Knowledge Organisers are, Err…Ok

Probably the blandest title I’ve ever written for a blog that – but it kind of fits the mood. There’s been some hoo-hah recently about knowledge organisers. Are they good? Bad? Boring ways of forcing facts down little gosling throats or essential diets for healthy learning? Well to throw my tuppence worth in, they’re neither. They’re a baseline. A common denominator of the things we’d like the children to be able to remember for whatever reason. Some find them useful as starting points. Some see them as the starter, main course and pud. I probably fall in the former camp. Take the example Jon Brunskill kindly shared of his KO on the moon landings. There’s nothing wrong with it at all. Facts leading (hopefully) to a decent piece of informative writing. There’s nothing wrong, but it’s so small. Man, this is the MOON. There’s not much else out there that can get kids more excited than space. Surely it’s worth expanding?

What if?

A few years ago when we were outside I got the children to make footprints in the mud with their wellies. We predicted how long they would last and I asked them how long they thought a footprint would last on the moon. They generally thought it would last longer on the moon because they decided there was no rain there. And well, where we live, it rains a lot. But it was the first of many questions – some coming from me, some from them, that led to lots of investigation and learning:-

“Why were there no women astronauts on the Apollo missions?”

“How long would a footprint last there and why?”

“Is there less gravity on the moon? What is gravity?”

“How long did it take to get there?” (you could work this out from the times and dates provided on Jon’s knowledge organiser)

“How far is it? How fast did the rocket go?”

“Have rockets got faster over time?”

“If it took that long to get to the moon, how long would it take to get to Mars? The edge of the solar system? The edge of our galaxy?”

“How much did it cost to go there?”

“Would there be tides without the moon?”

“How do people pee in space? Where does it go to?” (that was mine)

It seems a shame to limit learning about this amazing voyage to a literacy task. Look how much Maths and Science is in here! And I’m reminded of the Year 4 children I saw in Ashley Primary School arguing about a 2cm disparity between their scaled circle of the moon and one of the earth. They had found out the circumferences of both, scaled them down and cut them out. They they had used the same ratio to work out the scaled distance between them. But the hinge of a door was in the way. They’d have to move the moon 2cms away from the earth. One of the children was most upset – she wanted it to be accurate. She knew in reality that 2 centimetres was thousands of miles. Now that kind of passion and commitment is what we really need from children. Facts are great, but caring enough about those facts to argue over them is greater. Sort of.

It’s not enough to teach children the what of the world and beyond. We need to teach them to find the wonder in all that is around them. We want them to want to protect their world, to investigate it, to push the boundaries of knowledge forward and become knowledge creators, not just knowledge keepers. So Knowledge Organisers. Yes, they’re ok. But they’re bread without butter. I  know a good sandwich starts with the bread, but I don’t see why we can’t give them a tasty filling. That’s all.

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10 thoughts on “Knowledge Organisers are, Err…Ok

    1. Hmm. Good question. We need to make the wonder in the world known I think. I remember the feeling I had when I learned about some aspects of quantum physics – that sense that the world was never going to be the same for me. Or when I lay down on the grass in the garden with my Dad and he told me how fast we were hurtling round and round. Children sometimes are blind to the wonder in the everyday. Maybe that’s why they find it in games.

      1. Person and age related. Wonder comes in all sorts of sizes shapes, and velocities and intensities. Parents and teachers and carers and friends help, but wonder is intrinsic – especially for kids, I think.

      2. God forbid. I have visions of a Minister of Ed. seeking votes by adding “Wonder” to a National Curriculum. What Good education does is allow pupils to see a wow factor in aspects of the world around them. That’s why a prescribed curriculum wether local or nationally imposed is inherently wrong. Yes I know that the storm, rainbow, bird, animal, plant(s) outside the window are interesting you or we would like to test the strength of various structures, and so on but the curriculum says we’ve got to do … That places demands on the teachers but once you get rid of the idea that a teacher can only impart the knowledge they possess but together with the pupils they can find the answers children start to fly. They love the idea that they can discover something the teacher didn’t know.

  1. Yes, but there’s a lot that schools can do to tap into that intrinsic wonder to motivate learning. And a lot they can do to shut it down and make learning dull. So I think we’re probably not teaching wonder. But we’re teaching for wonder if that makes sense – leaving spaces for their wonder to emerge into questions and stimulating that state so they’re interested enough to think beyond the facts given.

  2. I work with teachers who are training to teach primary – I am working with them to get them to be teachers of science. One of the techniques for learning we use is to use a story book to get the children to think of questions that they want to explore about – tapping into the wonder that they have. Generally, the children come up with great questions like the ones you have outlined above and this gives a starting place for great exploration and inquiry. If there are concerns over curriculum coverage then the teacher can use the children’s questions as a starting point and choose those which best fit the curriculum. The children feel engaged and involved with the topics and whilst this is science focussed it is easy to build out to the rest of the curriculum.

    Like you I can see the knowledge organiser as a useful stimulus, checklist, planning tool but would not want the children (or the teacher) to be a slave to this – I do not think that Jon is necessarily suggesting this but feel that there was a “listy” feel to the example he gives in his blog that felt a bit mechanistic and instrumental. I am very fond of Richard Skemp’s work re: instrumental and procedural thinking.

  3. Surely Jon and his colleagues also explore the same topic in other subjects and allow the kids to wonder and explore the moon in scientific and other ways… That KO is just a way to formalise the exact knowledge the teachers want to include in preparation for a specific literacy task- but there is nothing in his blog to suggest it precludes other interesting questions and ideas coming up all over the shop!

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