Part 2: Collective curriculum design in action

Designing and teaching a term of Oliver Twist.

In Part 1, I wrote about the different processes that go into making curriculum decisions collectively. This post will exemplify these processes in our development of a unit of work on Oliver Twist. I’ve put all the resources below: feel free to use.

This outlines the different steps that we took in creating this unit of work:

The collective thinking that went into our teaching of Oliver Twist.

For more information on these steps, please have a look at part one of this blog series.

Oliver Twist is a rich and dense text that can be pushed in all sorts of directions. We decided that we wanted students to understand Dickens’ social agenda: his desire to use literature to comment upon and change the society around him. For this reason, the unit links back to Dickens’ intentions, his world, his belief in social reform. We also decided to focus on Nancy as our central character. She is, after all, both a heroic figure and a tragic one. We wanted our study of Dickens at KS3 to prepare students for the demands of GCSE Literature, yes, but it goes beyond this. We wanted students to understand the complexity and even bravery of what Dickens was doing through his writing. We wanted them to see him as a writer who responds to the world around him while instaneously influencing the world around him.

Do we read the whole text? Basically, yes. We spend a term engrossing ourselves in Dickens’ wonderful prose and responding to the social issues he raises. We do skip over a few chapters, and I’ve summarised those sections in the booklet, but the intention is the pupils feel they are really reading the whole book. They learn not only (hopefully) that Dickens is great, but that they can access it; it is within their reach.

I’ve loved how much pupils have engaged with some of the more challenging, but incredibly important aspects of the novel: exploitation, violence, grooming of children. I’ve been amazed by how much children have enjoyed the challenge of grappling with the big ideas.

After deciding our direction for the teaching of this novel, we developed our high-leverage concepts and vocabulary:

Collective decisions on vocabulary and concepts — part of an editable Google Doc.

As with all our schemes of work, we start each lesson with a multiple-choice quiz. The questions link back to last lesson, last week, last term, last year…

Each lesson starts with a MCQ quiz which draws from collectively decided core knowledge.

From recall, our starter ‘Do Now’ tasks ask for application of knowledge. Here, I want to see pupils really thinking about complex and interesting concepts. Here’s an example:

The resources here are far from perfect, and I hope we will continue to improve them over the coming years. But they are exciting to me because they represent huge amounts of collective thinking. It’s especially indebted to the excellent work from the English Department at Jane Austen College: their focus on challenging non-fiction extracts and Writing Revolution tasks been hugely influential. The resources reflect a wide-angle social purpose at trust level; an ambitious practical vision at department level; and a responsive reaction to pupil engagement at classroom level. Do let me know what you think.

Oliver Twist knowledge organiser.

Oliver Twist booklet.

Oliver Twist accompanying presentation.

Considering education, schools and books. Elisabeth Bowling, Assistant Principal and Head of English. I tweet at @elucymay.

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