Content-based vs concept-based curricula

Clare Page

Akeley Wood Junior School headteacher Clare Page believes in the potential of every child. She aims to prove a committed, family friendly and safe community which nurtures individual self-worth, wellbeing and a sense of belonging, while preparing children for a successful future outside education.

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Society as a whole now understands the importance of a more rounded approach to education, focusing on a child’s personal development rather than just academic achievements. Therefore, developing and fostering a more child-centric culture is an integral part of early childhood education.

Here at Akeley Wood Junior School, we foster a child-centric culture which is focused on each child’s unique potential. We take the time to listen to our students, following their lead in order to accommodate their needs and support their interests. “This method promotes qualities such as resilience and collaboration.”This in turn promotes qualities such as resilience and collaboration, which are integral parts of learning. We apply these attitudes to every key area of the education process, from planning led by children’s interests in Nursery and Reception, to our Akeley Learner Profile, which is embedded throughout the school.

Gaining children's feedback is vital in driving school improvement. Practical ways of achieving this could be through introductions of Student Council and Student Leadership teams. We gained advice from the children on how to improve key areas such as Clubs provision and Home Learning, and more importantly followed through on their recommendations, using this as the catalyst for change with parents.

We strongly believe that all educators should work together to understand how a child-centric culture can benefit students, as well as how we can all work together to develop it. A child-centric approach means recognising and making sure that the child is put first. We need to understand that every child is different, and will respond in unique ways to different situations. If we learn how to recognise each student’s approach, weaknesses and strengths, then we can help them engage with education in more meaningful ways and improve their overall self-esteem.

We, as educators, also have a responsibility to facilitate opportunities for children to recognise their development points on their learning journey to determine their own next steps. Providing opportunities for reflection is key. A way of doing this is through responsive feedback opportunities. Here, children can assess themselves against success criteria, as well as respond to questions or challenges to both promote greater depth-of-learning and to inform next steps.

We need to understand that children want their views to be heard; they want to feel that we listen to them and support them along every step of their journey. We need to encourage this two-way communication - it’s vital that schools enable their pupils to give feedback about their learning experience and any issues they are dealing with. Once we have established this trusting relationship, we can work with them to provide them with what they need.

In order to achieve a truly child-centric environment at school, the curriculum needs to be concept-based (not content-based) and developmental (a continuum of concept development), not just a standard approach. Apart from the main body of content, children have to be taught skills such as communication (both written and oral), leadership, critical thinking, problem-solving and creativity. “Children should be encouraged to connect their academic knowledge with real-life situations.”Their school day should also see them interact within a diverse environment. Children should be encouraged to connect their academic knowledge with real-life situations, which will help them understand their role within the wider world. A practical way of encouraging this is to plan hooks, which drive learning. An example would be where our Year 5 children were presented with the task of creating school information leaflets. The children deduced how to solve the problem, choosing to carry out interviews and do research. The completed leaflets were given to new parents and children, which reinforced that the children's learning had a real life context.

Educators need to acknowledge the different learning styles in their classroom, and although it’s impossible to adjust the lesson plans accordingly, they can still take into consideration how each child processes information and at what pace and treat them accordingly. A strategy we have been encouraging teachers to implement is using an AfL strategy in each lesson, and then determining how - not if - a child will reach an objective. Some children may need scaffolding or have the task presented in a different way; others may need adult input, or some may be more successful learning from their peers. By determining each child’s starting point in relation to an objective, teachers ensure each child makes progress, and is appropriately supported and challenged at all times.

We need to also allow students to work together, to help each other and encourage them to explore ways in which they can progress their own learning. Embracing their diversity and allowing them to express it means they can become more confident and develop their own voices, which will ultimately make them happier and more motivated individuals. A way of encouraging this mindset could be to offer open assembly slots for children to share their talents. At Akeley, we have seen everything from performance poetry to break dancing. By providing a safe environment which promotes risk-taking for children to thrive in, we have noticed even less confident children enthusiastically volunteering.

A child-centric culture, which provides a safety net for children to experiment and find their own skills, can help them become more mature and empathetic members of society. It’s about making them feel like valued members of the community while they’re still in the classroom and teaching them skills which will benefit them throughout their lives.

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