Monthly Archives: April 2011

Primary Curriculum-Models and Design

In my last post I talked about the need for a curriculum that helps prepare children for the future.   There are some key qualities I believe should be at the heart of a new curriculum rather than left to chance outside of it.   These qualities are not easy to measure in any tangible form and this may go some way to explaining their absence from many classrooms.  In his book ‘Building Learning Power‘ Guy Claxton explores some different reform models from around the world that are helping children develop their ‘learning power’.

The Golden Key Schools in Russia operate along the lines of extended families.   They follow Vygotsky‘s philosophy and an understanding of the process of interaction is implemented within the Zone of Proximal Development by placing children from 3 – 10 years in family units of 15 – 25 rather than traditional, age grouped, classes. Staff attend training to develop a ‘community of learning’ and parents are also active in school events with the emphasis placed on learning as a community.   Amongst the other examples Claxton looks at as models for developing collaboration and communication are Ann Brown‘s Communities of Inquiry in Cambridge, Massachusetts and the PEEL project in Victoria, Australia.  Bellaire Primary School in Victoria allows older pupils to take a more active role in planning their learning by running skills workshops which the children attend before taking part in application classes where they put the skills they have learned to practical use.  The children very quickly learn to plan their own timetable and learning, making it relevant to their own interests.  This brave approach develops independence and lifelong learning skills that can only help the children as they move into secondary education and beyond.

Others, such as Ralph Pirozzo and Lane Clarke have explored curriculum design and come up with practical ways of using Bloom’s Taxonomy and Gardner’s Mutiple Intelligences to create active learning experiences.   INSET training with both these educators and  research into other curriculum models such as the International Primary Curriculum and the International Primary Baccalaureate informed our own work on curriculum development.  Our own design has also been influenced by the work of Chris Quigley who has developed a progressive skills based approach that puts key learner qualities centre stage.  Chris takes his lead from the work of Claxton but he breaks down ‘Learning to Learn‘ skills into Bronze, Silver and Gold stages to help plan for progression.   The children easily understand the breakdown of Learning to Learn skills and Chris goes into detail, creating ‘I can’ statements for each of the following key learner qualities:

Reflective – planing, revising, reviewing

Relationships – collaboration, empathy, listening

Resilient – managing distractions, ‘stickability’

Resourceful – questioning, imagining, making links

Risk Taking – have a go, not scared of being wrong

The Skills Based Curriculum developed by Chris Quiqley not only gives pupils more ownership over their own learning but helps with planning for progression.  It would be great to see the work of these and other educators such as Sir Ken Robinson and Mick Waters, being considered by government as they look at the Primary Curriculum.


Curriculum in a Coma

We live in a world of contradictions and uncertainty. Children have instant access to a world of knowledge around the clock yet their access is restricted in the very place you would expect it to be most readily encouraged. For many, school is still a place where you go to have your head filled with ‘certainties’, a core knowledge base which grows increasingly irrelevant to the world we live in. According to New Brunswick Department of Education, Canada, the top 10% of jobs last year didn’t exist in 2004!  Is the best way to prepare our youngsters for this level of uncertainty to continue feeding them a diet of shallow learning experiences dictated by political presumption?

There is much discussion around what the curriculum should look like but one thing is clear, more of the same won’t lead to different results.   Einstein stated the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, we’re in danger of doing just that with the curriculum.   While Geographers and Historians argue for their subject’s importance and Gove tries to convince the nation of the relevance of learning Latin and the need for the English Baccalaureate, those in education look on in disbelief as traditional themes and learning paths are revisited once more.   As a nation we appear to be depserately trying to climb up the down escalator.

No one would argue against the need for every pupil to leave school literate and numerate but to function in an uncertain future society we also need to ensure all are resilient, resourceful, creative and able to adapt and change as required – a core set of skills that many are left to pick up by chance.   Rather than leave these important learner qualities outside of the curriculum, it would mark a real shift and recognition of what children need if they were be placed at the heart of any reformed model.   The problem is, such qualities are hard to measure and no goverment will be brave enough to release the stranglehold it has on the nation’s education system.   As we prepare for ‘greater flexibility and freedom’ it is important to note that the current crude measures by which a school stands or falls are unlikely to disappear any time in the near future.  Mick Waters makes a relevant and poignant observation about the impact of testing on learning:

‘One of the dangers is that the winning post of examinations has untold influence further back down the age range, so the real purpose of learning is lost in the quest for exam success.   When children are only learning how to sit exams, other vital things are squeezed out.’ 

Our current national curriculum suffers from a lack of response to the changing world around us.   Its compartmental approach to traditional subjects and exam fetish makes real, significant change unlikely.


Stemming the tide or controlling the flow? Connectivity and Infrastructure in schools

The acceleration of handheld and mobile devices in schools isn’t something that was considered by many until recently.   Most schools were ‘wired’ for computers in an age gone by, when maybe one or two were positioned in each class and if you were lucky, another 30 were housed in an ICT suite (remember those?)   Even then lots of schools didn’t use computers to go on the internet; they used purchased programmes and CD ROMs!   The last couple of years have seen a massive increase in school ‘traffic’ online.   School to school partnerships and the abundance of (mainly free) online resources has meant schools first priority now has to be a connection that can accommodate the increased traffic passing through their broadband connections.   Before considering what mobile devices to purchase, schools need to get good connectivity as without an increased, quicker and more reliable infrastructure the technology is simply going to frustrate users.

We’re constantly looking at how we can meet the needs of today’s learners, and it isn’t by ignoring technological advancements and hoping they’ll go away.   Within the next couple of years nearly all mobile phones will have internet access, iPod touches, iPads, PSPs, DSs – you name it, they all enable users to go online.   Like Canute, we can’t stem the tide.   Children today are more and more connected, more and more tech savvy and more and more at home with online learning.   We don’t want them to see school as more and more irrelevant.   To ensure school is a power house of learning opportunity fit to meet children’s needs it has to have a strong infrastructure, offer reliable and fast connectivity and be open to developing the use of technology.


Networking For Excellence

The 5th SSAT National Primary Conference entitled ‘Networking for Excellence’ provided a fantastic vehicle for the Network to live out it’s ‘By Schools For Schools‘ motto. A range of great practitioner led workshops complimented the key note presentations that bookended the day.

Bill Lucas, Nick Stuart and Neil Hopkin got the day off to a great start with Bill sharing research into intelligence that contributed to his recent book with Guy Claxton ‘New Kinds of Smart’. Nick Stuart, Chair of the SSAT shared how he sees the Primary Network growing in influence within the Trust as numbers continue to increase and Neil Hopkin, Chair of the Primary Network led delegates in an unexpected dance that will surely see the light of day on you tube providing someone saw fit to film it.

The wide and varied range of workshops meant there was something for everyone with EY, KS1 and KS2 covered for New Technologies, SEN, Leadership and Curriculum. Feedback suggests the workshops were very well received and much as I would have liked to get to the Forest School (led by @icklekaty) and Games Based Learning (@duck_star) workshops, I was delighted to host David Mitchell (@deputyMitchell), Lee Glynn (@glynnlee) and Jack Sloan (@jacksloan). The heavyweights of blogging shared their impressive successes and the importance of ‘traffic’ to ensure the pupils have an audience for their work. David and Jack have had a huge number of hits on their blogs with some famous contributors making the process exciting for the children. The use of web 2.0 tools was also highlighted and Jack, Lee and David extolled the benefits of a range of easy to use tools that can be embedded into blogs without difficulty. Animoto, wordle, wallwisher, voicethread and audioboo to name but a few were given a good press by those presenting.

The day was closed by Alison Peacock from the Cambridge Primary Review, Guin Batten, Olympic rowing medal winner and Sue Williamson, Strategic Director at SSAT. Their underlying message was one of opportunity, the chance for us to grasp the nettle and make a difference as we move forward in this uncertain future. The Primary Network provides schools with a strong national and international body of knowledge and innovative practice through which they can share ideas, build links and learn from the best. The conference give those attending an opportunity to ‘Network for Excellence’ and witness the ‘By schools For Schools’ approach in operation. In the future such practices can only increase.