The Persistent Challenges of Curriculum Design and Assessment Rationale
As Bure Valley School, we aspire for clarity over what children should learn and what we should be teaching. We are moving away from planning habits that seek to fill the available weeks in a half term or term with content. We do not want teachers to feel that they need every child to record something in their books every lesson. We do not want pupils to move on to the next lesson or next unit of work, in a conveyor belt style, regardless of what they have or have not learnt.
If as a school we are serious about wanting every child to learn everything on our curriculum, then we must change the way we think about our foundation subject curriculum and how we assess them.
To assist with this, we expect subject leads to specify the exact substantive knowledge, associated vocabulary and concepts they want pupils to develop over time. This helps colleagues to avoid the trap of planning by the number of lessons available and focuses on the teaching of core, substantive knowledge - the nuggets of knowledge that is necessary or nice to have within a sequence of learning.
At Bure Valley, we understand that we need to review each taught unit of work. In conjunction with subject leads, teachers will appraise the purpose of each unit task to ensure that pupils think about the right things and how this aligns with our curriculum drivers. We aim to edit out lovely but weak activities from our curriculum timetable. When we do this well, we almost certainly end up with a sequence of learning for each subject that does not fit into a term or half term. This is an important curriculum design concept to pursue because we are not bound to arbitrary time limits and should aim to create some wiggle room where possible within each unit of learning.
For us, a better place to be is to have a sequence of learning that teachers work through, take time to teach well with memory in mind and only move on to the next stage when children have grasped the key concepts.
This approach requires careful consideration of the extent to which children have learnt what they have been taught. That is to say, can they recall substantive knowledge and apply what they have learnt to a different context.
At Bure Valley, teachers gather information about the extent to which children have learnt each small step in the sequence of learning before moving on in a mastery model:
- Diagnostic pre-assessment with pre-teaching, because all children need the foundations for the upcoming new learning;
- High quality group based initial instruction, because multiple ways of communicating and teaching each and every concept with lots of practice is key;
- Progress monitoring through regular formative assessment, because children benefit from timely action when they have not understood;
- High quality corrective instruction, because most children will need this at some point and benefit immensely from early individualised assistance;
- Secondary, parallel assessment, because if the child has still not gripped the idea we need to repeat the cycle. Nearly all pupils will grasp concepts eventually;
- Enrichment and/or extension activities, because we should aspire to take an idea into much greater depth and beyond the expectations of statutory curriculum expectations (when we can).
At the heart of this approach is formative assessment:
- Teachers clarifying, sharing and helping pupils to understand learning intentions;
- Teachers engineering effective discussions, tasks and activities that elicit evidence of learning;
- Teachers providing feedback that moves learning and understanding on.
To teach responsively teachers need to:
- Set clear goals and plan learning carefully;
- Identify what children have understood and misunderstood;
- Respond and adapt teaching to support children to improve.
When this approach is combined with enough time and space in the curriculum to actually address gaps in learning we are more likely to success in our ambition of every child learning all that we have planned. This includes pupils who may have missed some learning due to absence.
If a child has missed a section of a unit, has not understood or cannot recall substantive knowledge we cannot just move on. This is why we build into each unit the wiggle room we need to be able to spend longer (or shorter) on different ideas.
The importance of assessment in the foundations subjects at Bure Valley is that of formative assessment, but we recognise that formative assessment is only useful if we do something with the information we gather.
To monitor this approach school leaders, subject leads and teachers will evaluate pupils work against the learning sequence that consists of medium term unit plans and learning intentions. We will do this across a range of books.
At Bure Valley, this most likely will include one child per class from the following groups: high, middle and low achiever, SEN, EAL, PP and low attender.
At termly professional dialogue meetings, teachers demonstrate how they have edited down units to focus on substantive knowledge and free up space for responsive teaching. This approach, along with other support material, helps teachers to assess whether pupils are working towards, meeting or mastering expected unit objectives.