SHADOW CURRICULUM: EXPECTING THE UNEXPECTED

Photo by Marco Bianchetti

Explore, Prepare, Deliver, Sustain

In ‘A School’s Guide To Implementation’, The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) advocate that school leaders take time to explore and prepare before implementing change. Which is all well and good if you aren’t in the midst of a global pandemic and reinventing schooling at the drop of a hat. Here is their diagram of what good implementation looks like:

From “Putting evidence to work: a school’s guide to implementation” The Education Endowment Foundation

Who can really claim that they had the time to fully explore and prepare for home learning without rushing straight into the delivery? We had no option when lockdown began but to act fast.

Now, in the summer term, with so much remaining uncertainty, it is time to return to exploring and preparing for all possible scenarios and to give subject leaders some direction (something John Tomsett has blogged about recently). For my school, we have decided the best way forward is to create what we are calling a ‘shadow curriculum’ in every subject.

What do we mean by a Shadow Curriculum?

Ofsted should never be our starting point for curriculum thinking, but I do think their distinction between curriculum intent and implementation becomes newly relevant during any period when remote learning is required. It is the implementation that will be necessarily different in terms of our curriculum, but the intent should remain the same. The ambitions for our pupils’ knowledge and skills doesn’t change but how we support his will be different depending upon whether pupils are in school for all, some or none of the time. This is why we are asking Subject leaders to produce a document that is essentially a plan b for curriculum implementation. The Shadow Curriculum outlines how the learning aims of the original curriculum plan will be met in the event of home learning being required.

How Do We Prepare our Shadow Curriculum?

Our Shadow Subject Curriculums look very similar to your original curriculums. The starting point in their creation is to duplicate the original as much as possible to ensure that we do not lower the ambitions for our pupil learning. It shouldn’t be too onerous, because so much of the shadow curriculum and the existing curriculum will be the same.

As a document, The Shadow Curriculum is almost a mirror image of the usual curriculum plan except for the following three additions:

1.           Identification of Home learning Resources and Teaching Strategies

2.           Alternative Curriculum Sequencing in the Event of Home Learning.

3.           Assessment and  Feedback Opportunities in the event of fuller home learning

We have asked Subect Leaders to ensure that The Shadow Curriculum uses whatever template is already used for their existing subject curriculum plans. This is so that it is easily compared and is familiar to read for any subject teachers. It also avoids the task becoming too onerous.

Shadow Resources and Teaching Strategies

The Shadow Curriculum in a subject shows which home learning resources and teaching strategies will be used to support the original learning aims of your existing curriculum. This is a very subject specific challenge and Subject leaders and Teachers are best placed to decide. For some topics, pre-recorded video lessons might be prepared (we are already building a bank of these). For some, it might be right that we use existing platforms such as SENECA learning. Existing online lessons from the likes of Oak National or MassoLit might be appropriate for instance. For many subjects pairing a Cornell Notes Taking exercise with the right educational video (such as those on Massolit) leads to effective learning. Whatever we decide, now is the time to explore and prepare. We are not averse to the possibilities of live lessons, but we are yet to be convinced that the benefits outweigh high quality and well-structured pre-recorded lessons.

The example below from our Shadow English Curriculum makes clear our approaches, the details of which are fleshed our and discussed with subject teachers.

Resources suggested by our Shadow English Curriculum (a work in progress)

In this example, our Head of English (the wonderful Faye Pauley) draws upon what we have learnt about some of the more effective remote learning, including the use of pre-recorded lessons to ensure modelling as well as using existing platforms such as Seneca Learning. This is work and process and only an overview of the more detailed approach that the department will develop and discuss together.

Shadow Curriculum Sequence

This is hard one. A good curriculum sequence is best not altered. The need for home learning does not change the fact that each curriculum construct will have its precursors and successors.

That being said, we have to accept that some topics are more easily adapted for home learning and might therefore be given priority during a period of home learning. Likewise, topics that are hardest to teach remotely, might be given priority during the time when pupils are in school. Our Shadow Curriculums indicate which these topics are so that teachers know which will come into play during a period of home learning as a priority.

Shadow Assessment and Feedback Opportunities

Our Shadow Curriculums show possible formative assessment and feedback opportunities to be used during periods of remote learning at home. The extent to which these approaches will be used will depend on the proportion of home learning and in school learning that pupils have and subject leaders will be expected to guide teachers through the decisions needed in any changing scenarios including about how assessment findings will inform our teaching. For scheduled summative assessments, senior school leaders have the unenviable task of considering how to respond should home learning interrupt our schooling to the extent it has this year. The experience of the cancelled exams might make us think we need more robust in-house assessment than ever. Yet the loss of teaching time might make us think that pupils need more teaching, not time lost to assessments. We remain very much at the ‘explore’ stage with this and much will depend on the virus.

The Shadow Curriculum should use whatever template you already use for your existing subject curriculum plans. This is so that it is easily compared and is familiar to read for any subject teachers. The three additions outlined above need to be made clear, for instance by adding new columns, rows and/or titles (depending on what suits your original format).

Here’s an example from our Shadow English Curriculum, relating to our YR7 Unit on the Pre-19th Century Novel:

‘Shadow Assessment Approaches in our English Shadow Curriculum’

In this example, MCQs stands for Multiple Choice Questions. We are moving to Microsoft Teams as our tool and anticipate that the Multiple Choice Questions will also work well using this platform. The whole class feedback can be done in class if we are able to see them at all, or via pre-recorded lessons or submission to Microsoft Teams if entirely remotely. These are assessment processes we already use in our existing curriculum, but our shadow curriculum is explicit about how these become a priority in the event of remote learning. We have been guided again by the EEF, this time their Home Learning Planning Framework and its reminder of the need to provide opportunities for pupils to reflect and review.

Implications for Existing Curriculums

When resourcing our usual curriculum, we might also consider creating or sourcing resources that can work equally well in the shadow curriculum too. We do need to adopt a new mindset that we are building a bank of potential future home learning resources and teaching approaches so that we are more able to adapt.

A Process Not an Event

In creating each Shadow Curriculum we are returning as subject leaders to a phase of exploring and preparing. As the EEF will tell us, implementation should be treated as a process rather than an event. 2019-2020 may have been the most ‘eventful’ academic year in any of our careers, but it needn’t mean dismantling good leadership principles or our focus on the best possible curriculum in every subject.

Each Shadow Curriculum is a live document. One that we will adapt and refine depending on the our reflections and changing circumstances. Our hope of course, is that our shadow curriculums remains just that: in the shadows! But having them gives us more certainty in uncertain times.