How not to implement your brilliant curriculum

So term six is over. If you’re a Head of Key Stage or Department, chances are you’ve been reviewing your curriculum (when you weren’t doing emergency cover for year 8 science, or partaking in the futility of ‘crowd control’ on sports day.)

Congratulations – you have come up with something that is ‘knowledge-rich,’ that probably includes direct instruction of vocabulary, that most likely involves regular low-stakes testing, and that is also, I’ll wager, ‘interleaved’ so as to ensure retention of knowledge over time.

If you’re a better man or woman than me, you might have tied all this up in term 6.

If not, you might still have a few things to sort before September.

Which is where I hope that this blog might be of some use.

The risk is that, even if you’ve read about OFSTED’s expectations regarding the curriculum from 2019, and even if you’ve pored over a range of blogs (like Tom Sherrington’s, excellent digest on the subject) you could still fail to implement the wonderful curriculum that you and your colleagues have worked so hard to come up with.

I know this, because that’s what happened to me and my team.

Reflecting on the past year’s attempt to implement a very exciting new curriculum, we can now see all the successes, but also the many missed opportunities to really ‘make it stick.’

I have listed the most important mistakes we made below, which I’ll write up and share as a series of five short blogs:

  1. How not to implement knowledge organisers
  2. How not to use low-stakes quizzing
  3. How not to teach vocabulary
  4. How not to use models
  5. How not to interleave your curriculum

My intention here is to show you where the mines are buried in the territory, to ensure that you don’t tread on them too.

The first one appears below. Would love to know what you think!


An easy one, to start with. Want to know how not to implement knowledge organisers? Simple.

  • Spend ages as a team collaboratively creating a great knowledge organiser
  • Ensure the kids are really clear about its purpose and value
  • Make it a feature of almost every lesson
  • Low-stakes test against what’s on it regularly
  • Reward those who use e.g. the target vocabulary or the relevant subject term with hearty praise and postcards home

But to undermine all of the above: make sure you never actually teach them how to memorise things.

That way, you can be sure that all the key ‘borderline’ students (those who really need a grade 4 or 5 to improve their life chances, but whose study skills are poor) don’t actually get any more confident or improve their attainment.

Possible solutions:

  • Teach a range of memorising and self-testing strategies in class
  • Ensure that you can see the students actually getting the hang of theseThese could include:

    1) Self-test in two colours (e.g for vocabulary)

    • Cover up the key words with a blank piece of paper and try and write them, using the definitions
    • Reveal the key words and write those you didn’t know in a different colour
    • Repeat, and aim to lower the number you write in a different colour

       2) Repeat using the rule of three (e.g. for quotations)

  • For each quotation, underline three words in the quotation are probably quite important (e.g. ‘I shame to wear a heart so white’)
  • Repeat the quotation out loud (you can do this chorally as a class) emphasizing a different important word each time
  • Write the whole quotation out from memory
  • Test them on e.g. 5 quotations next lesson – they’ll be amazed what they remembered!
  • (also good for leading into quality language analysis…)

3) Show your class how flashcards actually work (e.g. for context)

  • Buy the whole class flashcards, and show them how to make good ones in class
  • Show them how to test each other using these, and give them time in class
  • Then test them on context and, miraculously, the kids who never make flashcards may well have done much better than they normally do!

By clearly showing students how to commit things to memory, you will have given them the key knowledge, and ensured that they know how to retain it.

Of course, you need to make sure they understand and can apply that knowledge, too.

But you were going to do that anyway, right?

I hope this was helpful, and look out for ‘HOW NOT TO USE LOW-STAKES TESTING’ which will appear later in the break.

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