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Sixties hit is here again

More than 40 years after staff at the former Jordanhill College in Glasgow set out to give a strategic approach to the 1965 Primary Memorandum, their initiative may finally be coming to fruition.

What was originally called topic work, but is now known internationally as Storyline, has grown in popularity in other countries, particularly Scandinavia, but was largely lost to its country of origin because of the strictures of the 5-14 curriculum which sought to structure the ideas behind the Primary Memorandum.

"Sweden, Norway and other Scandinavian countries completely bought into Storyline - it became the dominant strand of pedagogy in these countries.

We kind of abandoned it when 5-14 came along," Professor Donald Christie, of Strathclyde University's department of childhood and primary studies, said. Professor Christie chairs the Applied Educational Research Scheme (AERS), Learners, Learning and Teaching Network, which is funded jointly by the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Funding Council.

Abroad, Storyline is sometimes referred to as the Scottish or Glasgow method. In simple terms, it amounts to cross-curricular project work (one theme of A Curriculum for Excellence) in which pupils are encouraged to construct their own models of what is being studied, before testing this with actual evidence and research.

Steve Bell, an education consultant and one of the originators of Storyline, said: "Many of us as teachers have been doing project work for many years and in many ways the results can seem to be very similar to Storyline. However, it is possible for a project to be studied objectively.

This is unlike Storyline, where there is always a personal involvement through our identification with the characters.

"In every Storyline, characters are created, biographies are written, visuals are made. The people are set in a time and place relevant to the story. The learners, the creators, become those people. The characters have feelings about anything that happens to affect their lives in the story."

Glasgow is hosting an international conference on the Storyline concept later this year, which will be attended by practitioners from North America, Europe and farther afield.

Professor Christie said: "References to the positive advantages of this (Storyline) approach were made in the 5-14 guidelines, but what was taken from that and kept were the most obvious features - the organised structure of progression in stages."

The more creative elements that were squeezed out in Scotland have been developed in other countries.

Professor Christie does not pretend that Storyline is the panacea for Scotland's curricular woes and warns of the dangers of teachers latching on to a theme and contriving to find ways of fitting any and all aspects of the curriculum into it. He does, however, predict that the new curriculum will provide scope for the development of current methodologies in Assessment is for Learning, co-operative and collaborative learning, and far more group work.

His research work into A Curriculum for Excellence suggests that three themes will be particularly important when it comes to how well the reformed curriculum works. They are the importance of teachers' knowledge and understanding of the subject-matter; teachers' underlying values and beliefs about their role; and the degree of autonomy they had in deciding how best to meet their pupils' needs.

Professor Christie predicts that more teachers will engage in curriculum development research but that the research will be carried out collaboratively, either within a school, within a cluster, or online across the new Scottish Schools Digital Network.

He is confident that teachers will embrace the new ideas, but cautions: "We have got to acknowledge a potential problem in taking the guidelines away.

It is an opportunity but it will certainly be quite a threatening thing for some."

Professor Christie adds: "Developments shouldn't just be based on common sense -we are trying to encourage clusters of schools to accumulate evidence themselves, so that they can be more confident about these sorts of decisions."

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