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Curriculum Case Study: Applying a Global Curriculum to EYFS by Courtney Grollé
At the Inspire Partnership we strive to develop the skills, attitudes and knowledge of the whole child regardless of their age or stage of learning. For those embarking upon their educational journey in our schools, their provision is, of course, underpinned by the Early Years Foundation Stage Framework; the framework simultaneously strives to foster the social and emotional development of the unique child, as well as laying a secure foundation for academic potential.
Concurrently, our curriculum recognises and embraces the challenges that face 21st century learners. Private corporations, independent reports and peer-reviewed studies continually cite the need for educators to realign their thinking in order to develop the affective domain of learning and promote ‘soft skills’. In a world where facts can be retrieved at the click of a button, recruiters need those entering the workplace to be equipped with empathy, resilience and creativity.
“The real danger is not that computers start to think like men, but that men will start to think like computers”
Sydney J. Harris
By embracing the principles of the EYFS framework we were able to develop age-appropriate content that drives the global goals while providing children with a balance of substantive and disciplinary knowledge. From the initial planning stage, the team had to first carefully consider the types of disciplinary knowledge that the children would need to acquire. For example: What is a human right? Who is entitled to human rights? Why do we have rights? Are there differences between human rights in different countries? Once we had formulated a knowledge base for our learning, we needed to consider how we would promote the acquisition of substantive knowledge. How were we going to allow the children to form ‘big ideas’ through these concepts, connect the learning to their own lives, and use interdisciplinary skills and deepen their understanding through application?
In the example below, the child was able to demonstrate the acquisition of critical substantive knowledge; the learning was deepened by planned and purposeful questioning which allowed the children to articulate opinions and connect the learning to their own experiences.
While addressing ambitious and mature themes, the learning journey was carefully organised to ensure that children had a sound understanding of key concepts to reinforce the learning. Planned, sequential exposure to knowledge, skills and values ensured secure acquisition and reinforcement of concepts to drive the learner forward in their educational journey.
The opportunity to explore learning through both focused carpet sessions as well as the continuous provision meant that the indoor and outdoor learning opportunities provided learners with ample opportunity to develop. Expressive arts & design activities were framed around the themes that we wanted to immerse the children in (i.e. protest banners); opportunities to manipulate malleable materials to support the development of fine motor skills and understanding the world (play dough, sand and water tray activities) were all rooted in the context designed for the learning.
For example, in the early stages of the learning journey we wanted children to experience the feeling of having their rights taken away so different groups of children were banned from areas of the classroom. Banning the girls from the play dough table by displaying a ‘no girls allowed’ sign resulted in a peaceful protest with children making placards and chanting, “Everyone allowed!” A further ban on entering the sandpit resulted in a group of children independently taking water from the water tray and trying to scrub away the sign. They told us, “This is a protest! You can’t take away our right to play!” The children were outraged by the bans in the classroom and were able to explain why the bans were unfair based on their knowledge of rights. This deep emotional connection to this planned activity allowed children to form a relationship with the learning. Without this connection to the affective domain, children would not have had such strong motivation in their learning to continue to explore such a mature and abstract theme.
“The acquisition of skills requires a regular environment, an adequate opportunity to practice, and rapid and unequivocal feedback about the correctness of thoughts and actions. When these conditions are fulfilled, skill eventually develops, and intuitive judgements and choices that quickly come to mind will mostly be accurate.”
“A collection of learning materials is no more a curriculum than a pile of bricks is a house. What our students need are carefully organized sequential structured introductions to school subjects.”
Using the global goals to plan backwards from a final outcome is a model that practitioners at the Inspire Partnership apply to develop a robust learning journey. However, when applying the model to a more responsive, less structured curriculum, many practitioners are curious as to how this looks in EYFS.
Barriers often cited by early years practitioners are:
- Starting points - Putting the unique child at the heart of the learning means that children begin their learning from extremely differing starting points.
- Consistency of entitlement - ‘Free flow’ child-led learning in the continuous provision means that it’s possible that no two children have the same set of learning experiences in a day. Learning is never linear, but in the EYFS ensuring the consistency of learning in an even greater challenge.
- Developmental stage of the learner - There is often concern that maturity levels of children may limit the introduction of more sophisticated themes and stimuli.
- Disconnect from the early learning goals - Questions have been raised as to whether having a global stimulus for learning will distance children from the essential skills required to be taught in this key stage.
- Narrowing of the curriculum - “If we are always teaching human rights, aren’t we missing the opportunity to teach traditional tales?” is a question that is often raised by practitioners. While we would all like our children to grow up with some understanding of the world around them, using more conventional vessels to convey these messages, such as fairy tales, are a tried-and-tested model to develop children’s understanding of the world, as well as their knowledge of right and wrong.
When beginning the planning process for the topic of human rights the teams clearly identified the skills, attitudes and knowledge that children needed to acquire and develop throughout this unit:
Using the planning backwards approach, we further distilled our thinking by coming up with child-friendly statements to describe what the children would be able to articulate by the end of the unit.
These statements became the core of our rationale: at all planning sessions we came back to these statements, continually asking ourselves if the learning supported the exploration and deepening of these ideas. The children’s ability to articulate these ideas independently and make connections to their own lives using these statements also became the overarching indicators of success in our learning journey.
The title of our topic emerged: Choices and Voices. A catchy title helped to anchor the learning for the children, who were always able to connect the activity with the learning and the outcome. This was reinforced by the use of gesture (a closed fist placed firmly in an open palm) to root the abstract concepts within the psychomotor domain.
During the exploration phase of our learning, the children were posed the question, “What are our rights?”. During focused carpet sessions children were shown clips and looked at images of social injustices. Discussion was framed around whether they thought the issues being represented were fair or unfair, allowing the children to grapple with these binary truths in a variety of contexts. In order to form an assessment of whether the children were able to move on to think more critically about their rights, activities were planned requiring children to critically analyse and rate the most important human right and order rights by importance.
A particularly successful activity built on the explicit teaching of the International Declaration of Human Rights and asked children to make connections between these rights and where they see and experience them in their own life. For example, all children have the right to clean water. At this early point in the learning, children were already expressing the depth of their relationship with their learning by discussing their learning at home as well as bringing in their own understanding of the world.
In the example below, Pupil K used his substantive knowledge to select ‘the right to be healthy’ as the most important right. Through a guided group, this emerging writer used his phonic knowledge to write a phonetically plausible sentence.
The pupil then had the opportunity to develop disciplinary knowledge by connecting his learning to his opinions on the health system in the United States and his knowledge of the current president.
The reflection postcards exemplified were imperative to planning robust reflective questioning for each stage of the learning journey. The postcards can be found here.
To further deepen the learning children were given the tools to share their own opinion in the form of sentence stems and speaking frames that they were explicitly taught to use through a series of lessons. This part of the learning supported the children in sharpening their own views as well as developing their understanding of the viewpoints of others. An improved ability to articulate their opinions meant that children were then able to orally debate in order to compare opinions. These activities provided practitioners with a rich evidence base for a range of Early Learning Goals, particularly PSED (Making Relationships, Managing Feelings & Behaviour, Self Confidence & Self-Awareness, and Listening & Attention).
During this stage of the learning, a second core text was introduced. ‘Malala’s Magic Pencil’ was the vehicle that allowed children to travel towards a collectively personalised learning outcome. Through this age-appropriate text, children were able to show empathy with Malala and understood that there were some places in the world that children did not have their rights met. Not only did they recognise the injustice of this, but they were moved to action.
Independent writing: "School is better for future."
Independent writing: "All children can go to school."
While planning for impact teachers facilitated the initial innovation stage, where children were given ownership of the problem: In some places in the world, some children are not allowed to go to school. What can we do about this? Children generated all the possible solutions that they could think of and teachers embraced all answers, which ranged from building more schools to flying all the children in the world to Foxfield, “so they could learn with us!” (Child T, age 4). Children were then guided and challenged to refine their plan by critically eliminating ideas that were not feasible. This led to the idea that putting on an art gallery was an achievable and effective means to raise money. Children then further refined their idea by choosing the charity from a pre-selected group of appropriate organisations, as well as selecting their art outcome from a shortlist determined by the teachers.
Educational visits were organised to give the children the experience of an authentic gallery space. At this particular visit, the children impressed all the adults by becoming ambassadors of their learning. We were lucky enough to stumble upon a pop-up exhibition facilitated by UCL in collaboration with the Children Rights International Network. Here the children were able to operate beyond their years by applying the tools they had developed in the classroom to discussing their views on children’s rights, communicate their project outcome and share the purpose for their learning with adults they had not previously met.
English writing outcomes were purposeful and driven towards the final curriculum outcome, with children producing invitations, letters and adverts for their art gallery fundraiser. Children wrote with impetus and enthusiasm knowing that they were writing for a purpose; these were then sent and tweeted to local and national companies. This, in turn, gave the children more and more motivation for independent writing in the continuous provision during free flow learning.
When children became aware that they were writing to real recipients and that they were responsible for receiving responses they were clearly connected with the purpose for writing. This was evident in their reactions when they received email replies from a local supplier offering some frames for their gallery. Pupil A excitedly exclaimed, “They are going to help us! We need to send a thank you letter!” The children had become self-regulating, driving further action and seeking additional opportunities to enrich their learning. This link to the affective domain allowed them to become pioneers of learning, taking charge of their learning journey and continuing learning experiences without direction.
The power of social media ensured that the children received almost instant feedback through likes, shares and responses on Twitter. Asda and a local supplier made kind donations of frames for the children to use to hang their artwork, which were delivered and excitedly unwrapped. Causal, experiential learning connected the pupils emotionally to their cause, which was evident in the quality of reasoning and reflections that was being independently offered up by the children.
During the delivery stage of the exhibition, children were absorbed with ensuring that they had maximum impact by raising money to donate to their chosen charity. They were clearly able to articulate their learning journey to guests at the gallery as they had been actively involved in every stage of the project. Children acted as hosts, and gave visitors clear explanations of their understanding of the complex issue of human rights, educating other older children on what their rights are; why it is important to exercise your rights; and how you can use your voice to make a positive change.
It was only when evaluating the impact of the learning that children and teachers were able to see the impact of the project. The global impact was a tangible amount: over £300 raised for charity. But deeper than that was the noticeable shift in maturity and social consciousness of the children in the EYFS. They had gained the skills and awareness to drive them to become agents of change; the children had contributed towards society, which had allowed them to gain knowledge as well as softer skills such as empathy, integrity and responsibility.
As Gurt Biesta says in Education in the Age of Measurement, “Instead of simply making a case for effective education, we always need to ask “Effective for what?” – and given what might be effective for one particular situation or group of students, we also always need to ask, ‘Effective for whom?’” Arguably, we must be most effective for our students. For many EYFS practitioners, sticking rigidly to the Early Years Foundation Stage Framework is the only way to achieve the secure foundation of skills required for children to enter Key Stage One. However, by applying the global curriculum model and marrying the skills and attributes associated with the EYFS, practitioners were able to translate their shared vision of learning into a purposeful outcome that captured the passion and drive of the youngest of pupils. Successful translation of statutory Early Learning Goals into a meaningful context allowed the successful entry of learners into the start of their education. Their enthusiasm for learning was alight, and even the most reluctant of learners were engaged.
For those who say that a global curriculum should not or could not be suited to the early years, we challenge you to harness the inspiration to learn that such a meaningful curriculum sparks: it’s never too young to start.
“Imagine the consequent motivation of our students if they also understand that honourable purpose and knew in their guts that fulfilling that purpose was going to create meaningful change in society – that their schooling mattered and that they knew why it mattered.”
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