How to choose the best primary teaching resources

Caroline Pudner, primary teacher and Cornerstones Consultant, looks at how schools can approach the important task of resourcing their curriculums, and finds that quality and coherence is everything.

Step away from the quick downloads! It’s time to consider the quality, integrity and durability of your teaching resources.

The problem with resources

Like many teachers, I have been caught in the trap of downloading free resources in an attempt to save time. In reality, this just resulted in me spending further hours adapting the material – even correcting mistakes.

This situation will probably sound very familiar to you, whether you’re a teacher or school leader. In fact, it is now a hot topic. Recent reports from Ofsted and Policy Exchange highlight the problem that, since the new curriculum was launched in 2014, teachers have been creating or downloading resources that are sometimes not fit for purpose and add to, rather than reduce, workload.

So, what has gone wrong?

The issue is complex. A key problem has been that, although the national curriculum is rigorous and progressional, many schools have struggled to find a coherent set of quality resources that support its delivery in their setting.

Ofsted and policymakers are now focusing on the strength of a school’s curriculum. And they’re worried that the trend of relying on ad-hoc resources sits at odds with a coherent curriculum.

Why are resources so important?

From my work as a teacher and creating curriculum resources here at Cornerstones, I believe that resources are absolutely fundamental to children’s learning and progress. They can make or break a lesson – even an entire project. They can inspire or bore. They can inform or misinform. So, it really is crucial to find the best and use them correctly.


 


As John Blake described, in Continuing the Curriculum Revolution, resources are the ‘final foot’ between a teacher and pupil in a school’s cohesive, well thought out curriculum programme.

Finally and importantly, from 2019, Ofsted will be judging a school on its curriculum and its supporting resources, so it’s important to take time to plan for and source the very best.

Here are my five top tips for choosing quality teaching resources.

1. Keep it coherent

View teaching resources as trusty footsoldiers, fulfilling the aims set out by your curriculum. If you have designed a full, enriching and coherent curriculum, then your resources should reflect this. Source your resources, be they textbooks or other materials, as you create your curriculum – or very soon afterwards (read this blog about how to create a curriculum).

Planning in this way gives you time to look at resources – even trialling them – as a staff. It also gives you the ‘bigger picture’ of what is taught in school, helping you keep an eye on coherence and learning progress from start to finish. Exposing children to progressively more challenging resources also avoids the ‘Hey, Miss, we did this sheet last year’ moments!

2. Only choose the best quality

Invest in the best. While the internet is flooded with free resources, always assess whether this is the best use of staff time – which, after all, has a cost attached to it. It may be helpful to set up a ‘quality control’ process in school, led by your curriculum leader or a small working group. They could assess potential resources using a quality control checklist and monitor and audit resource use in school.

When considering the quality of a resource, ask:

  • Is it accurate? It’s so important to trust the accuracy and provenance of a resource. Is it knowledge-rich or fact-poor waffle?
  • Is it well written? So many resources convey accurate information but use poor English. Are the instructions written succinctly?
  • Is it well designed? Some resources should be colourful and engaging; others are functional and simple. All should be designed with the purpose in mind.

3. Consider durability

Quality resources are valuable. Make them work hard for you by using them again, either for consolidating skills and embedding knowledge or for a different objective or subject. Videos can be shown before teaching to generate child-led questions, but if played later, they can consolidate learning. Some of the best resources I know are open-ended and flexible.

4. Consider accessibility and pitch

Good teachers instinctively know whether a resource is pitched right for their children or group. This only goes awry when there’s not enough time for forward planning, leading to endless editing or creating resources from scratch.

Questions to ask:

  • Is this pitched right for my group or class with enough room for challenge?
  • How will children use the resource? Independently? With support?
  • Is it accessible for all children? Will they need support?
  • Does it favour a particular learning style?
  • Could children reuse the resource to help them remember information or skills? How can I facilitate that?

It’s important to remember that high-quality resources are written with an age group in mind and are aimed at age-related expectations, so avoid the temptation to adapt or lower the challenge in every resource.

5. Use a variety – but watch out for gimmicks

Vary the type of resources used. This helps to meet different types of learner and shakes things up a bit. Use proven and safe technological and audiovisual resources. Reveal intriguing objects and share beautifully presented texts. And remember that environments are resources, too – as are people. Invite experts in to talk, and visit historic sites. The possibilities are endless and so worthwhile.

Having said this, it’s easy to become distracted by the look or ‘promise’ of a fancy resource. There are lots of gimmicky ones out there, particularly in the technology field, which can actually hinder your lessons rather than enhance them.

Finally, one important consideration for any resource, however plain or fancy, is to think about how long you want children to interact with it. For example, a well-meaning but wordy PowerPoint is an unnecessary use of children’s active learning time. Think: ‘How is this resource going to engage children and help them learn a new skill, or embed knowledge?’

How Cornerstones can help

The Cornerstones Curriculum is a broad, creative and coherent curriculum programme used in over 2000 schools both in the UK and abroad. It comes complete with tailormade, engaging teaching tools and resources produced by an experienced team of teachers, researchers and designers.

Our huge range of materials includes engaging presentations and videos, vibrant picture cards, audio recordings, and original fiction and information texts. Each resource is written to match a particular lesson objective and age group and can be differentiated if needed. We also have generic display resources that you can buy for your school, such as our extremely popular timeline.

Click here to book a free demo and find out how the Cornerstones Curriculum can help your school establish a fully-resourced, coherent and enriching curriculum.

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Caroline Pudner

Caroline is a Curriculum Consultant at Cornerstones. She writes curriculum materials, teaching resources and blogs. Caroline has 10 years primary teaching experience and has worked in both museums and galleries education and adult education.

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