26 June 2017

Planning a Scheme of Work from scratch

In September we begin teaching the new (from 2016) specification for Level 3 BTEC Sport. Here’s my attempt to break the process down into stages. I think of myself as a fair-to-middling sort of teacher: there are many things I’m yet to grasp or put into practice. As a result, I'm posting this in the hope that I might have some further advice thrown my way, as well as possibly introduce others to some of the ideas that have underpinned this planning.

Anyway, here’s the short version of what I did...
  1. Identified the curriculum content
  2. Built up a mental picture of the domain
  3. Divided the domain into sub-domains
  4. Divided sub-domains into lesson sized chunks
  5. Put lesson chunks into order
  6. Planned in low stakes testing
  7. Planned where topics would be recapped
  8. Got a colleague to check my progress

And below is where I explain each stage in more depth...

First I identified the content. What would I like them to know? In my case this is simply the Level 3 BTEC Sport Anatomy and Physiology specification, which outlines, heading by heading, the necessary content for the Unit. You can see it here.

Next I spent some time with the specification and built up a mental picture of the domain, walked through it, and identified areas of commonality, structural similarity (eg the specification for all of the body systems includes short-term responses and then long term adaptations to exercise) as well as the relative levels of difficulty of the concepts. I tried to identify whether any of the concepts rely on understanding other related concepts. If so, which ones, and in what order would the students need to learn them? For example, can you learn about the aerobic energy system (at level 3) without having learned about the respiratory system (at level 3)? (Incidentally, I think the answer is yes, provided you have a Level 2 grasp of the respiratory system, which the majority of my students will have. But I digress.)

I divided the content into sub-domains. Again, this is really done for me by the specification. I know there are 5 sub-domains in the specification, each one a specific body system (muscular, skeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, and energy systems) and each of these has broadly equivalent volume of content. Over the course of two weeks therefore I can teach one lesson on each, plus a formative assessment lesson to ascertain progress in these 5 sub-domains. These tests will be designed to be visually and structurally comparable to the final exam (based on Edexcel’s specimen papers), so that students can begin to feel comfortable with as many aspects of the final exam as possible. Some of these formative assessment lessons (but not all) will also give the students the opportunity to learn to write medium-length answers in silence, which of course they will have to do in the exam. (For what it’s worth, I might even try to have this lesson in the room where the final exam will be taken, but that’s probably a long shot in terms of timetabling.) My feeling is that feedback to students in these lessons will be particularly critical for their sustained progress in learning.

I divided the sub-domains into lesson-sized chunks. Prior experience teaching the previous iteration of the L3 BTEC specification was very helpful when deciding on the size of the knowledge chunks. Of course, it also depends on lesson length as well as on the model of teaching and learning you are working from. As someone who leans away from constructivist methodologies, I will be making use of the Learning Loop (thanks to David Didau, see here), which I have subsequently amended to bring into line with my own thoughts on what is a suitable pedagogy for my context and age range (that is FE in a generally low-achieving area of the midlands).

Next I planned out the order in which these ‘chunks’ will be taught. For this I relied on the concept of ‘interleaving’, as opposed to a more traditional ‘blocking’ approach (in which whole topics or sub domains are taught in their entirety before moving on to the next topic). According to my understanding of cognitive science the requirement to move in and out of different sub-domains, retrieving previously studied information, is a key aid in retention. I know I have three 90 minute lesson per week over 17 weeks to teach this topic, and that the exam will be on the 22nd January (three teaching weeks after we return from the Christmas holiday). Here is a photo of what this looked like in reality.

I then planned in opportunities for hyper-regular low-stakes testing. I use the term hyper-regular to mean more often that you’d intuitively think was ideal. It wouldn’t hurt to do a couple of tests in every lesson (depending on the content covered and length of individual lessons, of course). I will be using a range of testing methods from pen and paper up to the much-maligned Kahoot (I like it: sue me). Principles for effective use of a multiple choice quiz can be found here and here.

When it comes to recapping previously taught content I worked off the assumption that when the knowledge is relatively new it needs to be revisited early, but more established knowledge can be revisited less frequently. So a topic such as ‘major bones’ was taught in lesson one then revisited in lessons 2, 4 and 7 of those lessons designed within the same sub-domain (in this case the skeletal system). This was done with every topic, and means that the most revisited topics are those encountered earliest in the scheme, and the least revisited are, naturally, those learned closest to the exam itself.

I used Google Sheets to type all this up into a format that made sense to me. At the end of the first night it looked like this. The interleaving was made clear with the use of colour coding.

At this stage, and before going through the arduous task of transferring this onto the ‘official paperwork’ (I know, I know!) I got someone to look over my initial sketch-map of the scheme. Ideally this will be a colleague who knows the domain, or someone with a strong grasp of curriculum design principles. Thankfully Dan Williams, of the University of Derby (@furtheredagogy), meets both of these criteria and was happy to take a look at my progress.

And this is where I've got to...the next step is to put the flesh on the bones, or the muscular on the skeletal, if you will. Update to follow.

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