By Andy Tharby
In her recent commentary on Ofsted’s research into the primary and secondary curriculum, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, wrote:
“In recent years, we have thought a great deal about the role of leaders and the importance of teaching. We have also given a great deal of our collective time to exam grades and progress measures. These are undoubtedly important. However, at the very heart of education sits the vast accumulated wealth of human knowledge and what we choose to impart to the next generation: the curriculum.”
This newly-fledged interest into the nature and substance of the curriculum is exciting but potentially daunting for teachers and school leaders whose knowledge and understanding of curriculum principles and theory might be in its infancy. This is where Mary Myatt’s recent book, The Curriculum: Gallimaufry to coherence, is so useful. It provides a brilliantly clear overview of how to put curriculum theory into practice in your school or your department.
I fully recommend that you read Mary’s book for yourself, but here are some choice nuggets of wisdom to get a flavour of her arguments.
Identify key ideas and concepts
“Coherence comes from the Latin to ‘stick together’, and when we think about the curriculum coherently, it becomes much simpler to teach and for pupils to understand … The temptation is to go straight to the detail of what needs to be taught. And this is understandable when we are under time pressure. But in the long term, we waste time because we have not invested in two things: identifying the key ideas and concepts, and not sharing these with our pupils. This means we are denying them the chance to get the material to stick together.” (p. 23)
Draw the threads
“What happens currently, is that the curriculum is often gobbetised into small sections. Pupils are often taught disparate, unconnected material, without any effort being made to ensure that it goes into the long-term memory … Planning a curriculum which draws the threads between the overarching ideas and the detail is the key to unlocking the present distance between what is taught and how well it is remembered.” (p. 36)
Slow down the pace
“If we are to honour the curriculum and children’s learning, we need to think of pace differently – pace needs to be appropriate to the learning. There will be times when it is appropriate to move on quickly, but only because it is clear that the children have got it and now need something additional. Mostly, however, things need to slow down. It is simply not possible to work through a curriculum at break-neck speed.” (p. 48)
Reasoning and mastery
“The mastery curriculum in maths is also underpinned by reasoning and there are compelling reasons why reasoning should underpin other aspects of the curriculum, as well. Reasoning calls on us to justify, to explain and to make clear our rationale for doing something. It both draws on long-term memory and supports its nurture. When I have to explain and justify my answer to someone else, I am having to dig deeper into the underlying structures to support my argument … The reasoning element is a way of forcing out into the open what we know intuitively, to give it voice, to make it public, so that I and others can discuss it further. Reasoning has the power to transform material into deep learning.” (p. 80-81)
Teach the etymology of words (the story behind each word)
“What happens when they are making connections between the root or roots of a word, is that they are creating a larger picture of meaning. In doing this, they are making links to the long-term memory, because it is another layer of a story which connects back to the word. If very young children are able to do this, and take great pleasure from it, then we should not shy away from unpicking, delving and finding out the etymological roots of words. Every subject has them, and we do not need to be classicists to support our children in this.” (p. 96-97)
These five ideas – identify key concepts, find the connections between them, slow down, get pupils to reason to with their knowledge, and teach the etymology of words – would be a simple place for any classroom teacher or subject leader to start their work on improving the curriculum. I thoroughly recommend Mary’s book and believe it should have pride of place in every CPD library.