Developing a remote-learning curriculum
Summer Turner is Director of Curriculum at Inspiration Trust
Remoteness is a quality of an academic curriculum, pupils are being introduced to new knowledge and to fields of study which are remote from their everyday existence. It is teachers who serve as the connecting bridges between the pupils and this remoteness, who offer a helping hand along the journey. We handle the content, preparing pupils for it by the way we shape it into narrative, by how we introduce it and link it to what we know they already know. Most importantly we use relationships, both our relationship with the pupils and our relationship with the knowledge to bring the warmth, and humanity to the abstract. And this is the inherent problem with ‘remote learning’ because it disrupts the relationship between teacher, pupil and knowledge.
How do we mediate remote content whilst being remote?
This was the question we had to ask ourselves in the education team when we began to look at how we could support our schools during the closure. Like most schools and trusts, the first priority had to be looking after the physical and mental health of our communities of teachers, pupils and families. Our schools were busy setting up phone trees, designing rotas for supervision of pupils who would be in school and preparing families for this new change. With lightning speed, they ensured pupils had work to take home and that there was an educational plan in place to last until Easter. This looked different for each school depending on their cohort and their staff. Our job as an education team was to work with each individual school and to come up with a curriculum vision for remote learning in the longer-term.
We quickly realised that our main priority was developing a home-learning curriculum for our primary schools. We have invested heavily in our primary curriculum, using our team of subject specialists and a school improvement fund to develop a subject-driven, knowledge-rich curriculum. This isn’t something we have expected our primary teachers to develop. Subject specialists in the central team have provided pupil curriculum books and accompanying CPD, the teacher’s responsibility comes at the level of implementation and enactment of this curriculum for the children in their classes.
The resources, the pupil books and teacher guides are not the curriculum of the classroom. This dynamic, enacted curriculum is these resources mediated through the teacher to offer transformative knowledge. In this new world, we had to determine what we could do to create a curriculum which could survive a lack of mediation. For the majority of our primary schools (unlike in secondary) we were also faced with the problem that most pupils did not have access to technology and therefore this could not be tackled through teacher videos or more interactive online resources.
Our answer to this question about mediating content therefore had to be addressed through the design of the home-learning packs, we had to approach this in the same way we would develop any new curriculum it was just that our purpose had changed slightly.
We agreed, in liaison with school leaders, a clear purpose and set of principles for this curriculum. We have chosen the content of our curriculum and the sequence of it with infinite care and don’t want pupils to miss out on this because of current circumstances so we were keen to maintain the curriculum where possible but be sensitive to the challenges and emotional demands of remote learning.
- To produce a coherent, sequenced curriculum which pupils can study independently, with minimum expectation on but absolute clarity for parents and carers. This curriculum should mean pupils are able to learn new knowledge from the curriculum which would have been taught in the summer term. It should be an interesting and motivating programme which can be studied without the use of technology.
- Include teaching of new content from the planned curriculum where possible, but replace (with consolidation or different topic) if too complex to learn independently
- Accessible to pupils without (or with minimum) adult input
- Include a variety of tasks which pupils can complete at home
- Written in pupil-friendly language with new vocabulary only introduced if essential and if it can be described/defined easily
- Include opportunities to self-check work with answer sheets
- Maintain, as far as possible, the principles of our curriculum work and the subject-specific principles of your curriculum design
The principles of ‘pupil-friendly language’, ‘variety of tasks’ and ‘self-check’ were all developed to try to break through this remoteness. The self-check sections include answers for quiz questions and model answers for comprehension and analytical work, as well as encouragement “well done for making it this far! Let’s check this work and for every 5 you get right, you can give yourself a star.” (We included star packs in a number of the KS1 packs).
The content, sequencing and styles of task were all subject-dependent which is why the final principle is so important. We wanted something accessible, which applied our general curriculum principles about how we learn and which had a coherence across subjects but without sacrificing the precious subject-specificity of a great curriculum. We are lucky to have a team full of subject experts who are able to tackle this, but each of us came across our own problems along the way – how to capture the magic of story-telling in English; how to model worked examples in maths; how to break through the complexity of music theory without live music!
What we have learnt
These challenges from each individual subject haven’t gone away but we come closer to finding better ways to navigate each one whether that be learning to create pupil-friendly narratives on the page or finding new ways to break new knowledge down into even more manageable chunks.
We’ve also learnt that from a school and parent/guardian view, the simplicity of a coherent format and layout for curriculum packs is key to bridging some of the gaps between content and pupil/family. In schools we use consistent routines and language to offer security and clarity to our pupils and families, the same can be done through the way we structure remote learning packs and the types of instructions we include and the options for self-reward.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll also learn more from our most valuable critics – the teachers and pupils. As teachers still try their best to offer remote support and respond to pupil work, we will see where we need to hone the work and I’m in no doubt there will still be a mountain to climb before we get this right.
In fact, it has never been clearer that a curriculum is not what we see on paper, it is what is held in the hand of the teacher as they stretch this hand out to those of their pupils. We are doing everything we can to make to offer this hand to our pupils. But we know that the greatest gift of a teacher is that in their reach they bring knowledge to pupils which transforms their hearts and minds. My goodness, we miss that.