Well, it was time for David Weatherly to return to Gloucestershire for his annual Regional Primary Geography Conference (www.davidweatherlyeducation.co.uk). David is a School Improvement Adviser and an accomplished teacher with an international reputation as an inspiring trainer. Whether working in schools or at CPD events, he always models practical and achievable approaches to improving engagement and outcomes of pupils. He is author of the award winning Primary Connected Geography scheme published by Harper Collins (https://collins.co.uk/pages/primary-atlases-geography-primary-connected-geography) and he teaches at all stages of learning regularly. I so enjoy these events as they are really invigorating, allow David and I to have a good catch up over lunch and enable me to introduce myself to new Geography Subject Leaders locally and invite them to come along to our Primary Humanities Network meetings.
The theme for this year’s conference was ‘Geography in a creative curriculum’. I knew that this would be hugely relevant and up-to-date simply by reading the rationale that David had outlined in the flier advertising the event:
‘The new Ofsted framework will evaluate the coherence, rigour and outcomes of subject curricula – the ‘intent’, ‘implementation’ and ‘impact’ of a curriculum – when formulating a judgement about school effectiveness. Many schools have an integrated and multi-disciplinary curriculum with subjects delivered through cross-curricular themes and topics. The day will focus on how such creative and holistic ways of organising learning can also ensure subject expectations – continuity and progression in knowledge, skills and understanding – are also delivered in a coherent and rigorous way. There will be a focus on geography, but the key concepts will be applicable to any subject.’
Following registration and refreshments, David launched into the first session of the day. He emphasised a few generic points initally:
- Ofsted cannot dictate that you pursue a particular curriculum; you can be as ‘creative’ as you like.
- A school’s effectiveness will be judged in exactly the same way, however.
- Inspections appear to have been tough, but fair to date.
- Progression in geography begins in EYFS.
- The new EYFS Framework will be published within the next few weeks. Implementation will be optional from September 2020 and obligatory from September 2021. Two significant changes are that shape will no longer be taught in mathematics and the ELG ‘Understanding the World’ has had technology removed and been divided into three areas; ‘People, culture and communities’ (aka Geography), ‘Past and present’ (aka History) and ‘The natural world’ (aka Science). Reading and maps are foci in the former. Whilst taking this subject-specific content on board, we still have to embrace ‘play’, e.g. we need to make play ‘purposeful’.
- Progression relates to content sequencing, skills development and assessment strategies/approaches.
- Within a curriculum model, geography can be discrete or inter-connected.
- If a school opts for a cross-curricular approach, then it must be cohesive and rigourous.
He then shared the objectives with us, namely that colleagues will leave:
- able to distinguish between creative teaching and creative learning;
- understanding the key principles of designing a creative curriculum with a cross-curricular focus;
- able to ensure that the integrity of geography (and any other subject) is maintained within such a creative curriculum design;
- having reviewed a number of investigations which exemplify the key principles of creative curriculum design and delivery;
- able to contribute to continuing high quality curriculum development in their own schools.
‘Creative teaching’ involves using imaginative approaches to make learning more interesting and effective, whilst ‘creative learning’ is a pedagogical approach that is intended to develop young people’s own creative and critical thinking or behaviour. Next, we considered ‘paradigms of learning’, the foundations of a curriculum. David asked us to think about our own experiences of learning when we were at school, what our schools are like now and the future aspirations for our school, which we later discussed with others on our table. There has been a move towards constructivism over the last 20 years. Long-lasting knowledge is only ‘sticky’ if it is understood. We have to ensure the significance of knowledge and need to involve pupils in their own learning. It is about embracing a holistic curriculum, which sees teachers working with children to build a curriculum. It could be argued that we have become progressively de-skilled in curriulum-making since the introduction of the National Curriculum in 1987; before that, schools had to ‘go it alone’.
David reinforced that a creative curriculum is a learning delivery model that:
- adopts a constructivist paradigm of learning;
- illustrates the inter-connectedness and joined up reality of the world through investigating questions about topics, themes and issues, which are logical and coherent;
- is informed by National Curriculum expectations;
- follows a multi-disciplinary approach to learning that also ensures rigorous discrete subject sequencing, progression, skills and language development and assessment of outcomes;
- is ambitious, knowledge-rich, broad and deep.
Curriculum ‘intent’ is all the curriculum planning that happens before teaching and learning begins. Good intent displays the following features:
- a curriculum that is ambitious for all pupils;
- a curriculum that is coherently planned and sequenced;
- a curriculum that is successfully adapted, designed and developed for pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities;
- a curriculum that is broad and balanced for all pupils.
- a curriculum that provides pupils with the building blocks of what they need to know and be able to do to succeed in each subject.
Once again, David referred to his ‘table of ourstanding provision’ with its four legs and a top; the legs representing coherence and relevance, a pedagogy of enquiry, recognising and planning progressively more challenging subject outcomes from EYFS to Year 6 and light touch, manageable assessment. We need to create a curriculum with themes that are relevant and meaningful to children (preparing them for life in this century and beyond), not simply because we enjoy teaching such topics. There must also be scope to develop the rigour of subjects in order to ensure sufficient challenge. It should be inclusive and accessible to all children. ‘Knowledge-rich’ is different from ‘content heavy’; knowledge should be carefully selected to meet pre-defined learning outcomes. Sequencing and progression must be evident; there is continuity, enabling aspects to be revisited, e.g. knowledge, understanding, subject-specific skills and techniques. End points of learning are outlined too. David discussed the contextualisation of English and mathematics as well. The quality of English is judged by how contextualised it is, e.g. literacy in or in and through Foundation Subjects. Whilst SP&G might be taught alone, writing cannot be completed in isolation; why not teach it in or through geography, for instance?
‘Implementation’ refers to how are curriculum intentions are realised through the approaches to teaching and learning we adapt (why teachers are teaching the way they do). The optimum is learning through enquiry. Do better, but less writing; avoid writing in books for the sake of it, when you could be moving pupils on. It is important to teach pupils to write fully, but succinctly as this is what they need to be able to do at Key Stage 3 and beyond. We had a brief discussion about knowledge organisers that suddenly appear to be the rage at primary level. They have been used at secondary level for a number of years, largely to help with making the new specification content more manageable for students at GCSE and A Level. However, knowledge organisers tend to go against enquiry-led learning. If children are encouraged to build their own, then maybe there is a place for them at primary level, however.
‘Impact’ relates to how we assess and make judgements about whether pupils have achieved the outcomes we planned (the end points of learning). How do you know children are meeting your objectives? Assessment should be light touch and manageable. David advised looking at end points of learning at the close of each academic year. Within Harper Collins’ Primary Connected Geography series, each unit has an assessment grid relating to each objective, which considers what pupils should know, understand and be able to do at three levels (emerging; expected and greater depth). Teachers should use their professional judgement to identify a ‘best fit’ for each child and this can then be recorded on the appropriate sheet. There is no need to assess every piece of work that a child produces, but simply review things on a half-termly basis. The move at EYFS towards two simple observations against 17 ELGs may be the way forward for schools at other Key Stages in the future.
After a short refreshment break, David then looked at ‘Principles into practice: EYFS and Key Stage 1’. This Key Stage 1 cross-curricular investigation incorporated geography, art, science, music, design technology and history, each having their own overriding question to promote enquiry-led, outcomes-driven learning. As we only had a limited amount of time, David concentrated on two subjects, namely geography and art. Geography explored ‘How can we persuade people to join us in tackling the causes of global warming?’ via six ancillary questions. David reinforced that any links to climate change at Key Stage 1 should not be frightening for children; we need to think about the vocabulary that we use as terms, such as ‘climate emergency’, ‘climate crisis’ and ‘rebellion’, can have a negative impact emotionally. He emphasised about taking children from the familar to the unfamiliar/abstract, the known to the unknown. I was introduced to a new book, Winston of Churchill by Jean Davies Okimoto at this point (https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0989429105/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1), which I have since ordered, and promised to bring copies of the other book, ‘Who will save us?’ by Rebecca Morch and Pen Hadow (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Who-Will-Save-Rebecca-Morch/dp/0955655005/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=who+will+save+us+by+rebecca&qid=1583412120&s=books&sr=1-1), to our next Primary Humanities Network meeting for all to see. Hedgehogs, dormice and bats are animals greatly affected by climate change and I suggested that schools approached the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust to find out more about their Hedgehog Project and the forthcoming opening of their new centre (https://www.gloucestershirewildlifetrust.co.uk/). ‘What was it about the weather that fascinated Claude?’ was the focus for art, this time with four ancillary questions. Monet is one of my favourite artists, so I relished the opportunity to contemplate his work here. The final assessment involved producing a series of impressionist inspired paintings of subjects in the school grounds, in addition to pupils explaining their compositions and evaluating their finished compositions and those of others, and would certainly make for an attractive display in a classroom or along a corridor wall. So as not to ensure any EYFS teachers felt left out, David distributed a booklet entitled ‘Living in a globalised world: an Early Years Foundation Stage perspective’ and encouraged us to read one of the three case studies included, which exemplified developing global citizenship in contrasting Early Years settings. Countess Wear Community School’s investigation, entitled ‘Does chocolate grow on trees?’, really appealed to me; I wonder why?
After lunch in the hotel’s restaurant and much informal chat amongst delegates, we ventured back to the conference suite to explore ‘Principles into practice: Key Stage 2’. The focus of this cross-curricular investigation was ‘Why do our seas and oceans matter so much?’. Geography’s enquiry-led learning was based around the book, ‘Moby Duck’ by Donovan Hohn and the question, ‘Why does Sylvia have the largest collection of plastic bath ducks in the world?’. This introduced some new geography to many present; every ocean has a rotating current (both hot and cold), known as a gyre. In the centre of each gyre is an area of calm with very little movement of water, hence why plastic waste accumulates here (there are five ‘ocean garbage patches’). Later, we looked at science, which concentrated on the question, ‘What discoveries have scientists made in the ocean twilight zone and why are they so important?’. In conjunction with this, we conducted a simple breathing experiment in pairs and, afterwards, shared our data, in order to work out a mean/average, which we then extrapolated. Making assumptions led us to consider the validity and reliability of our data, thus incorporating higher order thinking skills.
Even more refreshments were served before David concluded with a ‘Summary of key messages and next steps in school’.
An enlightening and thought-provoking day! Many thanks, David, for inviting me to attend, once again. See you again very soon … perhaps at the Geographical Association (GA)’s Annual Conference in April (https://www.geography.org.uk/GA-Annual-Conference-and-Exhibition), where you can have the pleasure of sitting back and listening to me for a change as I present a session about ‘Critical thinking for achievment: Arguments and reasoning’!