Second Thoughts on Mr Gove’s new Proposed Curriculum… let’s not worry about it

I wrote my first thoughts on the evening Mr. Gove announced his draft changes to the school curriculum. Now I will have another reflection at them……..

The bottom line is that on second thoughts we don’t really need to worry that much. The document clearly says that it is NOT a directive on how to teach, but rather on the content that needs to be covered. In my small area of expertise (mainly Geography and partly History) I can see that this is not a slimmed down list as was promised. What we are being given is a collection of what some rich old white men with broadly traditional, conservative views of their world think pupils should be learning and more importantly what these children should KNOW.

But why should I be concerned about this?

Firstly, like many I now teach in an academy and officially don’t have to follow all these lists.

Secondly, who would actually ever find out if I didn’t teach Glaciation? After all, in 2o years and 5 inspections I have never had a Geography expert either inspect my department of observe one of my lessons.

But most of all the biggest influence on pupils’ Geographical learning is not what the DfE decides up in Westminster, but in how we in our departments choose and plan lesson and activities, in how we individually deliver and adapt these lessons to our own styles and our own classes needs and interests. for example, sustainability is no longer a ‘must cover’ any more in geography; it doesn’t even get a mention in the draft document, whereas previously it was all over NC levels 5, 6, 7, 8 and exceptional performance. Now, as tricky an idea as it often is to my less able pupils, I will continue teaching it because I think it is important to have an idea of how to plan carefully and compassionately for the future.

Additionally, I have just finished reading “Dancing with Architecture” by Phil Beadle. If this book said one thing to me, it is that the how of our teaching is more important than the what. So if I tell pupils at the outset that “all will be able to describe” Russia or the geological time line or whatever, “most will be able to describe in detail and partly explain” and “some will be able to explain fully,  compare and analyse” then sure enough that is what they will happen. We will all go home satisfied, unsurprised and within the fortnight, have forgotten the whole drab and boring hour we spent together in room 47. Mr Gove will be pleased and I will be a day closer to retirement.

However if the department trusts in our own professional “fascination and curiosity” and we encourage our pupils to do the same, then the learning will memorable, relevant and of a high quality, even if OFSTED couldn’t find a way of measuring it. As Phil Beadle also says “Who cares what OFSTED thinks?….a generally outstanding teacher will be sufficiently confident in their own abilities to not bother engaging in any real way with the centralised attempt to define what it is they should be doing.”


Revision and Solo Part 2

I taught this lesson to both my 2 Y10 classes this week. One of the groups has abilities ranging from FFT D band grades of E to A* and the other from C to A. They are all taking a module of their Geography GCSE in a month’s time that is worth 37.5% of the whole of their AQA syllabus A GCSE in Geography. Both groups are therefore a mixture of pupils taking higher and foundation papers. I am very fortunate to be teaching at a school primarily made up of well motivated pupils; it is a secondary modern 11-16 Girls school.

I took some advice from @learningspy and decided to try using hexagons to follow up my revision work from last week. The credit for this revision  lesson comes from tweets of his and others I have read. I must admit that there aren’t any original ideas here. Only the arrangement is mine 🙂

Here is the powerpoint I showed that has the lesson instructions on. The written description below refers primarily to slide 5 onwards. 1-4 only give the context of the lesson

The idea is simple.

  1. I reminded them of the differentiated SOLO-based and exam-grade-linked targets I introduced last lesson.
  2. I gave everyone in the class 1 of 4 case studies to revise
  3. I gave them 2 minutes to brainstorm everything they could think of about this case study
  4. I put them in groups of 3 to do each case study.
  5. They shared their lists and then wrote down all the words and phrases they had between them, putting each one on a separated laminated hexagon. This is the first target, what AQA mark schemes call Level 1 answers; normally relating to G up to D grade responses.
  6. I next asked each group to arrange all their hexagons into a way that made sense to them. They moved the hexagons around placing any words/phrases that were linked together next to each other. This is the second target, what AQA mark schemes call Level 2 answers; normally relating to C up to B grade responses. this took no more than 15 minutes
  7. I then reminded them of a revision checklist I had passed onto them last lesson which laid out the basis of each case study. (Look at this post on my student blog if you wish. We were revising the tourism topic in this lesson) This gave all groups the chance to rearrange their ideas in a way that may be useful for revision purposes. In each class only a minority of hexagons were moved; generally they preferred their own explanations. To ensure that this thinking wasn’t lost and that they all had further time to reflect further on it, I asked them to write up ‘into paragraphs’ what they had organised and linked (mark scheme words) using their hexagons. those who didn’t quite get this i asked to use the revision checklist prompts help organise their ideas. I would have hoped not to have to do this, but these pupils all produced well written, explained and linked work. Some pupils also took photos of their hexagons to use for their own revision.
  8. The third main task was for each group to write questions for other groups. They were to base these questions on ‘intersections’ where 3 or more hexagons met. The only guide I gave for this task was that they shouldn’t write Level 1 questions. This may have been a mistake because the questions i received back were all very exam-like. but maybe because the pupils knew this was a revision lesson and I had talked a lot about grades and levels already. We discussed rather than wrote possible answers to one question for each group. It was this section of the lesson that I felt was the weakest.

I asked at the end of each lesson for a brief feedback by asking pupils to raise their hands lifting up the number of fingers out of 10 they would give for “how much it helped your revision”. The results of this were all very positive. However I have better evidence that the lesson was a success: when the second group were coming in to be taught on Wednesday i was asked “Are we going to do the honeycomb lesson as well sir?” when i said yes there was a minor ripple of  UNPROMPTED approval.

Next time i will not call them hexagons I will call them honeycomb.

Sneaking SOLO into revision lessons

I have y10 and Y11 revising for the next 3 weeks lesson. To help them feel more secure in revision I will be using the same diagram to structure their learning/revision. Again this is a mixture of SOLO and GCSE level descriptors from the mark scheme. Many other SOLO practitioners seem to talk openly about SOLO in their lessons. When I first introduced the idea to my pupils I said what it was.But I have found my pupils prefer to see the structure via heir GCSE grades. So this is the diagram i shall be using. I have also suggested they could use it to to help they own revision at home.

Update on SOLO taxonomy in Geography GCSE

I am really good at getting excited about a new idea and not properly following it through. The fact that SOLO is still influencing my teaching and hopefully the pupils learning is a reflection of it usefulness in my lessons. Prompted by an interesting post from  I have been reminded of when I started uding the SOLO approach only a few months ago. I have not prepared as well as he, nor have I reconsidered my teaching and learning styles as much This is something I hope to reflect onover the summer months. Isnt it good to read other teachers’ reflection in their blogs!


What I have done with my classes is to apply SOLO to the learning objectives I use. Our Head told us that we must include differentiated Los in all our lessons (she made it one of every teacher’s performance management targets for 2011-12)


I write 3 LOs for every lesson: the first is based around naming and being able to describe the features of the topic, the second around describing, explaining and linking these features and the third to more linking as well as comparing evaluating and applying to a case study. The first LO is associated with grades G to D, the second to C to B and the third to A-A*.


It has now got to the stage where, given the topic and a brief introduction to the work my Y11’s can write their own LOs using the key words. They can also state which grades these are associated with.  To me this shows they know how to structure not only their learning in a lesson but also their answers in their GCSE exam. They now know what makes a C or an A grade answer. Interestingly my Y10s who have been using SOLO for a month or two less cannot quite do this yet.

I have included below a couple of my LO slides from GCSE classes




What I plan to do next is to use some hexagons in my lessons. I have taken some advice from and plan to try them in revision classes this month. i will let you know how it goes

SOLO taxonomy part 2 (using it for Differentiated Learning Objectives)

Following on from two of previous posts on differentiated learning objectives and then one on SOLO taxonomy I am now trying to link the two together. All I have done is to turn SOLO from lesson outcomes to Lesson Objectives. As I type now the lesson is not taught, but I wanted to post the ideas as they stand before reality gets in their way. This lesson is being observed by the school’s new head so I am naturally keen to get it right. One of the school’s new policies is that every lesson will have DIFFERENTIATED learning objectives in them. The group is an GCSE geography option group

Last week I took the pupils to Bath and Bath university to investigate transport problems and solutions there. This lesson was to ensure that they organise what they saw and heard so that they can see how it fits in with the syllabus and exam questions they may have to answer. To make sure all pupils have a good idea of the main points during the day on my phone using evernote and pasted them into a word doc for their reference teacher notes from field trip

Here is the powerpoint for the lesson post Bath fieldtrip lesson powerpoint Following the map starter, the 3rd slide shows how I have changed the SOLO taxonomy from outcomes into objectives. I have taken care to mention SOLO in each lesson since I first introduced it last month so the pupils should be familiar with it by now. The 4th slide is not an actual question from the AQA A GCSE exam paper but is an adapted one from another similar question on urban sustainability. I will have one more able and one less able girl in each pair. the group is a small one but has a range of FFT predicted grades from E to A.

The 5th and 6th slides are recap from a previous lesson and from the field trip. I used the GA booklet ” GCSE Toolkit: Is the Future Sussed? A study of sustainable urban living” which can be bough for about £11 here Whilst the pupils were organising their field trip notes I plan to walk around LISTENING to what they are saying and then leave post it notes when I hear phrases I think are linked to different stages of the SOLO taxonomy. I found this list of connectives which are linked to SOLO taxonomy from Darren Mead’s excellent blog . This will then lead I hope to a discussion about the language to use in exam answers.

Then to end the lesson I will ask them to redo on their own the same exam question they attempted at the start in pairs. Following some peer assessment the lesson will then conclude with a plenary reflecting on the original lesson objectives. I will mark this second attempt at the exam question for next lesson.

Using SOLO taxonomy with my Y10s

I came accross this interesting post from taitcoles last week. In the it he explained how he had used SOLO taxonomy with a Y9 group. As you will know from my 2 previous posts i am concerned at the moment about learning objectives and specifically differentiated learning objectives. When we met as a dept we came up with some good ideas on how to deliver and present these to classes. However I noticed that all the ideas that were proposed were examples of what teachers had tried in KS3 lessons. No one had attempted any differentiated learning objectives with KS4. I can see why; if you look at the syllabus and the mark scheme there is not much differentiation in there. Well there is but levels lend themselves far more easily to setting out differentiated learning objectives.

SOLO stands for Structured Observation of Learning Outcomes. But my theory is that if theses outcomes are understood by the pupils then i can show them as the lesson objectives and they will easily allow for differentiation.

Now I just copied TaitColes idea really. I havent added much more to it. So I really recommend you read his thoughts before you plough through my attempts.

What I did

 The work on the London docklands had already been set and handed in before I read about SOLO. This link shows you the instructions I gave to my pupils (it is on my pupil blog). I had orignally planned just to hand the work back as normal marked with my comments for improvement on them. I also wanted to show them how it fitted in with the syllabus and exam question they might get so I also handed them This document too.

From now I went into new territory with SOLO. I used this powerpoint Y10 SOLO intro lesson to help them become familiar with the whole idea. It worked REALLY WELL. they quickly categorised the XFactor statements. Interestingly most of the class thought that the 4th stage (relational)  was deeper thinking than the 5th (extended abstract) as the 4th was all fact and the 5th was more opinion.

When they read through each others work intheir groups they slowly but surely began to understand the task and by the end everyone had some feedback from another pupil to reflect on.

Finally I linked the SOLO taxonomy to exam grades and showed how it wasnt until you were starting on the relational stage that you could be certain of gaining a ‘C’ grade at GCSE. It was this fact that finally nailed the usefullness of SOLO to them!

From now on I plan to start setting KS4 differentiated learning objectives based on this taxonomy. I will let you know how it goes!!

In the meantime a big thank you to @Totallywired and @learningspy for all their ideas which I have simply stolen added nothing to and used (by God I love the internet and twitter especially)

Differentiated Learning Objectives

In our previous department meeting  we had discussed how we could make our learning objectives accessible for all. We all went away for three weeks and last night showed and shared our first attempts and ideas for using differenetiated learning objectives. Excuse the bragging but our ideas were FAB. I have attached a word document showing 4 of our methods that have been used so far. Click here for the link.

What came out of the discussion on Monday was that we were all thinking of using these to aid our AfL as well. By setting these objectives at the start of a lesson we could then review them with our pupils or ask the class to review them themselves. Everyone then has a clear idea of how they are doing and what their next step is.

There was some concern about the amount of targets and objectives and aims the pupils would be taking on board, but we agreed that many of these ideas would work best if they were used over a series of lessons.

There were also different opinions about the use of  ‘all, most and some’ as an approach. Some people said it could be easy for a pupil to achieve the ‘all’ target and stop for the rest of the lesson. Others said it was a question of how you phrased and sold the idea of ‘all, most and some’.

The meeting covered much more than this too, but we all agreed that opening up the department meeting to discussion about teaching and learning’ wasextremely useful and the discussion will be continued at our next meeting too. We would be really interested to hear anyone else’s opinion and strategies as well.