1. Strand fundamentals and re-contracting

Video transcript

Presenter: Chloe Wardle

Welcome to the Subject strand. This strand is a combination of two areas, curriculum and assessment, because curriculum and assessment go hand in hand. The better that teachers know what they’re teaching, the best order they should teach it in, and the ways of strengthening what pupils know, the more they will be able to support their pupils to develop their capabilities and understanding. This is what it means to understand your curriculum.

But teachers also need to find ways of regularly checking how learning is going and ensure that they adapt their teaching in response. This is the role of assessment. Across this strand you will develop your responses to a number of key questions. What am I teaching? How can I make that learning secure? How will I know if my pupils are getting it? And what will I do if they’re not?

Presenter: Harry Fletcher-Wood

Curriculum involves learning about your subject in depth, its core ideas and how they’re organized. Through access to a broad and balanced curriculum, pupils are able to develop the knowledge, skills, and values that will enable them to succeed in school and beyond. Understanding curriculum means understanding what you’re teaching and the best order to teach it in. This allows you to share this learning journey with your pupils. Thinking about the curriculum that you’re delivering is a rewarding process, especially when you work with experienced subject specialists within your school.

Assessment is all about checking what your pupils have understood and adapting your teaching based on what you find out. It’s one of the most fascinating areas that teachers can explore. You’ve designed this great lesson, you’ve taught it really well, but what happened? Did they get it? Do you need to go back and reteach anything? Effective assessment is about revealing pupil thinking so that you can check how learning is going.

Presenter: Chloe Wardle

In the first half of this strand, you will learn how to identify what you are teaching, where pupils may go wrong, and how to deepen pupil understanding. In the second half of the strand, you will learn about the best ways of assessing what pupils have learned and how to adapt your teaching in response.

Alongside a written evidence summary, there will be a video to watch each week. This will give you an overview of the content to provide a framework for your thinking. It will also provide you with a concrete model of how you might transfer some of the ideas into practice. You may choose to test out the model in a coaching session or in your teaching. When you do, remember that you will need to adapt what you see to your own context. Video models may not be subject or phase specific, depending on what you teach, but they will exemplify key ideas that are relevant to all.

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Read | Strand introduction

Welcome to the Subject strand of the programme. This strand invites you to consider your planning and assessment through the lens of the subject or phase that you work in. It explores evidence and practice in curriculum and assessment in ways that will be of benefit now but will also be useful as your progress through your career.

By the end of this stand you will have explored:

  • The curriculum and what it demands of the individual teacher.
  • Your mental model of the subject/phase you teach – breaking down your own understanding – and its implications for your planning.
  • How we can know what pupils have understood, the barriers we face in doing so and how we respond to their needs.

In Instruction we asked you to explore some ‘rules of thumb’ of teaching. In Subject we will apply the same rules in more detail and look at how what you are teaching influences how you apply those rules – and when you might need to break them. As a result, this strand covers multiple ideas around curriculum, planning and assessment. In the classroom, these ideas will lead to practices that all blend into each other.

However, to help you develop a clear understanding, this strand begins with modules focused on curriculum and planning, before shifting to looking at assessment:

  • Module 1 explores the foundations of effective subject/phase teaching.
  • Modules 2-6 cover the process of effective planning in your subject/phase.
  • Modules 7-12 cover the process of effective assessment and how this can further enhance subject/phase teaching.

Making it work

This strand will support you to think deeply about your subject and will support you to zoom in on how the nuances of your subject or phase influence your planning and assessment. As with Behaviour and Instruction, we also recognise that there may be aspects of this strand that you have less control over. This might include planning proformas or the frequency of your assessments. To make the most of this strand, we suggest that you use resources and materials aligned with your school curriculum and draw on your mentor and other experienced colleagues to support you in applying and adapting ideas for your classroom. Your growing expertise in your subject will also be of help.

As usual, we intentionally touch on content you’ve learned before. In particular, we will continue to prompt you to retrieve and apply your understanding of how pupils learn because it is so fundamental to effective teaching. Knowing how pupils learn is invaluable but it does not mean a ‘one size fits all’ approach will work across every subject or phase. The knowledge, skills and conceptual understanding in each subject or phase is unique. All subjects have their own way of structuring knowledge and curriculum planning differs by age.

While the Early Career Framework refers to ‘good subject and curriculum knowledge’, we know that some teachers – especially Primary and Early Years teachers – may refer to the content they teach as ‘phase’ or ‘topic’ knowledge, as the curriculum they teach includes multiple subjects. In line with the ECF, this strand uses the title ‘subject’ to encapsulate all of the content teachers might teach and recognises teachers might use other terms in their setting.

Whilst the Subject strand has attempted to explore ideas and practices in ways that will be relevant to all subjects and phases, there will undoubtedly be specific things that just don’t apply. For this strand more than the others, teachers and mentors will need to draw on their own subject and phase expertise to adapt the learning experience where required. You have the responsibility to take ownership of your professional development and make it work, but also the right to support. Talking to your colleagues and your mentor about the ideas and practices you encounter, seeking their assistance, challenge, feedback and critique, will help you to better understand what ‘good’ looks like for your particular context. Participating in wider networks can also strengthen your pedagogical and subject knowledge.

A reminder of the programme pattern

The learning will be structured in the same way as Behaviour and Instruction, following a weekly rhythm:

  • A 10-minute video shows what some of the key ECF ideas in the module look like in practice.
  • A 15-minute evidence summary provides an overview of key research to read relating to the key ECF ideas in the module.
  • 15 minutes of quiz and reflection enable you to check your understanding and consider the evidence in light of your knowledge and experiences.
  • Weekly instructional coaching that draws on this material and tailors the weekly focus to your specific context and needs, including the needs of your pupils, with built-in opportunities for practice. This is the main part of the mentoring process.

Year one of the programme has been designed with the intention of schools working through one module per week. However, the programme has been built in a flexible way so that schools can adapt it to their needs and work through it at a slower pace as required, while still ensuring they cover the ECF. Now that we have introduced how the strand will work, it’s time to dive into an evidence summary, exploring some of some of the key ideas that underpin the strand.

Teaching challenge

Mr Mohamed is feeling increasingly effective at managing behaviour and adapting lessons planned by others. In doing so, his subject knowledge has been growing. How can he best use his developing knowledge to plan and deliver effective lessons which develop pupils’ mental models?

Key idea

Understanding curriculum, planning and assessment, as well as the relationships between them, is an important foundation for effective subject teaching which develops pupil mental models.

Evidence summary

The power of subject teaching

Mr Mohamed’s teaching can make a big difference to pupils. It can transform both their academic results and life chances: increasing the likelihood that they attend university and have a higher salary and decreasing the chances they have children as teenagers (Chetty et al., 2014; Slater et al., 2011). Lower-achieving pupils appear to benefit most from effective teaching (Slater et al., 2011).

The expectations a teacher sets are likely to influence pupils’ efforts and responses (Murdock-Perriera & Sedlacek, 2018). Where effective teaching helps pupils achieve success, pupils are likely to display greater subsequent motivation and thus greater effort (Coe et al., 2014). There is strong evidence that effective teaching is underpinned by teacher’s knowledge of their subject(s) and how to teach it (Coe et al., 2014; Ball et al., 2008). To make a difference to his pupils Mr Mohamed needs to develop his subject knowledge.

Subject knowledge is organised in mental models in the mind of the learner – a collection of concepts, knowledge, skills and principles which fit together to provide an overall understanding of an idea (Sweller et al., 1998). Mr Mohamed needs to both develop his mental model of his subject and consider how to best organise and use this information to develop his pupils’ mental models. For example, he can consider that a common misconception in history is that a church is a physical building rather than a group of people and target this misconception to ensure his pupils gain a correct mental model when he teaches this.

What is curriculum?

A school’s curriculum sets out its vision for the knowledge, skills and values that pupils will learn. There are many reasons for educating young people, and these inform which curriculum content is selected (Wiliam, 2013). Selection should also be guided by the National Curriculum. The overall aim should be that material is selected based on a coherent vision for pupils’ success. This is curriculum intent: the content selected to be taught and the sequence in which it should be explored, including how content builds in complexity or is revisited (Wiliam, 2013).

The school establishes the curriculum, but every teacher must also think about curriculum because they are the people who are ultimately putting it into practice. Mr Mohamed might not be writing schemes of work but he can bring content to life for his pupils. This is curriculum implementation: the instructional approaches, activities and resources specified to teach curricular intent. Implementation is therefore seen in both medium-term planning, individual lesson planning and the ‘lived’ curriculum of the classroom (Wiliam, 2013).

Mr Mohamed aims to use his subject mental model to implement the curriculum in such a way that it develops pupils’ mental models of his subject and pursues the intended curriculum as closely as possible. This incorporates both the knowledge that he hopes pupils will gain, and the ways he hopes they will be able to use this knowledge. In doing so, understanding the school’s vision and the reasoning behind its curricular choices will be useful.

What is planning?

Planning takes the ideas of the intended curriculum and turns them into learning activities. It must therefore implement the curriculum choices the school has made, drawing on Mr Mohamed’s subject knowledge. One way Mr Mohamed might effectively plan is by following five habits:

Habit 1: Break down your goal into the essential concepts, knowledge, skills and principles of the subject by analysing your assessment and wider curriculum goals for the unit.
Habit 2: Build on prior knowledge by linking what pupils already know to what is being taught and sequencing lessons so that pupils secure foundational knowledge before encountering more complex content.
Habit 3: Make the learning accessible by seeking to understand pupils’ differences including potential barriers to learning and common misconceptions and discussing with experienced colleagues how to help pupils master important concepts.
Habit 4: Build lasting learning by planning for regular retrieval and spaced practice opportunities to build automatic recall of knowledge and supporting pupils to learn key ideas securely.
Habit 5: Increase complexity by providing opportunities for all pupils to learn and master essential concepts, knowledge, skills and principles of the subject, ensuring pupils link new ideas to existing knowledge, organising this knowledge into increasingly complex mental models through drawing explicit links between the new content and core concepts and principles and slowly withdrawing concrete examples and drawing attention to the underlying structures of the problem.

Mr Mohamed notices quite a lot of overlap between the habits of planning and content covered in the Behaviour and Instruction strands. There also don’t appear to be clear-cut answers for how to implement these habits in his subject planning. He intends to discuss with his mentor what these might look like for his context, and how he can try these out of the next term.

What is assessment?

To assess is to draw conclusions from evidence: inferences about what pupils have learned (Wiliam, 2010). Mr Mohamed might ask himself how much his pupils have understood in an activity, at the end of a lesson or at the end of the year. Effective assessment practices allow him to make inferences which truly reflect pupils’ understanding. Effective assessment builds on a well-specified curriculum so Mr Mohamed’s efforts at planning will support his assessment to be more effective and efficient.

Making these inferences can be difficult. Mr Mohamed must be careful that the inference he is making reflects what he really wants to know and that he is not distracted by poor proxies for learning (Coe, 2013). For example, not assuming that just because pupils are busy that they are learning. It also means recognising that pupils may perform better in the short term but then forget what they studied (Soderstrom & Bjork, 2015). To help, he should choose, where possible, externally validated materials – such as standardised test created by external bodies or groups of schools and administered in controlled conditions, perhaps at the end of the year – if he needs to make a summative judgement about how much his pupils have learned over a period of time with greater confidence.

Assessment and feedback

Effective assessment can also be used much more frequently to allow Mr Mohamed to adapt his teaching and respond to pupils’ needs. This form of assessment is the main focus of the Subject strand. Teachers can regularly collect information on pupil learning in a lesson, for example through questioning a number of pupils to check for understanding after conveying new content. They can use their inferences from this data formatively to adapt their teaching and respond to pupils’ needs where necessary (Christodoulou, 2017). Evidence suggests that among the most powerful ways to respond to pupil needs is to offer feedback. Effective feedback is motivating, guiding pupils on where they have succeeded and what they need to improve (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). It also leads pupils to act to close the gap (Sadler, 1989).

There are many ways to give effective feedback and Mr Mohamed’s choices should reflect what his pupils need and the importance of taking a sustainable approach. For example, he might offer verbal feedback or give abbreviated feedback using a marking code (EEF, 2016). These approaches are quick to do while giving pupils valuable information, encourage pupil effort and improve their learning. Mr Mohamed can work with colleagues to think about how he could ensure his assessment and feedback are efficient. He hopes to use it to support his pupils to monitor and regulate their own learning (EEF, 2017), helping them to become successful independent learners.

Linking curriculum, planning and assessment

For assessment, planning and curriculum to be effective, they must be coherent. For example, teaching resources should align with assessments – the tests pupils sit should reflect what they have been taught – and both should align with the curriculum (Oates, 2011). Equally, Mr Mohamed should avoid letting summative assessments – like SATs and GCSEs – shape all his planning. Instead he should aim to use the knowledge of his subject to teach and assess a coherent, broad and balanced curriculum.

Nuances and caveats 

No exam can test everything that matters in a subject. Exams ‘sample’ from the subject: they choose a handful of questions to test key ideas. This is an effective and efficient way to assess but if this guides all of a teacher’s planning, they are likely to overlook basic ideas (which are implicit in exam questions), broader ideas (which lay the foundations for future study) and interesting ideas (Christodoulou, 2017). Mr Mohamed must avoid the trap of letting assessment narrow his teaching.

Key takeaways

Teachers can be responsive subject teachers by understanding that:

  • Effective teaching develops pupils’ mental models of the subject.
  • Effective planning is based on the school curriculum and the teacher’s subject knowledge: this allows teachers to sequence and plan teaching
  • Effective planning uses and builds upon effective assessment: the information this provides guides teachers’ planning and allows them to target support through responsive
  • Effective planning and assessment can be sustainable.

Further reading 

Ball, D. L., Thames, M. H., & Phelps, G. (2008). Content knowledge for teachers: What makes it special? Journal of Teacher Education.


Ball, D. L., Thames, M. H., & Phelps, G. (2008). Content knowledge for teachers: What makes it special? Journal of Teacher Education.

Chetty, R., Friedman, J. N., & Rockoff, J. E. (2014). Measuring the Impacts of Teachers II: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood. American Economic Review, 104(9), 2633–2679.

Christodoulou, D. (2017). Making Good Progress: The Future of Assessment for Learning. Oxford: OUP.

Coe, R., Aloisi, C., Higgins, S., & Major, L. E. (2014). What makes great teaching. Review of the underpinning research. Durham University.

EEF (2016). A marked improvement? A Review of the Evidence on Written Marking. London: Education Endowment Foundation.

EEF (2017). Metacognition and Self-regulated learning Guidance Report.

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81–112.

Murdock-Perriera, L. A., & Sedlacek, Q. C. (2018). Questioning Pygmalion in the twenty-first century: the formation, transmission, and attributional influence of teacher expectancies. Social Psychology of Education, 21(3), 691–707.

Oates, T. (2011). Could do better: Using international comparisons to refine the National Curriculum in England. Curriculum journal, 22(2), 121-150.

Sadler, D. (1989). Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems. Instructional Science, 18(2), 119-144.

Slater, H., Davies, N. M., & Burgess, S. (2011). Do Teachers Matter? Measuring the Variation in Teacher Effectiveness in England. Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, 74(5), 629-645.

Soderstrom, N., Bjork, R. (2015). Learning Versus Performance: An Integrative Review. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(2), 176–199.

Wiliam, D. (2010). What Counts as Evidence of Educational Achievement? The Role of Constructs in the Pursuit of Equity in Assessment. Review of Research in Education, 34, 254-284.

Wiliam, D. (2013). Principled Curriculum Design. London: SSAT.


Answer the questions in the quiz to check your understanding of the evidence summary.

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Reminder of key takeaways

Teachers can be responsive subject teachers by understanding that:

  • Effective teaching develops pupils’ mental models of the subject.
  • Effective planning is based on the school curriculum and the teacher’s subject knowledge: this allows teachers to sequence and plan teaching
  • Effective planning uses and builds upon effective assessment: the information this provides guides teachers’ planning and allows them to target support through responsive
  • Effective planning and assessment can be sustainable.

Reflect on the following questions

  1. What did you see in this module that you already do or have seen in other classrooms?
  2. What do you feel is the gap between your current practice and what you have seen in this module?
  3. Which of the ‘key takeaways’ do you need to focus on? Where and when might you try to apply them to your teaching?