SHOWING and telling your CURRICULUM’S STORY

Last year I posted how I approached my GCSE Literature course design; it was one of my most read blogs (thank you to all). I suggested the course should essentially be a story, with each new learning sequence inextricably connected to the last, and indeed, to several other parts of the journey. The story would be continuously referenced when every new piece of content was added, the discussion of the links significantly helping my students to understand that the course was a whole being, and not to see it merely as a disparate collection of units: a process that would significantly aid their memories as the links would effectively and continuously and unconsciously build a strong schema that could be referenced to reduce cognitive strain in new learning contexts.

Well, it most definitely worked. The post is below.

What I Would Change

I should have added a visual map of the final product, as well as making each stage of the journey visually explicit so students could see how the journey unfolds. This would have helped students see how each new piece was connected to what had been learnt. The map then would have become a representation of the schemata that would form in the student’s brain, and helped secure the links of knowledge that enable understanding.

So I’ve added the visual map now. The video shows the content incrementally building and connecting to various other content.

This visual display also serves other very powerful functions

  • It helps you as the teacher to see the key elements of your course, and design a relevant sequence that will piece it all together.
  • The visual aspect to the mapping provides a more concrete demonstration of how lesson after lesson actually fits together. Obviously the final map presented at the beginning of the unit of work won’t mean very much to your students, but as the units unfold, the connections will become more tangible. I would always have the final map as well as the map in progress visible to students somewhere in the classroom.
  • Students themselves could be adding to their own map using dual coding as the learning sequences are presented to assist developing understanding. See how I have done this for A Christmas Carol here and the entire poetry anthology here.
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  • Students can then also self-evaluate if there are any gaps in the sequence; they will be able to see why they can’t engage with a certain topic because they have a clear visual display of the gap leading up to it.

Zoning in and Mastery

  • This process can be emulated in micro, at every stage of the learning journey. Each new topic should have a small concept map that the teacher frequently refers to, that articulates and visually shows the various links of importance.
  • Each map, once secure in the student’s mind (effectively turning them into an expert on this particular learning continuum), presents opportunities for more open ended questions and tasks to be explored and undertaken. Designing learning that incorporates this balance between higher order thinking and more concrete closed knowledge chunks is an essential component of healthy retrieval practice, as suggested in this latest fascinating research by Poojah Agarwal.
  • Retrieval practice – remove sections of the map; remove words in each circle; remove some of the lines connecting the topics and have students create new connections justifying their choices in writing along the line, as Sophie has done with her excellent reading connections post here. There are also other options for mixing up retrieval here.

The Power of the Map

Of course, the links are subjective, but that only serves to strengthen the learning as links are debated and justified. In fact, this process presents many higher order learning possibilities, all serving to deepen the understanding of the key concepts and constructing new thinking:

  • Justifying the links and connections strengthens the understanding of each aspect of the map
  • Strengthen comparisons – Once individual content is secure, the student can ‘think’ with what s/he has, and with comparison a must in all literature courses, this process pushes thinking to connect ideas. The comparisons can also be made with context, and students can more easily see how certain eras and writers are affected by others.
  • Each section can have many more contextual links added if time permits, which continuously builds a cultural literacy that can have a big impact on the Language course comprehension tasks and general reading proficiency.

Here’s the explanation as to how the map has been constructed from the previous blog. In the explanation I’ve covered every text/element of the Eduqas GCSE English Literature and Language courses. 

The courses offer a wonderful web that spans centuries of time. The oldest text is of course Shakespeare. What’s good to know when thinking of Elizabethan context is that the time is dominated by religious conflict, with the heirless Elizabeth I’s court choosing James I (James IV of Scotland) to succeed her primarily because he was Protestant. His continuation of the persecution of Catholics is what led to the Gun Powder Plot, and James’ consequent fear of assassination. In Jacobean times the showing of Macbeth served to illustrate that corrupt ambitions lead to tragic outcomes, but the theme is pertinent still because it can be accessed on a variety of levels: selfishness, greed, lying etc, and thus becomes a central strand of the moral and affective learning in the entire course. 

Jumping to the late 1700’s, George III lightened some of the anti-Roman Catholic laws, but Catholics still couldn’t vote in parliament. George is disliked for extending the war in America after the failed prevention of American independence, intransigent in his view that the new state should be made to pay for its disrespectful arrogance of wanting such freedoms. William Blake references this in the poem London: ‘The hapless soldier’s sigh/ Runs in blood down the palace walls.’  Soldiers are disillusioned in being forced to fight for things they don’t believe in. The blood down palace walls is perhaps a signal to Londoners to rise up against such tyranny like those involved in the French Revolution.

Shelley reiterates opposition to George’s warmongering, in the metaphorical Ozymandias, a tale of an arrogant egotistical ruler who proudly expresses his ‘sneer of cold command’, and who doesn’t realise the futility of demanding to be seen as the ‘king of kings’. Shelley’s reference to the bible’s labelling of Jesus is likely the result of exhaustion from the continuous battles between Catholic and Protestant religious factions. Shelley’s solution: become atheist, a stance that had him expelled from Oxford. (Shelley essay here)

Shelley’s, and indeed all of the Romantics insistence that it is really only nature that lasts and therefore warrants our ultimate attention is confirmed when a book of poetry by one of the strongest ‘natural’ poets, Keats, was found on his drowned body in 1822. Wordsworth too could be considered in this vain, with Excerpt from The Prelude adroitly referencing the importance of nature in grounding the developing individual, as well as Seamus Heaney’s Death of a Naturalist that similarly uses nature as a cover to examine the human condition, but Shelley was more aligned to the newer Romantics. Keats’ instruction to cherish the moment and to accept the inevitability of death in To Autumn, an admirable feat considering that death and loss dominated his life, is a timely message for students whose culture demands that what is now is irrelevant and that the next best thing must be acquired at any cost. The perpetual message, interminably promoted on social media, that the grass is always greener on the other side is an incredibly damaging one for our students. The message corrupts and distorts into the belief that what is on the surface must be prioritised, and that we must look and act like the unrealistic impressions generated by media… Continue reading

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger and follow this blog, if you’d like.

4 Comments

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