Why I love…TENC – The plans and pitfalls of an interleaved curriculum

Why I love…TENC – The plans and pitfalls of an interleaved curriculum

The presentation is downloadable here: TENC – Presentation

The copious amount of notes and thinking behind the presentation is here:  TENC Handout Booklet (warning this is a long document and includes some of the resources and the invisible thinking that went on behind the scenes when developing an interleaved curriculum). Also, none of these documents are new, they were all worked on in the implementation stages of driving forward an interleaved curriculum.

I started with this slide, which is the contents of the presentation. This introduces what I am trying to explain about the plans and potential pitfalls of embedding an ambitious strategy within a team of strong minded professionals. We have embedded this in English,  across the whole department in a year, an ambitious vision of how an interleaved curriculum can look. The strategy has become known in the department as “embedding learning over time” and looks at how a range of different strands of research evidence based strategies can be used in the curriculum to ensure that students learning is optimised in class, at home and through constant repetition and revision strategies. However, with any new change it is really important to think through how to go about getting everyone on board with the changes.

Some of the changes that were floated by the Head of Department @daveg5478 initially made me feel uneasy for several reasons. I admit I was a complete sceptic to begin with and was concerned the ideas would be perceived as another educational fad and I was concerned that some of the changes would involve a huge amount of work (they did) and that the work would be irrelevant (or as so often happens in my experience – done but not actually used purposefully).  However, reassuringly these initial worries and concerns were fruitless, as I will explore further into this post. However, being a sceptic made me really question what we were trying to achieve and how to achieve this purposefully.

Next, I shared the original curriculum map that we had when I arrived 5 years ago for Y10.

It is pretty simple and shows that we were working a lot on coursework in the previous incarnation of GCSEs, so probably not dissimilar to many other departments up and down the country. But, and here in lies the rub. While this type of simple curriculum map works in blocks with no going back or moving forward, with no deviation from teaching a topic and then moving on and with no reflection on previous learning, this no longer is suitable or fit for purpose. We have to change in the educational landscape we find ourselves in. We can no longer teach a unit and then move on and forget about it. We no longer have coursework blocks that once taught are forever forgotten. We no longer have the dreaded controlled assessment, which was without a shadow of a doubt teaching to the test. Now, we have a climate where knowledge is power and knowing the texts for literature and how to approach the exams is paramount for both Language and Literature.

This means that we needed a different approach.

Which brings me to the changes and the rationale for these changes. We decided that as a department 100% eradication of blocked units was too confusing for teachers and that we would develop a different form of interleaving that we would trial and adapt. So, although we are using an interleaved curriculum, it is a manifestation of a 100% interleaved one.

We had already adopted Rebecca Foster’s 5 in 5 starters, which worked brilliantly well. However, this wasn’t consistent and some teachers were using them and others weren’t, so we strengthened the expectation about this. Not dictatorially, but by discussing how to use a starter as a reflection point on prior learning. We explored how a range of strategies could be used to reflect on: learning from the previous lesson, learning from a previous unit or learning from a cross-over unit. By doing this we hoped that the rationale was clear and that we were moving away from a ‘busy’ starter to a purposeful reflection point at the start of the lesson. (I also use 5 in 5 to move between topics in lessons as well)

Pause lessons or revision interleaving lessons, were introduced to allow students to ‘forget’ and then revisit the previous learning, with the intent of embedding the information in their long term memories. The format of these differed depending on the teacher, but an example pause lesson might look like this:

This would give students the opportunity to return to the previous units on The Anthology and revisit the information in a structured and focused way. During the lesson I circulated the class and prompted students to look at their previous notes in the books and on The Anthology.

Knowledge and skills lesson involved using the KOs – more on this later and linking what they know to what was in the KO and helping them to learn this. A KO lesson generally was not a whole hour as we found that on trialling it and feedback as we went along 20 – 30 minutes was ideal for this.

We embedded grammar lessons into Y9, which now had a hinge text – Of Mice and Men. In the previous year we had a stand alone grammar lesson every fortnight in year 9 and while these were seen to be worthwhile, they were a bit disjointed. Therefore, adapting these and having a fully interleaved fortnightly grammar based lesson on Of Mice and Men seemed like a logical next step.

Bespoke knowledge organisers:  Y9 Knowledge Organiser Homework Booklet All  here for the Y9 and Y10 versions Y10 & 11 Knowledge organiser Homework Book all of these. We worked together on these as a team initially, as I was very worried that they would be seen as an add on that didn’t need to be used and I was aware that creating them for every unit in every year from scratch was going to take a long, long time and I really didn’t want them to be another arbitrary bit of paper. So, we got together in splinter teams and discussed what we thought should go in them. @Miss_thinks mocked up the first example and then we worked on a slightly different format for KS3 and KS4. We decided to put them together ourselves as a department from scratch, as we wanted to make sure what we wanted our students in our context to learn was what they got in the KOs that we produced and so that they have a uniformity in appearance and are cohesive. We played around with the first few as a team, using sugar paper and including what we wanted as a collaborative planning task. For the literature ones, we used the quotes from a previously collaborated on quote guide:  see here, as the mainstay of quotes and put together all the front pages with vocabulary and terminology ourselves. As the year went on and time pressures impinged on everyone in the team, Dave divided the job of creating the new and still to be completed KOs between the English leadership team (Dave, me, Rachel and Laura) but crucially we asked for feedback every time a new one was created to ensure that what people wanted on these was included. This was a massive undertaking and although it did takes countless hours the end result was really good and has been really valued by staff and students.

More focus on target work and meta-cognition was something that we were already pushing as a whole department strategy and this year with the ‘embedding learning focus’ this was even more important. When we feedback work to students it is crucial that we get them to do something with it. This meant increasing the use of meta-cognitive tasks with the classes and ensuring that students didn’t know their estimated grades immediately and that any work they had marked or any whole class feedback elicited some form of DIRT work. This is an ongoing continuous focus and needs to be worked with and on and discussed. As well as this, getting students to carry forward their targets is also important and an ongoing process.

We decided that we needed a way to track whether students were being effective in the strategies that they were using to learn the KO information and decided that simple KO quizzes using multiple choice questions was the way forward. This meant that I spent an inordinate amount of time logging into different MCQ platforms and researching what we could use. We are (thankfully) a mobile free school, so I knew it wouldn’t work to use some of the mobile apps. In the end I went with Google Forms as the functionality and ease of use was good. Again, we worked on these as a leadership team and created the bespoke quizzes using the KOs and then sent these out to the class teachers for students to log in and complete. More information on this process is available in the TENC handout attached at the top of the blog.

The homework taking a three-pronged approach was something that I felt strongly about as I like to give tangible work that takes some time and effort to complete, as I find the buy in is better, however I also recognise that the marking load can then become burdensome. So, we decided to incorporate the metacognitive drive and feedback process as a non-marking homework (although it can be read and not commented on as the lesson progresses) and the consolidation work encompasses whatever form of homework the teacher wants to set, meaning that the homework expectation is ‘tight but loose’.

Finally, with Y11 we upped the anti a little with our revision programme by introducing the English lectures. These varied in format between myself and Dave, but we researched, created and presented higher thinking lectures for all students who wanted to attend and despite them being aimed at higher level thinking, students of all prior attainment attended and found them useful. We podcast these as well, to upload to the Weebly as an extra resource to listen to. This was another way of interleaving the revision as we concentrated on learning that had already occurred and tried to take it to another level.

For my own benefit I created the above chart divided into KS3, KS4 and Lit A-Level, as that is what I teach at A-Level, this chart sets out what ‘embedding learning is’ and also what it looks like as a summary in each key stage. This helped remind me of what the overall picture for interleaving the curriculum was at each different key stage.

Which brings me to the new model for the curriculum and the curriculum map. This has evolved from the original basic one into an excel spreadsheet version that maps out all the different elements that sit underneath the main unit blocks. As you can see there are all the components that I’ve already discussed. By having this in the unit overview and printed in A3 in the office it helps guide the whole department. I also include this information in a fortnightly bulletin that reminds teachers of the key interleaving foci each fortnight and offers the opportunity to attach resources that might be useful for these as well.

I recognise that this is a lot of information and I added a reflection point into the presentation which looks like this:

Are you currently using any of these ideas in your department?


Is there anything that you think might work for your context?


Could you adapt these ideas to suit your way of working?


What challenges do you imagine?

Obviously, every context is different and what works for us will be slightly different to what will work for other people in a different context.

Then, I looked at some of the potential problems that I envisaged before we implemented all these different interleaved ideas. These were mainly time and ensuring that if we were as a whole department going to embed a new or different way of working that we needed buy in from the department and we needed to make sure that the work that went on was purposeful, based on research evidence and suited the needs of the students and the new curriculum. Dave completed a presentation with the Department, which outlined the vision and exemplified this with a student example of how the old model of curriculum was no longer suitable or was failing some of our students. Then, we started the project. Some of it evolved from good practice that was already occurring and some of the ideas were new and took some getting used to for teachers. The students didn’t bat an eyelid though, perhaps due to the fact that they are interleaving learning all day every day by moving from lesson to lesson and subject to subject.

Some of the potential problems didn’t occur, such as MCQ worries, as everyone bought in and did these and understood the rationale behind them (with a few admin hiccups – the supporting documentation looks at solutions to these). However, there was a lot of discussion and forward momentum as a department to ensuring that the different strands of the interleaved model were being used consistently and the review process was and still is ongoing. I think communication was the key to making major changes work and making sure that the team understood the long-term benefits of adapting our daily practice. We also took a solution focused approach and pre-empted concerns that we thought the department might have. We also read widely about the different approaches that we were taking and thought carefully about what would work for us, or not work for us and why.

As always with any major changes there are always things that don’t work or that have been misinterpreted or interpreted differently from the intent. For example; one teacher saved up their interleaved lessons to teach all in a block, which was a source of confusion, but it turned out that they hadn’t understood (fully) the rationale for dropping in lessons in an inter-leaved way. However, a quick discussion about the rationale made this clearer and then they continued with teaching, but now popping the interleaved revision in as intended. It wasn’t and isn’t a big thing, but shows how communication needs to be really clear and that the rationale behind major changes needs to be communicated as well as the how to do it. Time was a constant bind in the first year, in terms of preparing all the new materials and making sure this was ready on time, however in terms of the whole process, time will tell whether this approach works. With the KOs, because we created them separately there was at times some anomalies across these and this needed ironing out. So, in gained time we met, checked, discussed and formalised the definitions and what we wanted on these and then adapted these. These were then collated as a year group in a booklet and put into our assessment booklets which also has the comprehensive terminology definitions in them that match up with the definitions in the KOs.

Again we had a reflection point:

What problems or issues could you foresee with this type of change in your context?


Are there other solutions you think would work?

As always with any process there are things that when you reflect on them, they could be changed or improved or done differently and the slide above encompasses some of the ideas for improvement, that I think will continue to strengthen this approach. For me writing is a key area to improve and we are going to embed these fortnightly in KS3 as another strand to the interleaved curriculum (this is direct inspiration from @Xris32) and we will ensure that these are both Fiction and Non-Fiction challenges. We have already started the KO audit process and have this ready for September as well as the MCQ clear up. Re-quizzing will be something to embed through homework next year and with staff continued re-visiting of the knowledge retention strategies will be pertinent. Finally, in curriculum evenings with parents and parent e-mails with information we will strengthen the links and understanding of what we are doing  to interleave the curriculum and increase knowledge retention.

Of course, I’m not professing to have done all this myself (that would be ludicrous). The thanks for the whole approach and making it work go to the whole team @Churchilleng, those on and off Twitter and as you can see from the final presentation the English leadership team get a special mention, as the communication and discussions we had are a large part of what helped us shape this curriculum.

We also read a plethora of blogs from @Team_English1 which inspired this approach and the following books. So thank you all for your hard work and inspiration.

Making every lesson count @Andytharby

Make it Stick – Brown, Roediger and McDaniel

Why don’t students like school – Daniel T Willingham

Memorable Teaching – Peps McRae

Some links to other blogs here on the topics covered here:

Why I love… Combining live writing, metacognitive approaches & feedback


Why I love…English Lectures: The Eduqas Anthology

Why I love…Interleaving the Curriculum

Why I love…Adapting Revision Plans for the Final Push

Why I love…Closed Book for GCSE Literature

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