Pulling rabbits out of hats: the transition to an irresistible curriculum
Sherborne House School’s Rosie Slowen, Year 5 Tutor, Middle Leadership Team and English Leader, introduces us to an ‘irresistible curriculum’.
The past year has been a learning experience for everyone, in all walks of life. The impact of the coronavirus will be one of the defining features of a whole generation of children and, further, the periods of lockdown have had a severe impact on every family and on every aspect of education in this country. As teachers, and practitioners who work with children, the changes that have been encountered have led many of us to question what we offer and whether we are providing the best possible learning experiences for the pupils in our care.
‘Education’: a word that has been questioned often in these great times of uncertainty, and a word that has been traditionally understood as an area for children to absorb knowledge. However, what if this understanding were to be reversed? So in fact, education is not about sharing and acquiring knowledge. This statement can then provoke the idea of and discussion around helping and enabling children to develop skills that are not drawn from traditional teaching disciplines and pedagogies (as Matthew Syed says in Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking). Examples include developing skills that are imperative to success in the real world but, unfortunately, those which teachers often struggle to find the time to teach because of the demands of the curriculum. Improvising is another: working in teams, debating, creating, problem-solving, and simply thinking on your feet.
What has been encountered in the past year could not have been prepared for, but what we do day to day is strive to better prepare our pupils for the world beyond school. It is of an ever-increasing importance that we, in the education sector, offer a broad and balanced curriculum. One that is rich, robust and relevant to our pupils. As such, it is important to find methods of teaching and learning that are more engaging and accessible to all pupils.
A curriculum should be seen as much in terms of experience and a journey, as of the knowledge and skills that children should acquire. In light of this, the idea of children embarking on a ‘curriculum adventure’ has much greater appeal than the simple development of a fixed curriculum, decided upon and led by the adults alone.
One method that is perfectly suited to the task is project or enquiry-based learning. It encourages pupils to identify real-world problems and create solutions, allowing for more hands-on, child-initiated learning, as well as helping pupils to sharpen their critical and independent thinking skills.
For example, a pupil might choose to build their own robot or create an interactive model to explain a scientific phenomenon. This more creative and open approach prevents STEM (as an area of the curriculum) being viewed as exclusively academic, instead demonstrating how it is a part of everything we do in the real world. It makes the subject more relatable and gives pupils a greater sense of ownership, hence boosting and sustaining engagement.
Recently, there has been a shift towards learning that has been driven by the dialogue between teachers and pupils and also, teachers and parents. Engaging in dialogue with the pupils in our care enables successful future learning through the empowerment of pupil agency. Providing children with the opportunities to take ownership of their learning (and in turn, promoting their independence) will truly make learning irresistible and will boost self-motivation through their individual learning journey.
Moreover, building an inclusive culture of trust, partnership and listening enables a pedagogy that ‘finds a way through’ for everyone; for all pupils to be successful learners, and to celebrate their strengths and successes in areas of the curriculum that are driven by them. (Professor Dame Alison Peacock: Learning Without Limits Approach to Education).
Developing effective and lifelong learners will be established when pupils feel that their own ideas are valued. As teachers, seizing opportunities to provide something different will spark the imagination and enthusiasm of our pupils. Giving children the opportunity to explore and take the lead within the education we provide will provoke a curriculum that is irresistible for all.