Hot topic: the wider curriculum

So, the 'boss' comes to me and says ‘Hey, you know our foundation subjects. Well I think we are selling the kids short and I have an idea how to fix it’. His plan had been hatched and involved expecting more from the children and more from me. In short, he dropped a huge gauntlet for my team to try and run with!

Now before you start screaming about a narrow curriculum then please chill out. This wasn’t the case. We had plenty of foundation work to show Ofsted when they visited, but after they left we wanted to take the next step. I’ll hold my hands up to being in the trade long enough now to see the good and bad in differentiation. ‘Bottom’ groups that children never could pull away from and a mass of workload; however, removing the old fashioned sense of it had left all the work looking a bit the same. Same lesson, same learning, same outcome…. the same. And if 'Nana Bog Standard' had one thing right it is this: if we are were all the same, life would be boring!

Our starting point was a lot of hard work ensuring the lessons weren’t just all gluing and sticking (I’ll leave that to the boss to explain in a more serious presentation or something.) I was more concerned in ordering decent materials to use and the game changer that we brought in OVERSIZED books.

Secondly, we needed to decide what our outcomes should be and after a good look on Twitter at some fantastic examples, we came up with a simple idea. Ownership! That’s right, we wanted the children to own the creative process. It was my job to guide them with a safe pair of hands but the focus on the children taking responsibility would allow each page, each outcome, to differ so each child could stand alone and be proud.

How it works:

I use Seesaw as a platform to share ‘learning materials’. By this, I mean many of the tasks you would do such as labelling diagram activities, closed procedures, reading comprehensions, etc. Basically, lots of digital worksheets but instead of printing them out and adding to my workload, I get the children to create iBooks or Book Creator books as a place to store this knowledge. This repeating of the information provides them with a knowledge base for step two: planning. Above are examples of the plans, both digital and written, and it is in these rough forms that the work produced starts to take shape. Verbal feedback and peer assessment forms the backbone of aiding this stage of the creative process.

'Old School' alongside 'New School'

So confession time – I’m a techno caveman to the point that a Casio calculator watch is considered cutting edge. However to the children at NOPA, tech is a breeze and as mentioned before, partly a reason why we decided to try this project. As a teacher it is my job to let them develop as artists, amongst other things, and that means finding ways for them to succeed at something some of them may not consider themselves to be very good at! Below are two examples of how digital art and traditional art can be used, and how being relaxed in allowing the children to build up the confidence to be ‘arty’ has seen some crossover from ‘I can’t draw’ to ‘I’ll give it a go.. oh that’s not that bad!’

Filling Space

The beauty of the OVERSIZED books was that there was plenty of space to work within. The downside was that there was lots of space to fill! This meant that over time the children needed to become better at thinking of ways to fill the space with meaning. A sea of plastic pollution facts is a great example of how some children did this.

Thinking of different ways to present your understanding is quite a challenge for some of our children, but as with anything the more they repeat this process the easier it gets.

  • crosswords
  • poetry in all forms
  • diagrams
  • stories
  • instructions
  • non-chronological reports
  • images
  • graphs
  • tables
  • word-searches

These are some of the examples my class came up with but the list can go on and on:

As a teacher I like to steal other folks' ideas and find ways to leech off their talent. Video tutorials are ideal! Can’t draw cute looking animals? Not a problem. No idea how to make a pop-up volcano? Got your back. Haven’t a clue how to create a cool looking title? Me neither! Luckily, someone did and gladly uploaded her tips online so even I could manage it. Sharing tutorials like the one below also opens up something like YouTube for your learners to use in more positive ways, instead of watching cats jump in boxes!

'Error, error in the book, who’s work has no mistakes at all?'

This way of working that removes the glass ceiling can also make it difficult to spot basic errors due to the vast array of ideas and creative ways the children present their work. So, as a bog standard teacher with only one set of eyes and dumpy legs to carry me around the class, we set about ways to embrace the mistakes.! If I’m honest, some of the more ingenious flap creations can come from the need to cover up something that went WRONG! Below are some examples of this we had to find solutions to. The top image shows a fantastic illustrated solar system but there was one little problem… a whole planet had been missed out! Idea needed: turn it into a missing question with the answer shown upside down.

Spelling mistakes are a swine for a teacher. Too many pulled up and a history or geography task quickly becomes a literacy lesson trying to 'SPAG' the life out of the actual learning, yet still we need to have high standards. A child ‘added’ an extra ‘d’ to ‘Bodies of Water’ and with some quick verbal feedback we came up with adding a water drop character smiling away. Winners all round. Lastly, the best example of teacher frustration is constantly reminding the children about NOT using our special pencils as they go through the paper… and then coming across someone who has done exactly that!

Lessons learnt:

  1. Developing ‘learnt materials’ is the first step – if the children don’t have the knowledge, the creativity falls short!
  2. Get them time – Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither can children produce their best in a half hour before swimming.
  3. Mistakes are ok – you may want to be wonderful in every way but let the children make mistakes.
  4. Online tutorials are a must – someone out there knows how to do it.
  5. Planning is a key stage.

On reflection, I feel that we have removed the glass ceiling that had pinned many of our children down. Those who felt trapped creatively are now able to show off to their heart's delight and those who just did enough are faced with the challenge of competing with their peers to produce amazing work, instead of ‘just OK’ work.

Mr Paul Watson - Y6 teacher/Phase 3 Lead/Curriculum Lead (September 2019)