Posted on 21st October 2020

Don't lose the progression that a strong, well-sequenced curriculum brings

5:21 PM, 21st October 2020
Don't lose the progression that a strong, well-sequenced curriculum brings

Balancing your students' blended learning needs under Covid-19

by Helen Drury, founder of Mathematics Mastery and now Director of Programme Design, Ark Curriculum Plus

“If we expect many children to find themselves at home in term time once or even more often this year, for possibly a fortnight at a time, they must not lose the progression that a strong, well-sequenced curriculum brings.”
Amanda Spielman, Ofsted

Ark Curriculum Plus, grown out of Ark Schools, offers fully-resourced, sequenced, assessment-integrated, curriculum programmes in several key curriculum areas. 

We have the privilege of working across hundreds of schools and several large multi-academy trusts. 

As a result we’ve had some insight into the challenges that teachers and pupils are facing.

School closures have inevitably resulted in missed learning. Curriculum content that was taught through remote learning may not have been effectively learnt. 

There are unidentified gaps in pupil learning. Our teachers can’t have the usual firm grasp on pupil knowledge. 

This can lead to a few potential pitfalls:

  • Over-testing pupils to diagnose every possible gap
  • Spending too much time looking backwards rather than looking forwards
  • Recovering lost learning at the expense of future learning.

For Ark Schools, a key part of responding to the disruption of school closures has been using curriculum coherence and diagnostic assessment to balance the needs of past learning and future learning.

Clear guiding principles

Each subject programme takes an evidence-informed approach to achieving subject aims. We’ve been developing our complete curriculum programmes since 2012, with curriculum content rooted in the discipline of each academic subject. In these challenging times, teachers have been able to make pragmatic curriculum readjustments to reflect our overarching values. 

Our maths programme is committed to every pupil solving unfamiliar problems in novel contexts. 

Our English programme strives to create confident literate readers and accurate writers. 

Our curricular aims have remained constant in these rapidly changing times.

Curriculum coherence

Our cumulative coherent curriculum is designed to constantly look forwards and backwards, providing opportunities for the retention, subject-appropriate application and re-use of knowledge.

School closures and the ongoing challenges and uncertainties have made it more important than ever to have a coherent curriculum that is ‘constantly speaking to itself’.

We’ve designed short, booster units to recap lost learning and really embed key skills from the summer term. We’ve used comprehensive diagnostic assessments to identify and close key gaps. We have strived to take a proportionate response between identifying and addressing any missed learning opportunities and looking forwards.

Booster units

We’ve found that pupils have mostly been really excited to get back to school, but many have lacked confidence. 

Rather than redoing or reviewing summer units, we’ve identified core knowledge from the summer that is a vital prerequisite to this year’s learning. We’ve designed transition resources that review the past learning to help pupils move on to the future.

The baseline diagnostic for English, for example, confirmed that many Year 8 pupils could not identify the structure of a metaphor. Nor could they expand their analysis of the impact of a writer’s words upon a reader. Recognition of a metaphor is a vital prerequisite for the Sherlock unit within our English Mastery programme. The poetry booster unit was written to address the gaps through an enjoyable, diverse range of poems.

Teachers found the booster units had impact on both pupil knowledge and confidence, as this subject leader explains: 

“All our students made progress in the two weeks. When we retested the poetry section of the baseline assessment, they could all do it. It made the students feel much calmer, their anxieties were allayed – perhaps that closure in March hadn’t impacted in Year 8 as much as they thought it had. They saw for themselves that they had caught up – they could analyse the metaphor. So much so that period 5 on a Friday, my Year 8s forgot to leave because they were so busy reciting poetry to each other!

The Mastery response has not only addressed gaps in knowledge – the students have fallen back in love with reading and with words.”

Transition units gently reintroduce core knowledge, but are primarily focused on a love and enjoyment of each subject.

Careful sequencing of opportunities to address missed learning

While some core knowledge has been identified as a vital pre-requisite for the year ahead – and addressed through booster units – to reteach all the core knowledge from the summer term in the autumn would clearly leave pupils further behind. We therefore mapped all the remaining core knowledge from the summer term (as well as some learning from the previous autumn and spring terms that would usually have been consolidated in the summer) against the year ahead.

This means that teachers can look ahead to the most appropriate opportunities to revisit or reteach problem content. We’ve also identified key exposition and practice resources from the summer and mapped these into the curriculum for the year ahead, so teachers can access high-impact resources precisely at the moment that pupils most need them.

By the end of this year, our pupils will have learnt all the content we’d expect, so they are prepared to meet or exceed the expectations for their age.

Diagnostic assessments

We make comprehensive use of four different diagnostic assessment types: baseline assessments, termly tests, fortnightly quizzes and lesson exit tickets. This really helps to embed learning. 

For example, with a word like ‘corrupt’ that students would learn during the Oliver Twist unit at the start of Year 7, they’ll see that in a lesson exit ticket, but then a fortnight later it comes up in a fortnightly quiz to help them embed it. Then it’s in their end of term test. 

When they move on to study Animal Farm in Year 8, they’re coming back to that word ‘corrupt’, and as well as embedding and using it throughout the unit, they’ll come across it in the start of unit quiz. 

So the diagnostic assessment is looking both forwards and backwards. Students constantly refer to core content from previous years, whilst also moving forwards. Teachers have multiple opportunities to identify and close gaps. Key knowledge is reviewed and mastered throughout the key stage.

Our baseline diagnostic assessments are carefully mapped forward in the curriculum so that teachers can look ahead to the most appropriate opportunities to revisit or reteach problem content. Teachers are then able to plan each sequence of lessons to genuinely meet the needs of their class. What’s taught in Year 7 looks forward to what will be taught in Year 9, the curriculum in Year 9 looks back and revisits key knowledge from Years 7 and 8. In terms of reteach, rather than try and close all of the gaps in that moment, we pinpoint when in the upcoming curriculum those gaps can be closed.

Pre-unit quizzes were written for each unit to assess relevant prior learning with particular emphasis on topics which were scheduled to be taught during the lockdown period.

Linking with home

We also make sure that the curriculum we provide for pupils at home is fully aligned with the in-school curriculum. 

Every pupil matters. Some pupils will need to shield or self-isolate. Digital access remains unreliable. 

For subjects including English, Science and Geography, we have developed pupil workbooks that have been designed for easy setting of work remotely, especially for students without IT facilities. 

A teacher exposition section presents new information in pupil-friendly speak, and addresses key misconceptions. Our authoring teachers adapted ‘turn and talk’ to become ‘stop and jot’. We interspersed the text with short tasks to help pupils stay on track whilst at home. 

We’ve included a formative assessment element with students guided to complete various ‘fix-it’ activities depending on the exit ticket answer they give.

These workbooks increase consistency for both the students and the teachers. 

During time at home, pupils can follow the lessons in the booklet, and when they return to school they can return almost seamlessly to learning as usual with their teacher. Our teachers are finding that, since introducing the workbooks, the quality of work that pupils are producing at home is significantly improved.

Because our Mathematics Mastery programmes informed the Oak National Academy curriculum for this subject, we can point our pupils to Oak to achieve a fully aligned home learning offer.