Planning a more flexible and adaptable creative curriculum to engage pupils' interest

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Pembrey Primary School has changed its approach to teaching by making its curriculum planning more flexible and adaptable in order to suit the interests of the pupils. Six learning zones have been created with resources that support and challenge the development of pupils’ skills. These zones have promoted independent learning through a pupil-led, creative curriculum. Pupils have made strong progress, working skilfully and making important decisions about their learning.

Number of pupils: 232
Age range: 3-11
Date of inspection: January 2018

Context and background to the effective or innovative practice

Pembrey School reflected on the proposals made by Professor Donaldson's 'Successful Futures' document, his approach to curriculum reform using the 12 pedagogical principles, and their determination to develop whole school approach to correlate with the philosophy and principles of the Foundation phase framework.  The outcome is a consistent, whole-school approach to using 'learner voice' as a vehicle to drive forward a pupil-led creative curriculum.

Description of nature of strategy or activity

At Pembrey School the interests of pupils and their views are firmly embedded in the school’s vision.  The school’s focus was to develop a curriculum that successfully incorporates the four core purposes at the heart of the curriculum, shaping learners for the 21st century and beyond.

It was recognised in key stage2 that the learners who now transition from the foundation phase are increasingly independent, creative and imaginative; they are used to a curriculum approach to teaching and learning that builds on what they know, what they want to know and what their interests are.  As a result of this, the school changed its approach to teaching the skills by making its curriculum planning more flexible and adaptable in order to suit the interests of the pupils.  This was achieved by developing the approaches to teaching and learning practised in the foundation phase and extending them further to meet the needs of key stage 2 curriculum skills.

Successful Futures:  The curriculum should be organised into Areas of Learning and Experience that establish the breadth of the curriculum.

At Pembrey School, the learning environment supports the development of a highly creative, balanced and rich curriculum that meets the needs of all pupils.  It strengthens pupils' commitment to their work and fosters the development of real-life skills.

Zones have been created from nursery to Year 6 to encompass the six areas of learning.  Zones are colour coded for consistency, continuity and class-to-class transition.  Six zones have been created in each class learning environment, including the ALN Rainbow Room:

  • Happy Learners Zone / Dysgwr Hapus (Health & Well-being)

  • Languages Zone / Iaith (Language, Literacy and Communication in English and Welsh)

  • Maths Zone / Mathemateg (Mathematics and Numeracy)

  • Digital Zone / Digidol (ICT and Technology)

  • Discovery Zone / Darganfod (Humanities and Science)

  • Creative Zone / Creadigol (Expressive Arts)

Within each zone, there are resources that support and challenge the development of pupils’ skills.  When pupils transition from class to class, the coloured zones will guide all learners to where the resources are stored to support that aspect of the curriculum.  For example, atlases, globes, science materials, non-fiction supporting texts and historical artefacts would be placed in the Discovery Zone.

Successful Futures:  Successful learners have responsible attitudes towards learning and knowledge.

Pupils' opinions and feedback are a central feature in the school’s curriculum planning, as learners' thoughts and ideas feed in to the learning experiences that will stem from this:

  • Foundation phase Pupil Voice Sessions

Pupils in the foundation phase are presented with a stimuli, for example a photo, song or story.  Pupils input into this stage of planning, using skills from previous focused or enhanced tasks or by sharing what they would like to find out about the stimuli.  These are placed on the 'Pupil Voice Challenge Walls'.

  • Key stage 2 EPIC Sessions (Everyone Planning In Class)

Pupils have been engaged in the new theme for a short time, this gives them the opportunity to consider what they already know, what they would like to find out and what would interest them.  EPIC sessions involve the teacher sharing the skills that need to be covered during that theme; pupils generate different questions that allow the skills to be covered.  The pupils' questions are recorded on a Rainbow Epic Board – the colours are linked to the zones.  For example, a question generated on a scientific skill would be pegged to the Discovery Zone arch on the rainbow.

Successful Futures:  Areas of learning should provide rich contexts for developing the four curriculum purposes, be internally coherent, employ distinctive ways of thinking, and have an identifiable core of disciplinary or instrumental knowledge.

The school has adapted the curriculum successfully to ensure continuity in developing independent learners across the school whilst ensuring that the development of pupils’ literacy, numeracy and ICT skills is core to the new arrangements.

Discrete teaching or focused tasks are completed prior to the introduction of independent rich tasks called Challenges and Missions.  These rich learning experiences are delivered in two different ways but with pupil voice being central to both:

  • Foundation phase 'Pupil Voice Challenges'

Pupil voice challenges are developed across indoor and outdoor zones.  These feed in to independent challenges, which are recorded on a child's individual passport.  Pupils are encouraged to visit all the zones; then in personal passports pupils circle symbols of the individual challenges during a reflection time, to show that they have completed the task.

  • Key Stage 2 'Missions'

'Missions' are challenges that take place in each zone of the classroom; the skills being embedded are connected to that particular area of learning.  For example, a digital skill that has been taught discretely will be consolidated by pupils through an independent or small group 'mission' in the Digital Zone.  Where appropriate, the missions are differentiated through the use of Secret Agents, to ensure that pupils are unaware of the different level of support and challenge within the classroom.  The focus during these missions is to develop the pupils’ attitudes to learning, encouraging them to collaborate, persevere, question and develop the learning habits to 'get unstuck'.  As the missions are based in the relevant zone, then all the materials, tools and resources to help pupils achieve success are in immediate proximity, enhancing independent learning.

Successful Futures:  A consistent message should be that sustained effort is integral to good learning and can lead to high achievement. Praise and support are essential, but the opportunity to make and learn from errors in the pursuit of challenging goals builds confidence and resilience.

At Pembrey School, teachers use assessment procedures skilfully to support pupils.  They offer useful oral and valuable written feedback that focuses well on developing pupils’ skills.

  • MYMM (Make Your Mark Monday)

Fortnightly sessions provide pupils with quality time to reflect on their learning experiences, respond to 'Green for Growth' feedback from the class teacher, practise or embed a skill that has been learnt, or apply a strategy to extend their learning further.  This encourages pupils to read their feedback, consider what has been said and respond on it in order to move their learning forward.  Occasionally, speech bubbles are drawn to show pupils that they are expected to consolidate the learning from their point of view.

  • Reflection Triangle / Ace Agent Advice

Following a mission, pupils are encouraged to reflect actively on the immediate learning experiences as a group.  The reflection triangle method has been adopted and called the 'Triangle of Truth'.  Each group collaborates to identify what was successful about the mission, what they learned and what strategies they used to build resilience.  Each group then records a piece of advice for the next mission group on an 'Ace Agent Advice' board, which supports their learning and encourages good levels of collaboration and cooperation.

  • Learning Pit / Five Bs

Within each zone is a 'learning pit', which contains strategies or questions to guide and support them should they get 'stuck' when trying to work independently when completing a mission.  The Five Bs (Brain, Board, Book, Buddy, Boss) strategy runs alongside this to encourage steps to independence through perseverance and collaboration.

  • PALS (Pupils Assessing Learning in School)

Overarching all these strategies are the PALS.  Two pupils from each class across the school are involved in learning walks with the headteacher and governors.  They evaluate their learning environment, feed back on their learning experiences and use self-evaluation strategies to enable them to make decisions that influence their future learning.

  • Qualified for Life

All the above approaches and strategies have resulted in a pupil-led, creative curriculum that supports the development of independent learners.  It gives pupils the skills and confidence, through a broad and balanced curriculum, that will equip them for life in the 21st century and beyond.

What impact has this work had on provision and learners’ standards?

Pupils make strong progress, working skilfully as independent learners that make important decisions about their learning.  Practical, creative and team building activities develop enthusiastic pupils with very positive attitudes towards their work.  Pupils’ wellbeing has improved by creating an environment for child-initiated learning and equipping all pupils with skills for life.

How have you shared your good practice?

Many schools have visited to observe provision, teaching and learning strategies first-hand.  The school has shared its practice with other schools during conferences and training sessions.  Practice will be shared on ERW website.