular term for what pupils learn about how that knowledge was established, its degree of certainty and how it continues to be revised by scholars, artists or professional practice.”

Martin Robinson (@Trivium21c) also spoke about powerful knowledge in his presentation “Cultural Mobility: An Argument Against Instrumentalism”.  His description included 4 parts: knowledge that moves beyond the particulars of experience; knowledge that makes sense of and improves the world; knowledge that is cognitively superior to that needed for daily life; and a knowledge that is distinct from common sense knowledge.

Di continued with her presentation to introduce Legitimation Code Theory, and in particular Semantics. IMG_8329This is something new to me, but I the main idea I took away was that knowledge was built through the relationship of contextual knowledge and “the big ideas”, and travelling between these two parts will improve understanding.  I imagine this to be similar to Piaget’s accommodating schema. Di believes that the best education system is one where the curriculum is coherent, and the concepts are organised. Therefore when planning, it should be the concepts that are planned for first, then the context (topic) and finally the cotnent (facts).

Ruth continued passionately talking about powerful knowledge, with her 10 points about knowledge. Point 8 stood out for me, “It is fair and just that all children should have access to this knowledge”, reinforcing what Ruth mentioned earlier in her presentation, that “background and social class shouldn’t determine what is being taught”.  In order to implement this powerful knowledge in a curriculum in schools, Ruth identified 3 key areas that needed to be addressed in order for it to be implemented successfully:

  1. Get behaviour right – teachers need to be able to teach with a crystal clear policy;
  2. Share the vision and intellectualise the staff – one way this can be done is through reading, whether book, blogs, twitter, journals etc.; and
  3. Treat it as a grand project and project manage it.

Ruth will be presenting again at ResearchEd Rugby, 15th June 2019.

For Martin, I understood that he was expressing that powerful knowledge, along with some other aspects of culture capital, is not enough to enable the main function of the curriculum, which is to provide meaning. Martin began with meritocracy – that those with the IQ and effort will result in merit – and claimed if the belief success is down to your IQ and merit, then if you are not successful then it is also down to you. Next was Habitus and cultural capital – if you take on the right cultural habits then you can move up the success scale – so that IQ and effort now results in social status, leading to social mobility.  But he says that the only time in history this has changed is following the second World War. Martin also mentioned cultural literacy, and how culture had acquired a snob value – something that’s only needed to get on in the world.

Martin closed by asking the question, “how do we give students the space for freedom to think for themselves?”, and the desire for the pursuit of knowledge.  He described his T shaped curriculum, which gives breadth for a foundation of knowledge, before going into depth, and leads students to make their own decisions. So instead of teaching, as Arnold describes, “the best which has been thought and said in the world” as an aim, bring students to the point where they can be part of the conversation of what the best might be.

A Conversation with Culture

Christine concluded the day at Curriculum Ed, with her talk about “Curriculum as a Conversation with Culture”.  I enjoyed being able to just listen to Christine talk, although it did mean that I don’t trust myself to write about some of her presentation, but I did take away a few notes and interpretations of the latter part of her talk.

Firstly, the more you know, the more you see when introduced to new material.  Secondly, difficulty is relative to degrees of familiarity, and familiarity can be crafted.  Thirdly, every subject is a pursuit of Truth, and as teachers we should be clear that what I’m teaching is not all there is; it is just a selection.

In conclusion, Christine spoke about 3 common muddles when looking at, or designing the curriculum:

  1. That curriculum design is treated as an audit – an aggregate of its parts, rather than a narrative.  Christine reinforced that the curriculum is a narrative, and that we must know why each part of the curriculum specifies that part of knowledge.  This also included the idea of muscle memory – that time spent on the basics releases time, and allows for creativity later.
  2. Treating all subjects the same.
  3. The failure to treat the curriculum as a sum of its parts.  Christine used the example of teaching Animal Farm as a KS4 novel, and how much richer the teaching could be if students had been prepared in history in KS3 with the teaching of the Russian Revolution.

So an excellent day was had at CurriculumEd.  I apologise if I have misinterpreted, or written something wrong! Thanks of course go to all the speakers who gave up their time to present (the only disappointment being that I missed out on some as there was too much excellent choice), and to Steve (@SputnikSteve) and Jo (@joanneowens) and their team for organising an excellent conference.

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