Teaching and learning in the foundation subjects: Case study
Chris Stevens head of geography and foundation subjects co-ordinator at The Minster School, describes the success of, and enthusiasm for his development work during the foundation subjects Pilot.
The Minster School is a voluntary aided mixed 11-18 comprehensive school in rural east Nottinghamshire. There are approximately 1500 students on roll. Two subject departments were identified to initiate the foundation subjects strand. These were geography and design and technology.
During the last few years at the Minster School, there has been a focus on developing the range of teaching and learning strategies across the curriculum. This was a key issue identified in the school's recent inspection and therefore has become a major part of the school's development plan. In particular, Ofsted identified the need for greater pace and a higher level of challenge for pupils.
At the Minster School, we have found that the foundation subjects strand has really helped us engage with the National Strategy, and that there is much to be gained from the further development of teaching and learning approaches.
Audit/planning and development
The starting point for the development of the foundation subjects was the completion of a departmental audit in which key objectives were identified. We agreed that formative assessment was already well underway, and decided to concentrate on a structured approach focussing on the 'how' of learning while still teaching the existing subject content. We hoped that this would help us develop a variety of learning approaches, increasing the challenge for our pupils. This meant that we would be venturing well outside our 'comfort zones' and the range of standard lesson tasks. This required a preparedness to share all ideas and resources and ultimately to achieve a whole department approach to the strand.
After the initial two-day training by our foundation subjects consultant, we agreed that it was important to include thinking skills as a vital component of the teaching and learning strategies developed. The first phase was to develop starter and plenary activities for use in certain units of work. This allowed us to become more familiar with different Key Stage 3 Strategy principles and encouraged the development of more structured three-part lessons (starter, main activity and plenaries). After we had become more confident with the foundation subjects we began to focus our lesson trialling on developing more extended tasks. I designed activities including classification exercises using the inductive approach to learning (where pupils are given the freedom to think about information processing tasks with minimal guidance or 'scaffolding'); and collaborative group work tasks involving 'justification' and 'evaluation' thinking skills. More recently, in order to help develop memory retention, I have created activities based on memory mapping.