Within the reading and literature we explored as a Department about 18 months ago, we made a decision that we would experiment with Knowledge Organisers.
Our objective was to more sharply define the content of our work at Key Stage Three – believing that the specifications for GCSE and A Level provided the detail required for those stages of work.
The knowledge organisers, then, were a chance for us to redefine and explore what we were teaching, and to consolidate the conceptual work in to more practical outcomes.
What we did:
We have no prescribed scheme of work, or textbook that exists to describe our course. Before this process, we had no standardised resource that supported and was able to define the content of our work and content of our teaching.
- Each unit of work has been given an individual Knowledge Organiser. For some components (e.g. our Year 7 scheme of work), this covers a single half term. For other components e.g. our Year 9 content, we have split themes across the term’s work (e.g. splitting Tectonics and Earthquakes in to separate Knowledge Organisers).
- Our organisers included:
- Key vocabulary – defined words, key terms
- Key diagrams – we found that for some components, this was really useful. For example, we could show and annotate population pyramids; or see some physical processes e.g. landform annotation etc.
- Key skills – being able to define the key things to be able to do helped us to clarify the skills for each unit, and give students the scope of what could be practiced and demanded of them.
- Knowledge organisers were printed and given to students at the start of each unit. We also produced a ‘learning organiser’ – which was focused on outlining the key assessments for each student, and centrally co-ordinating their learning and feedback approaches. This was variable in use.
- The knowledge organisers were also PDF’d and put on our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).
What has been positive:
- The units have been really helpful in being able to provide consistent learning across all of our teachers. We have been able to clearly define our content, and bring our teaching in to line with each other through proxy, rather than through a very prescriptive conversation.
- The KO have helped us to write coherent and precise examinations for the end of year exams. We know very clearly what should have been taught over the course of the year, and this means we can be much clearer in how we assess it at the end of the year.
- The KO’s have been exceptionally useful in providing revision materials for students over the course of the year, whether as ongoing assessment for learning, or for the end of year assessment. Without a defined textbook and resource in pre-existence, the KO have basically provided a ‘background’ resource that has been able to help a full range of students.
- We have been able to provide additional support and resource for students, particularly those who have wanted to do it in a different way, or with additional needs. This was not part of our original defined plan, but it was an excellent additional benefit.
What we still need to work on:
- Now that we have done them, the opportunity-cost seems better – but the quantity of work involved in creating the Knowledge Organisers was very significant. It took a huge amount of time to make them, and do them right – and even now, we’re reflecting on how to make them better.
- We are risking “inertia” caused by this: we have invested a lot of work in creating the KO and defining the content – does this mean we are less likely to change it, move it around, and create new units?
- I still don’t feel like we *use* the organisers that well, or that frequently during our work. They do exist, and they do have plenty of potential knowledge, but I think a lot of our students have them stuck in books, or back in their folders, without really referring to them regularly. One of our projects this year includes the use of things like Quizlet to test and make assessment for learning based on the Knowledge Organisers a bit more usable and structured.
In my overall judgement, then, there’s a sense of “yes, but…”. The process and discussion around our Knowledge Organisers was helpful at a time of transition (with an NQT about to join the Department), and having the resource is an exceptionally powerful thing to help us confidently define what we are teaching. However, using them is a different matter – as many of the leading curriculum thinkers have already signposted. We have to know how to work effectively from them – hence some of our 2019-20 plans! – and recognise the opportunity cost of doing so. For me, it was worth doing – but requires more work to really come alive, I think.