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Curriculum Case Study: Diversity and Identity in Year 6 by Kenny O'Mara and Jo Capes
Depth of learning can be defined by how well pupils seek to fully understand the concept being explored. Through developing a rich foundation of knowledge children can build and apply their learning to a range of contexts. In doing so, they develop a skill set which enables them to make meaningful links with the world around them. At its very best, a rich curriculum can empower young people to speak knowledgeably and passionately about their learning and can inspire them to become agents of change.
With this in mind, the driving force behind the curriculum design for Year 6 in the autumn term was ‘Celebrating Diversity and Accepting Differences’. The teams at Maundene, Elaine and Woodhill Primary Schools recognised that in an ever-changing and more globalised world, children will need to understand that our own communities are home to a diverse range of people whose appearance, beliefs and attitudes may differ from their own.
We know that equipping children with the ability to listen to each other carefully and consider other people’s perspectives, whilst being able to clearly articulate their own thoughts and feelings, will be integral to their future success. We therefore decided that our project-based learning would culminate in a cross-school debate, enabling pupils to demonstrate their knowledge on a subject area, as well as requiring them to develop a full range of soft skills such as oracy, critical thinking and active listening.
“The next time I say I can’t do something straight away, I am going to think of Nick Vujicic because if he can do it, then I certainly can too!”
Powerful words from a 10-year-old pupil on the first day of being immersed in the global theme of identity and diversity, based around the core text ‘Pig Heart Boy’ by Malorie Blackman.
“Deeper learning increases human desire to connect with others and do good in the world.” Michael Fullan
During the exploration stage of the learning journey it is important for children’s curiosity about the subject to be ignited; interesting questions are posed which they wish to explore further.
Initially, pupils were given photos to look at, some showing people with visible disabilities. The teacher and teaching assistant stepped back so as not to guide the conversation, allowing the children to show their genuine reactions in a safe environment, whilst being filmed. Once they watched the clip back, this led to a deep-rooted discussion about the reactions seen, with some of the children clearly shocked into silence by their own personal reactions and comments about the photos. Their reflections blew the adults away – there were some very poignant and mature comments made that even some adults would find hard to articulate. Even though many understood that their reactions were not ‘morally correct’, they were open enough to realise that the classroom was a safe place for this to happen and that they could learn from it.
“Deep learning increases students’ engagement in the learning through personalisation and ownership.” Michael Fullman
The learning journey had begun; with children fully hooked into their text, they deepened their awareness and understanding of the prejudices some people with disabilities endure every day. They started to form their own opinions in regards to what makes people unique, discussed the distinction between accepting differences and tolerating them, and became more aware of their own preconceptions. These were powerful, memorable learning experiences that encouraged them to find solutions rather than just describe problems, and will prepare them for the 21st century world.
Within the exploration stage it is important to equip the children with sufficient knowledge and understanding in order for them to be able to formulate their own thoughts and opinions about a subject. To this end, they learnt about the human circulatory system and the function of the heart in science lessons. They had the opportunity to dissect a lamb’s heart, finding the different chambers and learning to explain their function.
The Year 6 team recognised that it was important for children to explore a range of different perspectives and consider alternative viewpoints. In the deepening stage of the learning journey, pupils discussed a range of patients who were on a heart transplant waiting list. They were given some information about the individuals including: age, social status, education, income, health and family. They were then encouraged to have an open discussion about which patients should be prioritised for the transplant and had to justify their opinions. This gave them an insight into some of the issues in the core text, and into the difficulties real-life decisions can present. The children were given the opportunity to challenge stereotypes and raise a range of moral questions.
“Having to decide who was most deserving of a transplant was really difficult and I would not like to be put into that situation. I chose the person who I thought had the most important job as he saves a lot of other people’s lives.”
In English lessons, children developed their own balanced arguments based on the concept of using animal hearts for human transplantation. During this stage there was a lot of research into facts and statistics to support both sides of the argument, and into cultural and religious viewpoints. This enabled them to develop their own critical thinking skills as they had the opinions of a cross-section of society to consider alongside the facts.
At this point the children had the knowledge and understanding to be able to form arguments and counterarguments around the topic, and had been able to write a detailed discussion of the issue.
During the planning stage of the learning journey pupils thought about all the information they had gathered and began to formulate and plan their arguments for a debate. At this point they had to research and collate reasons and justifications for the chosen discussion point. In class, they had opportunities to practise their debating skills, in small groups at first, and then in larger groups when they could articulate their arguments more confidently. This was an opportunity for children to orally rehearse their arguments and develop their oracy skills.
During this stage, the children had to listen very carefully to the content of their opponents’ argument and select an appropriate counterargument. They were encouraged to use facts, statistics and quotes from their research to supplement their discussion point.
“I found debating difficult at first, as I did not like to talk in front of lots of other people, but I found that when I practised I became more confident and I knew other people were nervous as well.”
In the delivering stage of the learning process, the debate which the children had dedicated so much time and enthusiasm to came to life. Parents were invited to see the teams debate the question: “Should animal organs be used for human transplantation?”
The pupils had a deep understanding of the issue on which to base their arguments, having:
- learnt about the structure and function of the heart in science
- built empathy with a character in ‘Pig Heart Boy’ who loses his own sense of identity
- conducted extensive research into the medical benefits and drawbacks of the procedure
- developed key skills such as debating, critical thinking, collaboration, confidence and an ability to see an issue from a range of perspectives – skills that are a rich currency in the 21st century workplace
“The best learning happens not through experiences but when we reflect and evaluate our experiences!” Katrina Shwartz
After the debate the children were given the opportunity to reflect on how successful their learning had been. This brings us finally to the evaluating stage of the learning journey. Within this stage, pupils consider the learning that took place over the course of the term, explain how the skills they learnt could be applied to other situations in life and, importantly, identify what they enjoyed the most and found most memorable.
“I will use this term’s learning in the future when I find myself with a different opinion to somebody. I can counterargue and justify my own opinion. I know that I have to research facts and see different points of view before I can make an opinion.”