Tag Archives: subject knowledge

Strategic school leadership simplified: quality assurance mechanisms

In the first post in this series, I detailed our process of setting strategic direction – a community wide collaboration of agreeing aims, values and a description of the future.

The next stage was to determine ways of knowing the extent to which our vision is being realised and to do this, we needed to be clear on the different types of impact that we can have as school leaders. A few years ago, I came across Thomas Guskey’s mechanisms for evaluating professional development. These proved a good starting point to think about ways to evaluate the work of the school in its entirety. Ultimately, if the school is working effectively, there will be an impact on outcomes for children. In order for children to do well, schools should seek to influence adults’ knowledge and adults’ behaviours. When certain behaviours develop into cultural norms, they become systems and processes. Finally, leaders’ impact on climate underpins the impact in all the preceding realms.

Within each of these, there are sub sections. The interesting thing with these is that there is an inverse relationship between the ultimate outcome and those that we can more directly influence.

Next, looking at each strand, we considered key performance indicators that would show how well our vision was being realised. It was pretty difficult to keep the number of key performance indicators low – there are lots indicators that seem important and, after all, schools are complex places. Here’s a snapshot of a few (with a baseline RAG rating):

With more specific indicators now agreed, we considered what could be measured or assessed in some way that would help us to know the extent to which our vision is being realised and whether the key performed indicators were being met.

Now with a clearer idea about what we might want to assess or measure, thinking turned to how we could do so:

There is quite a bit of overlap here – one quality assurance activity could easily provide information about all five strands of impact. Equally, there are certain quality assurance activities that would not provide any meaningful information about a particular strand and it is important for leaders to understand that. Any quality assurance activity would need to be chosen to ascertain the information that leaders require and not done simply because it has always been done or because it’s what others do.

To help show this, here’s another representation of what different quality assurance activities could give us useful information about:

It is worth pointing out at this stage that no individual quality assurance activity can provide completely reliable information and this is due to the many variables that are involved, not least bias in the person or people doing it. It is important for governors and leaders to understand that a combination of measures over time is probably the most reliable way of getting information that is anywhere near valid.

Having worked on this pre-pandemic, the educational landscape has changed somewhat and the opportunity will hopefully arise to reshape what the norms are regarding quality assurance in schools – less so hard accountability measures and more so a collaborative notice and adjust model. Even with more of the latter, the quality assurance activities would still be mostly valid; it would be how they are done that can shift. Pragmatism and humanity over numbers and one off performances.

Having clarified a vision for the future and mechanisms to check whether we’re meeting that expectation, the next part of this series looks at strategy selection to set out the details of what we need to do in order to be successful.

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Curriculum coherence – threads of key concepts

One way of creating coherence in a curriculum is to pay close attention to the key concepts for each subject.  These key concepts go by other names such as big ideas or threshold concepts.  Whatever they are referred to, they are concepts that, once understood, transform a child’s understanding of that subject.  They can also be developed across year groups – they are not taught as one off ideas, they are a thread through the entire curriculum with children developing a more complex understanding as they get older.

Deciding on the key concepts starts with research.  There are a number of sources of information to gain a better understanding of them.  Mike Askew has written about the big ideas in maths.  The Association for Science Education (ASE) has published Wynne Harlen’s big ideas in science.  And of course, the national curriculum purpose of study and aims sections for each subject contain the concepts if you know what you’re looking for.  Further (great) advice on the matter can be found in the subject association websites.  They require a membership for access but are well worth the subscription.

Below are what my school has settled on for key concepts in each subject.  There is also a link to the relevant subject association where one exists.  Hope they’re useful.

English


  • Structure of a sentence
  • Words, phrases and sentences have an effect on the reader
  • Structure of stories
  • Imagery
  • Sound and phoneme / grapheme correspondence
  • Word decoding / sight recognition

English association website.

Maths


  • Estimation
  • Equivalence
  • Classification
  • Numerical reasoning
  • Position on a number line
  • Meaning of symbols
  • Sequences
  • Place value

Maths association website.

Science


  • All material in the universe made of tiny particles
  • Life
  • Gravity
  • A force is required to change an object’s movement
  • Organisms have a finite life span
  • Organisms require energy and materials and often have to compete for them
  • Genetic information is passed down to offspring
  • Finding the cause of phenomena
  • Explanations best fit the facts at a point in time

Science association website.

History


  • Significance (people, events and developments)
  • Continuity and change (chronology)
  • Cause, effect and legacy
  • Perspective and evidence

History association website.

Geography


  • The physical world
  • Place and space
  • Human environments
  • Scale
  • Interdependence
  • Change

Geography association website.

RE


  • Worship
  • Symbols
  • A good life
  • Holy places and pilgrimage
  • Key figures
  • Life after death
  • Celebration
  • Scripture

RE association website.

PSHE


  • Identity
  • Relationships
  • Healthy lifestyle
  • Risk
  • Diversity and equality
  • Rights, responsibilities and consent
  • Change and resilience
  • Power
  • Career

PSHE association website.

PE


  • Practice
  • Conditioning
  • Performance and evaluation
  • Teamwork
  • Strategy

PE association website.

Art


  • Depth
  • Light and dark
  • Proportion
  • Mood / Colour
  • Texture

Art association website.

Music


  • Practice
  • Performance
  • Beat
  • Style
  • Musical structure
  • Musical dimension
  • Scales

Music association website.

MFL


  • Pronunciation
  • Intercultural understanding

MFL association website.

DT


  • Product evaluation
  • Design
  • Make
  • Evaluate

DT association website.

Computing


  • Digital literacy
  • Algorithms
  • Programming
  • Debugging
  • Networks

Computing association website.

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9 ways to put sentences at the heart of the curriculum

This post leans heavily upon the great work by Judith Hochman and Natalie Wexler in The Writing Revolution.  In my school, the least advantaged children are not as competent as their advantaged peers at crafting accurate and effective sentences.  To combat this, we aim to put sentences at the heart of the curriculum, with a number of strategies that can be used not only during English lessons but in any subject using the fascinating content that each subject brings.  After all,  writing is thinking and getting children to think clearly about the curriculum is fundamental to them building schemata.

Understanding children’s misconceptions

The starting point for any strategy selection is to understand the misconceptions that children have around sentences.  From The Writing Revolution, categorising these misconceptions as grammatical or stylistic can be helpful.  These strategies may help children to write better sentences but reading is just as important.  For example, children might use run ons when writing and ignore full stops when reading.  Paired reading, sentence by sentence can ensure that children pause at full stops and hear the demarcation of sentences more clearly.

 

Securing subject knowledge

Teachers need good subject knowledge in order to clearly explain the intricacies of the grammar and stylistic choices that need to be made when forming great sentences.  The following images show some key concepts that the sentence strategies rely on:

The role of oral rehearsal

Children can only write what they can say and the following strategies must be built upon plenty of oral rehearsal.


#1 Fragments for completion

What

Using the subject content from various subjects, provide children with fragments.  These fragments contain the key vocabulary and turns of phrase used in the unit of work.  Remember to set up plenty of oral rehearsal first.

Why

Using a part of a sentence as a focal point of discussion around how it make it complete draws attention to what is and what is not a sentence.  Doing so provides opportunities to talk about what is missing (subject, verb etc) and what those might be in order make a complete sentence.  This task also provides an opportunity for precise thinking about the subject content with the aim of putting across information learned in a concise way.


#2 Because, but, so

What

A main clause is provided and children are encouraged to extend it using a conjunction.  The choice of conjunction is important.  Because prompts a causation; but sets up a contradiction and so leads into a consequence.

Why

The three chosen conjunctions make the sentence take very different turns.  If the initial main clause is selected well enough from the subject content in any given subject, children will have to think hard about completing them to portray the subject content accurately.


#3 Sentence functions

What

Provide prompts for children form one of the 4 functions of a sentence.  Use vocabulary, concepts or ideas from the subject content of the wider curriculum.

Why

Aside from more practice in forming different sentence types, children are given an opportunity to think about subject content in a different way.


#4 Change words and phrases for effect

What

A sentence is chosen from a text and a discussion is prompted about the word choices that the writer has made.  Experiment with adding, removing or changing words and phrases and thinking about the effect that the changes have on the reader.  Consider changing the intended effect – what words or phrases would need to be adapted?

Why

Shared writing at the sentence level helps children to see and hear the thought processes of good writers.  Sometimes this can be lost in writing longer pieces so spending time on the analyse and crafting of individual sentence is time well spent.


#5 Convert the voice

What

Provide sentences in the active voice for children to convert to the passive voice and vice versa.  Once there is a sentence in each voice, consider which voice sounds better.

Why

Choosing between the active and passive voice is important when deciding where the reader’s attention should be directed in a sentence.


#6 Manipulating word classes

What

Provide children with a word that can be classed differently depending on context, drawn from the wider curriculum.  Prompt children to write sentences where the word is classed in different ways.

Why

Words can only be classified in context.  A sentence can come alive with carefully selected words used in the right context.


#7 Adding adverbials

What

Provide a single clause sentence which children develop by adding adverbials.  They’ll need to first choose which information would be valuable to add:

  • when the action happened
  • where it happened
  • why it happened
  • how it happened
  • for how long it happened
  • how often it happened
  • with whom it happened.

A further discussion would be useful about whether the adverbial is best placed at the beginning of the end of the sentence.

Why

A sentence can have complexity whilst still retaining only one clause.  Writers are deliberate in what information is included and how a sentence is organised.


#8 Single to multi clause

What

Provide children with a single clause sentence and experiment with using conjunctions to join further clauses to it.  Choose a coordinating conjunction and a further main clause to make a multi clause coordinated sentence.  Experiment with other coordinating conjunctions and decide which coordinated sentence sounds best.  Choose a subordinating conjunction and a subordinate clause to make a multi clause subordinated sentence.  Try the subordinate clause before and after the main clause and decide which configuration sounds best.  Does the coordinated or the subordinated sentence sound better?

Why

Adding further clauses using different conjunctions enables sentences to put across links between ideas.


#9 Adding a relative clause

What

Provide a main clause and consider what more information might about the subject that a reader might need to know.  Which relative pronoun would be best: which, who or that?

Why

The use of a relative clause combines otherwise separate ideas into one sentence, particular when the extra information about the subject is better coming before the action in a particular sentence.


If you liked this, you might like:

Single and multi clause sentences – an analogy

Suspenseful with a pencil

Memory and Writerly Knowledge

Tweaking Talk for Writing Text Maps

Knowledge, Memory and Writing

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Filed under Grammar, leadership, Memory, Uncategorized, Writing

Strategic curriculum leadership phase 2: the detail

This post, the second of three, details the process carried out to reform the curriculum upon taking up my Headship back in July 2018.  Every school’s needs are different so it is important to set the process I carried out into context.  The school I took over was judged as requires improvement in March 2017.  Between then and my appointment, there was a time of leadership instability.  Initial visits to the school revealed that there was a lack of any curriculum leadership – no subject overviews, no progression across the key stage and no shared understanding of how any subject should be taught.

In the first part of this series, I set out the thinking about the big picture of curriculum design and this can be summarised with three key insights:

  1. Subject leaders need to do the thinking themselves.  The value is in leaders enacting the process and learning along the way, not in buying in a commercial curriculum that is not tailored the school’s needs.
  2. The curriculum is the progress model.  If children are keeping pace with a curriculum that increases in complexity, then they are making progress.
  3. Clarify the desired outcome for each unit of work.  With periodic outcomes in mind for each unit of work, it is far easier to set children up for success in producing purposeful high quality work.

Once the big picture had been set out, it was time to focus on the details.


Strategic curriculum leadership 

Phase 2: The details


In researching other schools’ curricula, it seemed that many stopped at the big picture and handed over responsibility to teachers to create medium term plans.  This bothered me for two reasons.  The first is the workload associated with writing medium term plans because doing this well requires significant expertise and plenty of time.  If neither are afforded, then we are left with teachers trawling search engines for tasks to do which are then thrown together.  Doing the work to a high enough standard to enact the intended curriculum is not something that a typical primary subject leader, not remunerated specifically for the responsibility nor usually with the knowledge and experience necessary, can be morally expected to do.  The second reason that handing over subject overviews for subject leaders to write medium term plans from bothered me was because of the inevitable breakdown in cohesion.  All the care invested in the content and sequencing choices for each subject could easily be lost.

The resultant decision was to provide detailed medium term plans for teachers for every unit of work in order to increase the likelihood that the intended curriculum became the enacted curriculum as well as to eliminate unnecessary workload.  With so many plans to write and now beginning to train others with the right expertise, a number of criteria were needed to ensure that there was sufficient detail for teachers.

Components that build to the composite end piece of work

Medium term plans are not divided into lessons, they are divided in to components – chunks of understanding that accumulate to enable children to produce that high quality end piece.  Some components may take a couple of lessons for children to master, while some lessons could provide children with the chance to develop more than one component.  The important idea here is that lessons are the wrong unit of measurement.  Teachers need to exercise autonomy in how much time they spend developing each component because splitting the sequence up into lessons can encourage coverage rather than learning.

Each unit of work has a sequence of learning that builds towards a high quality end result.  We frame these as questions that children should be able to answer once the work has been completed.  By setting out what exactly children need to be able to articulate, it allows those writing the plans to consider different ways in which that can be achieved.

Deliberate vocabulary development

With a good overview of the content of a unit of work and where it fits in to the overall curriculum, choosing target vocabulary that children simply must understand serves two purposes.  The first is to ensure that teachers focus vocabulary instruction on that which will contribute most to understanding the key concepts of that unit.  Those with well developed subject knowledge are far better placed to make those decisions than if teachers needed to get to grips with the content and do this themselves.  The second purpose is to give leaders a simple way of monitoring the extent to which the curriculum has been learned and understood.  Sampling children’s understanding of the identified key vocabulary is a great starting point for assessment.  This can be picked up from looking at the quality of articulation of vocabulary in children’s work as well as some good old fashioned questioning.  More on this in part 3.

Identification of necessary prior knowledge

Ideally, each unit of work builds on what children have been taught at some point in the past but it is inevitable that children will forget some of what is necessary to understand the more complex ideas that come later on.  Time at the beginning of a unit of work needs to be set aside to assess and reteach what children should have remembered from those previous units.  Many schools will experience children joining school at different times of the year and at different points in the key stage and so deliberately checking and reteaching required prior knowledge helps those children to succeed too.

A thread of key concepts

Early on in the first phase of strategic curriculum leadership, I used the national curriculum and the work of the subject associations to clarify the key concepts for each subject – the big ideas that often recur at increasing levels of complexity in most year groups.  Examples of key concepts are:

  • position on a number line in maths
  • the effect of writing on a reader in English
  • the idea that a force is required to change an object’s movement in science
  • cause, effect and legacy in history
  • scale in geography
  • worship in RE
  • identity in PSHE
  • performance in music
  • invasion strategy in PE
  • depth in art
  • accent and pronunciation in French
  • debugging in computing

These concepts should be regularly revisited and developed iteratively over the span of a curriculum and drawing explicit attention to them in medium term plans helped to focus the plans on addressing them as well as drawing attention to high level curriculum thinking for teachers reading and using them.

What teachers need to know

Teachers’ subject knowledge is vital to them explaining clearly and enthusing children in each subject.  Proper research into the topics being taught takes time but this burden can be eased by the inclusion of key subject knowledge for teachers on each medium term plan.  Experts compiled extracts, links and videos for teachers to access as a bare minimum to teach the unit well.  This has now become a significant strand of our CPD offer.  The experts writing the medium term plans will occasionally come across some content that clearly requires some high quality face to face training too.  When developing our art plans and talking to the teachers that would be teaching each topic, it became clear that a unit on perspective drawing and a unit on op art would never be successful without structured training because the teachers had no experience at all of them.  Working with a local artist, they showed our teachers how execute certain artistic techniques and as a result, we had far more confident teachers and excellent pieces of art.

Skeleton presentations for teachers

Teachers would need to take the medium term plans that have been written and turn them into what children will see in each lesson.  However this is another example of a key moment when all the careful thinking about curriculum design can go wrong.  It is very easy now to find published presentations, some free and some needing subscription, with a quick online search.  The quality is variable and so is the relevance.  Choosing the right models, images pictures and video clips to show children can be time consuming when done properly.  For this reason, the plan is for those with the time and expertise to source these visuals and compile them for teachers into presentations.  Teachers will be free to use these if they wish and welcome to add to or improve them.

A key consideration throughout all this work is striking the right balance between prescription and autonomy.  Leaning too far towards prescription may ease workload but remove a lot of teacher choice about what is covered and when.  Leaning too far towards autonomy may give teachers more choice but increase their workload and result in a loss of cohesion.  For this reason, the medium term plans that we wrote detail what children need to know, understand and remember.  Ideas are provided for how teachers might achieve that but it is here that teachers have autonomy to do different things.  These decisions are guided by our teaching and learning guidance about what makes great teaching.

In the third part of this series, I describe the information that we gather that informs us of how well the curriculum is being learned and then what we do with that information.

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Teaching Ratio

Novices and experts see problems differently.  Whereas a novice sees superficial features, an expert notices deeper underlying patterns, discarding the often irrelevant and distracting contextual information.  Here’s an example:
Nick-hart-blog-post-image-1.png

To read the rest of the post, click here.

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Acronyms like RUCSAC prevent children from thinking mathematically – we need a different approach

I’ve got a thing about success criteria. Very often, the line between what we want children to learn to do and the task that we ask them to carry out is blurred. The gap is perhaps most stark when it comes to problem-solving in maths.

In many classrooms the “read, underline, calculate, solve, answer, check” (RUCSAC) acronym, or something similar, will be plastered on the wall and used as success criteria for problem-solving.

However, I’d argue that RUCSAC does not present a valid set of criteria for such an important part of maths; rather it prevents children from learning to think mathematically. Here’s why…

Read the rest of the article here.

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A place for everything and everything in its place

Place value is very often one of the first units of work for maths in most year groups and is absolutely fundamental to a good understanding of number.  By getting this right and giving children the opportunity for deep conceptual understanding, we can lay solid foundations for the year.

For the purpose of this blog I’m going to assume that children can count reliably and read and write numbers without error. If these things are not yet developed to the appropriate standard then targeted intervention needs to happen without the child missing out on good modelling and explanations of place value.

Children need plenty of practice constructing and deconstructing numbers, first using concrete manipulatives like base ten blocks or Numicon.  This is to show that 10 ones is equivalent to 1 ten etc.  While they’re making these numbers they should be supported to talk articulately about what they are doing, perhaps with speaking frames: ‘This number is 45.  It has 4 tens and 5 ones.  45 is equal to 40 add 5.’

Read the rest of the article on the Rising Stars Blog.

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