This is the 5th post in a series about how we are designing our own post-levels curriculum and assessment model from scratch.
The story so far:
- The Spy Who Loved Us – Part 1: “The name’s Beyond…..”
- An Ethic of Excellence
- Using cognitive science to inform curriculum design
- Assessing without levels
This latest update contains a miscellany of information and ideas that I’ve shared at our second curriculum conference and most recently at the Dare to imagine – Education for the 21st century conference and the Cramlington Festival of Learning TeachMeet. It attempts to pull together more detail on:
- context and why we are moving away from levels
- the interplay between curriculum planning and assessment
- tracking of progress
It also includes a number of curriculum planning tools that could be used to adopt a common planning framework.
A new taxonomy?
Most of us are familiar with Bloom’s taxonomy and the SOLO taxonomy, however, the end of statutory levelled assessment has brought with it a new kind of taxonomy that can be used to describe the various behaviours people often seem to exhibit in response:
- IGNORING – pretending it’s not happening
- PANICKING – when you realise it is happening
- PROCRASTINATING – accepting it’s happening and deciding to deal with it later
- WAITING – for “something” to come along
- SEARCHING – what are others doing?
- BUMBLING – trying to move forward without any real plan
Despite exhibiting a number of these behaviours ourselves this year, I’m pleased to say we are now at last well on the way to creating our own post-levels curriculum and assessment model.
Some thoughts on levels
- Although originally intended to provide information on progress, there is a danger they have become a label that discourages a common intellectual mission and perpetuates a fixed mindset. “Joe is a level 5” or worse still “I’m a level 5.”
- The temptation to move up levels quickly in the name of “progress” is at odds with our desire to secure a deeper understanding of the big ideas, not just isolated content, and to allow more time for mastery of fundamental knowledge and skills.
- The various models used to aggregate test scores, APP and the use of sub-levels by schools makes them unreliable.
- High performing school systems don’t use levels
Can you re-think assessment in isolation without re-examining your existing curriculum?
Despite levels becoming non-statutory at Key Stage 3, the freedom to innovate and deliver the curriculum we want has always been there. The limited amount of change in some cases between the old and new National Curriculum could offer little incentive to change, with some schools deciding to “stick” rather than “twist” or bolting on new assessment systems to their existing curriculum.
On the other hand, it also represents a golden opportunity to design curriculum and assessment systems that teach and assess what we value.
- To make links and connections between big ideas explicit
- To develop individuality and the ability to think
- To specifically develop skills and habits of learning as well as knowledge.
- To go “beyond” the traditional programme of study, to provide real stretch and challenge
- To provide our students with formative feedback that means something
- To allow for simple, meaningful reporting to parents and carers
Re-designing curriculum and assessment isn’t easy though. We have to ask ourselves searching questions and think hard. It takes time and we have to allow for that and ensure we provide ample opportunities within school.
Each of our subject areas have determined their own ‘organising concepts’ or ‘big ideas’ as well as the key knowledge and skills that weave through their curriculum – the golden threads.
For example, in science:
Planning for excellence (and beyond)
Progression is then mapped out for each big idea by asking:
- What does excellence look like?
- What can my students do?
- What do my students need to understand next?
- What does this enquiry prepare students for next and how does it build on what they have already done?
- How can we go beyond the boundaries of the existing Key Stage?
Cognitive science and curriculum mapping
We’ve also looked at how a knowledge of cognitive science might support the way we construct programmes of study in each subject. In particular how it could help us to:
- encourage students to engage emotionally with content by ensuring appropriate degrees of challenge
- avoid overloading working memory by linking to the big ideas / building on prior learning
- build storage and retrieval strength by mapping our programme of study to incorporate spacing and interleaving
Here’s an example of how we might space and interleave some of our big ideas to ensure progression of knowledge and skills across our science programme of study:
A threshold assessment rubric is then developed for each unit that:
- Sets the bar high
- Focuses on assessing the key knowledge and skills for that particular unit
- Scaffolds down from the beyond threshold
- Supports the development of deeper understanding and skill development
- Enables provision of formative feedback that supports progression to the next threshold
It is only at this point that the lesson-by-lesson overview is then created, containing links to the last interleaved sequence; the learning intentions; specific, pre-planned probing questions that encourage thinking as well as the “products” we expect students to create.
How often though, do we begin our planning at this point, rather than defining our…
- Big ideas
- Key knowledge and skills
- Assessment criteria
Establishing progress necessitates the need for a baseline, which can be a tricky business. In the past, we have tended to lean heavily on KS2 test data, however in our initial discussions we see this as an opportunity to use a wider range of data to include:
- KS2 English + Maths test scores
- KS2 Teacher Assessment and dialogue with feeder schools
- MidYIS / CAT3 ability testing
- FFT estimates
- Internal tests on entry
- Reading ages
Once a baseline has been established for each student, progress could then be measured relative to this using simple statements about progress relative to it, rather than targets that place ceilings on student achievement.
Threshold performance could then be used to discuss “flight paths” to GCSE using the current grades A*-G or the new GCSE points system.
e.g. if a student’s was currently working at the “securing” threshold they might usually be expected to progress to grade B/C (using current GCSE grades) or point 7/6
If they were working at the “developing” threshold then we might expect them to progress to grade C/D…etc.
What concerns me at the minute though, is how the use of some of this data fits with our thinking about a common intellectual mission and that all students are capable of excellence.
In fact, after months of reading, discussing, thinking and investing significant time (and cost) to allow joint discussion, planning and collaboration sometimes this feels as close as it gets to where my head is at right now.
We’ve still got lots to work out and will need to evaluate the efficacy of all our work as we progress, however, in choosing to design a curriculum and assessment system that we value, it’s clear we share a real excitement, hope and optimism about the future.
Here’s a link to an Excel version of our curriculum planning tools. There are a number of planning sheets contained in the workbook, including some “Big Picture” questions by Pete Jones. Feel free to use and adapt as you see fit. I would love to hear from you if you decide to use any of them in your school. Feedback is always welcome.