On Building Quality Curriculum

“If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.” (Yogi Berra)

This post stems from the insights I have gathered while working for the MYP on their new Building Quality Curriculum initiative, one which involves schools receiving feedback on selected unit planners. As someone who spent a good chunk of time writing that feedback (and teaching the MYP), I’d thought I’d collate some key aspects about what is required to get the inquiry stage of the planners right, both in MYP planners and elsewhere.



Common problems:

  • Too many for the length of the unit (no more than one key concept and three related concepts).
  • Only lip-service paid to the concepts in the actual learning experiences.
  • Key and related concepts confusingly overlap, e.g. “point of view” and “perspectives” in English Language and Literature.

Global context: STAY IN CONTEXT

Common problems:

  • No specific exploration is identified, with a real event, circumstance or situation in mind.
  • The real life event, circumstance or situation is not used as a lens throughout the unit.
  • It’s an afterthought, not a raison d’etre.


Common problems:

  • A collection of jargon words with little meaning.
  • Insufficient use of modality (e.g. might, may).
  • Missing key ingredients (concepts and/or contexts).
  • No student would want to think about it.


Common problems:

  • Are not “factual”, “conceptual” and “debatable”.
  • Are not creative and engaging.
  • When considered alone, or together, fail to unpack the statement of inquiry.
  • Questions wouldn’t lead to success on the assessment(s).


Common problems:

  • Too many skill indicators suggested. As an upper limit, perhaps a limit of one indicator for every three hours of teaching.
  • Not directly supportive of student success on the assessment(s).
  • Are not accompanied with specific, explicit learning experiences.


Common problems:

  • Would not produce reasonable evidence of performance on the stated objectives of the unit.
  • Not a performance of the students’ understanding of the statement of inquiry.



On the Keys to the Cell

What is the future of education? What would the ideal school look like? Will schools even exist in 100 years? 200 years? 1000?

The only reasonable answer must be somewhere close to “we don’t really know”.

However, if there was one thing, just one, we could change right now, some aspect that we can control, what might that be? Well, John Hattie has been researching this issue for some time with his now infamous meta-analyses of educational research. Here is the most updated list of effect sizes, in rank order. Leaving aside the technicalities and possible criticisms of the methodology, what conclusions can we draw from the latest ranking? To me, I walk way with one over-riding thought:


To unpack this a little, here are the mindsets we can control, right now, and know we are making a positive difference for student learning:

  • We must believe we have the resources required to be as successful as we wish to be, even if sometimes we need to go digging for them.
  • The first step to achievement, for ourselves and our students, is a ceaseless expectation of it.

So, my one upgrade to school, today? Let’s relentlessly visualise and expect excellence. Let’s have a shared understanding that we hold ourselves accountable for this on a daily basis, and through this mindset, spread an expectation for excellence to our students, to our colleagues, to our school, beyond our schools. The corollary to this, of course, is the resilience to embrace imperfection. In fact, it’s perhaps why being brave enough to fail is so important – it gives us permission to hold exceptional expectations.

So, as I start to look to next year, I will ask everyone that will listen:

Excellence image

The belief alone, in the very possibility of achieving more, will be self-fulfilling.

Together, let’s look down, notice that we hold the key to the prison cell, fit it to the lock and turn.




On What If…

What if we acted out our belief that learning should be lifelong and that skills and concepts outlast knowledge?

The Backstory

My school uses a number of curriculum frameworks – the Middle Years Programme, the Diploma Programme, Advanced Placements and our own homegrown curriculum. One way of unifying the potentially disparate approaches is to focus on key attributes of curriculum that transcend them all. Our departmental team picked three:


Curriculum vision
Image of ‘Atlantis Shuttle Launchh 1988’ / NASA / Public Domain

Authentic stresses the relentless need to provide freshness and relevance. Essential captures the importance of meeting the needs of our students, whether those are the inevitable ‘exam ready’ skills, or crucial ‘future ready‘ skills. Learning to learn functions as a foundational concept, highlighting the need to develop lifelong skills in our students.

It’s this last aspect that my team has been playing with recently, re-envisioning the International Baccalaureate’s (IB) Approaches to Learning (ATL) skills as a hexagon of future ready skills, accompanied by guiding questions, and designed for specific courses. Though you should certainly build learning experiences to develop more than six ATL skills in a year, when confronted with the question, ‘Which are the most important skills for a student in my class?’ the most authentic and essential aspects of the vision emerge:

Example ATL Hexagon
Which are the most important ‘future ready’ skills for students in my class?

But, what if we went further?

What if…

Every student identified, and reflected, on the six ATL skills they felt they needed to develop that year?


Every teacher identified, and shared with students, the six ATLs with which they were engaging?


Every teacher posts the six ATLs on their classroom door, with this note: ‘Dear colleagues, if you can spare the time, please come in and help me with my journey


These six skills became the focus of teacher reflection in their professional discussions, both digital and analogue?

Would we then be closer to acting out our belief that learning should be lifelong – that learning to learn is the most future ready skill of all?

At the very least, we might be just that little bit closer to curricular lift off.

Teacher ATL Hexagon vPB (1)Thoughts?