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Sunday, 10 October 2021

Marking and Feedback - Some thoughts!

Guest Post - Barri Moc

There is a delicate balance to be established where marking and feedback is concerned! Time/effort versus impact, sustainability versus planning/preparation and energy versus the multiple other tasks that need attention are a constant battle for educators. The focus of this post is to help me reflect upon some of the implications and consider what core principles are involved and to generate some discussion within my PLN.

Marking

For the purpose of this post, I'm defining marking as the process of checking the work produced by students. There are a number of reasons why this is important and it can obviously be achieved in many ways:

  • check work for completion to identify students who are either struggling or off-task (checking)
  • identify common errors or misunderstandings in the subject matter in order to address these in future lessons (informing planning)
  • motivational purposes as students want their work and effort to be looked at and valued (building relationships)
  • support future planning based on the outcomes and identify any gaps (evidence informed planning)
  • inform discussion about progress, effort, resilience and desirable difficulties (work ethic and engagement in the process)
  • ensure the level of challenge and stretch is appropriate (progress)
  • to provide a reflection point for the teacher to determine the effectiveness of delivery (reflective practice)
  • provides subject specific feedback for the teacher (informing next steps)

This is not a comprehensive or scientific list by any stretch of the imagination and any approaches to marking must not be onerous or time consuming as the sheer scale of the job is tremendous for teachers on a full timetable. At its heart, marking should be for the teacher and purely an information gathering activity. Its fundamental purpose is to inform the teacher about how the students are progressing and identify levels of acquisition and areas that may need further work. A by-product of this is an opportunity for the teacher to reflect on the effectiveness of instruction and activities in terms of the output of student endeavour. I believe this is where whole class marking sheets and #RAG123 approaches can be very effective and do not demand hours of work for a set of books. The information generated from such activities informs planning and enables feedback to be specific to the progress of the students at any point. I assume here that for those looking for evidence for QA purposes, they would see that over time the planning and progress would be responsive to the output from students and obvious in the depth and complexity of output.

Feedback

For the purposes of this post, I am defining feedback as the process of sharing information with students about the quality of their output. This is a very important aspect of learning and progress. Whether based on assessment, observation or reflection, students need information in order to understand what they are doing well, what they have acquired or can demostrate and specific new knowledge, skills or additional practice they need to make further progress. There is always lots of debate about feedback and how to do it well. There are many who are far more knowledgeable than me who have discussed this fervently on Twitter and for the sake of staying fixed on principles, I shall avoid making comment on the method as this is where the real battles and tensions raised at the start lie. Feedback is important because:

  • students need to understand where they are in terms of the criteria they are following
  • students need to understand the knowledge/skills they need to master next
  • teachers need to introduce new content at the appropriate time and in the appropriate measure
  • teachers need to provide feedback in language students can comprehend
  • feedback provides a deeper understanding of the subject matter and contributes to building schema
  • identification of specific development points in output can fuel the imagination and deepen engagement

Again, this is not an exhaustive list and based purely on my own understanding and experience. Getting this feedback to students as close the point of production is also a vital component and thus causes tension with regards to workload. On the other hand, the student is working in a vacuum without it and will not be able to make the necessary links with prior, current and future learning. Is the nature of the assessment and feedback formative or simply summative? This can also have a huge impact on the effectiveness of time/effort versus impact.

It is this thought that leads me to the concluding section of this post. Without a response to the feedback given, then what is the purpose of it being given. The power of formative assessment has been argued by researchers for some time now and if the feedback given doesn't lead to some sort of action, then it remains without purpose and will not have the desired impact on informing students of their position on the learning continuum, whatever that may be. In fact, in terms of progress, the most important aspect is the response to the feedback given. The response could obviously come in many forms and there are many different approaches shared frequently on Twitter and beyond. Doing something with the information feedback to students based on their output is a key aspect of supporting their progress and understanding over time.

To conclude my ramblings on this area, I would suggest that looking at these marking and feedback principles lead me to assert that it should not be over-complicated or over-ambitious because that in turn will have a negative impact on its effectiveness and desired impact. So here we go:

  1. Marking should inform the teacher and provide them with feedback data to be acted upon.
  2. Feedback should inform the students and provide data and information to be acted upon
  3. Marking should be regular and feedback should be given continuously and include both verbal and non-verbal approaches where appropriate
  4. Students should be given time and direction to respond and act upon feedback
  5. Evidence should be gathered from book looks, pupil voice, observations and standards over time against modelled expectations in order to judge the effectiveness of 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Please feel free to critique in the comments or on Twitter. I have generalised on purpose to hopefully fuel discussion.

Saturday, 8 May 2021

Curriculum For Wales: The Hidden Curriculum

 


The Hidden Curriculum - Barri Moc

Curriculum for Wales is now a complete document and following the Senedd election results and a Labour portfolio for education most likely, there is now strong certainty, if there was ever any real doubt, that it's full steam ahead for Curriculum For Wales!


From the definition above the term 'curriculum' can be interpreted differently depending on context and it often needs further qualification to be understood. However, there are definite aspects that are inherent when discussing 'curriculum' in an educational context. Knowledge and skills, standards/objectives, assessment, content, sequences, lesson plans, schemes of work, materials, resources, assessment, activities and all the stuff that goes on in our schools and in our classrooms. It really is refreshing that deep and meaningful discussions and reflections about research informed pedagogy are underway as Curriculum for Wales heads towards the start-line, but will it be enough?

There is an additional and important consideration here that isn't included in the definition above but is clearly assumed within Curriculum for Wales. Whilst there are lots of discussions and activities about knowledge and skills, consideration of lesson content, sequencing, methodology and assessment, there is a huge aspect that is of equal importance and needs to be teased out in going forward. This is The Hidden Curriculum! 

'Hidden curriculum' here refers to the stuff you cannot really plan for without considering the bigger picture and wider context of education from policy to practice. In order to tease this out a little more, here's a little scenario that arises often in many classrooms, and even across phases to varying degrees:
I've been teaching for a long time and I've observed that some learners seem to be able to listen, process, understand, interact, wrestle with challenge and make impressive progress both in terms of acquiring knowledge and application of skills. On the other hand, there are learners who are disaffected, bored, not interested, distracted or poorly behaved where progress is often hindered and this can also hinder the learning of others. Of course this is a continuum of extremes and many learners are situated along it at different points and can often change their position depending on a huge range of variables and factors such as the weather, relationships, home life, background knowledge, educational and life experience, well-being and health etc. The struggle for me has always been that this vast mixture of learners are all present in the same lesson. Even with the best lesson sequences planned out with engaging resources and the latest thinking on how to deliver that content, it may not be sufficient to bridge the gap between these two extremes. It's a struggle!

Barri Mock - Teacher and Subject Lead

This is a 'hidden curriculum' because it goes beyond the knowledge and skills that can be planned for within a lesson sequence. Sure, teachers in the classroom will select content and activities with the aim of including everyone and will strive to ensure there is challenge and support to involve all learners in being successful and promote progress, but this is not sufficient to realise the lofty goals of the 4 Purposes in and of itself. I'm not suggesting this has not been a factor in the co-construction phase and it is obviously implicit within the document itself and this 'hidden curriculum' is more about the vision, culture, ethos, routines, identity, behaviour, attitudes and ownership of the learning within our schools themselves. It's the day to day stuff, the language, the timetable, the pastoral support, the interactions, the extra-curricular opportunities, the systems and the organisation and structure of the school and what it stands for.

How do we foster positive dispositions to learning? How do we cultivate curiosity, creativity, resilience, critical thinking and problem solving? How do we invite another into exploring identity and sense of place in the world? How do we go about equipping an individual to deal with the harsh realities of life and remain positive and philosophical in moving forward? How do we reconcile poverty with wealth and the different experiences this can bring? How do we create an environment where failure is seen as a positive step in learning? How do we ensure the self-efficacy of all learners and promote equity? These are questions that go right to the heart of the 4 Purposes and yet they will not be written into any schemes of work because the craft of the teacher working within a community ethos and culture is in the realm of professional learning, leadership and the shared purpose and understanding of a meaningful education.

The reality on the ground will remain the same for most teachers! Learners will continue to have different backgrounds and experiences and a wide range of knowledge, skills and abilities on which to draw. On one hand this is amazing as there's lots to share but it's also problematic. Let's take reading for example! What if a learner, for whatever reason, cannot read upon reaching Y7? What about those who don't care or feel the 'visible curriculum' is not relevant to them? What about those learners who cannot understand the cultural references within lessons that others do? What about learners who do not possess the dispositions required to function in the classroom? What about the bullies, racism and peer pressure that is rife due to social media? What about tolerance, understanding, patience and respect? What about celebrating diversity and being inclusive of all? Can these things be addressed sufficiently within the 'curriculum plans' and subject schemes of work and lesson sequences and experience, or is there something else, some other layer of thought and planning we need to engage with? Do we also need to address the 'hidden curriculum'?

In designing Curriculum for Wales within each school/cluster/region there is a need to consider things such as school vision, ethos, culture, intention, purpose, identity and expectation. The passing on of information between phases over and above academic data also needs careful consideration, particularly in view of dispositions and attitudes to learning in order to address any issues. We need to arrive at a place where the start of a new phase is not a complete blank slate, but a continuation of the journey. We also need to address meta-cognition, motivation and relationships through careful investment of time and expertise in the 'hidden curriculum' if we are to achieve the desired outcomes of this bold curriculum adventure. In addition to this, we need to go a little further and ask where the responsibility for addressing these very important points rests? How do we cultivate the best culture, environment and dispositions from classroom through faculty, school, cluster, regional and national level so that Cymru is given the best chance of moving forward and to realise the lofty goals of the 4 Purposes and Curriculum for Wales? 


#15MFCymru 

 


Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Does #CfW Leave Reading to Chance? (Part 2)

 

Guest Post - Rob Randel

Does #CfW Leave Reading to Chance? (Part 1)


As we edge ever closer to implementing Curriculum for Wales, are we fully aware of what early reading instruction should look like in our schools?  Are current approaches used in schools aligned with the science of reading?  Are all teachers trained in the science of reading? 

With regards to reading and spelling, Curriculum for Wales is a mixed bag of the good, the bad, and the ugly. For example, these LLC descriptions of learning are particularly problematic:

1.  "I am beginning to discriminate phonemes aurally in different positions." 

Having children do this aurally without including the letter(s) (grapheme) that represents the sound (phoneme) is completely illogical and unhelpful. Our invented writing system is based on how the individual sounds are represented by letters. It isn't necessary to discriminate between individual phonemes in speech unless the word is going to be written down or read.  The problem with this statement is that schools may delay introducing letters based on this unnecessary statement. Introducing children to the phonemes and their corresponding grapheme right from the start is logical; it is less abstract; and helps them to understand how our writing system works from the beginning.

2.  "I can use units of sound of varying sizes to learn to read."

This is incorrect. The only unit of sound needed to begin early reading and writing is the phoneme. Our invented writing system works by having the individual phonemes represented using an alphabetic code. Children do not learn to recognise phonemes by first beginning with larger sound units such as syllables or onset and rime. Our writing system is not based on these larger units.

3.  "I am beginning to recognise and read high-frequency words."

This needs to be clarified. Children should not learn high-frequency words as whole or 'sight' words. Teaching words as a whole is problematic and can be detrimental for some children learning to read. High-frequency words are not a special list of words that need to be memorised. They occur more frequently, but they all follow the same decodable logic of our writing system and children should be taught to segment and blend all through the word to read them.  

4. "I can use a range of strategies to read with increasing fluency.

This is a concern as 'range of strategies' gives schools remit to use multi-cueing approaches which encourage children to guess words based on the picture, context, or just the initial letter sound.  Again, this is not how our writing system works. With this approach children pick up poor reading habits that are very difficult to correct later on when they struggle to read and write at the level required to access their secondary school curriculums. 

Wales needs to ensure that Systematic Synthetic Phonics is taught well in our schools.  Curriculum for Wales falls short in guaranteeing this approach and we continue to leave children's learning to read to chance. We have no idea about what methods are being used to teach reading across our schools, and we have no idea about the decoding abilities of our pupils. Internationally we are seeing changes: New South Wales, South Australia, and Tasmania are all mandating the teaching of Systematic Synthetic Phonics and introducing a Phonics Screening Check to make sure all children benefit from the best, evidence-informed approaches for learning how to read. What is preventing Wales from embracing this too? 

In 2008, the National Behaviour and Attendance Review's core recommendation 1 was, "The Welsh Assembly Government should, through implementing the revised curriculum and assessment arrangements from September 2008 in schools in Wales, provide a clear lead that no child (within the mainstream ability range) should leave primary school without the functional ability to read and write."  

13 years later and we are still waiting for that clear lead from Welsh Government and our Education Ministers past and present. We still have children leaving primary school unable to read. Welsh Government rejected the main findings of the Rose Review (Independent review of the teaching of early reading) in 2006 and this continues to be at the detriment of our pupils today.  

Wales is already 15 years too late in ensuring that Systematic Synthetic Phonics is taught in all our primary schools and that we have a reliable way of assessing which schools are doing it well. 

There needs to be urgency on this: children have one shot at going through the school system, and reading is the most important thing we need to get right. 

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Curriculum for Wales - The 4 Purposes

 


Curriculum For Wales - The 4 Purposes

#15MFCymruTeam



The aim of this post is to take a deeper look at The 4 Purposes within Curriculum for Wales.

The aim is to address the questions above and stimulate some thought and discussion around enacting Curriculum for Wales at a School, Areas of Learning and Experience or even subject level.

In short, the Four Purposes provide us with the What! This is the big picture! The shared vision that links us all together in a common endeavour. So let’s dive in!


The above quote from the Curriculum For Wales documentation clearly illustrates the 4 Purposes are the starting point and aspiration for the whole curriculum. A clear purpose to enable all learners to become ambitious, capable, enterprising, creative, ethical and informed, healthy and confident people equipped to take a fully functional and effective role in society.

On one hand, these look appropriate and sensible aspirations for all learners that many would find it hard to disagree with. Yet, on the other hand, they can seem hugely challenging and ambitious beyond reality given the issues surrounding poverty and levels of literacy in general. On the surface they're obvious but considering the lengthy process to arrive at them and the huge distilling process and deep consideration to agree upon them, this is now the vision for all learners and the driver for the curriculum changes.

One of the issues that immediately arises is do all schools in all sectors have a shared understanding of the fully-loaded purposes contained here? What is a purpose? What does it mean and how does it align with curriculum thinking and planning to take such a central place in the curriculum documentation?


A quick search of the word provides these definitions that may, or may not, help us to grasp at a deeper level why they’re central to everything.

The reason, motive, impetus, grounds for, point of and cause for the curriculum is to mould and release these creative, enterprising, informed and healthy individuals into society. It is therefore primarily the What of the curriculum. It’s the big picture, the driver, the impetus, the reason and the motivation for the whole endeavour.

In a nutshell, the 4 Purposes are in-fact one purpose with four facets that interlink and intertwine to realise the whole vision. The Learner possessing these dispositions as a result of their experience through the system.

It’s also interesting to consider the verb form of the word purpose here too! Intention, aim, plan and overall design for the purpose of education is the ground of Curriculum for Wales; and the 4 Purposes are the centre piece. Let’s dig a little deeper and explore each aspect of the whole purpose in more detail.


  • Expectations and challenge
  • Knowledge
  • Skills
  • Questioning
  • Problem Solving
  • Communication in Welsh and English
  • Explaining ideas and concepts
  • Using number
  • Interpreting Data
  • Applying mathematical concepts
  • Using digital technologies
  • Analysing information
  • Researching
  • Evaluating critically

= LIFE LONG LEARNERS


  • Knowledge and application of knowledge
  • Creation of ideas and products
  • Thinking creatively
  • Reframing and solving problems
  • Identifying and grasping ideas
  • Taking measured risks
  • Working collaboratively with roles and acting responsibly
  • Expressing emotions and ideas in a variety of ways
  • Giving time, effort, energy, knowledge and skills to benefit others

= TO PLAY A FULL PART IN LIFE AND WORK


  • Finding, evaluating and using evidence to form views and opinions
  • Contemporary issues 
  • Values
  • Democratic responsibilities and rights
  • Actions and consequences when making decisions
  • Knowledge of self, community, culture, society and the world both now and in the past
  • Respecting others and rights within a diverse society
  • Sustainability

= Citizenship of Wales and the World

  • Values – spiritual and ethical
  • Wellbeing – mental and emotional 
  • Confidence, resilience and empathy
  • Application of knowledge to inform lifestyle - diet, exercise and mental health
  • Finding information to support lifestyle and decisions
  • Physical activity
  • Measured decisions for lifestyle and risk management
  • Participation
  • Relationships
  • Overcoming hardships
  • Knowledge and skills to be as independent as they can be

= LEAD FULFILLING LIVES AS VALUED MEMBERS OF SOCIETY


Let's pause and take a breath for a minute! The 4 Purposes are far from being buzzwords or small aspects of the curriculum. They are, in reality, the very detailed reasons, motivations and desire for the curriculum. As we consider the design process, all the planning and development should be driven by these over-arching purposes, reasons and motivations for our young people as they journey through the system.

This does not mean we will all have to address every aspect individually and nor should we consider them in isolation from each other. For example, each purpose contains knowledge in some form or measure. Knowledge is the foundation or basic starting point for learning and the whole curriculum and they're clearly established within the purposes themselves. The ability to apply knowledge in new contexts also repeats itself often, so the purposes in fact encapsulate the whole range of learning approaches and experience. There's lots of scope from direct instruction to project based learning and these purposes do not favour one above the other but both at the appropriate time for a specific purpose. This is further illustrated in the subsequent skills requirements and pedagogical principles within the document.

How does all this fit into any serious discussion about developing Curriculum for Wales?


It really doesn’t matter which graphic, blog, article, webinar or discussion you encounter concerning Curriculum for Wales, the Purpose of the curriculum is central. It purposefully puts the Learner at the centre and rightly so. However, as we look at how this will be achieved, we can also see the Purpose, therefore the Learner, is also the centre of the SLO model and all we do as educators to enact the curriculum going forward. In looking at the SHARED VISION section of the model, it is clear that we need to have a collective, deep and clear understanding of the purpose of the curriculum in order to address how to enact it meaningfully. Does this have implications for Professional Learning?

To conclude this quick post, I thought it would be reasonable to address in more detail what the 4 Purposes are not and suggest some further reading! There are lots of myths and misconceptions, where some have some validity and others are obvious false dichotomies. Check out the links below about Dispelling Myths! For instance knowledge v's skills or direct instruction v's inquiry based learning. The fact is clear, the document itself and The 4 Purposes, as I hope I’ve illustrated, are broad enough that schools can and should select from the best of all approaches (best bets) and the 12 pedagogical principles as they design learning experiences that are suitable for their context. The difficult discussions are really about mapping potential SOW against the Purposes of the curriculum and What Matters statements before launching into considerations of other aspects. There are so many difficult discussions and decisions yet to be had about content and assessment and how we achieve cohesion  across the whole learner experience.

We cannot and should not try to measure the 4 Purposes or teach them in isolation from each other. The purposes are the embodiment of our learners.  Check out the Character Dispositions post below!

A final thought! How do we as educators and establishments model these dispositions effectively? Do you think we've made a good start?

The Curriculum for Wales – Dispelling the Myths – Part 1. | Curriculum for Wales Blog (gov.wales)

The Curriculum for Wales – Dispelling the Myths – Part 2 | Curriculum for Wales Blog (gov.wales)

Character dispositions. Teach them. Model them. Develop them. Celebrate them. But, please, don’t measure them. | teacherhead


Update:

Since writing this post, the following research paper by Jane Gatley has been shared with us so we are adding it here for those interested. It creates another line of thinking with regard to the 4 Purposes as an aims based curriculum approach and the AoLE's as a subject based approach to curriculum which leads to some tension between the two.

Can the New Welsh Curriculum achieve its purposes? - Gatley - 2020 - The Curriculum Journal - Wiley Online Library  

Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Curriculum For Wales: Assessment

 


The #WeeklySlowChat for 4th March 2021 was based on a fantastic webinar given by Rob Davies on Assessment within Curriculum for Wales.

Here is the link to the webinar for anyone wishing to catch-up on it!

https://bit.ly/RobDaviesAssessment

Diolch yn fawr, Rob! Very insightful and helpful presentation to help guide our thinking.



#15MFCymru 

Here we go! Curriculum For Cymru!

Opinion - B. Mock

 Curriculum For Cymru - Curriculum And Assessment Bill


An 'historic moment' for education in Cymru has been reached with the passing of the Curriculum and Assessment Bill on the 9th March, 2021.  Curriculum for Cymru will be introduced in 2022; so here we go! 

It's been a very long time in the making and has had it critics and supporters along the bumpy road to this historic point. Lots of work, time, effort and financial backing has gone into this endeavour and no one can realistically fault the desire or ambition contained within it. We all agree we want the best education possible for our young people and wider community and this radical approach and fundamental change from a top-down to a bottom-up curriculum, which gives schools and teachers agency to design learning experiences for their own context, is both exciting and challenging. It's a monumental shift in education and culture and whatever our views, concerns or expectations, it is here and we must make it work. The pressure is now on!

The scope and ambition of Curriculum For Cymru is huge and its implications are wide. It contains a vast panacea of content, items, foci and considerations. Some aspects are very wordy and vague.  These will need unpicking by schools and educators in order to implement these changes and realise the desired culmination of this whole process. However, without any shadow of a doubt, the challenge and opportunity are now a reality and enshrined in law.

Change on this scale is radical! There are still some pieces of the puzzle that need to be clarified and developed but whether the ducks are all lined up effectively or not the intense discussions and decision making processes begin/continue within and between schools to get ready for the big launch.

I'm hoping that now the political machine has completed its course, we can move away from the 'selling' of Curriculum For Cymru as an idea and leave behind the tiresome soundbites and flashy neon lit terminology and start to grapple with establishing a common understanding of the document and flesh out the bones on what it might, could, should look like. We need to move away from defending it to critiquing and challenging it to expose its weaknesses and potential flaws and ensure we do not make a mess of this opportunity.

I also hope that now the reality of Curriculum For Cymru is here, we can start to address the fundamental need for better cross-phase collaboration. We need to have a much better and more focussed view on the whole-journey within the system and particularly around the issue of reading instruction. Closer working practices between phases is crucial to the curriculum's success and time and space must be carved out for this to happen. 

Professional learning is another crucial factor to address. The current disparity between consortia on what's available to teachers is just plain silly. All teachers need access to the best PL. To be a research informed curriculum creator and a responsive and reflective practitioner is now the desire for all teachers. Co-construction and collaboration in this regard needs to be at work right throughout the system and not just for those who work in certain areas.

And finally, what about accountability? We need accountability as the whole system is paid for by public funds and we are answerable to the public. Delivering high quality education for all learners is the only baseline in this regard. Let's face it, the data only driven accountability system has led us down a dark road of which we need to recover both in terms of 'gaming' and 'confidence'. This does not mean throwing out the data but putting it in the right proportion to other measures that give us equally valid data such as pupil voice, SOW, lesson planning and progress against plans etc. There's lots of work still to be done here!

To make this work, we need to start/continue having those difficult conversations without fear of rocking the boat or feeling like we are not allowed to voice concerns. We are honed with effort and challenge through interaction with others who pose alternative questions and view-points. Do not confuse debate with petty arguments! We need to hear those dissenting voices and encourage critique as this is the way to sharpen our intellect, expertise and understanding and ultimately get this right. Curriculum For Cymru: Here we go! 

Amser a ddengys

Barri Moc



Friday, 8 January 2021

Curriculum For Wales - Obstacles And Opportunities

  This is a GUEST POST by Glyn Rogers


To my mind, the current landscape in education provides some obstacles to realising the vision of Curriculum for Wales. Identifying them is the next step towards meaningful change.

 

When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

Godhart’s Law

 

During the last decade, we have fallen foul of Godhart’s law (see also Campbell’s Law and the Cobra effect) thanks to an obsession with measuring performance. Godhart’s law states that when a specific target is set, people change their behaviours to meet that target, regardless of the overall intention.


Credit: Sketchplanations.com

This decade has been one when appearance has trumped substance, one when the book scrutiny became king. The strange assumption that learning is a linear process led to ‘flightpaths’ becoming accepted practice. It was the decade when teaching to the test was encouraged, no matter that the subject being taught might lose its meaning. It is a time when conscientious pupils learned how to ‘work the mark scheme.’ Mary Beard explores this in her podcastYou may now turn over your papers.’

The first obstacle to realising meaningful change then is that the dominant drivers of behaviour for schools are the nature of external assessments and the ways in which school performance is evaluated. Given more freedom, it is entirely likely that schools will adapt their interpretation of Curriculum for Wales over time to optimise for assessment performance. If we are to avoid the unintended consequences associated with this, the nature of external assessment needs careful consideration. The same is true of the yardsticks used to make judgements about schools and what it is that challenge advisors are promoting in what they are challenging.

“Everyone needs habits of mind that allow them to dance across disciplines… modern life requires range, making connections across far-flung domains and ideas.”

 David Epstein- Range: How generalists thrive in a specialised world

An obsession with the performance of the core subjects in external assessments has seen some subjects, particularly the Arts, wither on the vine. This well intentioned focus has led to a degradation in the school experience for young people that hits the least privileged the most. I hope we can move beyond this in the next decade by recognising and celebrating the importance of the creative and other subjects as part of a rounded education. Curriculum for Wales should allow young people to develop a view through the lens of a range of subject specialisms and explore the connections between and beyond them. A well-considered, integrated approach would reduce duplication and free us to transcend the limitations of subject boundaries in the study of the issues of our time. The rub here though is that a meaningful exploration of this takes time, co-operation, and expertise. A Post It note exercise as part of an INSET day at the end of term won’t cut it. A thoughtful investment in training that includes different perspectives on curriculum before such an undertaking would be invaluable for the task at hand and beyond.

“…Increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we accept only information, whether true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that’s out there.”

Barack Obama’s farewell address, January 2017

I have little time for the idea of de-emphasising knowledge because we can just ‘Google it.’ I do however believe that we have a responsibility as educators to teach young people how to navigate and access this fingertip knowledge; to provide them with frameworks for thinking that helps them make rational sense of it, to recognise the limitations of their own biases and those projected upon them by online profiling. For the new curriculum to have real impact, we need to acknowledge that the lens through which most of society now forms its world view is via unregulated content on a six inch LCD display. Of course, we must continue to play our role as teachers by equipping young people with knowledge in the classroom to help them discern this maelstrom. However, the perfect storm of fake news and misleading use of statistics throughout the unprecedented events of 2020/ 21 also underscores the need for a toolkit of approaches to thinking from across domains that goes beyond the current interpretation of the Digital Competence Framework; to help make sense of novel situations and the reframing of old ones as our knowledge changes. This is essential for developing responsible citizenship in the Twenty-first Century. Some of these frameworks and associated skills are domain specific, others can be applied within and across domains. All are fundamentally important for realising the four purposes.

“…Navigating the contradictions and tensions…is not about choosing sides; it is about finding the most effective sequence and relative emphasis in a student’s learning at any given point of their educational journey.”

Tom Sherrington- The Learning Rainforest

I have been party to lesson observations in a school where there is a tension between the pragmatic teacher needing to deliver a content heavy examination syllabus in the most efficient manner possible and the expectations of the non-specialist observer who is looking for a checklist of skills. To my mind, direct instruction should not be instinctively frowned upon here; it is a valid instructional technique in the modern classroom as part of a teacher’s toolkit. This needs to be acknowledged so that we can work on improving the quality of this type of instruction; it is possible to overdo it though and to do it badly, as Tom Sherrington points out in his blog. It is also easy to become over reliant on this strategy as it gives a sense of control. To acknowledge the teacher as the subject expert is important but an expert teacher hopes to engender awe and wonder of the subject, not the teacher. If we focus solely on instructing knowledge in ever more convenient, direct, and easily digestible ways in the name of reducing cognitive load, then we are limiting their opportunities for meaningful schema building, for applying this knowledge and we are fostering a culture of dependence. As always, context is key.

An exciting facet of teaching during the last decade has been the enriching experience of conversation and debate on Twitter. It has allowed teachers direct access to a wide professional learning network that often extends beyond the profession. However, it can be a polarising medium and I’ve seen valid classroom activities derided along with those that deserve it. I welcome the conscious move towards engaging with research and ensuring an evidence-based approach advocated by many on Twitter but I am concerned with reductive and de-contextualised interpretations that then become mainstream. Thoughtful investment in teacher professional development once again is the key to making the most of this wonderful, sometimes infuriating but always thought provoking informal social network of education professionals.

“The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition.”

So, the success of Curriculum for Wales means nudging a change in the prevailing drivers of school culture. It points to a well thought out approach to assessment and inspection arrangements that considers unintended consequences, investment in a well-informed, discerning, and well-prepared profession, ongoing support, and adequate time to explore the best provision for each context. It also means acknowledging and embracing the cultural and social changes brought about by the new ways both learners and teachers acquire information and engage in informal learning. As the stoics might say, each obstacle in our path is also an opportunity to get things right- the impediment to action can advance action.


Thursday, 19 November 2020

Curriculum For Wales

 This is a GUEST POST by Mr James Wise


 

“And I then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in one minute, and is there a way you can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets in the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it'd be interesting to check that.”

Donald Trump, April 2020

 

Perhaps one thing the above quote illustrates is that the quality of our thought is dependent on the quality and quantity of what we know. If we know lots about a certain topic, then we are more able to think about that topic in a sophisticated way. We are more able to analyse, critique and problem solve if we have a breadth and depth of understanding of what it is we are analysing, critiquing or attempting to solve. On the other hand, if we know very little about a topic then, well, we may end up suggesting people drink bleach.

As we plan a curriculum driven by the Four Purposes, the question of knowledge and understanding is central. The more pupils know, the more informed they become. The extent to which pupils become capable, ethical, creative or healthy largely depends on the application of what they know and understand. Indeed, Curriculum for Wales guidance emphasises how the realisation of the Four Purposes will be supported by “specific experiences, knowledge and skills”, with knowledge being defined as an understanding of a discipline, skills as the “application of knowledge” and experiences as the combination of knowledge and skills.

In other words, the extent to which the pupils pursue the purposes largely depends on their acquisition and application of knowledge, which would mean that the commonly held interpretation of Curriculum for Wales as a ‘skills based’ curriculum, is very much a misunderstanding (as this helpful blog from Welsh Gov points out). Certainly, the very notion that skills can sit outside of a knowledge base, that they can be cultivated in one area, say maths, and then extracted and utilised elsewhere, say in French, is highly questionable. As Dylan Wiliam argues here, and Prof Donaldson himself states here, the skill doesn’t exist without the contextual knowledge. The skill of solving a mathematical problem relies on knowledge of mathematics. That skill cannot be readily transferred to another context in order to solve a problem, for example, translating a text from French into English, as that would clearly require the application of a different knowledge base. In essence, the skill cannot be separated from the knowledge underpinning it. To draw on the thoughts of Michael Fordham, that would be like trying to separate the cake from the ingredients.

Could we make a similar point about the Four Purposes? Can a pupil’s creativity, capability or confidence be transferred from one context to a completely different one? Does capability in Maths mean capability in French? Does confidence in PE mean confidence in Art? Does creativity in Music mean creativity in English?

Clearly, just like skills, the Four Purposes are very much context dependent. If we want a pupil to be a confident mathematician then knowing a lot of maths is key. If I want a pupil to become a capable historian, then knowing a lot about history – substantive and disciplinary – is key. Therefore, as we design our curricula within the Curriculum For Wales framework, with the purposes acting as our beacon, the question of knowledge, and how pupils’ interact with and experience that knowledge has to be central. The pursuit of the purposes is dependent on it.

But what knowledge? Whose knowledge? Is all knowledge of equal value? Are some things just more important and more valuable to understand than others?

What is certain is that curriculum time is strictly finite. We can’t teach everything. In deciding to devote learning time to one thing, we are simultaneously taking learning time away from something else. We have to make decisions, and they can’t be arbitrary. We should be able to justify those decisions. Why ‘this’ and not ‘that’? Why teach this ‘now’ and not ‘then’? But how are we going to arrive at those decisions? And who should actually be deciding this?

Help is at hand, to an extent. The statements of What Matters are there to “guide the development of curriculum content” and descriptions of learning, arranged in progression steps, give teachers “scope to…select content”. But the specifics of that content, of what pupils actually learn, largely remain decisions we need to make. Ironically, there’s a danger that if we rigidly follow the What Matters statements and descriptions of learning as a way of selecting content then we could end up designing a curriculum that is somewhat ‘tick-box’, criteria-led, lacking coherence, with an inevitable focus on accountability (“Where’s your lesson on ‘How we engage with social influences shapes who we are and affects our well-being’”?)  The very things we are trying to move away from.

Perhaps keeping the purposes as our end goal, and building our curriculum around the knowledge and skill we feel is of most value and most importance is our best bet. We can then use What Matters statements and descriptions of learning as guides that we check-in with to ensure we’re on the right path, rather than as the drivers themselves.

But that still leaves the question of what exactly to teach. If the extent to which pupils realise the Four Purposes depends on the quality and quantity of the knowledge and skill they acquire, we need to ensure that what we teach is valuable and plentiful. So, where can we find seams of valuable, useful and important knowledge? Perhaps the subjects, the “tools teachers have for helping pupils make the step from experience to higher forms of thoughts” (Michael Young) is where to start. This is where the fruit of human thought and toil has accrued.

But haven’t we moved beyond subjects to Areas of Learning and Experience? What about the “integrated approach” and “meaningful links across different disciplines” that Curriculum for Wales seemingly champions? Certainly, the appreciation and understanding of links across or between ‘learning’ is certainly a sign of wisdom, depth and flexibility of thought, and is something to aspire to for all of our pupils. But are those connections where we should begin? Can we understand the link between A and B until we have a decent understudying of what A and B actually are? Or, will an increased understanding of A and of B to begin with lead to a greater, more meaningful understanding of that connection later on? To echo the thoughts of Martin Robinson, perhaps the way forward is to begin within the borders of subject disciplines, building understanding, and then to look-out and link across, in a more authentic manner. 

Unfashionable as it may seem, maybe subject disciplines, and the knowledge contained within them could be the places to start. Again though, the question of what knowledge and whose knowledge still stands. Which books to study in English? Whose interpretation of history? Which scientific discoveries or mathematical concepts? Add to this the question of how much of this valuable knowledge we have time to actually teach, and then how to begin to connect it in a meaningful way, and it can start to feel like the sort of ‘mad riddle’ that would exasperate regal Cockney hardman Danny Dyer.

I’ll keep this post short, with a view to exploring a possible way forward in the future, but perhaps some simple curriculum design principles could help us help us with these decision;

Breadth; a broad range of subjects, a breadth of concepts and content within those subjects as well as a breadth of voices and perspectives.

Value; concepts and content that are of most importance, most use and of most value to our pupils, not just academically but culturally too.

Coherence; sequenced and taught in a way that allows pupils to make meaningful connections between their learning, not just within a subject but across subjects and AOLEs.

I’ll attempt to explore and elaborate on these principles (and how they complement the Curriculum for Wales guidance) in another post soon. But for now, please feel free to share your thoughts, challenges and questions. The more we push each other, the better we can make this.

Diolch

James Wise

@MrWiseCHS