Our curriculum includes “Threshold Concepts” (the ideas that shape children’s thinking), taken from Chris Quigley’s “Essentials Curriculum” in each subject to track children’s learning through the Milestones.
Each Threshold Concept is explored within different contexts so that it has tangibility and meaning. Breadth of contexts ensures that children gain relevant knowledge and can transfer this knowledge.
At Stepney Park Primary School we define learning as a change to long term memory. Our aim is to ensure that our pupils experience a wide breadth of study and have, by the end of each milestone, long term memory of a body of knowledge that they can use well across the curriculum, and that will support them in later life.
Applying the principles of Cognitive Science, learning in each of these parts of our school is categorised under three cognitive domains; Basic, Advancing and Deep. Cognitive Science research tells us that working memory is limited, and if students are rushed through content, cognitive load is too high, resulting in lack of long term retention.
Mastering the basics is crucial and takes time. The timescale for progressing through the Basic, Advancing and Deep stages is therefore two years and our two-year Milestones conform to this model. Within each Milestone, pupils advance their understanding of the key concepts in each subject of the curriculum. The goal is for pupils to become creative thinkers and for the most able to have a greater depth of understanding at the “deep” stage at the end of each Milestone.
© Chris Quigley Education
Stepney Park Primary School has four Milestones and the curriculum is divided accordingly:
Our Curriculum Driver: Communication
The driver of Communication permeates our curriculum and drives everything we do in school. Our Curriculum is designed to increase the cultural capital of our pupils by giving them the vital information to be informed and thoughtful members of our community.
We prioritise oracy skills and confidence in the use of English, focussing on children having opportunities to communicate through talk and in writing across the curriculum.
Teachers are good models for oral language and support children’s confidence and use of grammar. They give clear, direct verbal or written feedback during lessons that enables children to make progress in their communication skills.
Our Curriculum Principles: Spacing, Interleaving and Retrieval Practice
Teaching methods in our school are shaped by Cognitive Science research and our belief that Spacing, Interleaving and Retrieval Practice are key to children’s learning.
Spaced repetition or revisiting learning topics or skills frequently allows children to move from a basic level of knowledge and skills to advancing and deep levels over time. There is a focus on spending enough time for children to become fluent in the basics through direct instruction, systematic guided practice, modelling (including showing examples of high quality outcomes) and scaffolding. When children are confident in the basics, teachers can move towards more discovery-based approaches with children using and applying their knowledge independently. Teaching involves a balance between pupils listening, doing (active learning especially problem solving, including multi-step problems) and talking (which will involve critical thinking).
Interleaving is a strategy that involves switching between ideas, subjects and topics instead of teaching in “blocks”. This enables teachers to revisit topics regularly and so deepen learning. It helps pupils to discriminate between subjects and aids long term retention. Children will make more cross curricular links and connections through time. We teach all subjects in an interleaved way, focussing on progression through steadily advancing knowledge of skills and Threshold Concepts. Teachers frequently make reference in class to connections between subjects, ideas and topics. Timetabling reflects our principles of adaptability and flexibility. Lesson timings are flexible and geared towards what the children need in order to reach a deeper level of understanding in each subject. Hence timetables will vary from day to day and week to week as they are defined by children’s learning.
Retrieval Practice involves frequent and regular opportunities to actively engage in remembering previously taught material. This can be in the form of low stakes game-like quizzes that are not seen as “tests”, “brain dumps” where pupils are encouraged to note down everything they remember about something they were taught, knowledge organisers, flashcards, or “think, pair, share” activities. Frequent retrieval practice has been shown to increase both memory storage and retrieval strength. Teachers make time in their weekly timetables to prioritise the practice of remembering. Children should not be moved on until the learning is in their long term memory.
The diagram below shows model of our curriculum structure:
© Chris Quigley Education
The curriculum breadth for each year group ensures each teacher has clarity as to what to cover. As well as providing the key knowledge within subjects it also provides for pupils’ growing cultural capital.
Threshold concepts are the key disciplinary aspects of each subject. They are chosen to build conceptual understanding within subjects and are repeated many times in each topic. We share these with pupils as “learning hooks” which underpin learning in each milestone. This enables pupils to reinforce and build upon prior learning, make connections and develop subject specific language. This provides the vertical accumulation of knowledge and skills
Milestones define the standards for the threshold concepts.
Depth: we expect pupils in year 1 of the milestone to develop a Basic (B) understanding of the concepts and an Advancing (A) or Deep (D) understanding in Year 2 of the milestone. Phase one (Years 1, 3 and 5) in a Milestone is the knowledge building phase that provides the fundamental foundations for later application. LEARNING AT THIS STAGE MUST NOT BE RUSHED and will involve a high degree of repetition so that knowledge enters pupils’ long-term memory. If all of the core knowledge is acquired quickly, teachers create extended knowledge. The repetition of threshold concepts enables vertical accumulation as pupils move through their school journey.
The role of trips, visits and visitors.
Cultural capital is enhanced by children’s knowledge and understanding of their local area and how it relates to other places, including the rest of London and other cities in the world. Pupils should visit the world class museums and galleries available and receive visitors and workshops as part of the curriculum to help develop their cultural capital.