Building Coherence in the Oxford Smart Curriculum for English

Building Coherence in KS3 English curriculum, inspiring awe and wonder at KS3 English and beyond

Of all the subjects, designing an English curriculum is perhaps the most challenging. The ‘English Ecosystem’ of the subject necessitates a non-linear, non-hierarchical approach which is difficult to navigate. 

Where do we want our English students to be by the end of KS3?

Our new Oxford Smart Curriculum began – as all good curriculums should – with the end in mind. Where do we want our English students to be by the end of KS3?  

To determine this, we spent time analysing the requirements of the National Curriculum and exam specifications from KS1 to KS5. What was it that our students needed to know and be able to do? Our work spent here meant that we had a clear grasp of the starting points of our Year 7s and the ‘hoped for’ end points of our Year 9s. 

What choices should we make about the sequence of the knowledge and skills?

Once we had a ‘list’ of the knowledge and skills required,  – those stated in the Oxford Smart Coherence Research Summary alongside other guidance documents – it was then on to the sequencing of the knowledge and skills. What choices should we make about the sequence of the knowledge and skills? We were clear that knowledge of text (and context) and knowledge about texts was a critical part of this, and this would inevitably inform text choices. Our discussions considered whether knowledge was ‘completely new’ or a revisit at a more advance level. We considered where knowledge and skills would create what Neil Almond calls the ‘deliberate journey to connectedness’. This journey should be coherently planned to ensure that the acquisition of knowledge and associated skills move novices with limited or no schema to experts with deep and lasting connected knowledge and skills – fully formed and embedded schemas. 

The focus on depth over shallowness is critical: coverage is not a guide to good curriculum design. For our learners to know something, which would mean it has moved to the long-term memory, they need to know it well. Simply knowing what an omniscient narrator is without understanding how it is different to other narrative forms, how it is used in different texts (thus contexts) by different authors for different purposes, and never checking it’s limitations and advantages as a writer, would leave a learner/student with a surface knowledge and very little skill in using it. This is something that has been an outcome of the some teaching for the KS2 Grammar and Punctuation test: learners can spot simple examples provided in exam papers, but when it comes to anything more complex (including application in their own writing) their ‘knowledge’ falls short. KS3 teachers feel that they are teaching things again that they had assumed rightly had been learnt in KS2. Depth is the issue here; no depth means that everything remains in the short-term memory and is therefore forgotten almost immediately. 

Almond uses the analogy of a the ‘box set’ in considering sequencing a coherent curriculum, and the Oxford Smart Curriculum for English makes a good box set for learners. Assessment has been woven into the journey to ensure that both teacher and learner are aware of what they know and what they don’t. It is unfussy. Texts have been selected to ensure that learners encounter a range of writers, genres and periods, preparing learners for the challenges of KS4 texts and building neatly on those studied in KS2. Gone are ‘generic skills’ and, instead, skills are seen as knowledge: because I know what an omniscient narrator is I can apply this to my writing. Most importantly, the sequence of learning is considered and consciously paced to ensure depth. Learners who follow this curriculum will have had ample and thoughtfully planned opportunities to visit and revisit knowledge, and build skills in depth, so they become part of a learner’s lasting English schema. 

Author Rebecca Geoghegan on Building Coherence in KS3 English curriculum

About the author

Rebecca Geoghegan is an experienced secondary school English teacher and current Director of Education for a multi-academy trust in Southend. Her first book ‘Get It Right: for GCSE: Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar workbook‘ is published by OUP.

Twitter: @beckygeoghegan

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