Aimee Bloom

Students holding a sign saying curriculum

Over the past few weeks, many teachers have spent hours planning, writing, ruminating and creating, in preparation for the beginning of another busy term. Holidays may feel like a far-distant memory and, for some, the count-down to another break has already begun. Without a doubt, the resource dedicated  teachers often spend the most time on during their well-earned holidays is their curriculum.

The Australian education system has undergone significant curriculum changes in recent times. The advent of the Australian Curriculum sent our education authorities scrambling, with each State and Territory interpreting it individually, each school creating timelines for implementation, and each teacher navigating the differences between the old and the new, the national and the state. This week also saw the release of the ‘Gonski 2.0’ report which calls for educational reform so that Australian students are better equipped to grow and succeed in an unpredictable and changing world. Irrespective of these changes, teachers are often striving to improve their practice: creating a new resource here, developing a lesson activity there, learning how to use new technology and trying to ensure their lessons are as interesting and relevant as possible.
The Institute of Positive Education at Geelong Grammar has been striving for 10 years to place wellbeing at the heart of education. Enhancing the wellbeing of students, teachers and communities has been our passion and privilege. We are now approaching the final stages of the development of an explicit curriculum for use in schools from ELC through to Year 12. Our Positive Education Enhanced Curriculum (PEEC) project has involved a long labour – incubated for years, tended to by invested teachers – and is almost ready to be birthed. Our teachers are piloting the new curriculum throughout 2018, with the plan for it to be launched externally in the near future. 
In the interests of sharing what we’ve learnt along the way, we’ve listed our ‘Top 10 Tips’ to help you with your own curriculum design.
1. Start big

Gather your stakeholders, whether it is your whole faculty or just your grade partner, and synthesise your objectives. Your sphere of influence needs to correlate with how widespread the change is going to be. For example, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) held key periods of consultation when developing the Australian Curriculum. This included both public and targeted consultation with key stakeholders (ACARA, 2012). 

2. Define the big ideas

As advocated by proponents of backwards design, it’s important to start by identifying the ‘big ideas’, and determine whether the core issues are meaningful and challenging (Wiggins & McTighe, 2011). These could be core concepts, ongoing issues or overarching principles. For example, one of the overarching principles of our curriculum is to shape students into well-rounded young adults who are well equipped for life, and the big ideas within our curriculum are the topics we explore. Big ideas have many layers and nuances, and yield great breadth and depth of meaning, making it necessary to dig deep to really understand the subtle implications and meanings. 

3. Describe the markers for success

Ensure you can articulate what success looks like. What specific insights do you want your students to have? What essential questions will frame the teaching and learning, pointing toward key issues and ideas? What should students know and be able to do? What content standards are specifically addressed?

4. Use data to inform success

Map where your students are, compared to where they need to be, and identify the frameworks that will inform your curriculum.

5. Give students a voice

Although there are universal elements to student engagement (such as creativity, curiosity and interest, flow, and motivation), it’s important to also identify the specific types of activities that your students find engaging. How can you incorporate their ideas, suggestions and preferences into your curriculum in a meaningful way?

6. Teach students to think about their thinking

Metacognition is not just a buzzword; it’s an important tool that helps students self-regulate their understanding. By increasing students’ awareness and understanding of the learning process, students increase their control over their learning. This could include students evaluating their progress or monitoring their comprehension (State of Victoria DET, 2017).

7. Encourage collaboration

There is strong evidence to support the use of collaboration as an effective tool when implementing curriculum in the classroom. Encouraging students to work together toward a common goal can also help to foster positive relationships.

8. Peer tutoring

Encouraging students to learn in pairs or small groups is beneficial for both the teacher and the student! The effect size and months of progress that students make as a result of this specific collaborative strategy are significant. (State of Victoria, DET, 2017)

9. Incorporate digital technology

Research suggests that using technology to supplement teaching can have a positive impact. Students can use technology to engage in problem solving or open-ended research; however, it’s important to remember that technology is not an end unto itself.
10. Incorporate Social and Emotional Learning

Last, but certainly not least, there is a wealth of research to support the fact that Social and Emotional Learning not only improves students’ wellbeing but also their academic outcomes (CASEL, 2008).
Although curriculum has a significant impact on the quality of student outcomes, without forming a healthy student-teacher relationship with the students in your care, the lessons will go unheeded, the workbooks lost and the content forgotten. However, by engaging mindfully and purposefully with every child, you can help to teach lessons that make a positive difference for a lifetime. Investing into your relationship with your students takes time, but it is time well spent and greatly rewarded by students’ enthusiasm, willingness and respect.

Useful resources

Evidence for Learning has a fantastic toolkit that summarises the global evidence for 34 different education approaches, indicating, for each approach, the: average months’ worth of learning progress, cost to implement, and the security of evidence.

In addition, the Victorian Department of Education and Training has released helpful guide that outlines a number of high impact teaching strategies.

Aimee Bloom Aimee Bloom

Aimee Bloom is a curriculum writer at the Institute of Positive Education, and is currently working on the Geelong Grammar School Positive Education Enhanced Curriculum.

A former lead teacher, she also has a Masters in Education, specialising in pedagogy, and has created programs of learning and assessment for NESA (New South Wales Education Standards Authority), ClickView, Blake Education, Word Flyers and a number of other organisations.