How connected is your curriculum?

Melanie Moore

Melanie Moore

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Over the last few editions of The Curriculum, we’ve explored the importance of curriculum principles and articulating the curriculum design process. In this edition, Melanie Moore, author of the Cornerstones Curriculum, explains the importance of designing a well-connected and robust curriculum framework.

Up until now, publishers and schools have tended not to articulate how such connections are made. Perhaps we have taken for granted
that connections are evident from their outcomes: how well children learn and progress. However, in recent times, with an increasing emphasis on the importance of curriculum design (many schools are now being asked about their curriculum design) we find ourselves talking more about how our curricula make sense of everything we want children to know and be able to do.

The Benefits of a well-connected curriculum

Firstly, it’s crucial to understand the impact that a coherent curriculum has on learning. A well-connected curriculum will enable children to grow intellectually, spiritually and emotionally. It will enable them to seek out their passions, become increasingly knowledgeable and make sense of complex concepts that might otherwise be taught in isolation. In the light of the recent drive to reduce teacher workload, a coherent and well-connected curriculum can make the difference between having to do more detailed lesson plans or being able to do ‘light-touch planning’ that is secured by a robust framework.

Why achieving curriculum connectivity is so difficult

We shouldn’t underestimate the complexity of curriculum design or the huge amount of time it takes to get it right. I’ve had many discussions with senior and curriculum leaders who admit that after years of attempting to establish the perfect curriculum, it still eludes them. Logistics, time, curriculum expertise and staff turnaround in schools make this process even more challenging. That’s why many schools opt for an ‘oven-ready’ curriculum, like Cornerstones, that offers curriculum connectivity and gives firm foundations on which they can build their own curriculum and planning.

Cornerstones: four dimensions of connectivity

At Cornerstones, we identify four main areas of connectivity. These four strands help schools articulate the design and rigour of their curriculum and understand what is being taught as well as when and how.

Hopefully, for those of you already using Cornerstones, this article will help you articulate these links and make clear how well-connected your curriculum is. For those of you that do not currently use the Cornerstones Curriculum, I hope it will be a useful tool to assist you in thinking deeply about your own curriculum design.

First Dimension: Big ideas

The first dimension is what we call ‘Big ideas’. These are the universal themes that help children make broader connections across all year groups and transcend all subjects. Over time, these Big ideas work together to deepen children ‘s understanding of broader themes across the curriculum, and are revisited time and time again in different contexts.

As children repeatedly revisit these Big ideas, associated knowledge is more likely to be remembered and, as children gain deeper understanding, they begin to discover subtle shades of meaning within each Big idea.

Example from the Cornerstones Curriculum

If we take the Big idea of humanity, in particular the study of power and hierarchy, we can see how this is revisited in all year groups and a variety of contexts and subjects. Power and hierarchy: monarchy, royal, king, queen, lord, leader, power.

Children first encounter the term ‘royal’ in the Early Years Foundation Stage during the language and literacy-based project: Will you read me a story?

In Year 1, the geography project Bright Lights, Big City revisits the idea of monarchy as the children learn about the Queen and the role of the monarchy of the United Kingdom.

In Year 2, children revisit this idea by exploring how lords in the Middle Ages ruled their people in the design and technology project Towers, Tunnels and Turrets.

In Year 3, children learn about tribal leaders of the Iron Age in the history project Tribal Tales.

In Year 4, children encounter the powerful leaders, Boudicca and Claudius, in the history project I am Warrior.

In Year 5, children’s learning becomes more nuanced as they study the complexity of the Tudor monarchy in the history project Off with Her Head, which can be compared with the rule of ancient kings in the world hi story project Pharaohs.

In Year 6, children explore the complex dynamics of government and war in the hi story project A Child’s War and the impact of Queen Victoria ‘s 100-year rule in the hi story project Revolution.

Second Dimension: Subject-to-subject links

The second dimension is what we call ‘Subject-to-subject links’. These are the most visible links in the Cornerstones Curriculum and frequently occur between foundation subjects and between foundation and core subjects. For many, this approach is reminiscent of the good old-fashioned topic web, which at times made questionable links that did little for children’s overall understanding. However, if made thoughtfully, they can enable children to make important links between subjects, allowing them to learn about something through a variety of different subject lenses.

Example from the Cornerstones Curriculum

The discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb by Howard Carter in November 1922 is studied and explored through a variety of subject lenses and subject-to-subject links in the project Pharaohs. Here, children use their learning in each subject to develop their overall knowledge and construct a chronological report.

In literacy, children watch film foot age, analyse photographs and read a range of historical sources to find out historical and factual knowledge about the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb.

In history, children explore the range of historical artefacts recovered during the discovery and consider what the artefacts tell us about Tutankhamun’s life and significance.

In art and design, children make detailed observations of specific historical resources through drawing. They identify and discover the meaning of Egypitan symbols and hieroglyphs.

In PSHE, children discuss whether Carter was right to open the tomb and whether it is morally right to keep religious or culturally significant artefacts to help us become more knowledgeable about the past.

In geography, children learn about the location of the tomb and consider how the climatic conditions helped or hindered Carter’s discovery.

Third Dimension: Pedagogical links

Our third dimension of connectivity is the ‘Pedagogical links’ that underpin the curriculum. These are the connections we make between what we teach and how we teach it. At Cornerstones, we use the Four Cornerstones of Learning as a framework on which to build the curriculum. This creative pedagogy, inspired by the pedagogical teachings of Loris Malaguzzi, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Sir Ken Robinson and others, works on the premise that ‘creativity’ in its broadest sense enables us to make connections, reinterpret knowledge and apply learning in a range of contexts. This third dimension of connectivity ensures that skills and knowledge are taught in consistent ways across the curriculum and between year groups. The four stages allow for skills and knowledge to be introduced, explored more deeply, used in problem-solving and innovative scenarios and reflected upon and evaluated.

Fourth Dimension: Concept links

The fourth dimension is what we call ‘Concept links’. These are the dominant concepts within a subject that are frequently encountered vertically within each year group and horizontally across year groups.

Example from the Cornerstones Curriculum

Taking the concept of significance in history in Year 1, we can see how this is revisited over the course of the year in a range of contexts. These links are purposely constructed within a subject so that, over the years, they are encountered again and again. The concepts are not only practised for the duration of a particular project, as the curriculum also provides planned opportunities to revisit each concept in subsequent projects and year groups. We can also see this in Year 6.

Year group: 1
Subject: History
Aspect: Significance

Memory boxSignificant people in their own Blood family
Moon Zoom!Significant historical figure – Neil Armstrong
Bright Lights, Big CitySignificant people – Royal Family
Dinosaur PlanetSignificant events – extinction of the dinosaurs
Splendid SkiesSignificant People and inventions – Sir Francis Beaufort, the Beaufort Scale
SuperheroesSignificant women – Rosa Parks, Emily Davison, Florence Nightingale

Year group: 6
Subject: History
Aspect: Significance

Blood HeartSignificant people in their own Blood family
Darwin’s DelightsSignificant historical figure – Neil Armstrong
Gallery RebelsSignificant artistic movements – Impressionists, Expressionists Significant contemporary artists – Damien Hirst
RevolutionSignificant people – Queen Victoria, William Morris Significant events – Industrial Revolution
Hola Mexico!Significant culture – Maya civilisation
A Child’s WarSignificant events and people – Second World War, Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill