Cooking up the Curriculum

I enjoy baking. I especially enjoy baking bread. Baking sourdough bread is best of all. There is something magical about taking flour and water and seeing it come to life. There is also something almost mystical about saving some of the dough from the loaf you are making to start off the dough of the next. Each loaf gives birth to the loaf that follows it.

Here comes the thought for the day bit

This baking of bread using the dough of the loaf before reminds me of how my approach to curriculum planning has changed. In the past each topic would stand pretty much alone. We are studying tectonics, they learn about tectonics, I assess what they have learnt about it, we move on to the next topic. The act of having done this topic was sufficient, I thought, to ensure they had learnt it.

The problem with this approach, this culture of doing, is that learning doesn’t happen in this way, We don’t learn simply by studying something, encoding the information, ready to reproduce an exact copy whenever asked, but through the repeated retrieval of this information in different situations and in light of new information since gained. The act of looking back changes what we have learnt in powerful ways.

Don’t believe me? Try this quick experiment. Think back to an occasion when you and a partner or close friend had a lovely day out. Picture what you did, what they said, what you said, the places you went. Remember how lovely that was. Now imagine after a week or so of remembering this lovely day you mention it to your partner or friend and they comment “God, that was a dreadful day wasn’t it! I was so bored!”

The day itself, the information you gained on the day, hasn’t changed, but I’d bet you’d look back on it differently. New things would seem significant, comments would become loaded with a different meaning, events take on a different shade.

The same is true in our journey through the curriculum. When pupils have finished looking at tectonics they need the chance to reappraise what they had learnt in light of what they have since studied on the formation of the landscapes in a particular part of the world or on the impacts of earthquakes on Haiti. This new information will change what they have learnt but only if we give them these opportunities to study things that encourage this reflection. There need to be threads of what came before running to what comes next.

Back to the bakery

The unit on tectonics is our first loaf. Unique and complete. However, we want to save some of the dough from this loaf and feed it into the starter of the next one. The material they learnt on tectonics is going to feed into the one on East Africa when they look at the Great Rift Valley and the people who live there. This loaf, the one on East Africa with a little bit of the one on tectonics, is also unique and complete but is also going to have a little taken from it to then feed into the starter of the loaf looking at Haiti. Here they will look at the factors influencing underdevelopment (influenced by their work on East Africa and its ongoing development) and consider the role of earthquakes as well. This loaf will then feed into the next and so on.

The threads of our KS3 curriculum coming together – a work in progress

We have made sure that our curriculum is structured in such a way that the threads of previous topics are always coming together and informing what comes after. No topic stands alone. We make this explicit to our pupils too and include an explanation of the links on their knowledge organisers for the topic as well as discussing it during the lessons. We keep referring back to the big picture they are trying to build throughout their 7 years with us.

We want our pupils to leave here being able to understand why the world is the way it is; both the physical and human process that have shaped it and continue to shape it.

Mary Myatt reminds us that Curriculum meant a route, a journey. We need to keep this in mind when we are planning our own curriculum in our subjects to ensure we aren’t building little silos of information that are hard to access and link to nothing but instead are weaving the tapestry of our subject that reveals the truth our discipline is searching for. Our big picture.

Teach Like Nobody’s Watching: The Essential Guide to Effective and Efficient Teaching is available for pre-order now.

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3 thoughts on “Cooking up the Curriculum

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