A connected curriculum?

One benefit of being an EAL teacher is that we’re not in a ‘subject bubble’. We support our learners in various subjects, meaning we get a good insight into content across the KS3/KS4 curriculum (or at least phases of it).

Subject teachers don’t often have that luxury. Time constraints, lack of a collaboration within/across departments, level of experience, and so on might make it tough to see the ‘bigger picture’ – how subject content fits in/complements/relates to what’s being taught across the curriculum, and why this is important.

The interdependent nature of subject content across a curriculum is pretty clear to EAL teachers. We have the privilege of experiencing the curriculum more like the learners themselves experience it, not just through the narrow lens of some subject teachers (not intended as a dig). Micro-vignette:

We’ll support in a Geography lesson that talks about animal cruelty and battery farming, then support in a Science lesson which goes into artificial insemination of livestock, selective breeding and so on. We’ll then have our own EAL double period in which we’re reading Animal Farm and might find a way to recycle ‘unethical’, ‘confined space’, ‘freedom’, and perhaps other vocabulary/concepts that emerged during the day. Then we’ll end the day supporting in a Maths lesson on area and perimeter, which we may end up relating back to chickens in cages somehow.

Us EALers are lucky that we get to see how these loose threads from individual subjects can be woven together, and as such we have quite a role to play in the day-to-day delivery of the curriculum! One of our duties (I feel, anyway) might be to mediate between subject teachers. By that, I mean letting them know about content crossover and the possibility of collaboration across departments.

The trouble is with this, as I found a lot last year, raising awareness of curriculum crossover is pretty useless without tangible actions accompanying it.  I tried at times to nudge teachers with a ‘you know, this connects to what’s being taught in…’ but the typical response from subject teachers was ‘Oh right’. What did I expect?! I mean, what exactly are they supposed to do with this loose information, and with what available time?! And can they guarantee that they can build on these curriculum connections in some way so collaboration is not wasted effort? Is the curriculum crossover just too incidental, and what is the clear educational purpose that makes it worth ‘connecting’ anyway?

So what’s the big hook? How can we draw subject teachers in?!

I feel like before teachers care about curriculum connections, they first need to feel there are some kind of guiding principles behind the curriculum itself. These aren’t always obvious, but they become more apparent as we go up the school. The International Baccalaureate is the big draw for learners, so it’s probably good to have the IB mission and learner profile firmly entrenched in teachers’ minds so we have a solid ‘principle hook’ which is the outcome.

I can see this hook working as the IB is (or as a brand is marketed as) a product which seems to merge transformative, ecological and economic codes of education. The trouble, as always, is going from principles to practice. As Boyd Roberts (in Pearce, 2013) points out, the IB product sounds favourable yet it lacks clear guidance on practical application. Roberts himself has made attempts to solve this problem.His brief ‘guiding framework’ is a useful starting point in addressing the need to relate the IB principles to classroom practice:

I can see how, if I (or management) can find a way to make IB principles really stand out, then find a way to encourage links to the Roberts’ dimensions across subjects, this might help build curriculum connections.

Interesting idea! But how??!

Okay, so way number one is more micro level – speaking to individual teachers. Roberts’ framework helps nudge teachers towards cross-curricular collaboration with more purpose. Rather than simply pointing out that similar topics are being covered in other classes the framework allows more for this:

Me to the Business Studies teacher: You know they’ve been looking at battery farming in Geography? This could link well with our topic on types of government? Learners could research whether there are policies related to poulty production at local, national and regional levels. We could focus on the regional, like if there are ASEAN policies or regulations maybe? Or perhaps they could do a case study on a local organic farm or…

(with this addressing Roberts’ spatial dimension, process dimension, etc)

That might be a start, but as with most of my ideas, I’ll probably get one or two teachers who will be receptive to it, value that we’ve tried to underpin the idea of curriculum connections with more of a purpose, and it’ll just be more of a pet project. Basically, it’ll be our current History teacher and probably the Geography teachers who will give it some thought…

What would be better would be a whole school CPD session:

Think about the typical units that are covered over the course of these academic years. Note down which units would connect to the following themes.

ThemeYear 10Year 11
The environment / sustainable development    
Conflict    
Rights    
Cooperation and governance    
‘Local to global’    
Diversity    
Linking past and present    
Looking to the future    
Issues from different perspectives    
Ethical considerations      

And teachers pick a ‘most relevant’ unit taught across each year to add to each space. Yes, I know, you’ll get the cynics that’ll be ‘linking past and present? Pfff! I teach History! Like… everything?!’ But you know, once teachers get into it then they might see some clear themes arise.

Scientist: Ah, so you teach about battery farming and ethical considerations? When does that usually come up?

Geographer: We cover it in Term 2

Scientist: Ah, it would work well alongside our topic on artificial insemination, there’s a thread there about ethics for sure. We usually teach that in Term 2 as well.

Geographer: I’m wondering if there’s scope for some collaboration. We could at the very least plan to relate to each others’ topic in reviews, but perhaps there’s more we can do?

Scientist: A project maybe? Some kind of ‘New Scientist’ style article on the issue.

English teacher: Wait, we’ve a non-fiction unit coming up and we need a topic like, meaty. Ethical issues would be a good one. Er… let’s have a think…

And then comes the tougher bit – thinking of practical ways to get the teachers collaborating. It’s the nudge first though. If I wasn’t a lowly EAL teacher, I’d find a way to make that happen.

I’d love to see the threads of a curriculum get woven together a bit more. I feel like there’s so many connections to be made, but we are a bit too reliant on learners making these links by themselves.

Photo by perfectpics . on Unsplash

Reference

Pearce, R. (Ed.). (2013). International education and schools : Moving beyond the first 40 years.



Categories: General, reflections, teacher development

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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