Curriculum for Wales is asking the teaching profession to think differently about curriculum design – moving from a model of lesson planning and delivery to a more sophisticated approach of designing learning with purpose. To help practitioners make the change, work is underway to create case studies and resources through co-construction.
As part of this, Welsh Government facilitated a curriculum design pilot between January and June this year. Schools used a ’backwards design’ approach to see if it could be helpful in a Curriculum for Wales context.
Two practitioners from 30 schools attended 12 x 2.5 hour online sessions, working together to understand the principles of the backwards design approach. Also working alongside Initial Teacher Education leads, regional and local professional learning leads and advisors, they used the online Eduplanet21 – The Understanding by Design (UbD)™ Institute to develop their understanding.
Using a model of appreciative enquiry, the group then reflected on what can be applied to their own context and what might be more broadly useful to support practical application of our principles of curriculum design in Wales.
The pilot will continue in the autumn with 30 more schools being invited to join. An update will be provided in Dysg, the schools newsletter. Use the links below if you don’t already receive Dysg:
What did we find out?
The response was overwhelmingly positive. The approach took practitioners away from focusing on tasks and activities driving learning, to focusing on the purpose of each learning experience. It endorsed the principles of curriculum design within Curriculum for Wales and the value of an appreciative enquiry approach along with ‘backwards design’ thinking.
“It has made me consider true curriculum design as opposed to the pure logistics of curriculum scheduling. It has affirmed my belief that curriculum design should be at the heart of all that we do and that it underpins every pedagogical decision that we make” English medium secondary school middle leader, South Wales.
A key learning point was the involvement of 2 practitioners per school within the pilot, enabling collaboration within and across schools. The use of the asynchronous resource was also popular, enabling practitioners to develop their understanding at their own pace.
In the playlist below, practitioners from a range of schools and settings talk about what was useful in challenging their thinking about how they use our Curriculum for Wales framework and better understand the principles within it. They explain how it helped them to focus on the ‘why’ of their teaching, thinking carefully about the purpose of each learning experience and how it is supporting deeper understanding and enabling learners to successfully transfer their learning to new contexts.
Here’s the playlist: Repository – Hwb (gov.wales)
And below, an example of what you can expect:
What were the challenges for the pilot?
A major challenge to using Understanding by Design™ was its objectives-based approach and its focus on performance assessments. While many found it helpful to ‘think like an assessor’ and think deeply about what indicators of learning they may see in their classrooms, the focus on predicting all learning and attempting to document this, risks losing the value of learning that could emerge which takes place throughout the learner’s journey.
A school improvement advisor commented:
“It has highlighted clearly the distinction between knowing and understanding. However, I feel that many of the examples provided were focused on developing knowledge/content whereas Curriculum for Wales requires us to also consider values, attitudes, skills and processes to realise the four purposes” School improvement advisor.
Overall this pilot project has provided many opportunities to develop thinking around curriculum design within our Curriculum for Wales context. Thank you to all participants from schools and settings across Wales, our regional and local authority partners and our higher education colleagues responsible for initial teacher training.
The pilot will be extended in the autumn, involving 30 more schools. They will build on the work. Through co-construction, we will attempt to provide a professional learning tool that is relevant to Curriculum for Wales and will share their learning via case studies from across the country. Timing of the next stages will be announced in Dysg.
We will be working with regional improvement partners to further support professional learning for curriculum design, and schools should contact their school improvement service for further support.