WHY ARE WE TEACHING A KNOWLEDGE-RICH CURRICULUM; HOW IS IT DIFFERENT?
Our English curriculum is conceptual and designed to develop students' sense of English as an academic discipline. Each term we foreground a concept. We introduce and exemplify the concept by using extracts from fiction, non-fiction, poetry, lyrics, images, etc. before exploring how a writer uses the concept in a longer, key text. For example, in Year 7 we begin with the concept of ‘Story and Context’ and students learn that writing tells us something about the world, as experienced or understood by the writer. The key text, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, exemplifies how the values of the 14th century such as honour and chivalry were integral to this era. We provide opportunities to revisit concepts to develop a deeper, more nuanced understanding. When students study ‘Characterisation’, we revisit Sir Gaiwain’s character before exploring characterisation in The Graveyard Book. Knowledge is carefully sequenced so that it is layered; students make connections between and among concepts.
So, how is our curriculum different? We considered our students as we explored different approaches to curriculum design. Our curriculum is designed around the theory of ‘threshold concepts’: the theory that once students understand a concept, they’ve passed a ‘threshold’. Learning is irreversible and it is embedded into their long term memory. This concept based curriculum allows us to bounce between canonical and contemporary literature. Students are enabled to read deeply and widely from the beginning of their Key Stage 3 studies. Because concepts in English are not taught in isolation and we foreground a specific concept each term, our curriculum is designed for students to master the foregrounded concept whilst referencing other concepts.
WHY ARE WE TEACHING THIS CONTENT?
Our aim is to deliver a broad and balanced curriculum, ensuring that students read canonical (such as Animal Farm by George Orwell, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Othello by William Shakespeare) and contemporary literature (such as The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, The Giver by Lois Lowry and Heroes by Robert Cormier). Students are exposed to numerous forms of writing: novels, plays, poems, non-fiction texts, blogs, etc. The selected content meets the requirements of the Key Stage 3 and 4 National Curriculum.
The concepts we teach form the foundation of literary and linguistic analysis. In our quest to uncover how writers create meaning, students learn about the significance of context; how writers establish and develop characters and settings; the attributes of different genres; and how writers develop themes.
As students progress through the curriculum, they strengthen their schema, building upon their understanding of how writers create meaning. They explore the significance of perspective, how writers use language to influence an audience and how symbols contribute to meaning. Our curriculum creates opportunities for discussion about British Values. For example, when students study the concept of ‘Representation,’ we discuss the importance of minority voices and what is not said.
The literature students study is complemented by extended writing and opportunities for speaking, listening and further reading. Students build on their Key Stage 2 learning as they continue to write in a range of formats for different audiences and purposes.
Our high quality curriculum supports students to read, write and speak fluently so that they can communicate their ideas and emotions to others. It provides opportunities for students to develop culturally, emotionally, intellectually, socially and spiritually. Our curriculum enables students to participate fully as a member of society.
WHY ARE WE TEACHING IT IN THIS ORDER?
Our curriculum is designed around the theory of ‘threshold concepts’: the theory that once students understand a concept, they’ve passed a ‘threshold’. Learning is irreversible and it is embedded into their long term memory. We recognise that sequencing concepts in English is more challenging than other, linear subjects (such as maths and science), but, as David Didau asserts, ‘there are still some logical arguments we can make about which ideas it is sensible to introduce first and which depend on this prior knowledge.’
Students begin their Key Stage 3 journey building on the foundations of Key Stage 2. We begin with ‘Story and Context’: ‘story’ because it builds on the Key Stage 2 curriculum and ‘context’ because student understanding of the social and historical events dealt with by a text is anchored in the text itself.
We cover multiple concepts each term and while we foreground a particular concept, concepts are not taught in isolation. When students learn about ‘Story and Context’ through Sir Gaiwain and the Green Knight, they also learn about characterisation. When ‘characterisation’ is foregrounded through The Graveyard Book, we build upon previous learning, making connections between concepts and texts: students build a strong schema through the conceptual curriculum. Learning about how context is inexorably linked to narration underpins all future learning because context influences genre, theme, a writer’s perspective and so on.
The concepts we foreground each term: story and context, characterisation and setting, genre and theme, perspective, rhetoric, symbolism, representation and structure are all integral components of English as an academic discipline.
The content of the curriculum drives writing, and we focus on sentence level work in the first instance. Teachers know that extended writing places heavy demands on cognition therefore sufficient content is taught so that students have ample knowledge to draw from. We embrace the Hochman method of writing instruction: students learn from modelling and working with their teacher to craft extended writing texts.
WHAT DO PUPILS NEED TO REMEMBER AND BE ABLE TO DO IN THIS SUBJECT?
Students need to be able to remember specific examples of concepts, so that they can apply this knowledge in written and spoken analysis, evaluation and creation of texts. The core concepts and elements of the key texts taught during Key Stage Three serve as reference points for future learning, including GCSE studies. For example, students need to know that when writers use language effectively, they can influence their audience. When students are prompted to produce a text of their own, they need to apply their understanding of concepts to their original work. Students also need to distinguish between influence and manipulation. This will help them to question a writer’s purpose and recognise bias.
Students need to read challenging material independently and critically, showing an understanding of purpose and audience. Students also need to write accurately, fluently, effectively and at length for a wide range of purposes and audiences. They also need to prioritise and organise information plan, draft, edit and proof-read. In addition to reading and writing, students need to speak confidently and effectively.
WHAT METHODS DO WE USE TO HELP PUPILS SECURE THIS KNOWLEDGE IN LONG-TERM MEMORY?
Teachers use frequent retrieval practice, questioning and live marking strategies to embed knowledge into students’ long-term memory. This also allows teachers to target misconceptions. We revisit and refer to previous learning as we introduce new content. This helps students to make connections between and amongst concepts, strengthening their understanding. We discuss concepts and texts and how writers create meaning. We model the excellence we know our students can achieve, whether it be reading, writing or oration. We celebrate progress.
To view the English Curriculum Overview click here.
More information on the English Department can be found on their website here.