The Monkey-Proof Box: Curriculum design for building knowledge, developing creative thinking and promoting independence16.99
- A book for primary schools who want to make the curriculum more relevant for their pupils.
- Offers guidance on research, cognition theories and inspiration for primary school curriculum change.
- A useful discussion on the key skills primary schools should be developing in their students.
- The book challenges primary teachers to throw out old schemes-of-work and build their own relevant engaging curriculum.
- The book is based on solid pedagogy, offering creative and practical ideas.
When you get chance to think ahead to the next term of teaching, you may have a curriculum scheme-of-work that you are expected to teach, instilling your passion, expertise and knowing that we desperately want to do the best we can for our students. But what if the curriculum, schemes-of-work and medium-term plans fill your life with dread? Well, you could tear up the prescribed dull curriculum, and build one that is better suited for your pupils. Really, you can – more so in primary than KS4 arguably.
Faced with delivering units of work from the beloved QCA schemes, Jonathan Lear was frustrated at delivering (and not completing) well-intentioned units – trying to inspire a class of Year 6 pupils (aged 10&11) to make (not pairs of) slippers, or Year 5 children basically making a box, or inspiring Year 3 students to get absorbed in a rocks and soil unit. I am sure you can think back to the units you just hated but had to deliver. Because, as Jonathan points out, this is one of the problems with being a teacher – Most of us do stuff because we’re told to do it, and then when it doesn’t work or becomes unmanageable we blame ourselves, feel guilty about it all and pretend that everything is fine whenever anybody asks (p8) – sound familiar? It is argued, within the book, that the best schools ‘adapt’, rather than ‘adopt’, and use curriculum documents as frameworks, with each setting adjusting for their local environment and, more essentially, for the students within.
Building his argument around key and relevant skills, Lear and his colleagues designed their curriculum around the SOLO Taxonomy, being useful in terms of supporting the structure of skills progression. Planning a curriculum at this stage is a mammoth task, but with careful consideration, detail and pedagogical considerations, the result is a more positive and relevant school experience for students. The book modestly explores the limitations, challenges and (let’s face it) failures in trying to implement a new curriculum, but learning from such mistakes and taking lessons on how the students reacted to meaningful changes ultimately leads to mastery and independence.
The monkey-proof box? Yes, the reader is given an explanation to the title of this book in Chapter 17, and the challenge for many primary schools is to break the morning (literacy and maths) routine throughout the week, so that the mornings are more filled with meaningful, relatable and manageable sessions that can embed rich teaching and learning in more manageable chunks. I particularly liked the example of how to fill numeracy/mathematics sessions during eight sessions throughout the week. Why do we persist with 5×45 minute lessons each day? Why not split the teaching and learning into more manageable chunks, allowing children to process and apply their learning? As a teacher, this certainly got me thinking, and the template offered within the book is a fantastic starting point to really break down your timetable into sections which are more workable for teachers and students.
Tearing up safe, predictable timetables, schemes-of-works, and planning does take courage, but the freedom this gives teachers, school-leaders and pupils can (if done intelligently) produce a certain ‘buzz’ within a school that is unique to that environment. What Jonathan does within this book is to show how primary schools can regain creativity within their curriculum, making it more relevant to the community and children who attend each day. The book also gives teachers the confidence to put professionalism back into their role, taking ownership of the teaching and learning experiences in school that can result in a positive impact for everyone.
Essentially, this is a book for primary practitioners, leaders and those with a vision of making a curriculum based around essential skills for children which inspires, is relevant, and prepares them well for the opportunities that life will give.