The 2014 conference of International Society for Design and Development in Education, titled Design in Practice, was held at the Centre for Mathematical Sciences at the University of Cambridge at the end of September. It brought people together working in curriculum design from UK, Australia, USA, Netherlands, Germany and Israel. A great opportunity to meet with other curriculum designers, share ideas and learn what other people are working on.
There was a varied programme and here I just mention a couple of things that piqued my interest.
Prior to the conference I had been reading Daniel Willingham’s Why don’t children like school? (2009); in which Willingham, a cognitive psychologist shows how what is known about learning can be used to improve teaching in the classroom. So I looked forward to hearing Susan Gathercole, another cognitive psychologist, and Director of the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at Cambridge, talk about Cognitive challenges in educational design. She focused on the challenges that are faced by children who have poor working memories. It starts at the functional level of not being able to follow a string of instructions, because they can’t remember them all; and of course will go on to affect all aspects of learning: “More than 80% of children with poor working memory fail to achieve expected levels of attainment in either reading or maths, typically both” (Gathercole & Alloway, 2008).
I’m sure there were times when I was teaching when I thought that a student who had failed to carry out a series of instructions ‘hadn’t listened to a word I had said’, when in fact he was listening but couldn’t hold it all in his head to carry out the task. I wish I had had the useful booklet for teachers Understanding working memory: A classroom guide and also a book: Working Memory and Learning: A Practical Guide for Teachers both by Gathercole and Alloway.
The big question that this talk raised for me was, “how much can curriculum designers take these issues into account in designing teaching resources?”
Successful curriculum design
Here at York we make every effort to use the available research evidence to support our curriculum development work. I presented a poster showing a little about how we use the available research evidence about teaching and learning in our curriculum design.
As well as using evidence about teaching and learning and children’s understanding of science, we also use our experience of earlier curriculum development projects to inform how we approach a new project. So I was particularly interested to find out more about the Design dimensions project, which is in the early stages of investigating “Across phases of design, (analysis, development, and evaluation) what processes and strategies are critical to successfully obtain large scale implementation with significant impacts on learners?” The project is a good example of ‘working out what works’; we will be using messages from their research to inform our future curriculum development work here. This page includes their posters and ‘abstracts’. I shall follow this project with interest.