Over the last few months, I have seen a degree of scepticism over the use of curriculum road maps. In one camp, many argue that it is a waste of teacher time, and in the other camp that they can be a tool to support learning. For me, it comes back to why we are creating the curriculum maps and how schools and teachers are choosing to use them. If they are there as a glossy poster for visitors or only ever appear at specific points of the year, then I would suggest that it was probably a waste of teachers’ time. Equally, a curriculum map that displays the whole subject curriculum over years 7-11 is nothing more than a poster to look at because there is too much information for a pupil or parent to absorb in a meaningful way. So, should we just ditch them and invest our time in something else?
Let’s take a moment to reflect on the complexity of learning. It is widely accepted that learning is complex with the relationship between teacher instruction and what pupils learn a fluctuating and unpredictable process. Teachers can spend hours refining methods of instruction and creating environments that promote learning but we have to accept the harsh reality that pupils may not necessarily learn what had been intended. This is where the role of checking for understanding throughout the learning process can help teachers to determine whether the intended instruction has had the desired effect. In doing so, we are assessing what learning has taken place, therefore determining our next step for responding. But the process of assessing learning doesn’t just fall on the teacher, as indicated by the work of Cowie and Bell:
“The process used by teachers and students to recognise and respond to student learning to enhance that learning, during the learning” (Cowie & Bell, 1999, p. 32)
Dylan Wiliam’s work around formative assessment builds on and supports this definition, emphasising the role the learner plays in the learning process. This is where the five key strategies of formative assessment were created by Wiliam and Leahy.
The part that I want to focus on is the strategy of, ‘clarifying, sharing and understanding learning intentions and success criteria.’ For students to be ‘owners’ of their learning, they need to be clear about what it is they are learning, the goal you want them to achieve and how they can get there through the success criteria.
This is where we have been using our learning journeys to narrate the curriculum with our students at the beginning of each lesson. Below is an example of one of these learning journeys for year 8, focusing on the theme of a dangerous world:
At the beginning of each lesson, we will clarify and share the learning intentions for the upcoming lesson and link it to the previous lesson(s), all the time discussing how each component links together to form the bigger picture. In many cases, this opens up an opportunity to link the current curriculum focuses to previous units of study through our synoptic links. Teachers do this every lesson, clarifying the learning intention and reviewing previously taught knowledge to demonstrate the links. What we have found is, as a result, students can articulate what they are learning, allowing them to understand the bigger picture and not see each lesson as a standalone. Alongside this, it has prompted greater curriculum conversations amongst colleagues about what our intentions are for each part of the unit and the most effective way to approach teaching each component. In my experience, traditional medium-term curriculum plans are compiled using a rigid school template and get filed away never to be looked at again during the academic year. By taking this approach instead, it has created clarity for both teachers and students.
Throughout the unit, we get students to engage with the learning journey outside of lessons as part of our homework strategy through our adaptive revision guides. Here’s an example from the same year 8 unit:
Each one of these chunked knowledge organisers links to the component from the curriculum road map with clear guidance for students written at the top and what will be on the next one. For homework, students will complete several retrieval activities and these will be reviewed at the beginning of the next lesson. The knowledge organisers help to clarify what students are expected to know and will also be referred to in lessons when introducing or asking students to use key terminology.
At the end of the learning cycle, students will use the learning journey to review the core knowledge that they are expected to know and practice retrieving knowledge from memory. An example is shown below:
Let’s go back to my thoughts at the beginning of this blog: Are curriculum roadmaps a waste of time or not? If there is a clear rationale and well-thought-out implementation, learning journeys can be a tool to support students with their understanding of what they are learning.