I am not sure if I have ever had an original thought in my life. When it comes to curriculum, this much I have come to know from other people’s wisdom and research. Beyond a handful accrued through experience in the classroom, here are some of the aphorisms, principles, and ideas on curriculum which have shaped my thinking over the last decade or so:

  1. Learning is a permanent change to a child’s long-term memory (Daniel Willingham et al.).
  2. Retrieval of what has been learnt is essential to making the change in long-term memory permanent. (Kate Jones et al.)
  3. Teaching a class of 30 so that they all learn what you intend is a hugely complex business. (Lee Shulman)
  4. “Opportunity cost” is the most important principle for people working and learning in schools. (Dylan Wiliam)
  5. “Less but better”. (Dieter Rahms)
  6. In most cases, “good is good enough”. (David Carter)
  7. Never assume you have communicated clearly – check, check and check again that pupils understand what you want them to do. (Experience)
  8. And in all things abide by the design principle of “simplexity” – make it as simple as possible to do complex things. (Jeffrey Kluger)
  9. In a time poor environment for both teachers and pupils, whatever we do must have as much impact as possible upon progressing pupils’ learning. (Experience)
  10. Curriculum is the complex interplay between content-adaptive pedagogy-assessment. If any one of these three curriculum pillars is out of kilter, the curriculum falls over like a badly made three-legged stool. (Becky Allen)
  11. In England, the National Curriculum is the minimum entitlement for children (Mary Myatt)
  12. The primary curriculum is, fundamentally, and interconnected curriculum. (Emma Turner)
  13. Pedagogy trumps curriculum content – it is the enacted curriculum that matters. (Wiliam)
  14. Learning intentions is the clearest term for expressing what you want pupils to know, understand and be able to do. (Wiliam)
  15. Begin by establishing, and then building upon, what the pupils already know. (Ausubel via Sarah Cottingham)
  16. For each topic, decide what pupils NEED to know and what it would be NEAT for them to know. (Wiliam)
  17. The main purpose of assessment is to use the data to help improve learning. From the conclusions you are able to draw from the data, plan the next steps of your teaching and the pupils’ learning. (Wiliam)
  18. We assume pupils will remember things, so we need some form of synoptic assessment. (Wiliam)
  19. We must have a rudimentary understanding of how learning happens if we are to design teaching which helps pupils learn. (Barbara Oakley)
  20. Knowledge vs skills is a false dichotomy – teachers and pupils need both. Teachers need both knowledge of subject/subject specific pedagogy and generic teaching skills if they are going to teach in a way that children learn. Children need a physical representation of curriculum content to learn from and to be taught the learning skills to be able to make the content their own and apply it to new contexts. (Tom Sherrington et al.)
  21. Go higher – no matter how high your expectations are of your pupils, they will always be able to do more than you think they can. (Experience)
  22. You have to teach in a way that convinces pupils to become part of a community of learners; the important question is “How, do we encourage children to acquire the knowledge?” not “Have they got the knowledge?”. (Michael Young)
  23. Good behaviour is an essential prerequisite to effective teaching. (Tom Bennett)
  24. Seneca said, “There is no learning without remembering”. And then there is Willingham’s truism, “Memory is the residue of thought”. Therefore, getting pupils to think hard for as long as they can in every lesson is the main element of helping children learn.
  25. Inclusive teaching – that is teaching where every pupil has to engage with what is being taught and think hard about it – is the aim. No pupil can be allowed to opt out of the learning going on in your classroom. (Wiliam)
  26. If you’re unsure about what to include in your curriculum content, conduct the William Morris test: only include it if it is either useful or beautiful. (Myatt)

What follows is my first stab at delineating the process of planning a unit of work, based upon the 26 aphorisms, principles and ideas on curriculum listed above. Any reflections and/or proposed improvements are very welcome…

Planning a unit on Magnets for Year 3 (Principles 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11 & 23)

Let’s plan how to teach a unit on Magnets in Year 3 which is rich, challenging and ambitious, in a way that makes things as simple as possible without making the process and the teaching & learning simplistic. (8)

Refer closely to the NC throughout. (11)

Be clear about where this unit of work fits in with what else has gone before and what is to come across the whole primary curriculum, and not just in the science curriculum, and then decide how explicit you are going to make those connections to your pupils. (12)

Begin by deciding what you want all pupils to know, understand and be able to do with regard to magnets by the end of the unit. (10, 14 & 21)

Design an activity which will determine what it is the children already know about magnets. (13 &15)

Decide what resources you might need for the pupils to learn: what resources you will use will depend upon what they already know/understand/can do subtracted from what you want them to K/U/CD. (5, 10, 13, 15, 22 & 26)

Decide the most cost-efficient, easy-to-access way of packaging up the knowledge-content you want the pupils to learn – is it a PPT slide deck, a booklet, a text book, a video? (5, 10, 13 & 20)

Decide how many lessons you need to teach the specified content. (4, 9 & 10)

Decide what pupils NEED to know about magnets (the very essence of the content and skills they need to learn) and what it would be NEAT if they knew, but not essential. If it were a five lesson unit, plan the NEED to know over 3.5 lessons. For the second half of lesson four, assess whether the pupils have understood the NEED to know. Give yourself three routes, post the NEED to know formative assessment:

  1. If all the pupils have securely understood what you have taught them, teach the NEAT to know in the final lesson(s).
  2. If a significant number of pupils haven’t understood what you have taught them, then reteach the NEED to know in the final lesson(s).
  3. If only a small number of pupil (2-4 in a class of 30) haven’t understood what you have taught them, teach the NEAT to know in the final lesson(s) in a way that allows you to reteach the NEED to know to the 2-4 pupils who haven’t yet understood what you have taught them.

A fourth way forward might be to defer the reteaching of the NEED to know, especially if you have built some slack into the way you have designed the next unit of work. (10, 11, 13 & 16)

Decide how you are going to explain the knowledge you want them to know about magnets. (13, 19, 20 & 22)

Decide what questions you are going to ask, and what activities you are going to design, to get every single pupil thinking about what you are going to teach them about magnets. (13, 22, 24 & 25)

Decide what style of in-the-classroom formative assessments you are going to use to determine whether every single pupil has learnt what you intended them to learn. These assessments should not require teachers doing any work post-lesson. (16, 17 & 24)

Design an assessment which gives you a clear picture as to how much more your pupils know, understand and can do. In this case, as it is a science unit, include some practical, as well as other evidence like double-page spreads, MCQs, writing, and what they can tell you about magnets. (18)

Design retrieval activities which you will use at certain points in the future to check whether the pupils have learnt the knowledge on magnets, in terms of a change to their long-term memory. (2, 22)

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