If nothing else, I’ve achieved some alliteration today! This post is in response to a discussion between several primary type people on twitter yesterday – namely myself, @imagineinquiry, @redgierob, @educationbear, @rpd1972, @nancygedge and @michaelt1979. We were discussing the merits and otherwise of what is variously called ‘creative curriculum’, ‘cross curricular planning’, ‘context driven learning’, ‘topic based planning’, etc. There are, I’m sure, as many terms for this as there are schools, with each having its own nuance. I’m not particularly knowledgeable about curriculum design, so I’m not intending to spend (much) time on basic principles, but rather I’m hoping to talk about what it is that I do, and that we do in my school.
First though, a few things on which everyone agrees: creative curriculum can be done wonderfully or it can be done terribly. Links between traditional subject areas can be natural and helpful, or forced and contrived. Different people, and different schools, have things that work well. It’s my impression that schools who go completely for topic basic teaching have often spent a lot of time considering how to cover the whole curriculum in a different way. It’s not really something an individual teacher can do on their own.
On to my own experience. I’m fortunate in some ways to work in a small school, as it means that I have a lot of freedom to do things the way I want to – I don’t have to make sure that my planning matches up with a parallel teacher. I can just crack on. In my school, we’re encouraged to make worthwhile links between subjects – if things don’t fit, we don’t try to make them. A few examples of how this has worked for me:
This half term we’re studying mountains in Geography. I’ve linked this up to work in Literacy and ICT. In Literacy, we’ll be reading the diary of someone who climbed Everest, writing about aspects of his experiences and working towards writing our own mountain adventure stories. In ICT we’re working on research skills and collating information, using Freemind. We’ll most likely be researching different mountains or mountain ranges as a context for this learning. The three subjects are essentially kept separate, but the aim is that they all complement each other.
Similarly, we’re learning about the moon and the space race in Science this half term, and while the Science content is looking at rockets and moon landers, this is a great chance to learn how to write newspaper articles in Literacy – Man On The Moon!
For me, working in this way is more meaningful, and it enables children to go deeper into a topic area that hopefully enthuses them.
Another thing that we do in my school is an annual ‘topic week’, where the whole school essentially comes off timetable, we pick a theme (usually a subject area), spend an afternoon as staff throwing ideas around to narrow things down slightly, then get to more or less do what we want for a week! It’s a lot of work, but great great fun – one year our topic was History, so we decided that each class teacher should study the decade they were born in with their class. With my Y4 class, I took a different news event from the 80s each day and worked around that – so we found out about Mount. St. Helens and made volcanoes out of plastic bottles and newspaper, along with some baking soda and vinegar. We learnt about Charles and Diana’s wedding, the Berlin Wall and a couple of other things. It’s always an enjoyable week, and gives us as teachers chance to broaden the childrens’ education beyond the constrains of the national curriculum.
My experience is, I’ll admit, slightly constrained by the fact that I’ve spent most of my teaching career in the school I’m in now, which means that I don’t know all that much about how other people do things. In my school, though, we’ve found this to be an effective way of working and of planning.