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Learning through REAL projects

At Wensum Junior School we are on a journey to transform learning into something genuinely engaging, authentic and purposeful for our children, staff and families. Since September 2016, the core of our academic curriculum has been Learning through REAL projects. REAL projects is built around three domains (science, arts, humanities) and provides a rich context for our children to engage with learning that is meaningful to them and of value to the world beyond the classroom.

REAL stands for Rigorous, Engaging, Authentic Learning and it represents a very different vision of what teaching and learning could look like in school.  All of our REAL projects include:

  • Significant academic content taken from the primary domain (e.g. science) with natural and relevant links made to other curriculum areas exploited to enrich and deepen learning
  • Fully integrated English (reading, writing, speaking and listening)
  • Planned opportunities to explore the philosophical themes emerging from the content
  • A commitment to multiple drafting and critique
  • Student-crafted final outcomes that reflect authentic ‘thinking and doing’ (e.g. working as scientists)
  • Rich first hand experiences to deepen engagement, understanding and enjoyment
  • Innovative planning and authentic assessment developed with expert partners
  • A termly public exhibition, showcase or performance where every child is represented
  • Authentic audiences

Each project is 11 weeks long and is structured as follows:

  • Romance:  launch the project by stimulating awe and wonder; leave the children with more questions than answers. Build the project around a driving question forged by the children’s curiosity
  • Precision:  learn the significant content needed to answer the driving question
  • Generalisation:  children identify an area that interests them, formulate their own driving question, and then work individually or collaboratively to pursue their project.
  • Showcase:  All children present their investigations to a public audience of peers, families and experts. The format for the showcase reflects the domain being studied (exhibition, performance, conference etc)
  • Legacy:  powerful and meaningful learning needs sharing  (new for 2020)

REAL 2019 – 2023: a four year programme

When we were planning for our REAL curriculum in 2016 we took the bold step of radically reorganising how we delivered content.  We moved away from a more traditional model of multiple subject areas being taught each week to three, 11 week projects under a whole school theme e.g. working as scientists with English being fully integrated.  This led to three REAL projects a year. The immersive and integrated nature of the projects has proved popular with children, staff and families and has delivered some extraordinary deep and meaningful learning experiences for our children.  This way of working, however, requires that we think differently about how we organise learning across the whole key stage in order that we provide the broadest range of learning experiences. Below is our plan for REAL over the next four years:

Year Autumn  Spring Summer
2019 – 2020 Scientists Historians Artists
2020 – 2021 Scientists Geographers Engineers
2021 – 2022 Scientists Historians Artists
2022 – 2023 Scientists Geographers Engineers

REAL and the National Curriculum

We follow the National Curriculum for English and maths and science (although the science content has been reorganised thematically for focussed, deeper learning).  For the rest we start by seeking out powerful project opportunities locally then identifying our project partners. Planning then starts in earnest 12 weeks before project launch with teachers working alongside the project partners to keep the projects real and ensure authenticity.  We will draw on National Curriculum content where relevant and it is recorded on the project planning documents, but we will also identify other ‘significant academic content’ as needed to deliver the project and answer the driving question, drawing freely on content not in the National Curriculum if it is needed to deliver powerful learning. Natural links between domain areas will be exploited (e.g. history always includes geography and visa versa), but they must be relevant and purposeful rather than tokenistic.