How coherent is your curriculum? Does it tell a story? Is there a clear narrative? If a Y7 could fully access the Y8 curriculum are you okay with this?

When we plan lessons episodically, we’re hoping that these connect. Skilful teaching, using recaps and recall quizzes,  helps bridge the gaps, but when the narrative is atomised into skill-based activities and even tinier chunks we risk losing sight of the bigger picture. History teachers often plan in terms of depth studies (Germany 1918-39, for example) and breadth, or overview studies (medicine or crime 0-2000, for example). It’s clearly easier to tell a story when we have characters who lived through a particular period, but a story doesn’t have to be the preserve of the historian: there are stories in all our our subjects, and hierarchies without which our houses fall into the sand.

Planning questions is one way to approach learning, though that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to certain subjects. We can all, however, look for a narrative that runs through a key stage. Take our KS3 history curriculum:

Y7: the changing power of belief.

  1. How can we best tell the story of the ancient world?
  2. How did religion begin to develop in mediaeval Europe and beyond, c.300-1066?
  3. How was power manifest in the Middle Ages, 1066-c.1485?
  4. How far reaching were Henry VIII’s choices, 1509-1688?

Y8: the developing power of ideas.

  1. How can the development of medicine tell the story of the Industrial Revolution?
  2. Was Germany really to blame for WWI?
  3. To what extent was WWII inevitable?
  4. How far have we learned lessons from history?

Historians will notice at least one artificial end-point, but there is a clear narrative running through our KS3: power, faith, ideas and the development and changing nature of government and the state. We’re also lucky in history to have a clear chronological framework on which to hang the story. But dates don’t have to be the only type of narrative washing-line.

When a pupil joins our school in Y8 they will, of course, be able to access the curriculum, and that’s due to the way I’ve resourced it. The story, those multiple themes which develop and interweave throughout, though, is clearer and more coherent because of long-term, deliberate planning: knowledge is intentionally built on top of more knowledge, not generic, packed-lunch lessons.

Plan stories, not lessons.

Edit: Michael Fordham’s post here makes this great point:

No teacher believes that his or her curriculum is all-encompassing, and there is no shame in sharing that with pupils. Whenever a pupil asks me ‘why don’t we study x?’ my response is always ‘well we had to make some tough choices about what to include and what to miss out. Just because we missed it put does not mean it is not interesting or important.