Blogs, articles and Curriculum Correspondence
Layering a curriculum: Nicholas discussions the peaks and pitfalls of layering a curriculum through creating skills progressions and different forms of knowledge. (July 2021)
Managing Director at Lighting up Learning
Local to Global: an approach to connecting young people to global issues through local contexts. (June 2021)
Managing Director at Lighting up Learning
RECONNECTING WITH CREATIVITY (TED Talk discussion) (September 2020)
How might schools reconnect with creativity into a 'new normal'?
View the full discussion here: https://www.ted.com/discussions/53/schools-creativity
As part of the online TED Talk discussion series, I was invited to host a discussion based on a one of TED’s popular talks. Ken Robinson’s original talk was probably my first introduction to TED and one that captured me, literally.
How might schools reconnect with creativity into a 'new normal'?
Thinking about Ken Robinson's original talk, 'Do schools kill creativity?' to what extent does the 'reconnect and recovery' agendas of schools returning after worldwide lockdown, give us an opportunity to build more opportunities for creativity and curiosity into the curriculum?
All schools are having to think about 'making up lost time' but is this really possible? The gaps between those that 'have been home learning' and 'those that have not' has widened. Some young people have experienced trauma or are concerned by what going back to school actually means. The risk is essentially two-fold, although it perhaps is a little more complex than this.
A solution? Look forward and rethink approaches to curricula that celebrate what young people can do and do know (not what they can't and don't) through creativity, curiosity and expression. We could use this as a vehicle to engage them with both reconnecting with academic concepts as well as using creative and expressive mediums to provide a liminal space for recovery in individual and unique ways.
Not all young people will be traumatised. Not all young people will be able to come back to schools. We have an opportunity to reframe and rethink what we understand 'learning' to be.
We have been blown away by the contribution from people around the globe, sharing their thoughts and ideas in different time zones, cultures and communities. To me this is what TED is all about. Essentially, in response to the provocation, contributions could be grouped into three themes:
A chance to challenge the status quo
Need for Young People's voice and influence
Need for knowledge AND equal emphasis on curiosity, creativity, expression
Early on in the discussion, contributor Vans LeBlanc suggested that we need a ‘education revolution’; I am not so sure. Reevaluation, reconnect, reassessment, rethinking, yes, this definitely needed, but I am tentative about a revolution in its literal sense, or indeed an evolution. Revolution to me, particularly at the present time, feels like a step too far. I wonder what the education community thinks it would take to authentically challenge the current status quo: to provoke it to adapt as opposed to evolve? What could we, as practitioners, do on the ground to facilitate this?
Contributor Ian Frost, commented: ‘At home, many of us have been re-finding our creative muscle. Doing things differently. Children and adults have been exploring their creative streak, being more imaginative, more inventive and more resourceful. Many of us have used lockdown to work more with our hands, make things from scratch, do things the old way: Baking homemade bread, building, reading, writing, listening to vinyl records, weeding, drawing or sewing - have all been the antidote to our electronic, immediate, phone culture. Also we seem to want less (how many of us have had a clear out)? And what we have left, we want to enjoy more slowly (who’s eating together more)?’. My question: how do we give space for people to share how they might have been working and learning differently and to what extent this could form part of the new normal, especially ‘doing more with less’ that he talks about.
Kat Kinshaw, contributor, has been working with schools on curriculum design and the new UK inspection framework and she has noticed, even over the last few weeks, priorities are changing and recognises that this where creativity steps in. A deeper question perhaps is how to empower schools to think creatively in how they might/could/should operate (as these are three very different mindsets) and how they WANT serve their communities in a different world to the one that was locked down.
‘Schools are at risk of reverting back to what they think they have to do in order to keep up with league tables’, Mimi Fearon, contributor says. ‘Reading between the lines of the governments suggested method of recovery is not that of the whole being but the old hierarchy of academic priorities. Hot housing children is a distinct likelihood in many schools at the detriment of the 'broad and balanced' and the wellbeing of the children. Teachers and schools need to be brave enough to embrace the opportunity for creative change while the requirements are flexible.’ This is exactly why I am actively challenging the term’ recovery’. It implies and assumes the need to get over something and I don't think that is needed, I simply do not think that by reliving an assumption that this is helpful. As a learning, future focused agency, we share Steven Honnegar’s (contributor) thoughts around the ‘rush to go back to how it was before instead of a rush to collaboratively and creatively use what we have learned over the last few months to make our learning environments better. Human-centered design tools can help uncover those creative ideas.’
So, if 'creativity can generate release by tapping into the playful part of us’ as contributor Rebecca Fisk suggests, the notion that we need to focus on what brings joy, laughter and happiness will not only act as a form of 'recovery' but also as a vehicle to engage learners at their level through their interests. The question still remains though: to what extent can we enable schools, and I say this as a teacher and leader myself, to embrace the creative vehicle when addressing the more academic notions of a curriculum?
Need for Young People's voice and influence
Contributors Janice Scott, Jayne Krattinger and Scott Mallory, all raise how for many young people, how they thrived, albeit in a different way, with online learning. Some schools embraced ‘flipped learning’, making short minute videos for lockdown learning but since returning to school, this has stopped. The lockdown also exposed a gargantuan digital divide, previous hidden (or ignored?) between those that ‘have’ and ‘have not’. Families clustered around phones at kitchen tables trying to understand mathematical concepts simply doesn't work. Digital infrastructure now, seems as important as competence and confidence. Of course there is, and will always be, a debate of who has access and who does not, but the premise of the observation, I feel, is that young people have been given autonomy in their learning and that for many, a less structured, less totalitarian approach, absent of any imposed timetable (of ‘open your science memory banks now... now you are going to be artistic then after lunch you are going the athletic) just does not prepare young people for the reality of the world. A school timetable is simply a Victorian construct of time. It is convenient. Of course we need structure and I am not advocating young people roam schools like velociraptors in Jurassic Park, but I think there is a space for a blended approach of online, flipped, in class and autonomous learning.
Need for knowledge AND equal emphasis on curiosity, creativity, expression. As contributor Rachael Summerscales said, ‘Adults in the education profession are geared towards doing. They must be seen to be doing, and what they are doing needs to show impact and therefore prove they are worthy. If we trusted adults to follow their instincts and respond naturally without pressure or promise from external bodies then we may well find what the true value of being and doing with young children really is’. For this the key of this sentence is in the penultimate word, ‘we’. The co-construction of learning between adults and children is what the modern day teacher should be facilitating. We are there to guide them in acquiring a distinct set of socially (politically?) valued ‘know of’ (Young, 2019), through a locally decided ‘know how’’ (skills, in old school terms) and to then apply this. Bordieu would call this social, economic and cultural capital, but this term has been hijacked and is misunderstood and misquoted by so many. Usually applications of learning are through 30 sets of the same thing (who decided 30 was an optimum number anyway?), instead of challenging young people to express THEIR learning in a way that makes sense to THEM first - thus embedding the know of and know how into a deeper memory - then purposely and intelligently restraining them to communicate this new found understood knowledge in a particular way. The restraint or change of application, is the essence of the term ‘mastery’ that so many of us are incorrectly using, worldwide. This is echoed in Paulo Freire’s words, as Rachael shares, ‘where he speaks of learning happening in acts of cognition, not transferral of information’.
Contributor Waniyaj Zarrar, discussed how you ‘cannot limit creativity to a single circumference’. This phrase is fascinating to me and resonates with Urie Bronfenbrenner's work around spheres of influence, and how humans have several concentric spheres of interconnected affect and effect. The Microsphere, the most inner and central to a human’s development’ has a more tangible, direct and explicit influence for instance of which 'school' is only one of six key actors according to the Ecology of Human Development (Bronfenbernner, 1979). As contributor Alison Langrick says, ‘balance is a fine edge and achieving a creative environment is a perpetual struggle for teachers’.
Mike Rees-Lee, contributor, discusses how ‘there is a huge and tangible therapeutic benefit to people, young and old, related to creativity - think of all the therapies you have come across - Art, Drama, Music....it is not coincidence. Neither, perhaps, the mental health epidemic we find ourselves in within schools. The more and more we push this aside, the worse it gets. It is essential that we champion artistic creativity in every aspect of school. Especially when working with vulnerable young people and victims of trauma.’ We would totally support this, as do other contributors that feel that ‘we need to shift the balance to a 'know how' knowledge. Knowledge gained through an interaction and interpretation of stimulus, which is a type of knowledge for the individual but shared with others - allowing for an interpretation of information/knowledge 'it means this to me' - it isn't static… Group learning or social learning that constructs new knowledge - social constructivist approaches - no static world of knowledge. If we can harness this and bring into our curriculum design and teaching methods, understanding of how learning occurs - and do so under the spotlight of a new inspection framework, we'll make some headway to bringing in a more balanced approach.’
To summarise, there is a distinct need, an overpowering urge, to open up discussion for young people and teachers alike, to discuss, map and plan how things COULD be changed. What we do have, in front of us, here and now, at our feet for the taking, is an opportunity to explore blended learning, new found digital opportunities and the time and space to engage to reconnect and continue to connect with people, ideas, expression, creativity and curiosity. What we now know is that there is no one way of learning, no one way of teaching and no one way of knowing.
We have to challenge, embrace, support and above all, give school leaders and teachers the courage and support they so desperately need and want. It is a moral imperative, we MUST enable schools reconnect with creativity into a ‘new normal’.
Host | Managing Director at Lighting up Learning
RECOVERY? REDISCOVERING? A CURRICULUM FOR CARING? (June, 2020)
Teachers and leaders across the UK, indeed the world, are working hard to open school doors in the coming weeks. Whatever this looks like, each setting will need a different approach to teaching and learning.
For our Curious-cityTM network, enquiry-led learning offers an opportunity to move forward. Numerous articles published recently, from Carpenter and Carpenter’s Recovery Curriculum to Mary Myatt’s Recovery Conversations, recognise that life will not be as it was before lockdown. Whilst home learning experiences will vary massively, what is common to all children is the need to be carefully reintroduced to ‘the way of learning’; whether this starts with a recovery or rediscovery is up to the setting.
Our approach has been to look at how teachers might re-engage children with enquiry-led learning, whilst recognising that schools may need a flexible approach to respond to what may be an opening and closing of schools over the coming months. To this end we have created three frameworks. Through embracing the Philosopher State of Being, speaking circles will become an important time for teachers and learners to reconnect through talking and listening. Towards Recovery is a list of open ended questions that could be used in any year group speaking circle, designed to get people talking about what it means to come ‘back’. Rediscovering enquiry-led learning, is an A-Z of light touch, flexible enquiry based activities that could be used in school (in the absence of formal enquiries) or as home learning. Both of these will be available in an all new Curriculum Library (see next page for details).
A Curriculum for Caring is different. It uses Giving City enquiries as stimuli to start the year in September, with a series of caring connections to extend throughout the year. For this, we looked to Bronfenbrenner’s (1979), Ecology of Human Development for our inspiration. As every Curious-cityTM setting will know, Bronfenbrenner's model of concentric circles is a tenet of our pedagogy. In his original book, Bronfenbrenner poses an idea for children to engage in a ‘curriculum for caring’ (ibid, 1979, p.53) to connect the micro-sphere of their immediate lives with meso-spheres of local community. This feels critical at the present time as support for ourselves and others has become, and hopefully will remain, a key part of our survival. If any school is interested in ‘A Curriculum for Caring’, Nicholas will be holding an online discussion on Monday 8th June, 2020; see overleaf for details, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHY ENGAGE SHOULD NOT BE WOW (May, 2020)
Creating engagement with learning is not the same as a having a WOW event, in actual fact a WOW can be counter productive.
For many settings, a shift towards enquiry-led approach includes the language of WOW as the initial stage. For most, this came out of the heady days of moving away from the QCA schemes of work (c. 2006) where schools realised there was simply too much content and not enough engagement. WOWs were often introduced to ensure that teachers were purposefully thinking about how to engage learners in the concepts of the enquiry before delving deep into content. As the sector’s understanding of pupil engagement, language development and cognitive science has developed over the past decade, we moved our language away from WOW and towards ‘Engage’ for several reasons.
We regularly find examples of how a ‘WOW’ opener to a project or enquiry creates an expectation that the context is exactly that: extraordinary, impressive and exciting. It brings to mind wide, saucer eyed gazes of awe and wonder from visits so exciting that when the learners return to school, to the same classroom that they spend hours a day, the feelings of inadequacy from the teacher grow as enthusiasm wanes and the children wax lyrical about the visit only to to struggle to draw anything from it. It can be very challenging to make a prepackaged visit ‘fit’ the enquiry and therefore the risk is that the WOW visit might bear little association to the enquiry’s question. We have found that sometimes the WOW experiences have drawn children’s understanding away from the carefully mapped National Curriculum objectives. Some teachers talk of the stress behind WOWs, including the pressure to make it ‘WOW’; the time to organise, set up and execute as well as making it ‘fit’ with the enquiry to ensure a cognitive flow. We need teachers to decide where visits and visitors are better placed to enhance the learning continuum. We believe this is often in the immerse stage, introducing key vocabulary in varied contexts. We encourage curriculum leaders to consider that the purpose of initially engaging learners is to give a taste, a whiff, a sight of what is coming up to trigger memories and recall associated knowledge.
In short: WOWs should not be wow. The purpose should be to engage, light up, draw in. It is a chance for teachers to see learners engage in different ways and to elicit and guage language. An engage could be a single event or a series of experiences that warm learners up, enabling them to segway into being immersed in the context and content of the enquiry. For those out there whose thoughts include, ‘This is all just semantics’, we say: that is not the case. The difference between an all singing, all dancing, jazz hands ‘WOW’ event and a series of contextually relevant experiences that introduce core language and concepts are fundamentally different approaches is significant. The former provides an experience with the latter, a beginning of a knowledge journey.
There continues to be a lot of noise around children knowing more and remembering more. We need to get better at evaluating the purpose of current thinking before we jump on board.
Every week, the Lighting up Learning Team read through the most recent Ofsted reports of schools across the UK, looking for patterns with regard to curriculum. It is not surprising that comments are of course varied, however statements of where the school is in their journey are consistently used. ‘The school is in the early implementation stages embedding a new curriculum’, is read frequently. Aligning this with the Ofsted’s extension of a year for schools to embed changes being made to curricula, is recognition that developing a cohesive, progressive, sequenced and cognitively appropriately curriculum enabling children to know more and remember more, is complex.
It is true that the new framework places an emphasis on children being able to remember more of what they have learnt and is a key tenet of the revised inspection process. Inspectors have to ask questions as part of their job is to understand how knowledge is constructed within a curriculum to understand if it is having an impact. There are three things to unpack here.
Firstly, this assumes schools are clear about what knowledge means in their settings and presupposes senior and middle leaders have taken taken steps to intelligently design its implementation to ensure that knowledge is sequential ... [to read more, click here].
KNOW OF, KNOW HOW (April, 2020)
Very much aligned to Young’s (2019) revisiting of Powerful Knowledge, we have returned to our driving principles and looked at how the enquiry-led process, namely the line of enquiry, reflects this.
Whilst schools were responding to being ‘clopen’ (closed yet open), we made a decision to reframe how we talk about elements of the enquiry-led learning process. Since Curious-cityTM emerged as a distinct framework, we separated knowledge and skills within enquiries. We continue to stand by the distinction but have changed how we define them. Through both academic and grounded research, we continue to understand the power of separating knowledge and skills within the CC enquiry skeletons. Teachers report that previous to using an enquiry approach, they would not have considered the broader skills learners might need in order to be successful in a challenge other than relevant subject skills, like scientific investigation or using historical sources. They would not have considered explicitly mapping skills from other States of Being, techniques or approaches that should be associated with the challenge. For example, to create a documentary on the adaptation of a single animal to different habitats, the focus would have been on the scientific knowledge and the ability to classify animals. When the learners got to the challenge, it would be then that the teacher realised they might not have the skills to be successful and the outcomes not as expected (or that they would run out of time). Through the divergent knowledge and skills tracks within a CC Line of Enquiry - that converge into a challenge - teachers realise how important embedding broader skills are, particularly those needed to enable learners to successfully achieve the challenge, and ultimately answer the enquiry’s question. We have reflected on this and think that the term ‘skills’ is potentially misleading. This may be predominantly through overuse and a legacy of previous curricula. Combined with Ofsted’s obsession of ‘know more and remember more’, we note a worrying trend of privileging traditionalist knowledge precepts. Knowledge organisers, knowledge lines and knowledge maps make frequent appearances on Twitter as metaphorical journeys and roads, regularly mislabelled as ‘curriculum maps’. There is an excellent blog on this by Claire Stoneman (link below); look out for our response to that in the next edition.
Curious-cityTM Catalyst Curriculum 2.0 is essentially current enquiries, refreshed and updated. Every enquiry from Year One to Year Six has been revisited, refined and enhanced. We have made the vehicle subjects such as music, art and DT more explicit and reframed some of the enquiry questions and challenges. The biggest changes however are in the change of language from knowledge and skills to know of and know how. The reframe is to purposefully refocus teachers on the concept underpinning the enquiry and what learners need to know of and know how. The line between these is blurred of course and we found that at times, the separation of ideas in the skeletons into knowledge and skills was arbitrary; they could have applied to both. The shift to know of and know how, bolstered by Young’s (2014; 2019) Powerful Knowledge enables us to emphasise the enquiry journey towards the challenge. The divergence into understanding the content and context of an enquiry will ultimately place greater emphasis on the Practise stage when learners’ new found knowing of something and knowing how to do something converge in the challenge. This approach builds on the content and context, or knowledge and skills in old money, and enables learners ultimately ‘know more and remember more’.
Secondly, we have added an ‘elicitation’ reference onto every enquiry. In some cases, this may be a link to a previous enquiry, EYFS area of learning or building block of knowledge critical to engaging fully in the enquiry. This might lead to pre-teaching for anyone new to the school. Every school has their own curriculum map and so, particularly in KS2, there is no guarantee that a learner will have experienced the same know of building blocks in a different setting. Whole school changes to a new curriculum map may also cause a hiatus in learning as content is shifted around, and so knowing what a teacher might have to quickly revisit before diving deep into a new enquiry feels important.
Last, but certainly not least, we recognise the need to upskill teachers in subject knowledge and to ensure that they are confident in the concepts that underpin enquiries. We have created Enquiry Organisers, a third page of the Line of Enquiry for every enquiry in every year group. This not only details the concepts behind the enquiry, but also key knowledge, vocabulary, ideas to localise even further as well as suggestions on which parts of the skeleton are critical and which can be easily adapted. Teachers are very receptive and the feedback so far is encouraging.
So, as you can tell we have been busy and are keen to share these developments with all the schools within the CC network, both new and established. The team will be sharing the Curious-cityTM Catalyst Curriculum 2.0 with everyone in the coming weeks and updating Google Drives. In summary, we are constantly revisiting and revising our approach and we are not afraid to update, refine or even change course if necessary. Your feedback both theoretical and practical is always welcome and needed; we have our ears to the ground.
Ofsted (2019) Education Inspection Framework. Available online: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/801429/Education_inspection_framework.pdf
Stoneman, C. (2020) Curriculum metaphors: Journeys. Available online: https://birminghamteacher.wordpress.com/author/birminghamteacher/
Muller, J. and Young, M. (2013) On the powers of Powerful Knowledge. Available online: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Johan_Muller/publication/304877845_On_the_Powers_of_Powerful_Knowledge/links/5a4ce35c0f7e9b8284c4a 6a8/On-the-Powers-of-Powerful-Knowledge.pdf
Muller, J. and Young, M. (2019) Knowledge, power and powerful knowledge re‐visited. The Curriculum Journal, 30 (2), pp. 196-214.