Scrapping the schemes of work*
Even over my short career in teaching thus far, I have written a lot of schemes of work. And I have worked from a number of different styles as well. So when I started at a new school this year, one of the first things I did was to tidy up the schemes of work. They are now highly organised (if I do say so myself) with specification points to be covered each week, examples of practicals, safety points, teaching ideas and resources. However, working with two extremely experienced and creative colleagues, it rapidly became apparent that this was not something they needed at all, and the process felt like it had been a waste of time. It hadn't, but I'll get to that.
An example of a 'traditional' scheme of work.
teaching with autonomy
Firstly, my colleagues did not need, or appreciate, the straight-jacket of having weekly objectives; they wanted to be able to look at the whole topic and decide on their own teaching order and approach. They wanted more autonomy than a traditional scheme of work format provided. This does not mean that they aren't willing to listen to ideas and discuss teaching and learning constructively, and even have departmental approaches on some things, but that they want the space to try out ideas themselves too.
Secondly, with the move to mixed-attainment teaching this year, we have talked about scaffolding learning and the differentiated classroom more than ever before, and there was a feeling in the department that we wanted a resource which supported a creative progressive method of teaching which a traditional scheme of work (with a few token 'ideas for G&T' on the side) would not provide. Instead we felt that something where mixed-attainment teaching and learning was the foundation for the document would be much more useful.
Thirdly, we have spent a lot of time discussing student misconceptions in department meetings this year, and listening to each others' experiences of the kinds of strange ideas that students can cling to. We felt that it was a real shame that this rich knowledge and understanding of students' thought process was not documented for sharing.
cheat-sheets, not schemes of work
With these two criteria in mind we are moving away from having a traditional scheme of work as the main reference for teachers. Instead we are in the process of creating topic 'cheat-sheets' instead. On the front of the document the specification points are at the top of the page (including notes, such as what is in Triple Award, and where content has changed from the previous specification), students misconceptions and ways of tackling them are in the middle, and the formal assessment for the topic is at the bottom.
An example of the learning outcomes for the Group 1 and Group 7 topic of the new Edexcel IGCSE course.
An example of the misconceptions and difficulties encountered by students in structure and bonding of the new Edexcel IGCSE course.
This means that before teaching a topic, staff can look through what students need to learn in the next few weeks, and some of the main challenges to their learning. They can then think about the approaches they want to take in terms of structuring students' learning from a virtual tabula rasa if they wish. (For example, if they have been reading about a new approach to teaching that topic that they are itching to try.)
a holistic approach to the entire topic
However, if they turn over the sheet, there are teaching strategies, ideas and resources in place.
Practical work - demonstrations, class practicals, and investigative work including risk assessment information, and other information about supporting learning through these tasks such as pre-labs, hinge-point questions for after the practical, etc.
Differentiation - successful strategies that staff have used in the past, ideas from reading research; whole approaches to the topic or particular lesson, and also for specific specification points; and the kind of approach being used in the strategies suggested, e.g. by task, pace, outcome, etc.
AfL - opportunities for assessment for learning are highlighted and resources are attached; this includes resources, approaches, good questions for probing students' understanding, etc.
These are all things that would be found on a traditional scheme of work, but instead of being organised be specification point, or week-by-week, this approach is more holistic and looks at the entire topic, and students' learning throughout.
focusing departmental discussions on teaching and leaning, not admin
The most important aspect of this approach is that it really can be much more dynamic: by printing a copy out onto A3 paper and then bringing it to a department meeting for the various members of the department to scribble over and discuss critically, the document can be renewed continually. This is not like checking a scheme of work which, in my experience, seems to get slightly reordered and not much else, this discussion focused on the quality of teaching and learning: what worked and what didn't, did the students have any new misconceptions that we need to tackle, how did we improve the practical work, did any of try anything new to add in, were there any approaches to the topic or any research any of us has done which we wanted to try next year? We can ensure that our departmental review of the topic has the right emphasis.
Of course, writing the traditional style schemes of work was not a waste of my time. I got to know the order the department teaches in, how they think about some of the topic and the challenges they present. I worked out the number of teaching weeks required for each topic. I got to know the new specifications really well. I used them to fight for more time for the science in the curriculum for Year 9 and the Triple Award scientists. And they are a useful support for if and when I have less experienced colleagues who need the week-by-week break-down to help them to plan their teaching effectively. But they are not going to be used as the first port of call for teaching in the department anymore: we are scrapping the schemes of work!
*The SOWs haven't really been scrapped in the strictest sense of the word, but superseded by something better.