Tag Archives: curriculum

Building an Excellence & Growth Culture

I was delighted when Shaun Allison asked me to write a case study about our work in school to be included in a new book he is writing with Andy Tharby. Shaun’s Class Teaching blog was the original inspiration for the Belmont Teach blog and Andy’s thoughtful and insightful blog posts have been must-reads since we both started blogging around the same time over a year ago. Our similar philosophies led to Shaun, myself and a few other edu-bloggers setting up the Excellence and Growth Schools’ Network last year as well as sharing ideas on a range of concepts – most significantly perhaps around curriculum design and assessment. Since meeting at the Growing Mindsets convention last year, Shaun and I are like old pals now and can be relied on to clog up each other’s timelines with recipes, pictures of single malt and the lyrics of indie bands circa 1989! Here’s my contribution to the book, although the final edit could look a lot different once Andy has put it under an English teacher’s microscope……………………….

Key influences

Much of our recent work in school has been strongly influenced by Chief Program Officer for Expeditionary Learning, Ron Berger’s publications “An Ethic of Excellence” and “Leaders of Their Own Learning” as well as Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, Dr Carol S Dweck’s books “Self Theories” and “Mindset”. Untitled drawing (1) All of our staff – teaching staff, support staff and governors – have been given wide access and exposure to this work in school. We have multiple copies of these books in our Teaching and Learning Library, which top our loan statistics by some margin. All of our Learning Hub Leaders have a personal copy, as well as those who had elected to read them in their Edu-Book Club as part of their Personal Professional Development programme. This is supported by a compendium of blogs and videos we have compiled and continue to update on excellence and mindset.

Learning Hubs

To further ensure we develop an Ethic of Excellence and Growth Mindset amongst our learning community, all members of our teaching staff work in a choice of one of five Learning Hubs as part of their Personal Professional Development programme.

Learning Hubs logo 2014

Our Learning Hubs operate along the lines of Dylan Wiliam’s “TLCs: Teacher Learning Communities” model, with each hub, comprising approximately 8-12 staff meeting for 2 hours once every Half Term, with the following aims: Challenge

  • To embed a culture of ‘growth mindset’ across our learning community in order to raise aspirations and expectations of what students can achieve.
  • To ensure high levels of challenge for all students in every lesson, every day.

e-Learning

  • To use e-Learning to embed a culture of ‘growth mindset’ by empowering students, staff and parents to become engaged, confident, independent, resilient, information-literate users of e-Learning.
  • To develop personalised e-Learning resources for staff (teaching/pedagogy), students (learning) and parents (to support learning process as active participants).

Feedback and Critique

  • To consider the nature, timing and engagement of our students with feedback and critique.
  • To develop feedback and critique systems that ensure increased clarity, effort and aspiration amongst our students, supporting a culture of ‘growth mindset’.

Literacy

  • To consider how the language of subject specialisms can be explicitly taught by all teachers and supported by parents through a range of strategies.
  • To develop students’ chances of academic success by insisting that academic language is used in the classroom, and at home when talking to parents about school work.

Questioning

  • To develop deep and probing questioning for teaching/memory that elicits students to think hard supporting a culture of ‘growth mindset’ and questioning for assessment that informs teaching, e.g. hinge questions, multiple choice quizzing etc.

Mindset across the curriculum

Our Mindset work forms not only part of our pastoral programme, but is also supported by subject areas in lessons around five key themes:

  • Motivation & Inspiration
  • Aspiration
  • Resilience
  • Self esteem
  • Mindset

All students complete a learning journal during tutor time as part of this work.

A golden opportunity

The abolition of levels at Key Stage 3 provided us with an ideal opportunity to create not just a new assessment system, but an entire curriculum based on the principles of Excellence and Growth. Central to this was the idea that everyone is capable of excellence. gold The curriculum we have created is a curriculum we value. A curriculum designed to focus on fewer things in greater depth, rather than being “inch deep and mile wide”. To achieve this we have invested in regular blocks of time for our staff so that they can work together in teams to design subject specific curriculum and assessment.

Key components

Each subject started by establishing their organising concepts, or “big ideas”, which required a review of the entire National Curriculum from Key Stages 1 to 4. Knowing the prior learning of our students enabled us to accelerate from it and ensure high challenge from the outset. It also allowed us to introduce GCSE knowledge and skills in year 7 and go “beyond” the typical confines for the year or Key Stage. We’ve also been very careful to pay attention to what cognitive science tells us about learning and memory, embracing the work of UCLA Psychologist Professor Robert Bjork. As a consequence organising concepts are spaced and interleaved in order to try and build greater storage and retrieval strength. In doing this, we hope to be able to challenge our students further, by increasing their knowledge base and recall to free up working memory to allow them to think hard about, and assimilate new information. Assessment is then focused on mastery of fundamental concepts, ideas, knowledge and skills by designing rubrics containing learning targets for each unit ranging from “establishing” at a basic understanding through to the highest thresholds of “excellence” and “beyond”. As part of our commitment to excellence and growth, we believe that futures aren’t fixed and that all students have the potential for excellence and can improve by:

  • working hard and putting in their very best effort
  • acting on feedback from their teachers
  • becoming leaders of their own learning

As part of this commitment, all students are given access and the opportunity to demonstrate their learning right up to the “beyond” threshold. As well as specifying information about lesson resources, homework and assessment opportunities, each unit also contains a link to previous interleaved sequences, as well as deep and probing questions, which are designed in advance to encourage students to think hard about new information. As Professor of Psychology Daniel Willingham says: “memory is the residue of thought” or as Durham University Professor Robert Coe puts it: “learning happens when people have to think hard.”

Assessment, Recording and Reporting

In a similar fashion, our Assessment, Recording and Reporting of student progress has been revised to incorporate our philosophy of excellence and growth. MidYIS testing on entry is used to identify any potential that may have been missed previously. Progress is reported relative to starting points in simple terms as “excellent”, “good” or “not yet” – incorporating the language of growth. The bar is set high, so that meeting your baseline threshold represents good progress from the starting point in each unit. In a similar way, our revised descriptors for effort encourage excellence and growth. For effort to be classed as excellent, for example, a student must:

  • Consistently strive for excellence
  • Take ownership of their own learning
  • Be highly organised and self disciplined
  • Show initiative and responsibility
  • Show real determination in pursuit of goals
  • Demonstrate resilience when things get hard
  • Continuously seek, reflect and act on all feedback
  • Actively participate and contribute for the benefit of all

This year, in our efforts to help our students become leaders of their own learning, we have replaced our traditional annual report with a series of student led conferences in each subject area, which give students an opportunity to share their work and talk about their progress with parents and teachers by reflecting on and articulating what they have learned.

R.E.A.L. projects and realsmart

Recently, we’ve been working with realsmart to try to support this process even further by giving our students the opportunity to submit evidence of meeting learning targets to their cloud based learning portfolios. Any evidence submitted can then be used as a starting point to discuss progress at their student led conferences. We’ve also started working with Cara Littlefield, a Project Based Learning coach from High Tech High in San Diego through the Innovation Unit to develop R.E.A.L. Projects whose three key principles support our philosophy of excellence and growth, i.e:

  1. All students are capable of excellence regardless of prior attainment, needs or background
  2. Student work should matter
  3. Schools and classrooms are communities of learners

Through this work our staff and students are being trained to build a culture of peer feedback, critique and multiple drafting through the use of models of excellence. These skills are further developed during our whole school Project Week in the Summer Term, which involves public exhibition of high quality student work. Our Ethic of Excellence gallery, which sits in the heart of our school also complements this by displaying beautiful student work nominated by individual subjects. IMG_0031 IMG_0033 IMG_0034

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Creating a Curriculum for Excellence in Languages

This post is part of an ongoing series on how we are creating our own post-levels curriculum and assessment model from scratch.

The story so far:

This latest blog in the series was written by Lee Ferris, our Curriculum Team Leader for Internationalism, Language and Culture.

How does an MFL department at an 11-16 secondary school prepare for the rigours of a Curriculum for Excellence? Read on to find out.

What’s in a name?

Well, quite a lot actually. For a long time, I have been convinced that ‘Modern Foreign Languages’ is no longer fit for purpose as the name of a department whose work goes way beyond teaching languages. Of course, the idea that languages teachers instinctively and necessarily incorporate cultural awareness into their pedagogy is not a novel concept. Indeed, it formed a key tenet of my own teacher training at Durham University. Whether you call it ‘intercultural competence’ or ‘cultural awareness’, it is universally agreed that deeper language learning can only take place when the student has an appreciation for the people, traditions and culture of the Target Language country/countries. However, this is rarely formalised in Schemes of Work or Programmes of Study – when it is, it tends to be, frankly, inadequate for the needs of 21st-Century learners, instead paying lip service to a concept so indisputably crucial to the rounded, balanced curriculum we all aspire to provide for our students.
With that in mind, I submitted a proposal to the school’s SLT to change the name of our department from MFL to ILC – the Department of Internationalism, Language & Culture. The aims of the department would be:
• To be a ‘deliberate practice’ department, constantly seeking to improve Teaching and Learning through active research, collaboration and sharing of good practice.
• To promote academic excellence through cooperative, collaborative and independent learning.
• To be an ‘e-Learning department’ with a commitment to the full and natural integration of new technologies in Teaching and Learning.
• To promote contextualised linguistic spontaneity, creativity and, ultimately, fluency.
• To work with our partner schools, local, national and international cultural organisations (e.g. Tyneside Cinema, British Council, Goethe-Institut), as well as other departments within the school (e.g. Belmontvision with Performing Arts, Berlin Wall 25th Anniversary project with History) to promote knowledge and appreciation of the culture, history and people of the Target Language countries.
• To fully incorporate internationalism and culture into Schemes of Learning so that they are an integral element of language learning and not an ‘added extra’.
• To provide opportunities for students to gain experience of work and study in areas with an explicit international dimension.
• To raise aspiration and attainment in languages at GCSE level.

The SLT approved the name change and it was with renewed vigour that we proceeded to our intensive curriculum planning, beginning on 16th and 17th June.

The ‘Big Picture’

Before starting to think about what our ILC curriculum would look like and what we would want it to achieve for our students, I had been heavily involved with a ‘hub’ focussed on learning intentions – more specially, formulating suitably challenging learning intentions befitting a ‘Curriculum for Excellence’. I had also attended sessions in school on ‘assessment beyond levels’, at which Curriculum Team Leaders and others pooled ideas to come up with an assessment system that would reflect our overarching ambition to improve Teaching & Learning while effectively exploiting (in a positive sense) the national move away from National Curriculum levels. It was at these curriculum conferences that we discussed, as senior and middle leaders, what a ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ could and should look like.

The first activity the ILC department undertook in our curriculum planning sessions was an open discussion about ‘the big picture’ in our department. As we talked, openly and freely, about the role our department currently plays within school, I quoted almost ad verbatim what my colleagues had to say in the table below, avoiding the use of overtly formal language:

ILC1

The findings of our initial discussion on the context of our department. Click to enlarge.

A clear picture emerges from this discussion of a department with a united sense of ambition and a shared vision of the core purpose of language teaching. Clearly, the concept of broadening horizons is an umbrella intention with implications way beyond the simple transferral of linguistic knowledge. The table also betrays a unanimous desire to stretch, challenge and support our students to achieve beyond their expectations. It suggests a genuine will to facilitate sustained progress while ‘having fun with language’. In short, it gives an impression of a department with laudably lofty expectations of what it can achieve while maintaining a distinct person-centred humanity so essential in education.

The national circumstances

We spent a considerable amount of time as a department looking at the DfE’s published Programmes of Study for Languages at KS2/3, as well as the current guidelines for the new GCSE. From this, we deduced that the KS2 PoS looks like a recipe for potential chaos. A significant dilemma for secondary languages teachers in recent years has been taking account of the incredibly divergent prior knowledge among each Year 7 cohort, depending on the actual language covered at primary school, the amount of time (and effort) dedicated to it and the wild variations in content covered. However, what we gleaned from the PoS document is that these are the basic expectations of language (ancient or modern) teaching at KS2:

  • Describing and opining in writing and orally.
  • Writing phrases from memory.
  • Using authentic sources.
  • Actively engaging in the Target Language.
  • Communicating facts, ideas, needs and feelings.
  • Basic grammar: gender, high-frequency verbs, differences between the Target Language and English.
  • Phonics of cognates.

This struck us as being very ambitious indeed – not necessarily a bad thing in itself, as long as we can be certain that primary schools can and will deliver these elements adequately. To that end, a conversation with Dan Brinton, our Deputy Head Teacher, later in the day reaffirmed the need for solid collaboration and synchronisation with our feeder primary schools. This may, for example, take the form of a series of in-house conferences to train primary teachers in the delivery of the essential features of the KS2/3 PoS to ensure fluidity of transition in Year 7, as well as sustained progress building on prior knowledge, an ambition previously impossible to realise.

The department then decided that in the absence of specified content in the KS2 PoS, we would put together our own ‘wish list’ of linguistic content we would like our students to arrive at Belmont Community School equipped with at the start of Year 7:

  • Numbers 1-60
  • Days, months and birthdays
  • Simple greetings and introductions
  • Classroom objects
  • Alphabet and spelling
  • High-frequency verbs, including avoir and être
  • Awareness of gender of nouns
  • Colours
  • Simple adjectives with agreement
  • Animals
  • Weather
  • Likes/dislikes

Next, we cast our beady eyes over the KS3 PoS to pick out the core elements in preparation for curriculum planning. These turned out to be:

  • Communicating orally and in writing in a range of time frames
  • Give views and opinions on a range of topics
  • Transcription
  • English translation of short texts
  • Translation of short written text into the TL
  • Listening, speaking, reading, writing
  • Understand and communicate personal and factual information
  • Initiative to expand beyond minimum response
  • Literary texts in the language (stories, poems, songs and letters)
  • Deepening vocabulary
  • Increasing accuracy
  • Writing prose

Items shown in red above refer to skills and knowledge not present in previous PoS and skills which we would need to develop from KS3 into KS4. The links between the ‘new’ knowledge and skills and the outline of the new GCSE are clear:

ILC2

The requirements in Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing in the new GCSE. Click to enlarge.

Our organising concepts

We had already discussed in professional time meetings what we felt would be the measurable skills we would want to assess at KS3 in the post-NC level era. The ideas put on Padlet ranged from broad areas such as ‘comprehension’ to more specific, GCSE question types such as ‘Positive, Negative, Both’. In the end, we decided that our assessment skills would be identical to our key organising concepts for our curriculum. Therefore, our first task on our curriculum planning days was to discuss and agree on a maximum of six concepts around which our curriculum would be built. These turned out to be:

  1. Mechanics of Language (MoL)
  2. Communication (CMC)
  3. Comprehension (CMP)
  4. Culture (CUL)
  5. Internationalism (INT)

The thinking behind these concepts is relatively self-explanatory. When discussing our name change proposal as a department, one proviso expressed by a colleague was that any formalisation of internationalism and culture within our curriculum should in no way detract disproportionately from our core aim of achieving the best possible results for our students in whichever language they take up at GCSE. The core concepts above mean that the active and passive skills of language learning are both covered by Communication (CMC) and Comprehension (CMP), while knowledge of grammar and structures are explicitly assessed via the Mechanics of Language (MoL) concept. This will ensure rigour in the teaching of grammar, something which we all felt had diminished noticeably under the Listening/Speaking/Reading/Writing assessment model. The addition of Culture (CUL) and Internationalism (INT) means that we will have the means, via suitable Schemes of Learning and assessment mapping, to regularly evaluate the students’ development in this area.

The next stage involved looking more closely at each of the organising concepts and determining the knowledge and skills we would wish the students to acquire over the course of KS3, with Belmont’s new assessment threshold model (Establishing > Developing > Securing > Advancing > Excelling > Beyond) in mind. This led us to these conclusions:

ILC3

The core knowledge and skills for our organising concepts. Click to enlarge.

Threshold assessment

We then felt confident moving forward to determine what our threshold assessment descriptors would be in each context (NB we decided at this stage to move away from ‘concept’ as ‘Assessment Context’ seemed more appropriate). It was also at this point that we made the decision to combine Culture with Internationalism so that the two will be assessed together. We divided into pairs, each pair focussing on two of the Assessment Contexts and working back from Beyond to ensure that the most challenging, rigorous knowledge and skills were at the forefront of our planning. Reading through the descriptors, there is a clear route of progression from bottom to top – rigorous, geared towards excellence but infinitely achievable:

ILC4

Assessment Context 1: Mechanics of Language (MoL). Click to enlarge.

ILC5

Assessment Context 2: Communication (CMC). Click to enlarge.

ILC6

Assessment Context 3: Comprehension (CMP). Click to enlarge.

ILC7

Assessment Context 4: Culture and Internationalism (CUL/INT). Click to enlarge.

It is clear from the tables that Assessment Context 4 will require a cross-curricular delivery strategy. How to actively teach and promote ‘Culture and Internationalism’ formed the basis for one of our lengthier and most intense discussions. We envisage having greater organising input into Belmont’s ‘Challenge Days’. These are sporadic days in the year when the students are taken off timetable to focus on a particular strand of PSRE. We also foresee consistent collaboration with other departments in the school. Our recent Belmontvision event, organised and implemented in conjunction with our fantastic Performing Arts department, was proof positive of the innate possibilities in exploiting cross-curricular links to support tangible and practical culture and internationalism. We also plan to work with the Humanities department on specific strands of AC4. For example, this October, we will work with History to carry out a ‘Berlin Wall 25’ project, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The basic outline for the project? History will teach the students the factual information behind the history of the wall; we will exploit this knowledge to encourage the students to think (in German) about how they would have felt in a similar situation, using a range of feeling/emotion vocabulary with the conditional and connectives. Their thoughts will then be written on a reconstructed small-scale Berlin Wall. A simple yet incredibly powerful example of how AC4 could be delivered by fostering cross-curricular cooperation. Other avenues can – and will – be pursued.

Another ‘Eureka!’ moment during our discussion about the delivery of AC4 was centred on the potential power of ‘takeaway homework‘. We have been keen to implement this independent learning strategy since being introduced to it by Sam Bulmer from our English department at one of our ‘Magic Monday‘ T&L events earlier in the year. However, we have found it difficult to put together a suitably rich ‘offer’ in our specific curriculum area. We are now exploring the idea that takeaway homework can be used to fantastic effect as the stimulus for ongoing independent research on a range of culture and internationalism-related themes. This will involve the students choosing each week from a ‘menu’ of tasks of varying degrees of challenge, all of which involve independent research on a cultural/internationalist theme. Vivos will be awarded depending on the complexity of the task chosen from the menu and awards given out each half-term to the students who have collected the most Vivos. In doing this, the students will gradually build up a Culture and Internationalism portfolio. We are also looking into the use of QR codes to stimulate the students’ curiosity about the culture of Target Language countries. This may take the form of simply sticking a QR code into the students’ books when they are marked. When scanned, the code will take them to a Target Language music video or film trailer.

Schemes of Learning

Naturally, all of this planning is futile without effective Schemes of Learning which roadmap the year. Simon Thompson (Assistant CTL) and I looked at a range of resources designed to support the changes to the curriculum and finally identified one that we felt was suitably rigorous for our Curriculum for Excellence. The next stage in our planning involved piecing together a Teaching and Learning framework for Year 7 and 8, to include interleaving of topics, reference to our new Assessment Contexts and explicit links to Culture and Internationalism. This is still very much a work in progress – here is a sample:

ILC8

A sample of our developing Scheme of Work for Year 7 and 8. Click to enlarge.

As you can see, under ‘Skills and strategies’, the relevant AC has been identified, along with its ‘level’. So, CMP-D would indicate that this is a Comprehension skill at Developing level. Similarly, CUL-A signifies a Culture skill at Advancing level.

It is clear the tracking progress and reporting to parents will be much more transparent and meaningful in a system where you identify that a student is, for example, ‘Advancing in Communication’, rather than Level 4a in Writing. This can only be a positive development.

The way forward

Clearly, there is a long way to go in developing ILC’s ‘Curriculum for Excellence’. As has always been the case, a curriculum fit for purpose is one that is constantly reevaluated and adapted to the evolving needs of students. The next few weeks will be spent honing the Year 7 and 8 SoW so that we have a watertight plan for KS3, which incorporates elements of KS4 to allow students to go Beyond their expectations. Further consideration will be given to how we carry this momentum through KS4 so that the ever-present risk of Years 9-11 becoming a soulless exercise in dragging students through a GCSE is eliminated. Rather, we envisage a culture whereby students are independent, collaborate, culturally competent/curious and outward thinking learners with a sense of their own place in the world and the wealth of opportunities open to them.

It’s a grand vision. It’s a Belmont vision.

Designing a new post-levels curriculum and assessment model from scratch

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:

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:

a new taxonomy?

  • 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.

round-hole-square-peg

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.

Big ideas

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:

Slide04

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?
Slide09

Big Idea 1: All materials in the Universe are made of very small particles

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

Slide1

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:

Slide07

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

Slide08

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.

Slide14

How often though, do we begin our planning at this point, rather than defining our…

  • Purpose
  • Big ideas
  • Key knowledge and skills
  • Progression
  • Mapping
  • Assessment criteria

…in advance?

Tracking

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
  • etc.

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.

Slide16

Threshold performance could then be used to discuss “flight paths” to GCSE using the current grades A*-G or the new GCSE points system.

Slide17

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.

Slide18

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.

Slide19

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.

Dan

 

 

Assessing without levels

We recently held the first in a series of voluntary curriculum conferences for mid-leaders to share their ideas about what might influence the design of our new post-levels curriculum. Ideas that were shared during our first meeting:

  • Designing a new English curriculum and post-levels assessment system from scratch (which you can read all about here)
  • An Ethic of Excellence (which you can read all about here)
  • Using cognitive science to inform curriculum design (which you can read all about here)
  • Assessing without levels

assessing without levels 1 The chance to break free from using National Curriculum levels for assessment offers us real opportunity:

  • The opportunity to provide our students with formative feedback that means something
  • The opportunity to create an “Ethic of Excellence” – where excellence is expected and everyone can improve and aim for excellence
  • The opportunity to develop a curriculum that instils a growth mindset – no glass ceilings or self-labelling by students, e.g. “I’m a level 5”
  • The opportunity to develop a curriculum that goes “beyond” the traditional programme of study, to provide real stretch and challenge
  • The opportunity to develop more meaningful reporting for students and parents

In February of this year, a number of schools submitted applications to the DfE for Assessment Innovation Funding to develop post-levels assessment systems that could be shared with other schools.  Durrington High School were one of the 9 schools that were successful, and whose ‘Growth and Thresholds’ model is very closely aligned with our own thinking.  Much of the initial ideas on ‘assessing without levels’ shared at our first curriculum conference were informed by this model.

 

Thresholds and progression

New thresholds based on mastery of core knowledge and skills will need to be determined.  Our English department’s recent work with David Didau saw the development of our initial threshold names.  It also saw the birth of the “Beyond” threshold, which we are keen to adopt in all subjects to ensure we ‘keep the bar high’ and extend our students beyond the traditional confines of their current Key Stage and into the next. Progression to the current and new GCSE thresholds could then look something like this: Slide4

 

Organising concepts and threshold knowledge & skills

Each subject area will need to determine their own ‘organising concepts’ or ‘big ideas’ as well as the key knowledge and skills for each of the six thresholds.  An example for Science is shown below: Slide6 Assessing only the key knowledge and skills that continue into Key Stage 4 and beyond, will allow our students to develop a deeper understanding of concepts.  It will also provide our teachers with an opportunity to give focused and meaningful formative feedback to students and parents on how to progress further.

 

Baseline determination

A range of data could be used to determine a baseline for each student, including, for example:

  • 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

baselines Professor Robert Coe’s blog has also been useful in developing our understanding of what makes a ‘good’ test.

 

Achievement focused tracking and reporting

Once a baseline has been established for each student, progress could then be measured relative to this.  For example, a student with a baseline of “Excellence” would be making Expected progress if assessed as achieving the “Excellence” threshold, Good progress if they were assessed as “Beyond” and Less than expected progress if assessed as “Confident” etc. Slide8 This model supports our aim that all students can move through the thresholds, aiming for the “Excellence” and “Beyond” thresholds, providing they have demonstrated the required mastery of key knowledge and skills at those thresholds. Tracking could also incorporate numerical values broadly aligned to the new GCSE thresholds. Using the previous example, a student with a baseline of “Excellence” would be allocated a score of 9.  If the same student was assessed as achieving at the “Confident” threshold (allocated a score of 8), their achievement would be -1 for example. Slide9

 

Postscript

There was wide support during the meeting for agreeing a set of common thresholds to be used by all subjects.  Ideas were then discussed in subsequent department meetings, prior to pooling them via subject leads using a padlet wall. thresholds consultation We then decided upon the following thresholds to be used in all subjects: agreed thresholds

 

Preview

We have since held the second of our curriculum conferences for mid-leaders.  In the next blog in this series, we will share our ideas on Designing a post-levels curriculum and assessment model from scratch, including more detail on:

  • why we are moving away from levels
  • suggestions on how to move from organising concepts to a lesson by lesson overview
  • curriculum planning tools that could be used to adopt a common planning framework

An Ethic of Excellence

We recently held the first in a series of voluntary curriculum conferences for mid-leaders to share their ideas about what might influence the design of our new post-levels curriculum.

Ideas that were shared during our first meeting:

  • Designing a new English curriculum and post-levels assessment system from scratch (which you can read all about here)
  • An Ethic of Excellence
  • Using cognitive science to inform curriculum design
  • Assessing without levels

Ethic of excellence, Berger

For those of us that have already read ‘An Ethic of Excellence’ by Ron Berger, I’m sure most of us would agree on the deep and lasting impression it left upon us.  For many of us, myself included, it has had a transformational effect on our work as teachers and school leaders.

Here, Head of Performing Arts Laura Jackson, shares her thoughts on the book and how it has influenced her thinking.

“It’s not a quick fix, it’s a way of life”

Ron Berger was an American Elementary School teacher .  He was a craftsman, a carpenter by trade.  He believes that “work of excellence is transformational. Once a student sees that he or she is capable of excellence, that student is never quite the same.”

An Ethic of Excellence

The book is written as a personal account of his findings, more like a story than an academic style book.  In it he talks about the culture he has embedded in his own school and then in others as a consultant – that excellence cannot be achieved first time.

An Archiver of Excellence

Berger collects student work for his portfolio which has been built up over many years.  The sharing of student work for the purposes of modelling and critique is central to his teaching repertoire.  Archived work is shared with students.  It shows development and progression – from first draft to “excellence”.  Students spend time discussing the work of others and receiving critique on their own.

We were then treated to this, now legendary video of Ron Berger in action.  It demonstrates the power of archived work in supporting students to achieve excellence, through the process of critique and re-drafting.

A School Culture of Excellence

The culture we create rests in our community – “in every effective school I’ve seen has a strong sense of community….staff and students in all these settings feel that they are part of something – that they belong.”

Positive Peer Pressure is used to create a safe learning environment, where striving for excellence is encouraged.  Here, the positive critical feedback outlined above is crucial in achieving this.

Bigger is better?  WE ARE LUCKY! “in a small school students and staff are highly accountable – it’s hard for the students to fall through the cracks”  this is a privilege for us – we can make a bigger difference!

Work of Excellence

“We can’t first build up self-esteem and then focus on their work. It is through their own work that their self-esteem will grow.”

Project based learning is at the heart of the curriculum.  The curriculum is “thematic” containing multidisciplinary themes over weeks and even months.  High quality projects are celebrated everywhere so that the ethic, understanding and motivation are there right from the start.

Literacy and numeracy are built in throughout the curriculum – from basic to higher order skills.  Work completed is genuine, of integrity and requires students to carry out their own research.

Assessment is continuous and used to build stronger students.  Multiple drafts of work are the norm.  Critique is used prior to each new draft, which must be:

  • Kind – safety
  • Specific – no wasting time
  • Helpful – to help the individual not the critic

“Students need to know from the outset that quality means rethinking, reworking, and polishing. They need to know that they will be celebrated, not ridiculed, for going back to the drawing board.”

At the end of the year all student work is presented to a panel and made public through exhibitions or performances.  Work is recorded to show the next intake what is expected in a year.  Deadlines must be met – positive pressure is used throughout to ensure excellence.

Teaching of Excellence

The critique process doesn’t just apply to students, however.  Teachers also critique each other’s work, and are expected to present and explain strategies that might be recommended.  Teaching is seen as a craft – and with ‘expert’ status requiring as much as 10000 hours, feedback on practice is welcome and supports improvement.  Relationships are seen as central to getting the best out of each other.

“Teaching isn’t about papers and pencils, it’s about relationships”.

Building strong relationships makes it much easier to ask ourselves and each other the fundamental question:

“How do we make the work stronger?”

Impact

To finish, Laura shared some of the ways in which the book has already impacted on her practice:

  • Critique – first draft listening marked by students and re-written.  This may take time away from “music” but when doing a similar task for the first time several weeks later, there was a marked improvement in first drafts.
  • Excellence – Displaying the work for others to see, collecting a portfolio of “excellence” as a hard copy and a visual file to show students and staff.
  • Adding context / value – Year 9 “showcase” performance – showing their best examples of performance work, Year 7 “Creative Arts Celebration Evening”
  • Collecting examples of excellent work, evidence of excellent performances and practice work to display.  Once it’s set up it is easy to update and develop.

Music examples of excellence wall zoom

Music wall of excellence 2

An Ethic of Excellence, by Ron Berger is available from our Teaching and Learning library

The Spy Who Loved Us – Part 1: “The name’s Beyond…..”

The spy who loved us

“The design and implementation of the curriculum is at the heart of school life.  It creates the atmosphere for learning and sets the tone and philosophy for teachers.” from Creating Outstanding Classrooms: A whole-school approach by Oliver Knight & David Benson

For those of you that aren’t familiar with the 10th film in the James Bond series, “The Spy Who Loved Me” is about a reclusive megalomaniac who plans to destroy the world and create a new civilisation.

In April this year, author, blogger and chief provocateur David Didau – a.k.a. @LearningSpy – came to work with our fabulous English department to help them to plan their new curriculum and post-levels assessment system.  I’ll leave you to draw your own comparisons.

“I wasn’t looking, but somehow you found me”

The whole process began early in February this year via a few Direct Messages through Twitter, followed up with a quick chat at the NTEN conference at KEGS to agree dates, before finally confirming the intended outcomes via e-mail, which looked something like this:

  • Our English team would have a framework curriculum, with possibly a unit planned in depth for Years 7, 8 and 9, including assessment.
  • Capacity would be built within the team through modelling and the co-construction process.
  • The school would be left with a potential model way of working to roll out with other departments.

These would be achieved by:

  • Determining shared values of the team and the “what” of what the team wanted to teach.
  • Supporting the design of a Programme of Study and assessment system that assesses mastery of threshold concepts rather than levels.
  • Supporting the design of a model Scheme of Learning.

As far as timescale was concerned we had two possible options:

1) Try and cram all of the above into 1 day

2) Do it over 2 days and do it right

…we chose the latter.

“I tried to hide from your love light”

Wanting to make the best possible start to their 2 days with David – and to avoid any chance of “the tumbleweed moment” – the team spent quite a bit of time beforehand trying to discuss exactly what they wanted to teach.  This was clearly time very well spent, as the first question they were hit with following my introductions was this – now legendary – one posed by Headteacher Tom Sherrington:

Having already seen this tweet from Tom at the time, the department had no need to convince me of its merit and were encouraged from the beginning to design the curriculum that they wanted, without interference or restrictions of any kind.  To me, this wasn’t a leap of faith, it was just trusting our experts to do what they do best.

“But like Heaven above me”

As well as knowing what they wanted, the team also found it helpful to be clear about what they didn’t want.  Here’s their final wish list:

  • Full novels that promote reading.
  • Less assessment and more learning.
  • Longer schemes to really explore texts and themes.
  • All assessments marked for both reading and writing so they are no longer seen as separate skills.
  • More educational trips that are linked into our schemes of work.

In order to do this, they were encouraged to avoid succumbing to the “sunk cost fallacy” and to “murder a few of their darlings” (more about this in Part 2), for example the way Lady Macbeth was taught.  The point being, they started the whole process knowing exactly what they wanted.

Their outline Programme of Study included more challenging texts and contained just three Schemes of Learning per year that were arranged chronologically, as shown below:

Planning our KS3 English curriculum

“The spy who loved me”

David also introduced the team to the work of Hermann Ebbinghaus and Robert Bjork.

Ebbinghaus first introduced the world to his forgetting curve and the spacing effect as long ago as 1885 through his pioneering work on memory. Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve This popular graphical representation shows the idea that the amount of newly acquired information we retain declines over time without any attempt to retain it. To increase retention over time Ebbinghaus thought that spaced repetition could help.  Spacing works on the idea that we learn better when information is spaced out in intervals over a longer time span rather than when information is repeated without intervals  (massed presentation).  Each repetition is thought to increase the length of time before the next repetition is required – from days initially to years.

Bjork explains the spacing effect in more detail below:

In his New Theory of Disuse Bjork also argues that spacing reduces the accessibility of information in memory and in doing so fosters additional learning of that information. In other words, building in opportunities to revisit information at the point of ‘almost forgetting’ for students is good, as it means they are more receptive to learning new information.

Spacing may well be one of the most effective ways to improve learning, but what do you do in between repetitions?  Bjork argues that an effective strategy might be to interleave our study.  The theory being that interleaving requires learners to constantly ‘reload’ or retrieve information, allowing them to extract more general rules that aid transfer.  Here’s Bjork on interleaving:

“Is keeping all my secrets safe tonight”

One of the ways this might manifest itself in the curriculum was shared by our Acting Head of English, Adele Corrigan, at our Curriculum Conference last week.

The department agreed on six organising concepts against which they have chosen to assess  – the six concepts of English: Analysis, Impact, Structure, Grammar, Evidence and Context.  To quote Knight & Benson again:

“Organising concepts are needed to facilitate retention in memory, develop economic mental processing and support analytic reasoning” 

These six organising concepts underpin the design of the department’s Programme of Study and Schemes of Learning.  The concepts are mapped against the Schemes of Learning before being tracked over the Programme of Study to ensure the requisite spaced repetitions.

interleaving

Structure and Coherence, for example, is one of the six organising concepts that would be spaced so that it was met in each Scheme of Learning across the Programme of Study in different ways.

e.g.

Year 9 Term 1 – Gothic – Frankenstein.

Analysing the use of structure in a novel e.g. paragraphing, length of paragraphs, ending of chapters and cliff hangers. Examining the effect of these structures and why they are used.

Year 9 Term 2 – War – A range of war poetry.

Looking at the wide range of structures available to poets e.g. aabb, abab, sonnet and free verse. Comparing the differences between the structure of a novel and a poem and discussing which is the most effective for certain purposes. Linking prior knowledge by examining the effect of these structures and why they are used.

Year 9 Term 3 – Dystopia and freedom – Animal Farm and 1984.

Writing a persuasive speech about banishing certain objects to “Room 101”.  Focusing on own structure and writing in a structure that best suits individual purpose and style. Using prior knowledge to think about intended effect and reason.

“And nobody does it better”

Initial thresholds for each of the six organising concepts were then agreed from the simplest “Working towards” to “Exceptional” in order to establish the depth of knowledge and skills for each organising concept.

English key concepts and assessment criteria

The “Beyond” threshold was added afterwards and came from a desire to ‘go deeper’ than “Exceptional” and create a threshold that stretched students beyond the confines of Level 8 or A* at GCSE.  Here Yoram Harpaz’s “Performances of Understanding” were particularly useful in directing assessment beyond mere presentation of knowledge and into the realms of questioning, criticising, critiquing, challenging and developing counter-arguments to it.

Harpaz

“Performances of Understanding” by Yoram Harpaz from Creating Outstanding Classrooms: A whole-school approach p57 by Oliver Knight & David Benson

“Though sometimes I wish someone could”

The team then used the following seven fertile questions from the same book’s Teaching and Learning Cycle to enshrine the construction of medium term plans for each Scheme of Learning:

  1. What can my students do?
  2. What do my students need to understand next?
  3. What will they do to generate those understandings?
  4. How will we all know they have been successful?
  5. What will their feedback be at the different stages?
  6. What performances will there be – both intermediary and final?
  7. What does this enquiry prepare students for next and how does it build on what they have already done?

Here’s an example of how they were used to help plan the Year 7: The Story of English Scheme of Learning:

SoL Y7 Story of English fertile questions

“Nobody does it quite the way you do”

Once this planning for progression was complete the idea of disciplinary thinking could then be introduced in order to ensure knowledge is applied and becomes useful knowledge rather than the mere acquisition of facts leading to inert knowledge.  The team used Peter Lee’s disciplinary planning grids from p72/3 of Creating Outstanding Classrooms in order to think about how they could encourage students to think like, talk like and become experts.

Y7 Story of English disciplinary planning grid

The planning grids are currently being used to plan out the lesson-by-lesson overview, which also includes assessment criteria based on the organising concepts.

Y7 Story of English SOL

“Why’d you have to be so good?”

So was it all worth it?

Doing all of the thinking for themselves enabled the department to build a deep and clear understanding, while also allowing them to take personal ownership of their new Key Stage 3 curriculum.  In doing so they have been able to go way beyond what could ever have been achieved by following anything that was externally imposed on them.

After two days the process left the whole department feeling reinvigorated, energised and seriously excited about teaching their new Programme of Study.  These quotes are typical of their feedback at the end of the second day:

“It has been really exciting. We absolutely love our new assessment criteria and can’t wait to use it. We also think that our new KS3 programme of study is really challenging and engaging and can’t wait to start teaching it.”
“I can say for definite that I haven’t been this excited about teaching for a long time, a very long time.”

Not only that, but thanks to David and our English team we believe we now have the basis of an excellent model that can be used to support the redesigning of curriculum and assessment across the remaining subjects in our school.

You can also read David’s excellent blog about his work with us One step beyond – assessing what we value as well as his subsequent blog about the efficacy of our assessment system Does it do what it’s supposed to? Assessing the assessment following the initial feedback.