Curriculum is an area I have thinking lots about lately, both for Latin and as part of my whole-school responsibilities. It has involved the necessity of articulating what is meant by curriculum, and how to plan one. As Ben Newmark points out in his excellent blog on writing a History curriculum, “gradual evolution of curriculum and schemes of work seems sensible but can very easily lead to curricular confusion and incoherence.” Going back to the start with the Key Stage Three Latin curriculum has been an instructive experience, and here I share some aspects of that journey.
Of course I’ll start with the Latin: the word curriculum derives from the Latin verb currere: to run, and the word curriculum in Latin has the following definitions:
- act of running
- course of action/heavenly bodies
- lap, track
This gives us the sense of what our English word curriculum means: a lap/ track giving the sense of a course of studies for students to complete; and the act of running giving the sense of the students making their way through this course. The curriculum is a planned course of studies, which students make their way round (running not being the best analogy- perhaps at a power walk!).
Happily, Ofsted have given renewed attention to the importance of curriculum, with Amanda Spielman, Chief Inspector of Ofsted, stating that “…despite the fact that the curriculum is what is taught, there is little debate or reflection about it…”. The conflicting definitions and theories of curriculum out there can be overwhelming, and I welcome Ofsted’s concept of a shared language which neither patronises teachers nor complicates a topic which is tricky to navigate. This table summarises the shared Ofsted definition of curriculum:
|Required knowledge, skills and understanding specified for a unit of study.||What students experience as delivered by their teachers.||Knowledge and skills and understanding encountered in assessments.|
Using this to guide a review of our Key Stage 3 Latin course has been instructive for thinking about what we are teaching, and what we are assessing. Firstly we went back to articulate the aims of our course. We wanted these to be rooted in compelling reasons for why we think that learning Latin and about the ancient Roman world is important: the cultural and linguistic foundation; the analytical skills it helps to develop; the chance to reflect upon our own cultures:
- We learn to understand Latin in order to gain an insight into the Classical period: a dramatic cultural and intellectual revolution, which continues to inform our modern world. An understanding of the ancient Mediterranean world provides the foundation for linguistic and cultural competence.
- The study of Latin is uniquely multi-disciplinary: language is combined with history, archaeology, literature, art and philosophy.
- Antiquity provides a safe space through which we might address some of the most challenging issues of the 21st century, and reflect on what it means to be human.
Considering these aims and reflecting upon our ‘intended’ curriculum (the what we want students to learn), we were teaching about English links to Latin, and we were teaching about Roman culture, but neither of these things were being assessed- assessment was on Latin language only. It is worth adding here that our students study the Literature and Culture OCR GCSE paper, so when considering what a five-year Key Stage Three to Four course should look like, a large part of that should be developing the analysis skills to interpret and evaluate ancient sources.
So, our curriculum was not well-aligned, and students were getting mixed messages about what was important and what we were meant to be learning. Our curriculum was focused on the language, some form of Roman culture (which was not assessed), and derivations were mentioned, but unlike with the language, there was no sense of progression and of skills with either. This was especially worrying because, along with the analytical skills it develops this sense of a linguistic and cultural foundation is something we really push with students and parents as a reason for studying Latin, for those asking the question ‘what’s the point?’ Over the next two weekends I will write two posts:
- on how we are developing our teaching of both ancient Roman culture;
- and how Latin helps us to decode derivative words and deepen our understanding of English language.
Each will articulate what students will learn; the skills they will develop and how these progress across the curriculum, what this looks like in the classroom and how it will be assessed. Until then, valete!