A few years ago, knowledge organisers were the new trend in education. Twitter was awash with fancy decorated A4 or A3 sheets filled with knowledge from a topic. But, more recently they seem to have disappeared with many seeing them as one of those fads that have merely fizzled out and become nothing more than a burden on teacher’s time. Another example of a trend that didn’t really take off.
I wonder if that’s because of the reason why they were introduced and how they have subsequently been introduced. Like all trends in education, the impact they can have on learning is all dependent on how well they are implemented and subsequently reviewed for your own individual context. Similarly to road maps, something I blogged about a few months ago, knowledge organisers take time to create and we know teacher’s time is precious so maybe they just aren’t worth the paper they are written on?
Jon Hutchinson provided a useful definition for knowledge organisers:
‘Knowledge Organisers are the beating heart of each unit, with the core content meticulously curated and itemised to clarify the necessary (but not sufficient) knowledge to develop a sophisticated schema for each unit of work.’
Whilst Bradford Research School define knowledge organsiers as:
‘A Knowledge Organiser is a one-page document which presents curated, essential, organised knowledge with clarity. Knowledge is presented in a format which facilitates retrieval practice, elaboration and organisation, in order to develop a schema.’
I think both definitions are a useful starting point when considering how to create and use knowledge organisers within your own school context; the idea that they provide essential knowledge that has been carefully curated to enable the development of schema. It’s this careful creation and organisation of the knowledge that is the most important aspect when thinking about introducing knowledge organisers. Instead, all too often we see something produced by someone else and try to retrospectively insert it into our own context and wonder why it doesn’t work.
When knowledge organisers were first appearing, the typical format being presented was an A4 or A3 document that covered all the important knowledge that pupils would need for a unit of study. I trialled this approach for a number of years and quickly realised that I was having to make the following decisions based on the space available:
- What knowledge is most important?
- What knowledge can I miss out?
- How do I structure them to be most effective in supporting learning?
- What do I do with knowledge not on the organiser?
It quickly became apparent to me that this wasn’t the best approach because I was having to make decisions about what knowledge I could leave out because there wasn’t sufficient room to fit it into this neat A4 or A3 document. Equally, the structure of the organiser became an issue because the whole unit organisers became confusing and actually not organised at all. In my experience, pupils had to not only navigate such a complex document, they also had to find the knowledge that they wanted to revisit with little reference back to how it was connected to the learning intention. Inevitably, we had a situation where pupils were using a knowledge organiser at a surface level.
Let’s revisit one of our curriculum road maps based on our year 8 Hazardous World study, illustrated below:
This particular unit of study has six core learning intentions which build on prior knowledge and connect knowledge from previous study across the broader year 8 curriculum. From this we then have our six chunked knowledge checkers that are directly linked to each of these core learning intentions, illustrated below:
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. One of the key benefits of the knowledge checkers is pupils don’t have to search for the information they need on one A4 or A3 sheet because the knowledge is focused on each component of the curriculum journey. It has also allowed all of the core components to be included, unlike previously structured knowledge organisers. The knowledge checkers have the same format based on what we have taught pupils for each one of the core curriculum components.
- Core knowledge
- Key vocabulary
- Wider reading
- Core misconceptions
During lessons, pupils will use the knowledge checkers when learning new content and to support reflection of previously taught content. For example, when applying knowledge to an application task, we will get pupils to refer back to the knowledge checkers to promote the use of the appropriate core vocabulary.
For homework, students will complete several retrieval activities and these will be reviewed at the beginning of the next lesson. The knowledge checkers 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 practise retrieving knowledge from memory.
Let’s go back to my thoughts at the beginning of this blog: Are knowledge checkers, similarly to road maps, a waste of time or not? If there is a clear rationale and well-thought-out implementation, knowledge checkers can be a tool to support students with their understanding of the core components of the curriculum and for revisiting and reflecting on previously taught content.