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‘Areas of Learning and Experience’ as a central element of the new curriculum

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This is an updating of the popular June 2018 post: How ‘Areas of Learning and Experience’ are being developed as a central element of the new curriculum.

AoLE image ScitechThe new curriculum framework features overarching topics in the form of: an Introduction; Summary of Legislation; Designing your Curriculum, and Supporting learner progression: Assessment.

And of course it features the Six Areas of Learning and Experience (Areas), which are:

Expressive Arts; Health and Well-being; Humanities; Languages, Literacy and Communication; Mathematics and Numeracy; Science and Technology.

But how do they connect to the four purposes, the shared vision and aspiration for every child and young person in Wales,  and what do they comprise?

In this post we answer those questions.

Each AoLE comprises:

  1. An explanation of how it supports the four purposes
  2. ‘What Matters’ statements and rationales – which provide the foundation for learning in the Area, and set out the ‘big ideas’ that underpin it.
  3. Principles of Progression which set out how learners should make progress, and contribute to the Four Purposes
  4. Descriptions of Learning- which articulate the essence of learning in the Area across the five progression steps
  5. Designing your curriculum – AoLE-specific considerations

Let’s look at these in detail:

  1. An explanation of how the AoLE supports the four purposes

This shows how the AoLE makes a distinct and strong contribution to developing the four purposes, whilst also making connections with the ‘What Matters’ statements it contains.

  1. The ‘What Matters’ statements and rationales

Each AoLE has a number of ‘What Matters’ statements (between three and six), which will be mandatory. Together, they span the breadth of the AoLE, supporting and complementing each other, making links with the four purposes, and setting out the big ideas in the Area. They should not be seen as discrete.

Here’s an example of a ‘What Matters’ for the Humanities AoLE:

Our natural world is diverse and dynamic, influenced by physical processes and human actions.

Its accompanying rationale justifies why it is so important within the AoLE, and ‘triggers’ connections to the four purposes.

Here is just part of the rationale behind the statement:

Experiencing the wonder of the natural world can contribute to learners’ spiritual development and well-being, and can help to cultivate in them a sense of place and sense of belonging, as embodied in the Welsh word cynefin.

Nurturing curiosity can help learners understand and appreciate how and why places, landscapes and environments in their locality and elsewhere in Wales, as well as in the wider world, are changing. This in turn will enable learners to identify what makes places and spaces distinct, and to develop an awareness of the interconnections between humans and their environment in both contemporary and historical contexts.

  1. Principles of Progression – which vary depending on the AoLE

In our Humanities AoLE example, there are five Principles, as follows:

  • Increasing breadth and depth of knowledge
  • Deepening understanding of the ideas and disciplines within Areas
  • Refinement and growing sophistication in the use and application of skills
  • Making connections and transferring learning into new contexts
  • Increasing effectiveness as a learner

In the Guidance each of these is then explained in more detail.

Here’s the explanation for Increasing breadth and depth of knowledge’:

Progression in the Humanities Area of Learning and Experience (Area) is demonstrated by learners engaging with an increasing breadth and depth of knowledge and underlying concepts. Learners increasingly develop the capacity to organise and make links across propositional knowledge, to identify and develop more powerful underpinning concepts, and to make supported judgements in more complex contexts.

Learners connect new ideas and information to knowledge acquired from previous learning from within and outside school and use it to build an increasingly clear and coherent understanding of the world around them.

Together these form the basis for practitioners’ planning to support each individual learner in their journey along the continuum and for professional dialogue between practitioners within and between schools. They also reflect the aim in Successful Futures that sound foundations in learning are the best basis for progression, as well as for helping learners progress along the continuum at their own pace.

  1. Descriptions of learning

AoLE LLC image

These provide guidance on how learners should progress within each statement of What Matters as they journey through the continuum of learning. They are arranged in five progression steps – reference points for the pace of progression.

The progression steps are set out from the learner’s perspective, framed broadly so that they can sustain learning over a series of years. They are not designed as stand-alone tasks, activities or assessment criteria. While the learning continuum is the same for each learner, the pace of progress through it may differ, hence progression steps relate only broadly to expectations at the ages of 5, 8, 11, 14 and 16.

For example, these are three of the seven Descriptions of Learning for the What Matters statement ‘Our natural world is diverse and dynamic, influenced by physical processes and human actions’, at Progression step 3, (11years of age):

I can describe and give simple explanations about the impact of human actions on the natural world in the past and present.

I can describe and give simple explanations about the impact that physical processes have had on people, places and landscapes in the past and present.

I can describe and give simple explanations on how and why some places, spaces, environments and landscapes are especially important to different people and for different reasons.

The detail in this element of the AoLE will help practitioners design school-level curriculum, and guide as to how learners should progress towards achieving the Descriptions of Learning linked to the ‘What Matters’ statement.

Descriptions of Learning should:

  • Enable progression and support learners in achieving the ‘What Matters’ and the relevant Four Purposes.
  • Be deemed as essential to the ‘What Matters’, reflecting relevant subjects, disciplines or domains within the scope of the AoLE, and/or to prepare learners for their future roles in education, work and society.
  • Be broad enough to be meaningful across the continuum of learning (and not tied to specific Progression Steps).
  1. Designing your Curriculum

AoLE Humanities correctAn overarching ‘Designing your Curriculum’ section in the guidance sets out the wider picture for the curriculum, but each AoLE has specific content on this also.

Within this, there are four elements, which as a group emphasise that AoLEs should not be seen as separate entities and everything comes back to the Four Purposes. The elements are: Cross-curricular skills and integral skills; Specific considerations for this Area; Key links with other Areas; and Cross-cutting themes.

Taking these one by one, within ‘Cross-curricular skills and Integral skills’ we have Literacy, Numeracy and Digital Competence, plus the Integral Skills of Creativity and Innovation, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Personal Effectiveness and Planning and Organising.

Staying with Humanities examples…

An example under Literacy is:

Accessing and exploring a range of texts from a variety of places and times to analyse evidence, to think critically, to infer meaning, and to evaluate interpretations and viewpoints.

An example under Numeracy is:

Supporting numeracy development though giving accurate directional instructions when map reading or developing their own maps and routes.

An example under Digital Competence is:

Exploring the impact of digital technology on societies and of the challenges and opportunities faced in the digital age.

An example under Creativity and Innovation is:

Encouraging the presentation of information and findings in creative and innovative ways, and imagining possible futures based on the evidence.

An example under Critical Thinking and Problem Solving is:

Collecting, reflecting and critically evaluating the use of sources and evidence.

An example under Personal Effectiveness is:

Encouraging teamwork and being a reliable contributor by organising and carrying out enquiries.

The example under Planning and Organising is:

Encouraging the planning and organising of investigations, setting aims, objectives and success criteria, gathering and utilising a range of evidence, and reflecting on methods

Within ‘Specific considerations for this Area’ we find an opening section which includes major themes, stressing the need for developing sophisticated understanding of key concepts which enables learners to see knowledge as more than a list of unconnected facts. The section also includes: ‘Approach to design’, ‘Local, national and the wider world perspectives’, ‘Coverage/range’, ‘Coherence’, ‘Rigour’, ‘Focus’, ‘Sensitivity’, ‘Disciplinary concepts and contexts’ (for each discipline), ‘Considerations for provision of learning experiences’, and ‘Illustrating breadth’.

Key links with other Areas’ highlights how genuine and authentic links can naturally be made with all the other Areas of Learning and Experience, with clear examples.

Last but not least, ‘Cross-cutting Themes’ includes brief content on ‘Local, national and international contexts’, ‘Careers and work-related experiences’, and ‘Human rights education and diversity’.

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