The Learning Challenge Curriculum is built around the principle of greater pupil autonomy in their learning. It recognises the importance of deeper levels of knowledge and understanding to underpin pupils’ thinking, promoting working at greater depth.
The Learning Challenge Curriculum is built around deep thinking and encourages pupils to learn using a question as a starting point.
Planning a Learning Challenge Curriculum: Pre-Learning Tasks
Pre-learning tasks ensure that learners are directly involved in the planning process. Well planned pre-learning tasks should help to bring out what learners already know; what misconceptions they may have and what really interests them.
Teachers should take account of the outcomes from pre-learning tasks to plan subsidiary learning challenges for each major area of study. It should help teachers recognise what transferable skills learners have already developed that could be used to initiate new learning with a level of confidence.
Pre-learning tasks could take many different forms and can last for as long or as short as required. Some may be written tasks, others oral. Mind mapping is one method which has been used successfully by many schools.
Using pre-learning tasks as part of a school’s programme of home learning will also help to get parents and carers directly involved in their children’s learning.
To ensure that learners are immediately ‘hooked’ by the main content they are exploring, the Learning Challenge Curriculum believes that the introduction to each new theme be given careful consideration.
The idea is to create a very powerful stimulus that immediately grabs hold of the learners’ interest.
A visit to special place of interest is one way of achieving this.
Another way is to involve visitors coming into the classroom.
Both these have been used very successfully to kick off a new learning challenge.
However, there may be occasions when the ‘wow’ may have to be created artificially: In these cases the teacher will need to initiate a creative idea – for example, adults dressing up or creating a role-play scenario.
The idea is that learners are immediately ‘hooked’ by the topic being studied. This would then provide the stimulus for intense interest thereafter. The examples on the website give some ideas as to how some schools have created this ‘wow’ impact in their schools.
Improving Learners’ Knowledge & Understanding and Development of Appropriate Skills
Continuity and progression in the Learning Challenge Curriculum is built around a set of matrices known as Key Skills and Essential Knowledge and Understanding within subject disciplines.
These are broken into Year Group expectations and have additional challenges for able learners.
The Key Skills and Essential Knowledge and Understanding matrices within the Learning Challenge Curriculum will allow schools to guarantee that the learners’ essential skills are being developed, alongside National Curriculum requirements (where appropriate), whilst allowing individual schools to have a great deal of autonomy with their methodology.
I go into further detail and give a full breakdown on this point in Weaving Knowledge, Skills and Understanding into the National Curriculum written by Simon Camby and myself.
There is also an expectation that teachers apply English, Maths and ICT skills where it is appropriate to do so. An overview of the skills likely to be adopted is presented as part of the planning structure which also appears online within the Learning Challenge Curriculum website.
The final part of the skills structure is the year group ‘engagement or empowerment’ skills. These are presented progressively under the headings of: team workers; effective participators; reflective learners; independent enquirers; resourceful thinkers and self-managers.
Reflecting on Learning and Demonstrate Working at Greater Depth
Time for learners to reflect or review their learning is central to the whole process. This is in keeping with the ‘Learning to Learn’ principles where reflection is seen as a very important part of individuals’ learning programme.
In addition, this aspect provides opportunities for pupils to master the skills and knowledge for the aspect they have been studying, ultimately working at greater depth.
Although reflection is seen as a concluding part of the prime learning challenge it is hoped that there will be continual opportunities for learners to reflect frequently, especially as each subsidiary learning challenge comes to an end.
Ideally, there should be a good deal of learner autonomy evident during reflection time.
Learning Challenge Curriculum Subsidiary Challenges
When designing the curriculum using the Learning Challenge, teachers are starting with the prime learning challenge, which is expressed as a question – for example ‘How could the Anglo Saxons have been better prepared to repel the invasion of the Vikings?’
Using information gathered during pre-learning tasks and the school’s context, teachers can then begin planning a series of subsidiary challenges, also expressed as questions.
The subsidiary challenges are normally expected to last for one week, though this doesn’t always have to be the case, depending on the depth of the challenge.
The important factor when using the Learning Challenge Curriculum is that the learning challenges make sense to the learners; the challenges should also be within their immediate understanding.
Using a series of weeklong subsidiary challenges can help to support the larger prime learning challenge. Initially it may also prove useful for the learners and indeed the staff to get used to the weekly learning challenge.
Within the Learning Challenge Curriculum it is suggested that the final subsidiary learning challenge is handed over for learners to reflect on their learning. The idea is that learners present their learning back to the rest of the class making the most of their oracy and ICT skills to do so. Initially learners may require a great deal of direction so the reflection time may need to be presented in the form of a question which helps them to review their work.
Taking into Account the Context of Learners and the Community
It is proposed that several of the prime learning challenges should be built around the principle of Community Learning Challenges.
This means that the school’s context, and particularly its locality, plays a vital role in the curriculum’s design.
It is suggested that about 30% of the curriculum’s design should be built around the Community Learning Challenge principle; that is, starting from the immediate locality. This would be in keeping with the suggestion put forward within the Cambridge Review.
To enable this to work at its best it is suggested that curriculum leaders act as researchers to find out the more intimate links that the locality has with periods in history, local environmental, physical and human geography, the local arts and local services.
Their research should then lead to bespoke prime challenges that are pertinent to each school.
In addition, there should be much greater use made of local experts, such as local artists, parents and grandparents.
Improving Standards for Foundation Subjects
The main idea is to use the knowledge, skills and understanding matrices for each subject to bring to teachers’ attention the level of work expected around each learning challenge. In addition there should be careful consideration given to the quality of work produced by learners in the core subject areas.
A small group of Year 6 pupils considered the learning challenge ‘How could someone like Hitler have convinced an intelligent nation like Germany to follow him?’ In their evaluation of the question they have given consideration to much deeper issues, beyond the initial starting point, which is well illustrated in their writing.
Get in Touch
If you still have questions about monitoring teaching over time or want to talk about different options, join me on Twitter @Clive_FocusEd or for resources and publications related to Curriculum areas, get in touch with the Focus Education office on 01457 821 818.
Learning Challenge Curriculum Website
Progression in the National Curriculum
How to Assess a Knowledge-Rich Curriculum
Clive is a former headteacher and inspector, having inspected over 200 schools. His school gained a National Curriculum award and was featured in the Times Educational Supplement, one of three schools recognised for their quality practice.
He was awarded an OBE for his services to education in 2007.