Designing a Learning Classroom – creating a tapestry of knowledge and skills
Designing a learning classroom must start with a close look at the curriculum vocabulary that exists within specific subject specifications and across the wider curriculum framework. For all those involved in the design and delivery of a whole school curriculum offer it is essential that they are aware of the language that defines individual subjects and has resonance within other subjects and all aspects of teaching and learning. The vocabulary and the language relate to learning and focus on how knowledge and skills weave together to create a pathway for pupils to explore and develop deep knowledge and become unconsciously competent in a range of skills over time.
There is an imperative for subject leaders and their teams to work together to share their own unique understanding of curriculum in relation to subject specific learning and outcomes they aspire to achieve for their learners. It is also essential that there are opportunities for teams to work in a more cross-curricular capacity so that they can learn where there are connections across the curriculum that will help the learner to make sense of their learning in the widest context.
The Curriculum Vocabulary
- The quality of education
- The substance of what is planned and taught
- The sequencing of learning
- Building on prior learning
- Working towards clearly defined end points
- Knowledge rich
- Breadth and depth
- Parity for all learners
- Formative and summative assessment
- Conceptual learning
- Substantive knowledge
- Disciplinary knowledge
The subject leader has a pivotal role in building a deep understanding of how the different terms above create a strong, creative and interesting curriculum that will deliver the high-quality outcomes stated as part of the vision and ambition for all learners.
The interplay between knowledge and skills and the delicate balance between covering the content and making sure that pupils have understood and remembered in order to be ready for the next stage, phase or topic is essential.
The language needs to be unpicked and translated into both subject specific and cross-curricular planning. All those who are responsible for teaching must be able to spend time looking in detail at how these words and phrases impact on their own pedagogy in order to realise the goal that they are indeed designing a learning classroom.
Knowledge and Skills – the warp and the weft of learning
Designing a learning classroom requires that the knowledge and skills go together as the absolute building blocks of deep and rich learning and create for the teacher the opportunity to develop highly innovative and sequential learning that inspires curiosity and a thirst to learn more. The English, maths and science curriculum standards in key stage 1 and 2 are detailed and explicit in their requirements for each specific year.
This is not so in key stage 3 or in the foundation subjects at any level where the freedom to choose what topic to teach when does provide an opportunity to set out the knowledge that links closely to the school’s local and wider context. However, skills are not so explicit in the statutory order of knowledge. They are contained in the purpose of study and the aims within each subject.
It is to the verbs that are contained within each of the programmes of study that need careful consideration when defining what will be taught and how. Develop, identify, collect, explore, analyse and communicate, understand are some of the verbs used in several of the programmes of study as the way pupils might access and make sense of the knowledge they need to acquire over time.
The verbs create a taxonomy that allows the learning to be sequenced over time. Pupils can then through their growing competence in a range of core literacy and numeracy skills begin to deepen their understanding and see their knowledge grow. For instance, the ability through peer-to-peer conversations to describe a situation or an event and then to use a piece of extended writing to explain why including a graph or a diagram to analyse further what might happen if something changes or what happens if something else is added.
A pupil cannot access the knowledge without the skills of listening, speaking, reading, writing from their learning in English and cannot make deep sense of many elements of learning without the associatied maths skills that allow for higher levels of responses that lead to analysis and evaluation.
Wider thinking and metacognitive skills for learning
In order to create the right conditions for pupils to remember what they have learnt and to then use their learning to foster new learning, build on prior learning and make progress towards clearly defined end points it is essential that they have plenty of opportunities to practice, to recall and to retrieve their learning in a variety for different ways.
The core skills of English and Maths are essential building blocks for learning but we also need to focus on the equally important wider thinking skills, technically known as metacognitive skills or skills for learning. These include such skills as the ability to listen actively and absorb information, read and comprehend, sift and select relevant information, know how to find out new information and add it what is already known, take notes that inform further thinking and enhance memory, work effectively in a group or work in a peer-to-peer interaction that leads to learning.
All of these skills need to be practised and celebrated so that pupils really do know how they are learning as well as simply what they are learning. In order to do this the subject leaders and their teams need to have a profound understanding of how pupils learn and provide for them many opportunities to enhance their learning, use the 6 Rs below as a route to supporting pupils to master their learning over time.
Memory and an understanding of cognitive science is important in ensuring pupils develop their curriculum knowledge using the widest range of skills and then use the 6Rs above to build teaching strategies that really do ensure the learning enters and remains in the long-term memory. A recent piece of research by the Education Endowment Foundation ‘Cognitive Science Approaches in the Classroom‘, is an excellent start in ensuring there is a collective understanding of the basics of cognitive science.
Don’t miss a fundamental message that I feel is important from the science is to understand that the first element of the journey to remembering is the sensory memory. We have to want to learn and it is when something captures us and holds us that we can then allow that knowledge to move from the sensory to the working memory. The working memory can’t hold much for very long so there needs to be opportunities for recall, rehearsal and retrieval to help us to move the knowledge from the working memory to the long-term memory. Even then it might get forgotten so reinforcement is also key to designing a learning classroom.
Have the questions and the answers that come from deep dive conversations that your curriculum delivers the highest quality learning. If you would like to discuss our highly regarded training relating to curriculum give me a call on 07974 754241 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or look at the courses section on our website Curriculum, Teaching & Learning