Curriculum maps: are they worth the effort?

The usefulness of curriculum maps in the classroom is often debated – here, two teachers on different sides of the fence go head to head
12th January 2022, 12:00pm
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Curriculum maps: are they worth the effort?

https://www.tes.com/magazine/teaching-learning/general/curriculum-maps-are-they-worth-effort

Curriculum maps are a visual representation of the curriculum: sometimes they go from early years foundation stage all the way up to key stage 5; other times they may be focused on one particular subject or stage.

That might sound straightforward, but the maps have become somewhat contentious: some educators use them extensively, while others simply don't see the point.

Curriculum maps: the arguments for and against

Here, two teachers present the two sides to the argument. 

AGAINST 

Zoe Enser, lead English adviser for Kent

Spending time thinking and talking about your curriculum, it's content and how it's sequenced that is essential. What I'm less keen on, however, is spending hours creating detailed and colourful curriculum maps. For me, they don't hold enough value for the time to be worth it. 

Some say these maps are essential for pupils and parents. While I agree that it's important for pupils to know how their learning today fits into the bigger picture, when I look at many different curriculum maps, I can honestly say they tell me little about that. 

They are either so detailed that nobody other than a subject specialist can follow them, or they're stripped down to be little more than "term one: stories from across the world, term two: Romeo and Juliet", with a picture of Shakespeare at the side. 

Others argue that curriculum maps provide reference points for teachers to discuss where their teaching is at, and where they want to go next. In reality, this could be achieved with a list. Indeed, the best departments will already have an overview, and a more detailed scheme to follow, coupled with regular conversations about the progress made. 

I worry that the time taken to create these maps encroaches on these deeper conversations and the development of expertise, and that curriculum maps become a barrier, not an enabler.

Curriculum maps reduce learning to arbitrary units of time. Historically, we have seen learning reduced to episodes within a lesson, hours on a timetable and termly schemes, neatly sown up with an assessment at the end. 

We know that learning doesn't happen like that. It sprawls and stretches and stubbornly refuses to take place at the exact time we want it to. Much like any prescriptive scheme or resource, we can end up rushing through the content only to get to the end and realise the best thing we possibly could do is start again, but this time making sure we are really responding to what the pupils do and don't know, and what they can and can't do. We need to be able to return to topics multiple times to check, revise, extend and embed the learning.

If you are someone who finds curriculum maps beneficial to your own thinking processes, then go ahead and design one. But I'd urge you to consider carefully if spending that time on something else could bring greater benefits. 

Definitely don't do it because you think someone else wants to see it. My suggestion would be to make it a simple list in order to make more time for conversation around learning, and to put the icons and squiggly lines away.

FOR

James Bullous is a lead practitioner for science in the Midlands

To start with, I want to say this: a good curriculum map does not make a good curriculum. 

A good curriculum needs to be planned and organised in a way that ensures that all students can access the material at the time it is delivered. It needs to drive growth and development of knowledge over time and, most importantly, ensure that there are opportunities for students to learn and remember material throughout the whole curriculum. 

The curriculum comes first, and the map is a tool to communicate that curriculum. That said, curriculum maps are not an "add-on" or something done to please SLT or Ofsted. Just as the contents page of a book is not just for the editors, all stakeholders in the curriculum can, and should, use the maps to navigate the curriculum.

Curriculum maps, ultimately, are a communication device for students. If they all have access to a copy specific to their key stage in their books, as well as sight of one in the classroom, they can clearly see, and articulate when asked, where they are in their curriculum. 

The curriculum maps are beneficial for staff, too: I'd recommend that they are produced as a joint piece of work, developed by all members of staff in the department. They can be displayed in all classroom spaces in the same format, which, in turn, ensures that staff are consistent in their understanding and explanation of the curriculum, no matter their amount of experience at the school or the key stages they teach. 

And the impact goes beyond the classroom. During open evenings, the curriculum maps we use are a great resource to help parents understand the curriculum. For parents of Year 6 children, it's likely to be one of the first times that they've seen the links between the KS2 and KS3 curriculum, so it helps to make those links really explicit. 

If produced clearly and concisely, the maps can also make for a great learning resource at home: parents can read through the maps, and ask their children detailed questions about their learning. 

There's no getting away from the fact that these maps take some time to produce, but, when based on an effectively planned and implemented curriculum, they can be invaluable in communicating the curriculum with everyone involved. 

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