Curriculum Depth – In at the Deep End! Part 1
Let’s take the analogy that the curriculum is like a swimming pool; we want our pupils to be confident enough to swim both widths and lengths (stamina for learning), starting on the surface, in the shallow end.
We also, however, want our pupils to become skilled enough to put their heads under the water and eventually dive down to deeper depths across the breadth of the curriculum.
We want them to see connections between subjects and understand that each subject has links that support others.
A curriculum that has depth, that isn’t just a paddling pool of shallow facts and figures, requires opportunities for pupils to find out more, use inference, make connections and seek solutions.
A curriculum with depth requires the following:-
Let’s start with the opposite of coherence – a series of disconnected activities with neither context nor real purpose. It is human nature to search for meaning: “Why am I doing this?” “What is this for?” “How will this be useful to me?” When we can’t find the answers to these questions we quickly lose interest.
In order to help pupils make sense of what they are learning, a coherent curriculum is essential. Teachers simply don’t have enough time to teach all the concepts and skills required unless they find effective ways to connect the individual pieces of learning together to make a coherent whole.
Purpose is vital. For example, a seasonal theme that explores cultural identities, by examining how Christmas is celebrated in other countries, uses a cross-curricular approach. This gives coherence, as well as encouraging pupils to build connections between their own experiences and cultures with those studied.
2. Meaning and Relevance
Another way for pupils to feel confident enough to explore subjects, ideas and information more deeply is to give relevance and meaning to what is being taught. Here is an example:
Learning about the weather in KS1
Pupils colour worksheets on different weather scenes e.g. rain, snow.
It is, of course, important that pupils are made aware of all different types of weather that is experienced. This is important knowledge for understanding the world in a more global context. This is the first dip of the head under the surface.
To make learning about the weather more relevant and meaningful, however, pupils can take what they have learnt from their ‘shallow paddle’ and start to make more purposeful connections like this:
Pupils create a weather diary based on their first-hand observations. They compare their findings with the predictions from the day before i.e. weather forecast and look for differences. They then produce some simple statistics about the reliability (or not!) of the weather forecast e.g. four days out of five the weather forecast was accurate.
It is important to remember that curriculum depth also stems from the substance and significance of the learning. For example, if you were planning a picnic, why would the weather forecast be important for this event?
3. High-Order Thinking
High-order thinking is not the process of encouraging pupils to think about concepts or ideas that are beyond their years or about topics that haven’t yet been taught to ‘find out what they know’.
High-order thinking encourages pupils to do something with the knowledge they already have. It gives pupils the opportunity to connect facts and concepts and interpret them in different ways.
Development of high-order thinking can be done through questions such as:
- Why does a honey bee die after it stings?
- Why might you build a village in this location?
- Can you be friends with someone who is different to you?
In our next article, we will look at three other features of curriculum depth and explore how they help pupils ‘take off their arm bands’ and develop their learning further.