Tim Ward - 28 November, 2019

Category : Blog

Research Led Curriculum Design

Every school has been working hard on ensuring they have an inspiring, rich and challenging curriculum for the pupils recently.  Whilst a great curriculum has always been at the heart of learning, the extra focus of the updated Ofsted evaluation schedule has led to schools revisiting their curriculum design. Whilst reviewing curriculum design, schools should

Every school has been working hard on ensuring they have an inspiring, rich and challenging curriculum for the pupils recently.  Whilst a great curriculum has always been at the heart of learning, the extra focus of the updated Ofsted evaluation schedule has led to schools revisiting their curriculum design.

Whilst reviewing curriculum design, schools should ask themselves not only what pupils should know, be able to do and understand, but also how these aspects work in a cross-curricular way.  Is there a skill that will help a pupil’s understanding of many subjects? Should we have explicit goals for learning behaviours that will assist learning in a global sense? Many schools will already do this but – when asked why – they often assert that such learning behaviours are impactful -, without being able to reference any real evidence.

Is this really a problem?  Perhaps not. After all, a skilful teacher or leader often draws on years of experiential learning of what works well.  High performing professionals are known to work in a constant loop of self-feedback that informs future practice.

On the other hand – maybe this is a problem.  Those of you who are familiar with the work of John Hattie will know that his research into the impact of what strategies truly improve learning can be very insightful. For example, his work highlights the relatively small impact of class size on outcomes – yet many still believe this is crucial. 

Before we make changes, we need to be sure we are making decisions based on sound evidence.

Which brings me to my main point: all schools should be actively researching and monitoring  the impact of their curriculum design. If you are about to spend significant time building a change to your curriculum, training teachers and updating documents, then you need to know this change will make a meaningful impact.

During my time working with Computing At School, I saw what I believed to be evidence that computational thinking had a positive impact in other areas of the curriculum, with a focus on problem-solving, decomposition of problems and self-evaluation of solutions.  But how could I be sure?

This is where we need to design a process that tests the theory by providing clear evidence of impact; this means building in a way to make the important measurable (as opposed to making the measurable important).

In my example, I may believe that pupils who are better at problem-solving perform better across the curriculum.  I might decide, therefore, to explicitly teach problem-solving. In order to effectively judge whether I am right, I need to know two things: which pupils are good at problem solving and does this correlate with other educational outcomes?

Time, then, for some active research. Using a rubric, I could evaluate pupils’ problem-solving skills.

(Image 1: A table taken from Livingstone Academies part of the Aspirations Academies Trust – Copyright 2016)

 

I could then cross-reference this to academic outcomes in English and Mathematics.  If a strong correlation exists, then it will be worthwhile integrating the teaching of problem-solving into my curriculum.

As ever though – this can be time-consuming work.  If schools are to engage in research like this, they need a hassle-free way to get it done.  They need a tool that can bring together what you already know about your pupils, such as their background and current academic grades, and your research evidence.

Luckily for Arbor schools, it’s very easy to make a rubric for assessing almost anything, such as the problem-solving example above.  Once this has been used, clear analytics can then be used to determine if a strong correlation exists.

Research like this needs to be a continual process, as the needs of your pupils may change; the world they live in certainly will! So, having the tools to make the process easy and hassle-free should be a high priority.

In summary:

1. When you review curriculum design, look for opportunities that improve outcomes across all subjects

2. Beware of falling back on assumed knowledge of “what works well”

3. Instead, find ways to make what you believe to be important measurable and generate your own research data

4. Use this data to make evidentially driven changes to secure maximum impact on pupil learning

5. Don’t start work without having the right tools at your disposal that will make the process hassle-free and help you get the work done quickly. 

 

If you’d like to find out why Arbor is the MIS schools love to use, why not contact us? You can also book a demo by calling 0207 043 0470 or email tellmemore@arbor-education.com.