Sorry teaching and learning, please move to the back of the queue

Recent talk from Ofsted suggests that more focus is being directed toward curriculum. Although there is still a piece of work needed on a framework, it is about time the curriculum is getting some screen time. For too long teaching and learning has dominated the national conversation.  The aura of teaching and learning shines bright – it’s glitzy, intoxicating and seductive. It is so easy to get addicted to the treasure chest of shiny, sparkly strategies to engage pupils and buy  into the perception that judging progress in a lesson can happen in a twenty minute observation. So, sorry teaching and learning, please move to the back of the queue.

We have been blinded by teaching and learning for too long, it is now time to recognise the power and impact a solid curriculum can have on improving teacher quality and pupil progress.

I am not suggesting that teaching and learning does not play a role because it does. As well as some of the glamour that follows it. But every great actor needs a great script. Too often than not, the writers of great sitcoms or movies are overshadowed by the fame of the actor. Yet, the humour, suspense and plot are tediously crafted behind the flashing cameras. Similar in teaching, if the curriculum is wrong then the planning is likely to head in the wrong direction which leads to even the best teachers delivering an inadequate lessons. They may be able to in the short term but long term without a solid curriculum success would be limited. Yet, because teaching and learning is the star, the performance of the teacher is what has been measured which completely ignores the fundamentally issue of actual learning.

Continuing with the film analogy, a great movie starts before the stars are casted and even before the first script is drafted. It begins with the simple question “what is the movie about?” Once the plot is determined all the other features can be added to the production. Now, ask a subject area what the pupils are learning and too often than not it will be a list of topics. Yes, they are learning these topics but what are the “fundamentals” that you want them to learn? The fundamentals are the pieces of concrete knowledge that are the foundation for specialist learning. In maths and physics this could be a set of equations or in history key words needed to link key periods of time.

Too often planning starts with teaching and learning on the topic. A quick rummage through great resources found on Twitter or shared at a local TeachMeet and like magic the lesson is ready. Don’t believe me? Consider the majority of the professional development you have experienced – what was it about? For sake of my argument, I will simply state the obvious that curriculum is probably not at the top of the list. More than likely it will be teaching and learning strategies – the fun stuff. But will all this “fun stuff” lead to pupil learning? Fun is good but if it is directionless it’s pointless. Instead establish your fundamentals and that starts with the curriculum.

So, I am proposing a different perspective in the whole planning for learning that advocates the breaking up of teaching and learning and seeing instructional design in a more systematic way.

Curriculum – planning – teaching – assessment – learning

It starts with curriculum, knowing what it is you want pupils to know. Not just the topics but the fundamentals. Only then can you effectively plan one lesson or a series of lessons. Now we get to our actors – teachers. The art of teaching is the delivery mechanism of the curriculum. It has to be high quality, flexible and efficient to transfer knowledge to a group of kids. Once you know what you are teaching, how it is going to be taught, then how it is being delivered, you can measures it with assessments. Though, assessment should not be an accountability tool for teachers, but the bridge from teaching to learning. However, learning is not easy or easily measurable, especially in one lesson or even a series of lessons. It’s a process over a period of time that needs refreshing periodically.

So, creating a great scheme of learning is more than fantastic resources and the latest Twitter-rage. It’s about the stuff behind the scenes. It’s about having a clear understanding of exactly what you want pupils to learn – the curriculum. Some find it boring; others will find the minute detail exhilarating but like any great performance it starts with the hard work and determination behind the scenes.