There is a new craze sweeping the nation thanks to a Japanese organising consultant called Marie Kondo. Her series, released on Netflix in January, sees Marie helping everyday people by tidying their homes using the KonMarie method.
The method is a simple one, but routed in a calm, spiritual five-step process, where she encourages her clients to find the things that ‘spark joy’!
The new Ofsted framework in England is reaching its final stages and Curriculum Intent is being placed at the centre. My fear is that this will spark a ‘knee-jerk reaction’ from school leadership teams, where full-scale curriculum reviews will be rushed, without the due care and attention that this process will require.
I would like to suggest that school leaders consider the KonMarie method of organisation as a useful approach to curriculum cleansing and design.
The KonMarie method is in five parts:
The first step involves taking every item of clothing and placing it in a huge pile. This can be very revealing, as all items that have been purchased over the years and old fashions are placed together in one place. The client must then go through each item, one by one, in order to see whether it ‘sparks joy’ or not. If it does, then it is kept, if it doesn’t, it is thanked and removed from the home.
In terms of curriculum, clothing is what we consider the essential items to be (curriculum intent). Rather than savagely clearing our curriculum and starting with a clean slate, we must find the key ingredients that ‘spark joy’ for our teachers and students in order to retain the true character of our curriculum.
This is where we have to decide what is truly important for our students to learn in order to be successful. The basics, nuts and bolts, that every student needs.
We should be left with the bare foundations of our curriculum and can start to see where the gaps are, that will require careful planning, to ensure a clear pathway to success.
The second step, like the first, involves collecting all the books together in a pile and repeating the process.
A good curriculum requires resources. Books in curriculum terms could refer to textbooks, equipment, stationery, instruments and anything else that is needed to teach.
There will be lots of curriculum models available to purchase over the coming months and many schools will see this as an effective way to achieve their goal without impacting on the workload of their colleagues.
However, every school is different and every school has different resources available. Our curriculum design must consider what can be used to ‘spark joy’ in our students’ learning and what further investment is required to achieve this.
Over the years, teachers have been asked to do so many things from differentiated worksheets to resources based on all the learning styles, to three-part lesson plans.
Currently, there are folders (physical and digital) that are full of adapted worksheets in every corner of every school.
We need to ask ourselves whether each worksheet is required in our new curriculum. This may mean we are shredding or deleting resources that we once spent a whole weekend planning but, we can’t afford to be precious.
The third step is especially difficult for those who keep everything ‘just in case’.
In terms of curriculum, the paper represents assessment and home learning.
With old and new assessment systems, school policy and examination reform – assessment and home learning have been adapted in all kinds of ways.
This is an opportunity to review assessment and ensure it is there to support learning and not a data system.
A strong curriculum has planned assessment points that inform teachers and students of their next steps. We must throw out all the assessment that is there to tick a box and perhaps have less focus on summative. We don’t need to keep every piece of data, just the important stuff.
In terms of home learning, what is required of students to support their learning journey through our carefully planned curriculum? We need to make sure we are not just storing paper to appease outdated policy or external accountabilities such as Ofsted. What essential papers are required to facilitate homework that is purposeful and inspiring?
KOMONO (Bathroom, Kitchen, Garage and Miscellaneous)
This is the part of the KonMarie method where basic organisation improves functionality in the home. How can we make the areas and items we use every day easily accessible?
For curriculum, this is the glue that brings clothing, books and papers together.
Once we have decided on the key ingredients our curriculum should contain (clothing), we have ensured we have adequate resources to facilitate (books) and have all the assessment organised (paper) – we must start to plan how they should be connected together in terms of the learning journey.
Here is where educational research into cognitive science should be considered in order for the flow of learning to allow for long-term retention of knowledge.
We can’t just tidy all our content into a neat unit of study, to be placed on a shelf after only being used once. If we are to design a successful curriculum, we must ensure key elements are kept in numerous boxes around the house, in order to allow true learning functionality.
The final part of the KonMarie method is sentimental items. Over the years, we have had many good experiences that have shaped us as teachers, schools and communities. There is a place for sentimentality in our new curriculum but it must have pride of place and not be kept in a shoebox at the back of the closet.
For curriculum purposes, sentimental items could include our British heritage or the history of the community in which our school serves. It might be subject content that has been removed from GCSE or A-Level specifications but is an important part of our subject and should not be ignored (despite the exam reforms).
This is left until last in the KonMarie method because it allows the client to clear out all the unnecessary items and learn to value what is truly important before this area is tackled.
Sentimental items can’t be treated as an extra, bolt-on or side issue. They must be placed in the areas that will allow students to gain the greatest joy from them.
So, there you have it! A five-step approach to curriculum review and design based on the KonMarie method.
The final thing to mention is that this process is not completed in a single day or week. The client is encouraged to take as long as they need to tackle each section of the process. I urge schools to do the same. If we rush this job, then we will be left with a superficial curriculum that looks neat and tidy from the outside but is a minimalist and lacking soul on the inside.
I hope you enjoy taking the time to find the things that ‘spark joy’ in your new curriculum.
Jonathan @MrSandsSHS is Assistant Headteacher for Teaching, Learning, Assessment & Curriculum at Shenfield High School in Essex. He is always a member of the Learning & Participation Committee at the Royal Opera House.