Within the session, Matt explores how planning and teaching to the top for all can be achieved through developing an ambitious curriculum. An ambitious curriculum, as Matt explains, is one that embodies high expectations for all pupils regardless of their starting point.
Developing an ambitious curriculum requires professionals in education to look closely at the intentions of the curriculums within their setting. Matt highlights that there are 4 different types of curriculums to consider – hidden, local, national and basic – and proposes that there are essentially 6 steps that should be taken when evaluating curriculum intent. Following these steps ensures that pupils make progress through planning and feedback, are engaged through metacognition and questioning, and are challenged through pitch and pace.
Step 1: Agreeing on a vision.
Identify the purpose of education: this includes asking questions such as why particular topics and skills are being taught and why they are important to pupils. What are pupils’ lived experiences? Is the curriculum broad and balanced?
Step 2: Setting the destination.
What are the end points of subject curriculums? What knowledge, skills and understanding do we want pupils to possess? How are skills and knowledge selected and what are they based on?
Step 3: Assessing starting points.
Assessing starting points after setting the destination is important as it reduces the risk of lowering expectations.. Practitioners should assess the starting points of both the taught curriculum and the learned curriculum (what do the pupils know about this topic and do they have any misconceptions?).
Step 4: Identifying the waypoints.
Plot the journey between the start and destination: it should become increasingly complex and gradually provide more challenge and more complex connections.
Step 5: Defining excellence.
Have high expectations for all pupils and provide a curriculum that is ambitious for all pupils, regardless of their starting point.
Step 6: Diminishing disadvantage.
Ensure that pupils are not set up to fail, by understanding the challenges that pupils may face when accessing the curriculum and helping them to overcome these challenges.
Expectations play a significant role in enacting an ambitious curriculum, as they have a notable impact on the ability to achieve. Matt looks at the notion of “average” and how our understanding of “average” shapes pupil expectations. Where assessment data shows a pupil achieving lower than the perceived “average”, that pupil then tends to then be labelled as “lower ability”. Expectations are then at times lowered in accordance with what teachers believe the pupil is capable of. Matt explains that this way of thinking is problematic due to the “jaggedness principle” which asserts that there is no average. Therefore, when we use assessment data to help shape pupil expectations, particularly for those who are seen to be achieving below average, we run the risk of doubling disadvantage for pupils who are already disadvantaged within education.
In order to convert the causes of disadvantage into their consequences – and, as a result, move beyond learning labels – Matt suggests that we should move beyond looking at disadvantaged groups as being homogenous and begin to consider each pupil on an individual basis. Therefore, effective differentiation can be achieved by following a 4-step teaching sequence.
Step 1: Telling
Teacher explanations are the most pragmatic way for pupils to acquire new information. The most effective teacher explanations are ones that include the use of metaphors and analogies. Matt explains that this is important as it allows teachers to contextualise new information and shift abstract concepts into concrete, tangible examples. Good instructions also make use of pupil reciprocation where concepts are then repeated back to the teacher as well as to each other.
Step 2: Showing
The effective use of models, such as exemplars, can show pupils what the teacher is expecting from the work. Effective modelling should also encompass thinking out loud, making the invisible decision-making process visible.
Step 3: Doing
By engaging in co-construction, the teacher can better understand pupils’ thought processes and help them by questioning decisions. This encourages further decision making through open questioning.
Step 4: Practising
This step enables pupils to undertake an activity independently, helping teachers to understand whether pupils have grasped the concept being taught. Feedback and opportunities to respond to feedback are vital during this stage.