Knowledge Based Curriculum: Finding the balance

Returning to the idea finding a balance within the curriculum, I think that there needs to be a balance between knowledge and skills and I think that my previous schemes of work have probably been too focused on skills. There is no doubt in my mind that with the content requirements of the new GCSEs being so high, an increased knowledge of key terminology, concepts and ideas before starting them is going to be vital. Obviously this is going to have to be embedded into the Key Stage 3 curriculum, but it mustn’t come as a knee jerk reaction to suddenly focus solely on knowledge at the expense of skills. Young people of the future need more than just knowledge and information. Knowledge on it’s own is nothing, but learning to question that knowledge, to understand it, to draw comparisons with it and to experiment with it makes knowledge powerful. A student with good knowledge is no better than Google, a student who knows how to manipulate, employ, apply and challenge knowledge is so much more.

An uncomfortable truth that this is, I’m willing to admit that for years I’ve had students in my classes who I have worked hard with on their practical work to compensate for their lack of ability in the written element. Going forward into the new specifications they are going to have to be good at both elements.

A new curriculum design.

On that basis I still have to move forward with the idea of a knowledge based curriculum at Key Stage 3 as this is a focus for my school. To be fair, it needs to be – like it or not there is a huge increase in the amount of knowledge and information required for the new GCSE’s. Initially this new content will have to be dealt with during the GCSE course as students who are opting to take the subject need to make that jump immediately. Whilst this puts the pressure on the students who are the first cohort for the new GCSE’s students of the future shouldn’t have to have that same pressure, by spreading that pressure down into Key Stage 3. I’ve always been an advocate of designing a curriculum that covers 5 or 7 years, where the work of students in Year 7 contribute and compliment to their eventual work in GCSE and, even, A Level. So I’m not talking about anything new here.

A formal approach to learning key terminology.

Or maybe I am. I’m not talking about anything new in approach to curriculum design but an increased focus on knowledge and, perhaps more importantly, the assessment of that knowledge by formalising the knowledge element of the 1-9 assessment format that I developed previously.  Looking ahead, I think the weighting of knowledge of key terminology at Key Stage 3 needs to be similar to the weighting it has at Key Stage 4 and assessed, like it will be at Key Stage 4, in a more formal and (dare I say) traditional manner. I’m not saying that Drama lessons should be turned over to learning key words by rote, but what I am saying is that actually there could be real benefits in every student in the room memorising a list of key words – which is that they can use them in their practical work. They can employ them to talk about their own work, the work of others, where they need to improve things or where things are already strong. Think of it as learning a new language, a new vocabulary, a language of Drama.

How do you do this without taking away practical work but make sure it adds to it?

I think one way of doing this is to promote the development of independent study skills at the same time and look towards Flipped Learning. Instead of giving students homework which is on the basis of evidencing their learning by creating a poster or something similar but instead ask the students to learn for homework, bringing that knowledge back into the classroom where the students will apply it in a practical way. Using computer programmes such as iamlearning or doddle also help test the students knowledge and gives you, as the teacher, a summative view of their knowledge.

I also think that completing the learning in this way, completing Flipped Learning activities and completing the online quizzes, allows the key terminology to become a language for the lesson. Lessons can become a place where all students can use the vocabulary appropriately and correctly in the lesson, and as teachers, we can both guide them to refine their drama language as well as their application of it.

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