The specification is the beating heart. The schemes of learning make up the complex vascular system and blood itself represents the knowledge and skills. The cells represent the students that require a healthy blood supply. In anatomical terms, when cells require additional resources to function properly, a process called capillarisation occurs where the blood supply is increased to these cells. In my mind this is exactly what should happen when students experience difficulty with particular content or skills.
Whether a scheme of learning is brand new, or one that has been taking up storage on the shared drive for years, at best they improve consistency and provide resources to support teachers; at worst they are restrictive and can cause time to be wasted covering content that students already have a firm grasp of. The purpose of this post is simply to encourage reflection on how schemes of learning are currently used in your school.
Let’s think about current practice. If a scheme of learning has six lessons allocated to a topic, what happens if a group grasps the key information in two lessons? How many teachers would have the confidence to deviate from the scheme of learning? In many schools, schemes of learning are a vehicle for ensuring consistency and providing resources.
The problems with lifeless schemes of learning.
-Often, the amount of time apportioned to certain topics does not reflect the relative difficulty of the topic. More difficult topics should have more time allocated in order to consolidate learning. Far too often a scheme of learning is simply the specification chopped up into equal chunks to be delivered.
-Lifeless schemes of learning do not account for the fact that different groups/students absorb content at different rates. Six lessons may be delivered on a topic that could have been covered in three due to the fact that the group picked up the content very quickly.
-Often, they dictate what teachers deliver as opposed to responding directly to the needs of the group in relation to the feedback gained through assessment.
Cynical people reading this post may suggest that all I am describing is a need to differentiate the content of schemes of learning, but it goes far beyond that if we want to truly close gaps and respond to the needs of the groups we teach. Organic schemes of learning help to systematically close gaps throughout the year reducing the need for terminal intervention; I for one would welcome an end to the intervention culture.
5. Adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils.
There is a reason why so many teachers would identify teacher standard 5 as an area for improvement. Organic schemes of learning could rapidly improve practice in relation to this particular teacher standard.
2 Key Considerations
-Schemes of learning need to live and respond to the feedback from the classroom.
-Schemes of learning should evolve with the needs of the group.
Living organisms are constantly receiving information from millions of receptors which in turn bring about responses from the organism. When I talk about organic schemes of learning, what I mean is that they should change in relation to all the information gained from the classroom or the wider school context. How much do schemes of learning evolve in your school?
Where students are finding topics difficult, schemes of learning should be adapted to give more time to such topics. This process should be both intentional and on-going. They need to evolve as a result of the information gained from both formative and summative assessments. Key Stage 3 schemes of learning could be enhanced in relation to information gained through the delivery of lessons at Key Stage 4. If students are struggling with content at Key Stage 4, does it not make sense to modify Key Stage 3 schemes of learning to tackle the difficult content or skills, earlier in their school life?
The two main drivers of the organic response are:
1. Pupils’ work
Pupils’ work gives teachers a wealth of feedback in relation to how they are coping with the content being delivered. Looking at books or particular projects allows us to build up a picture on where the understanding of content is secure and where there are common gaps that need addressing. Pupils’ work should influence day to day teaching which should in turn influence schemes of learning.
Frequent Formative Checks
The assessment emphasis is primarily formative. Waiting for the outcomes of summative assessments is often leaving it too late as by the time the assessment is complete, gaps could have widened significantly during a unit of work. High quality formative assessment can ensure that there are no surprises when it comes to summative assessments.
The organic responses, as a result of the information gained, can do one of two things:
After every lesson taught, there are almost always things that we would change if we were to teach the lesson again. The first organic response is to strengthen schemes of learning as a result of the experience of students. This could be for next year’s group or it could be strengthening Key Stage 3 schemes of learning to ensure that students start working on a particular skill much earlier in the curriculum. This is absolutely essential with the new, more challenging, Key Stage 4 specifications as it is the first time that the content has been delivered and there are many unknowns.
The second organic response is to adapt the future schemes of learning to ensure that teaching closes common skill/content gaps whilst teaching the students new content. Ways in which this organic response could actioned are as follows:
-Interleaving activities into a scheme of learning to address common gaps.
-Pre-planned starter activities to provide more practice on weak skills or difficult content.
-Super learning weeks in which teachers split topics up that have been causing students problems and teachers deliver topics in relation to their own areas of expertise.
-Creating closing the gap resources for particular assessment objectives or topics.
-Re-shuffling of topics to space difficult content out.
-Additional tests built into the scheme of learning to ensure that gaps are closing.
Let me know your thoughts,