As promised to the ASE Annual Conference delegates attending our ASE 11-19 committee session “Progression- Getting it Right in the Classroom”, here is a summary of my presentation during the first half of the session…
In addition to my usual work in curriculum design and resource writing, I tutor a few GCSE students. This gives me the opportunity to discover what an individual student actually knows and understands. Having taught in the classroom myself, I know that this is not a direct reflection of what has actually happened in class but nevertheless it is intriguing to find out what has stuck and what has not.
The focus for my students, and their parents, is their exam grade. Progression is therefore directed towards the exam paper. However, in addition to the obvious progression in accumulation of an increasing amount, and difficulty of, factual knowledge , students must also progress in their ability to use their science understanding to explain situations and then they must progress to be able to apply this to new contexts.
My current students are in the unusual situation. They have been taught according to a modular course structure but all their assessment has been moved to the end of the course, so called 'linear' asessment. My presentation explored the relationship between the curriculum map (the route through the topics) and student progression. Once the move to linear courses is completed the need for students to connect ideas across topics will become even more important as true linear assessment should include some sort of synoptic paper.
So what difficulties are current students facing?
· Ideas met at the start of the course have been forgotten.
· Some topics, taught all in one chunk, have progressed too fast meaning that earlier critical material did not get a chance to be fully assimilated so later more challenging content has not been well understood.
· Huge quantity of ‘stuff’ to learn resulting in general despair.
Looking more closely at student understanding the key issue appears to be a lack of progression in the build up of scientific understanding. Most of the student learning is in disconnected chunks. This is having a number of impacts:
Students are experiencing difficulties with
· explaining KS4 content using fundamental ideas from KS3
· applying understanding to help support further learning
· connecting ideas between subject/topic areas
It is clear to see that each of these difficulties has immediate consequences for students’ ability to revise and answer questions during an exam. Students find writing explanations difficult as they have a weak understanding of, and fail to recognise, the key fundamental ideas for each subject. By not forming connections between ideas and using these to support further learning students perceive their exam revision as a vast quantity of unconnected facts. Students also tend to compartmentalise their learning so if a question requires understanding of more than one topic area they find it difficult to draw upon this wider range of ideas.
Moving forward… what steps can be taken to improve student progression in terms of their science understanding? How could an exisiting curriculum map be adjusted to have a positive impact on student progression?
The first piece of advice, when trying to consider progression, is to start at an end point. Delegates were asked to consider three questions and ask themselves what science ideas a student would need to understand in order to answer each question.
The answers from delegates included quite a range of ideas which came from more than one subject area. Particle theory, for example, was relevant to all three questions.
Delegates were then asked to consider what they noticed whilst marking mock exam papers. What fundamental ideas did they wish that students had grasped?
This diagnostic form of looking at assessment responses did not appear to be familiar to many in the audience. However the second half of the session, presented by Lorna Monroe, which considered AfL (assessment for learning), proved highly relevant and provided a huge variety of ways to explore what students did and did not understand.
Having identified some fundamental ideas that students are lacking, the presentation moved on to consider how to create a progression thread to weave these ideas into an existing curriculum map.
To keep things simple it was proposed that the first 5 years of secondary education (age 11-16) be thought of as consisting of three phases:
i) Introducing KS3 – Establishing the fundamental ideas
ii) Preparing for KS4/Introducing KS4 – Using the KS3 fundamental ideas to develop new understanding
iii) Succeeding at KS4- Connecting fundamental ideas to support understanding of more difficult concepts
The example used to illustrate how to create a progression thread was a fundamental idea from chemical reactions:
“ During a chemical reaction atoms are rearranged. Atoms are not created or destroyed”.
This could be established during Year 7/8 topics on chemical reactions and atoms, elements and compounds.
It could then be used to support learning in Year 9 of conservation of mass and displacement reactions.
Finally this fundamental idea would support KS4 understanding for example, balancing equations of combustion reactions.
By this point fundamental ideas progression threads would need to be combined so in this example a fundamental idea progression thread relating to summarising chemical reactions using equations would also be needed. It is this combination of ideas that can make later content more challenging for students.
Finally some next steps were suggested:
1. Take a closer look at your students’ understanding.
2. Identify barriers in understanding that are slowing progress and lowering outcomes for your students.
3. Create priority progression threads.
4. Weave progression threads through your curriculum.
5. Adjust your curriculum map if necessary (see previous post Curriculum Mapping- GPS for your science department for further advice)