Tag Archives: knowledge

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

 

 

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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

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.