This is the second blog post from Jo at St Johns Church of England School in Bradford. After the first one here I got lots of questions about curriculum coverage and play. So, I asked Jo to write me another blog post to talk me through how they approach it. Over to you Jo….
One question I am repeatedly asked… ‘How do you ensure you teach all the aspects of the curriculum within a provision based setting?’
The response isn’t always the answer they expect… ‘We don’t!’
Well, when I say we don’t, what I actually mean is that we don’t ‘teach’ it all, in the usual sense of the word. Do we manage to manage to ‘cover’ the curriculum? The answer to this-yes!
‘Burdensome’, is a common term I hear as Key Stage One teachers talk about the National Curriculum. ‘We haven’t got time to play…there’s too much to teach!’
At the very start of our journey, curriculum coverage was our focus. We spent a lot of time tracking coverage, overly planning to make sure we ticked everything off and trying to evidence against lists of objectives and lists of children. Basically, we did the exact opposite to what we do now!
Initially, we outlined half termly topics on a two year cycle. Our Year One and Two children share a base so the two year cycle was important as to avoid repetition. The topics were very loose, for example: Fire, Global Gardens, Changes, Famous people, Water… This was to allow the flexibility to follow the interests of the children.
For the first two years, alongside our provision planning, we kept track of the curriculum objectives we covered, highlighting a master copy of the National Curriculum foundation subjects on a weekly basis. This was a useful exercise as it gave us the confidence to say yes, the topics we have planned provide opportunities to cover all of the Foundation subject objectives twice. As a result, the children work through the curriculum once in Year One and again in Year Two; they are constantly revisiting and embedding the knowledge and skills previously taught.
Now turning to the core subjects. This is where we needed to take full advantage of the provision-based approach. Do we need to directly teach every single objective? To put faith in the provision was quite daunting…How will we know that all the children have worked in with the 2D shapes? How can we keep a track of which children are able to read the time to the nearest hour and half hour? What if the children don’t choose to write? Looking at the objectives from the Maths Curriculum… If you take some of these and make them part of your daily routine, you are reducing the amount you actually have to ‘teach’. The teaching of time and months of the year is a good example of this. Our Year One and Year Two classes regularly shake the tambourine to stop the children for a time check. They have made this part of their routine at certain points in the day. The majority of the objectives in the Measures aspect of the Maths Programme of study can be taught through the provision. This way the children are able to practise, explore and embed their learning through a range of areas; this provides opportunities for the adults to join in with their play and teach within a real context that engages the child. Learning to recognise coins and understand their values becomes much more real when you are playing in the shop. Capturing a child who is creating Rangoli patterns on the light box provides an opportunity to extend their use of mathematical language whilst teaching them about shape, symmetry, repeating patterns… After all, we all know that learning is maximised when a child is engaged in an activity that interests them.
The nature of our setting means that each week, the children will take part in two adult led writing lessons and two adult led maths lessons, as part of a small group of around six. During these sessions we plan and teach the remaining maths objectives and focus on the skills of writing; evidence from these sessions is kept in either their Maths or English book.
‘ONLY two pieces a week?!’ This is often the reaction we receive. Yes, our books have less in them but the progress they make is clearly evident because our children spend all day everyday practising the skills of reading, writing and maths through their play. Our provision provides endless opportunities to embed and extend their basic skills and our staff are constantly seeking these opportunities within their play.
Safe in the knowledge that we were covering the curriculum, we turned our focus to evidencing. We quickly learned that it is impossible to evidence everything that’s happening in the provision as the children play. Trying to record and keep track of it all was taking us away from the children and as a result, valuable learning moments were not being maximised. We needed to relax and take the view of ‘quality over quantity’.
Floor books are a lovely way of capturing learning moments and children’s responses through photographs, observations and examples of children’s work. These make wonderful talking points too as the children will often look back and talk about their previous learning experiences. They are used more heavily at the beginning of Year One, before the children are ready to start recording their own ideas.
Visitors will often comment on the lack of instruction or direction our children need… ‘How do you get them to do this without actually telling them?’ We encourage our children to take responsibility for their own learning whilst working in the provision. They manage their own time and are responsible for their own folders, which they access independently; these folders are full of wonderful pieces of writing, photographs, drawings, paintings, booklets they’ve made and letters they’ve written. They take their play very seriously and take pride in everything they create; their folders reflect this and provide evidence that their learning is embedded. Inside their folders, they keep a ‘Challenge Book’ and within this book they record their ‘Non-negotiable’ tasks. These are one or two tasks which the teachers will direct the children to complete in their own time, at some point during the week. The tasks are usually linked to the topic and provide additional evidence that we are teaching the objectives and subject knowledge outlined in the National Curriculum. It is really lovely to see how differently the children respond to these tasks, choosing their own way of presenting their learning, whether it is in the form of a book, PicCollage, poster or piece of art work.
Our walls are a wonderful source of evidence. Every display is a working wall where the children’s creations are pinned up immediately. Once full, the displays are then taken down and placed into a scrap book as evidence of coverage and the work the children have produced as a result.
‘Your staff are amazing…How do you make sure they know how to move the children forward in their learning?’ The teachers and Nursery Nurse plan together on a weekly basis, reacting to the children’s interests and making changes to the provision as a result; this is fed down to all staff working within the setting. They are constantly thinking of ways in which they can teach the curriculum through contexts that interest and motivate the children.
As a team, they work together so that the provision is ever-evolving and constantly reacting. Both the provision planning and our Maths and English planning, again, provides evidence of coverage and highlights how we are meeting the needs of all our children as individual learners.
Going back to the term, ‘Burdensome’. If you follow the interests of the children, let them lead their own lines of enquiry whether it be under your umbrella topic or pursuing their own interests, you will find that the curriculum is mediocre in comparison to what they actually learn and the skills they have the potential to develop. ‘You can’t teach them about the Romans, we do that in Key Stage Two!’
Don’t put a limit on where the children take their interest in a subject; they are laying the foundations for future learning, and what they are taught further up school will only embed and build on previous knowledge.
We certainly underestimated our children when we first started this journey. They are desperate to learn about the world around them and who are we to let the National Curriculum constrain this.
Thank you Jo for another brilliant blog post. If you want to follow Jo’s journey at St John’s then you can find her Facebook page’Continuing Provision into Key Stage One‘ here
Have a great weekend