The 'hidden curriculum' and how it affects learners lecture
Throughout this module, we have seen how it is important to understand the intention behind policies rather than just trying to interpret the actual words used. The way we infer intentions is through looking at the history of policies, the way they are talked about at local and national level, how schools choose to implement policy guidance, and how schools and teachers are held accountable. A similar process occurs for our pupils. Reading the syllabus would be a good start in understanding what is expected of our pupils, but we also look for clues in past exam papers, guidance from examiners, the way previous years have been assessed, and broader political conversations about what young people should be expected to do. These expectations can be thought of as a 'hidden curriculum' - the norms and expectations which are not made explicit, but are nevertheless vital to understand.
This chapter starts by looking at the concept of a hidden curriculum and how it relates from its original context of university-level education through to school-aged education. This also touches on the related concepts of surface, deep and strategic approaches to learning as well as formative and summative assessment.
Learning objectives for this chapter
By the end of this chapter, we would like you:
- To understand the concept of a hidden curriculum and how it relates to teaching children.
- To identify some of the unstated norms and expectations in your subject area.
- To think about strategies to help pupils deal with these norms and expectations.
What is a hidden curriculum?
There are two main ways in which authors discuss the hidden curriculum. One is in terms of the unstated expectations and norms that pupils must learn in order to perform well in assessments, and the other is the hidden goals of education. There is a close relationship between the two, since it is through assessments that a curriculum gains its power and influence.
The idea of the hidden curriculum as being a secret agenda comes from studies of how schools transmit social values. Some of these are fairly uncontroversial - for example, schools generally emphasise the value that hard work will be rewarded and that authority should be respected. Many schools are explicit in these expectations, so the 'hidden' part of the curriculum is just concerned with some of the subtle ways that these values are reinforced. However, it is easy to see how these values could be undesirable if taken too far, since we would not want pupils never to question authority. One aspect of the hidden curriculum is therefore the broad socialisation that pupils get from simply attending school and how they come to judge certain expectations as reasonable.
The hidden curriculum is not set by any one teacher, but is rather a general process by which children learn to conform and adapt to the expectations of society. This definition of a hidden curriculum relates closely to the first author who used the phrase, Jackson (1968). However, the concept has been added to over the years to include other ways in which children come to accept the rules of society. For example, something as innocent as the way a classroom is designed can be seen to reinforce the authority of a teacher stood at the front. Similarly, rows of seats emphasise the value of listening respectfully and being invited to speak, while groups of tables emphasise the value of group discussion. More importantly, the government has control over the award of examinations, giving it the power to define what is considered valid knowledge and the kind of work that will be rewarded by society through improved employment options.
A slightly different meaning of hidden curriculum is given by Snyder (1971), who made the phrase popular. Rather than being a hidden agenda, Snyder used the hidden curriculum to mean the curriculum that pupils actually experience. As with Jackson's use of the phrase, this is different from what is formally written down in curriculum or policy documents. The hidden curriculum can still be subtle - for example, in the time allocated to different tasks. As discussed in the pastoral care chapter, workforce restructuring has reduced the amount of time many teachers can spend on pastoral care. Even if schools publicly state that pastoral care is their top priority, their allocation of resources indicates a type of hidden curriculum in which pupils actually experience pastoral care as less important than stated. Following Snyder's definition, a hidden curriculum is therefore what actually happens in our classrooms rather than what policy-makers say they want to happen.
This idea of a hidden curriculum being what is actually experienced, rather than what is planned, has also been expanded based on a wider philosophical debate about the nature of reality and our perceptions. If we accept the idea that each individual creates their own meaning, or even their own reality, then everyone has a unique experience of a curriculum based on their background and prior experiences. This can therefore also be thought of as another type of hidden curriculum, but this time it is hidden from the teachers and policy makers rather than being hidden from the learners. As a teacher, this type of hidden curriculum means that you can never fully understand how the curriculum is experienced by your learners because they are seeing it through their own unique lens. This is a rather complex idea, but is helpful for understanding some of the problems with assessment design (Sambell and McDowell, 1998). For example, we often assess understanding by asking pupils to write. However, this can be a very different experience and we risk either falsely rewarding good writers or penalising poor writers with good understanding. The next chapter, on learning English as an additional language, gives a good example of this problem since we can often understand the meaning of a foreign language much better than we can explain that meaning or produce the language.
Finally, a hidden curriculum can refer to the messages conveyed to pupils even when it is not intentional. You may remember the advice in the equality and diversity chapter that examples in textbooks should normalise differences wherever possible, for example by pictures in books including people from different backgrounds and those with physical disabilities. This is an intentional act by writers and publishers to try make difference a part of everyday life, but this strategy has emerged from a concern that books previously unintentionally reinforced negative stereotypes. All the doctors in an image being men can therefore be seen as a type of hidden curriculum since it transmits a sexist view in a way that is difficult to detect or avoid if you want to keep using the book.
Think about somewhere you have studied and how you learnt to behave there, particularly in your first few days. Were there certain expectations that you were told outright, or did you have to figure them out for yourself? Who or what helped you to learn the expectations?
Hadiyah teaches history at a secondary school. She is concerned that some of her pupils feel that they can get by in her lessons simply because they have good comprehension and writing skills. When designing the mid-term exam, Hadiyah reduces the amount of longer-response questions and instead adds a multiple-choice section based around facts and figures from the unit of study. When the marks are released, it is clear that the hardest working pupils have done the best and some of the pupils who were complacent were shocked at their low scores. Hadiyah goes through the exam with the correct answers to show that her marking was fair and objective, making sure that her pupils realise that hard work is important.
A hidden curriculum is often easier to notice when resources are scarce. Rather than looking at policies or what is written in documentation, we can look at the allocation of resources to see what is really valued. One of the scarcest resources for both teachers and pupils is time. Looking at how time is prioritised has therefore been of great interest to researchers looking at what type of learning is valued since this will help to reveal the hidden curriculum.
A key concept in higher education is surface and deep approaches to learning. Marton and Säljö (1976) introduced the idea that students at university could adopt either a deep approach to learning, in which they learnt concepts in detail and thoroughly understood material, or took a surface approach, in which they memorised facts. Curriculum and policy documents would express a desire for deep approaches to learning, but Marton and Säljö's (1976) research suggested that the way students were assessed (particularly in exams) actually encouraged them to take surface approaches. As the concept developed, another category of strategic approaches to learning was added, suggesting that some students were skilled at understanding the hidden curriculum on different modules or with different tutors and could change their approach to learning to get the best results.
Richardson et al (2012) included this concept in their analysis of which types of pupils get better grades at university, and found that a strategic approach was actually more successful than a deep approach, while a surface approach was the least successful. This is a strong indication that the way students are assessed at university reflects a hidden curriculum, since the students who behave like they are meant to (taking a deep approach) are actually less successful than students who learn to 'play the game' of assessment.
One way of attempting to avoid the negative impact of a hidden curriculum is to reduce the power held by policy-makers or teachers by reducing the amount of summative assessment. If pupils are not forced to do as much work in a set way, they have more freedom to make their own value judgements. By reducing the power we hold over our pupils and students and giving them more choice, we reduce the implied or hidden message that they must defer to authority. Some sociologists have even argued that getting rid of grades completely, or at least reducing them to a bare minimum, would stop the hidden curriculum from getting in the way of 'true' learning and scholarship (e.g. Becker et al, 1968). A similar approach is to reduce the time pressure on students so that they can decide for themselves how they want to study and do not feel forced into strategic or surface approaches just because they run out of time to prepare for an assessment.
Think about an assessment, such as a university essay, where you did not have enough time. What strategies did you use to finish the work on time? Did this mean that your learning was not as effective as if you had spent more time on the work? Did it make a difference to your grade?
Frank is studying Of Mice and Men for his GCSE English Literature. He has left it too late to read the book fully, so he reads a summary online and watches the film. He knows that there are only a few key characters in the book and that he will have a choice of two questions in the exam. Looking at last year's paper, he decides that it is unlikely that the same two characters will come up again. He looks up detailed summaries of each character on a study guide website for just two of the main characters. On the day of the exam, one of those characters is an option. Frank is able to answer in a good level of detail and scores a B overall, even though he never actually read the book.
How might a hidden curriculum affect learners? Will this always be negative?
The concept of a hidden curriculum is highly problematic in higher education because a university tutor is often both teacher and assessor. It is therefore difficult to decide how much help students should be given, and how much they are expected to struggle on their own. For example, students will typically be expected to read beyond the list of books and journals given to them at the start of a module, and a tutor might even expect a certain book to be used even if it is not mentioned.
There might also be key professional values which students are expected to display. For example, an essay on lesson preparation would probably be expected to discuss student-centred practice and constructivism - a student making the case for didactic approaches and strong discipline might be able to make a strong argument for their views, but it is unlikely that they would be given a high grade. From one perspective, this looks like unfair marking practices, but it also makes sense if we are assessing values: being too explicit in the values we are looking for could encourage students to be insincere.
At school level, the curriculum is set through policy and it interpreted for pupils by their teachers, typically through using past exam papers or guidance from examination boards. Since the teacher does not have any insider knowledge of the assessment in the same way that a university tutor does (since school exams are set by examination boards), there is less conflict in the role: the teacher and pupils are 'on the same side' as they try to figure out how to get the best marks on assessments. Some teachers might still want to include their own values, such as rewarding hard work when grading coursework or other in-class assessments, but mostly the teacher is attempting to clarify the expectations and norms of the examination board's hidden curriculum. This means that while university tutors are more likely to use Snyder's (1971) definition of a hidden curriculum, school teachers are more likely to relate to Jackson's (1968) definition.
Thinking about the difference between hidden curriculums in schools and universities helps to explain why the hidden curriculum does not necessarily always have a negative impact on learners. Becker et al. (1968) argue that trying to be completely explicit about our expectations as assessors would restrict higher-level scholarship because students would simply have to follow specific instructions and memorise information from their teachers. It is therefore desirable that some expectations are hidden or deliberately vague because students can only meet those expectations indirectly. For example, a university student might be expected to 'read widely'. A tutor might quickly make a judgement on this by checking that there is at least one book and journal in the reference list which was not in the recommended reading, or that two opposing authors have been selected. However, sharing this marking short-cut with students would be counter-productive.
There are also positives to having a hidden curriculum at school level. If pupils knew all of the expectations that they were required to meet, they could feel overwhelmed or place too much importance on particular criteria. A teacher therefore acts as a buffer or interpreter, deciding what their pupils are ready to know. A teacher might also decide to be highly strategic, hiding some expectations from their pupils and showing them short-cuts in order to get the best marks possible. This might be especially obvious under time pressure or near exams. For example, a teacher might personally value attention to detail and emphasise the need to learn the correct spelling of key terminology. However, many exam papers do not allocate marks to spelling provided that the examiner is able to understand what word was intended. There are even cases, for example in GCSE English, where one of the papers has marks for spelling and the other does not. A strategic teacher could therefore maximise marks for their pupils by revealing this aspect of the hidden curriculum while preparing for particular papers, but it would be counter-productive to that teacher's own personal expectations to reveal the low value given to spelling too early in the school year.
Finally, how you feel about the positives or negatives of a hidden curriculum will largely depend on your political views. The idea of a hidden curriculum has its roots in Marxist philosophies, in which a hidden curriculum is almost entirely negative because it is an underhand way to force children into learning to be compliant and passive employees in the future. If you agree with this view, then you might want to expose some of the hidden curriculum to your pupils to help them avoid becoming wage slaves - teaching them how to 'play the game' in assessments might therefore be seen as a liberating act. Conversely, you might feel that since society pays for education it has a moral right to set the agenda for how the next generation will act in terms of citizenship and their place in society.Equally, you might feel that your place as a teacher is not to encourage pupils to question authority but rather to reinforce the values which you agreed to when you qualified.
Think about a previous teacher or tutor who marked your work and gave you feedback. Was the assessment criteria enough, or did you have to figure out what they wanted? Have you ever deliberately avoided stating your personal opinion because you think a tutor would disagree, or even mark you down for it? If so, how did you get this impression and do you still think this was true?
What strategies can we use to minimise negative hidden curriculums in teaching practice?
One of the defining features of a hidden curriculum is not just that there is some kind of a secret agenda, but that many of the intentions, values or expectations in a hidden curriculum cannot be made explicit - there is something intangible about them that cannot be put into words. Obviously, this will not always be the case, and one simple strategy is for teachers to critically evaluate and reflect on their practice so that they can be more honest with pupils by making as much as they can explicit. However, trying to be explicit about many values or expectations could risk over-simplifying or creating confusion. One helpful way to avoid this is to help pupils to understand what we see as desirable or good quality. If we were doing this with food or drink, we would want to taste a wide range and describe the positives and negatives. Using examples is therefore a great way to help pupils appreciate what is expected, even if they are still not able to express in words what is expected of them.
Darius is teaching creative writing. One of the written curriculum aims is that pupils learn to use a wide range of punctuation effectively. He finds more guidance on this from a colleague, who says that she teaches her pupils about the effect of punctuation on a reader and how it is important to the pace of writing. However, another colleague marks exams in his spare time. He tells Darius that examiners simply look for a few different types of punctuation being used. Darius therefore coaches his pupils to include some speech in their first paragraph which uses exclamation and question marks. Once he is satisfied that his pupils are able to get the marks for using a range of punctuation effectively, he then spends some time looking at examples of professional writers using punctuation to contribute to a sense of tension.
In the example above, Darius is concerned about his pupils getting marks for a specific part of the assessment criteria. He starts by looking at what vague phrases such as 'a wide range' and 'effectively' mean in practice. The advice from his colleague focuses more on the effect of punctuation, but another colleague with marking experience focuses almost exclusively on the range. Darius decides to make this explicit to his pupils, and comes up with a strategy for ensuring that a range of punctuation is used in every piece of creative writing. However, Darius also wants his lessons to teach pupils how to write and not just how to get marks for writing. He therefore returns to the same topic and encourages his pupils to take a deeper approach now that he can be confident that they will not be penalised for failing to use a wide enough variety of punctuation types.
Addressing the hidden curriculum outside of assessment can be more problematic because the hidden curriculum could permeate so many aspects of what we do with our pupils. Moreover, many aspects of the hidden curriculum are useful for the smooth running of schools. The Marxist critique of hidden curriculums creating compliant 'wage slaves' is clearly undesirable, but a completely laissez-faire approach would be chaos in our classrooms. We might even question how appropriate it is for a teacher to expose aspects of the hidden curriculum as it could be interpreted as subversive behaviour. Perhaps the best defence against the negative aspects of a hidden curriculum is a strong foundation of critical thinking and self-reflection skills, enabling pupils to think for themselves how they are being persuaded to behave in certain ways.
Links with other chapters in this module
Each of the policies in this module can have positive and negative aspects of a hidden curriculum - depending on how you personally relate to the intentions of each policy area, you can either think of opportunities to make a hidden curriculum explicit to your pupils. Alternatively, you might be able to think of ways to use a hidden curriculum approach to better integrate policy aims into your teaching.
Wellbeing and dignity are key principles, which can be supported by emphasising the value of sharing views and discussing ideas in class. It is also important to think about opportunities to model the expected norms of professional relationships, which might be possible through examples in subjects, such as through discussion of the behaviour of adults in any fictional stories.
There are also some hidden expectations which you might wish to help pupils to understand, such as the emphasis on being pre-emptive. Rather than explicitly telling pupils that teachers are keen to act early to prevent serious harm occurring, this message might be more effective by looking at examples from stories featuring children - for example, the first Harry Potter book includes some signs of neglect which Harry's school should have noticed.
One aspect that you may wish to remain hidden could be the restrictions on how much support teachers can offer. Your duty to refer rather than to investigate might discourage pupils from making a disclosure, and the idea of multi-agency working could sounds intimidating. Whilst you would not want to promise confidentiality or that you will personally deal with all their concerns, there could be valid reasons for not being explicit about the highly structured and formal processes which follow a disclosure or the raising of a concern.
The concept of a hidden curriculum is ideal for equality and diversity and following the Prevent policy. This is because these policy areas require subtlety and integration as well as a consistent approach. It is important that teachers are clear on the expectation that diversity is normalised, but to be explicit about this with pupils might risk these attempts being seen as insincere or tokenistic. The Prevent strategy is also suitable for a subtle approach since pupils might be fearful of being monitored if they knew how seriously concerns of extremism would be taken.
It might be desirable to be more explicit about expectations, particularly with older pupils who are preparing for work. This is because some behaviours which would be disapproved of at school (particularly racist or homophobic comments/bullying behaviours) could have much more serious repercussions at work, including immediate dismissal or even prosecution.
The major risk discussed in the health and safety chapter was misunderstanding of health and safety policies. This was a risk because many teachers seemed to have interpreted health and safety guidance and being burdensome or forcing them to stop doing certain activities. Health and safety is therefore a clear example of the negative impact of a hidden curriculum. Indeed, the effect of all the assumptions teachers were making led to a complete revision of government guidance which deliberately set out a 'myth busting' agenda. Reinforcing this new expectation can help to challenge the fear many teachers still feel when planning activities, so it would be helpful to look for opportunities to demonstrate positive experiences of health and safety planning which allowed risky activities to take place safely.
One of the key limitations of pastoral care is that the time given for it has been reduced. Teachers typically have less time per pupil to spend on pastoral care, as well as fewer chances to get to know pupils as well as teachers would traditionally have known pupils in their tutor group. One of the best ways to address this limitation is to look for opportunities to hide pastoral norms, values and expectations in the subject curriculum. Just as with equality and diversity, normalising the expectation that pupils talk about their thoughts and feelings can help to address pastoral aims without taking time away from subject-based learning.
Outside of subject curriculums, modelling of healthy relationships can occur throughout the school in much the same way as appropriate professional relationships should be modelled as part of our commitment to safeguarding. The hidden curriculum is even more influential if you consider pastoral care from a traditional career-oriented perspective. The hidden curriculum teaches pupils the importance of being on time, dressing smartly, not making excuses, and managing conflict. There might also be a hidden curriculum of professional etiquette, such as situations in which using a mobile phone is acceptable. As with issues of equality and diversity, you might wish to supplement the message from the hidden curriculum by explicitly making pupils aware that many workplaces have stricter expectations. Similarly, whereas pupils will be picked up on standards of dress at school, it is very unlikely that an employer would monitor dress so obviously - however, pupils need to be aware that this is probably worse since they will simply be thought of as less professional or will be taken less seriously.
Some teachers may feel uncomfortable with the idea of forcing pupils to be compliant workers, but if pupils are entering a workforce in which they are judged by implicit standards (i.e. a hidden curriculum of expectations), then we should try to help them understand what these expectations are.
In the next chapter, you will see how opportunities to develop fluency in English need to be taken advantage of throughout the curriculum. When you are unable to communicate directly in the home language of a pupil, a hidden curriculum might be the only way to put across complex ideas. Pupils from different cultural backgrounds might also have difficulty adjusting to implicit norms and expectations, so you might choose to make such norms explicit to all pupils so that they can understand why someone might find it difficult to adapt. As with equality and diversity, care should also be taken to ensure that difference is normalised and you do not show frustration at a pupil's additional needs.
It is also important to remember that one of the biggest hidden curriculum expectations in schools is fluency in English. A lot of our explanations can use idioms or overly-complex phrasing, as can many learning resources (particularly older textbooks which have not considered a wide-ranging audience). Some concessions might be made in assessments, such as separate GCSE English papers for pupils with English as an additional language, but all the other subject areas assume capability in English. It might therefore be desirable to be explicit about the limitations in the assessment system, and how someone's understanding of a curriculum subject might not be sufficiently assessed simply because of a language barrier.
The wide-reaching role schools play in society means that almost everything teachers and pupils do is imbued with hidden meanings and intentions. The concept of a hidden curriculum helps us to see what ideas we are putting across to our learners, and reflect on whether these are appropriate. Schools prepare children to enter the workforce and society in general, so a school is often seen as a safe space to think about the expectations and explore the boundaries.
The idea of a hidden curriculum also exposes some of the flaws in our assessment system and how challenging it can be to help pupils understand what is expected of them. Reflecting on the hidden curriculum should help you to think about whether you are helping pupils to develop new skills and abilities or whether you are helping them to pass an assessment of those skills and abilities. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle, and this too is a type of hidden curriculum as we try to better understand how each individual pupil experiences the school curriculum in its broadest sense. The hands-on scenario below sketches out this experience from one individual's perspective, so should help you to see how all the different types of hidden curriculum mentioned in this chapter can come together.
Now that you have completed this chapter, you should feel more confident in:
- What the hidden curriculum is and how it relates to teaching children.
- Making explicit some of the unstated norms and expectations in your subject area.
- How to help your pupils understand tacit norms and expectations.
Becker, H., Geer, B., and Hughes, E. (1968). Making the Grade. London: Transaction.
Jackson, P. (1968). Life in Classrooms. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Marton, F. & Säljö, R. (1976). On Qualitative Differences on Learning: I - Outcome and Process. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 46, 4-11.
Richardson, M., Abraham, C., and Bond, R. (2012). Psychological correlates of university students' academic performance: a systematic review and meta-analysis, Psychological Bulletin 138(2), 353-387.
Sambell, K. and McDowell, L. (1998). The construction of the hidden curriculum: messages and meanings in the assessment of student learning, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 23(4), 391-402.
Snyder, B. (1971). The Hidden Curriculum. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
'Hands on' scenario
You are a Key Stage Three and Four English teacher in a prospering Hertfordshire School which is highly subscribed.
Making sure students are prepared for examinations is an important part of your work, and expectations for the number of pupils achieving A and A* grades are high. There are several types of hidden curriculum you will need to consider related to this explicit expectation, such as what examination boards expect and what else parents might expect their children to do to achieve these grades. In particular, GCSE students need to be prepared with appropriate guidance and materials well in advance.
Many pupils are working above average in English and so it is part of your role to be able to push pupils to get the highest marks possible. Parents also have these high expectations - for example, for their children to go to well established universities, where high marks in English as a requirement are essential.
You are also due an Ofsted inspection this year, with the school's desire of outstanding lessons to be illustrated within all subject areas to improve the current rating of good. Being a core subject, it is important that English is demonstrated to an effective high standard. The school has shown outstanding practice in previous Ofsted inspections in expressive arts and physical education prior to this visit and it is expected that the core subjects should match up to these other achievements. The school also has its own expectations about being a successful provision, and so this needs to be balanced into how you plan, teach and assess pupils. Additionally, the school is very focused on behaviour management. As an additional demand, the school wants to impress locally: the drama department have gained a strong reputation for their performances, and while it has not been explicitly stated there is a growing interest in how the English department can gain more public exposure.
On a more personal level, you are very passionate about your subject area and have a real interest in literature which you want to share with your pupils. Finally, and very importantly are the pupil's needs and their ideals of English, for example, some students are very niche and specific in their interests, like Maria who has a strong interest in vampires and mainly writes fan fiction. She writes well, but this is hard to assess and may not be within others' ideals for English.
After considering what particular audiences' own hidden curriculum agendas are, how can you ensure that the needs of examiners, parents, Ofsted, the whole school, English Department, yourself and the students are all met?
Being expected to know about and balance your work to adjust to the hidden curriculum ideals of all of the above audiences may seem like a daunting task but there are ways to manage your work efficiently so that all of these needs are met naturally in lessons. Achieving the very top grades takes a great deal of effort, so one assumption will be that you plan for the full year. This will not only help you to avoid becoming overwhelmed as the exam periods come close, but is crucial to allow appropriate time to meet the wide range of needs, for example allowing time for regularly going through exam papers with model answers, dictionary work, debates, creative writing, analysing different texts and freedom of choice in independent work. Think early about how you will manage expectations on your time - are you willing to run after-school sessions, revision days in the holidays, or a summer 'A-level boot camp' between the GCSE exams and September?
Plans should also highlight areas such as behaviour management and how the room should be arranged and set out with additional staff accounted for. The high expectations for behaviour might be in conflict with the desire for pupils to be more expressive and creative, so it might help to be explicit about your expectations for the classroom.
It is important to also state clear objectives so that pupils know exactly what is expected of them, and which combine the needs of the above audiences. It is likely that parents will frequently ask what their children are doing, so you will help to reassure them and save yourself worried phone calls if learning objectives are clear and your pupils can not only explain what they are doing but why. You might also choose to openly discuss boundaries in creativity: powerful dramatic or comic effects can be created by writing about taboos or using shocking language, but the potential to offend can make this a risk for all but the most skilled writers. You might wish to remind pupils that examiners will often be retired teachers, so their sensibilities should be respected. Giving some more freedom in controlled assessments or coursework where you are the marker might help, as would sharing examples of work that A-level pupils have created to help reassure pupils that they will get the chance to express themselves more as they improve their craft.
Your teaching should also occasionally allow for some element of choice from the students in regard to content, this could be choosing from a list of options that are within people's hidden curriculum ideals or giving students a more general topic area which allow them to be creative and express themselves effectively; for example, Maria has a specific interest in fan fiction and wants to use this theme in her work. However, this might be difficult to assess as there are elements of plagiarism and subtleties of parody that would be completely missed by the casual reader.
Regular assessments can help pupils to develop their sense of what overall quality means from an examiner's perspective, but getting the balance right and ensuring your grades are both accurate and motivational can be difficult (as well as very demanding of your own expert judgement and time). Pupils and parents will expect regular indications of their progress, but you might want to resist some of this. A frequent parental concern is spelling, but there is very little payoff considering the time it takes to run spelling tests. However, this is not just a parental expectation but is a way that pupils will be judged in everything they write - even if the exam board has reduced its emphasis on spelling, you might decide that the people who your pupils want to impress still need to be listened to. Thinking about the kind of learning that traditionally valued might limit your creativity, but learning to avoid typical pitfalls of pedantry such as possessive apostrophe use might nevertheless be very valuable for your pupils. This type of expectation might also affect the kind of wider reading you encourage, so that your pupils have a good grounding in the most famous 'prestigious' texts as well as modern classics (e.g. from the Booker Prize list) and free choice reading. Such wider reading might not be rewarded much at GCSE, where in-depth knowledge of two key texts if much more important, but it is a key expectation of the A-level English Literature curriculum, which might already be an identifiable next step for many of your pupils.
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