Curriculum design is an essential element of our work, here at Keele and North Staffordshire Teacher Education (KNSTE). A concept-informed approach to curriculum thinking has been a core element of our initial teacher education and teacher educator work since our inception.

We were therefore thrilled when the opportunity arose for us to work with the Knowledge and Education Research Unit (KERU) at the University of Auckland and one of their international associates, Dr Richard Pountney from Sheffield Hallam University.

For some time Professor Elizabeth Rata and Dr Graham McPhail, together with Dr Alexis Siteine have been researching and developing the Curriculum Design Coherence Model (CDC).  We were delighted to welcome 3 of these colleagues (Richard, Graham and Alexis) to Keele Hall to launch our project in September 2019.

 Colleagues helped us to recognise that the CDC Model is useful in three areas of education:

  • Professional Development: a tool to assist schools and teachers in curriculum design
  • Teacher Education: A tool for pre-service teachers to acquire competency in course design
  • Research: An evaluation and intervention tool to study teacher professional competency.

They went on to suggest that applying the CDC Model enabled teachers to use their subject knowledge and pedagogical expertise to design subject knowledge for a school-wide programme for (say) years 1-6 or even years 1-13, for a year’s course, and for a specific topic. Coherence design enables a school’s curriculum planners to build knowledge cumulatively so that students acquire prior knowledge before moving onto more advanced ideas.

The Model, developed by the team at KERU continues to evolve in the light of research. It currently identifies four connected elements which make up the curriculum design process.

 Element 1. Select and sequence subject propositions and concepts

The proposition states what the sequence of learning (lessons) is to be about and will refer to the subject’s concepts that have been prioritised.

Element 2. Connect subject concepts to content

There will be some toing and froing between concepts and content to develop an authentic purposeful relationship that works fluently.

Consideration of what we want to prioritise – is this subject content that we as educators responsible to wider society, feel is significant for the next generation to know (social and political)

 Element 3. Connect knowledge-that to knowledge-how

Connect propositional knowledge-that (subject concepts and content) to a subject’s procedural knowledge-how (rules and procedures in practice activities, (activities will include both performance competencies and judgement competencies(how well))) determined by the subject’s concepts that have been prioritised.

Element 4. Evaluate knowledge-that and knowledge-how

 The connection between these four elements is what creates coherence between subject concepts, subject content, subject competencies, and evaluation. By putting a focus on teachers’ design judgements the Model recognises and enhances the professional nature of teachers’ work.

Dr Richard Pountney presented this poster summarising the model at a BERA (British Educational Research Association) Curriculum Forum event in November 2019

KNSTE’s Contribution to the Project so far…

During the 2019-20 academic year, we have been delighted to have secured the commitment of 11 partner primary schools. Initially we worked with senior leaders to clarify our Research Objectives(January 2020) for the project. Senior leaders also shared their ambitions for the project.

We are now (Nov 2019 – Summer 2020) working with our school’s Physical Education (PE) leads.

PE has been selected as a subject focus for our work for a variety of reasons. It is a subject that makes a difference to pupils not only cognitively and affectively but also in terms of their physical well-being. The subject’s contribution to these different aspects of a pupil’s life was felt to be of particular importance within our schools. PE as a subject has also benefitted from significant resources via additional funding. Often this has meant that the subject is taught by colleagues who are not always directly employed by the schools. This means that the curriculum expertise can sometimes be more fragmented than for other areas. The project created an opportunity for KNSTE to bring together colleagues from both within and beyond schools and those with secure and developing subject expertise.

 PE is also an interesting subject to consider, in that many lessons involve activities. The CDC project is interested in exploring the relationships between knowledge how, knowledge that and conceptual knowledge. Sometimes in PE we see the activity and can focus on this, rather than also considering the subject knowledge and curriculum knowledge that lies behind justifying why the teaching of that aspect of PE is being prioritised at that time.  The project is helping us to explore

Some curriculum design features that the CDC model is helping us to consider (January 2020) include

  • The significance of subject concepts in curriculum design.
  • The significance of connecting knowledge-how and knowledge-that in relation to subject concepts, avoiding the false dichotomy between ‘knowledge’ and ‘skills’.
  • The importance of considering curriculum coherence within a subject across different year groups as well as within a year group.
  • The importance of celebrating subject concepts and not confusing these with generic concepts, whilst also recognising that subject concepts can contribute meaningfully to understanding and dispositions beyond the subject.
  • The difference between subject concepts (generalisable to different contexts) and the subject content that is specific to the context.
  • The importance of celebrating and recognising different knowledge structures, and how these different knowledge structures should be put to work differently.  We have done some work thinking about how knowledge how and knowledge that and conceptual knowledge are different to each other and how by appreciating these differences we can then relate them to each other meaningfully, in a coherent manner rather than in an ad hoc way.
  • The significance of being distinctive about the differences between curriculum, pedagogy and assessment and that much can be gained by separating these out before weaving them back together.
  • The differences between teachers’ curriculum knowledge and the teachers’ subject knowledge the subject knowledge that pupils need. We are appreciating that teachers’ have both a curriculum knowledge, and a subject knowledge. Using their curriculum knowledge and subject knowledge they can justify how they then sequence the pupils’ knowledge in relation to the integrity of the subject.  

We will update this page later in the year as our research and thinking progress.