On 3rd June we had another casual meeting for Econ teachers.
On the agenda were 3 questions:
1) How can we best sequence the Economics curriculum?
And how we can achieve this under common constraints such as AS level co-teaching and multiple teachers?
2) How can we attract students to the subject at A-Level?
Including entrance requirements, communicating the nature of the subject accurately and broadening the participation for girls and students of ethnic minorities.
3) What do we wish we had known when we started teaching Economics?
Reflections on our mistakes and misconceptions, and advice for those new to teaching the subject.
This post focuses on that first question.
There appears to be 4 main ways departments structure the Economics A-Level, each with different advantages and disadvantages. The first two seem to be more common so I'll go through those in more detail.
Model 1 spends the first part of Year 1 on Microeconomic topics like Markets and Market Failure and Government Intervention, before moving on to Macroeconomic topics such as Macro Measures and Objectives and Demand and Supply Side Policies. Students then return to Micro to study topics like Market Structure before looking at some more advanced Macro topics including Trade and Globalisation. With this model, seems more common for a class to be taught by a single teacher (or different teachers for Years 1 and 2) but there are still plenty of schools who share the teaching between two teachers, either by running topics in parallel (eg one teacher teaching Circular Flow of Income whilst another teacher covers AD) or picking up where the other teacher left off.
One benefit of this structure is that if your school has a policy of December/January exams, students have potentially covered a few topics in some detail by this point, which allows you to assess higher-order skills. Students will potentially study topics more intensely and move through topics more quickly, and so might be able to see more progress and get to the 'juicy stuff' quicker. They also might benefit from 'getting stuck in' to or just focusing on one topic at a time, giving them time to become absorbed by it. On the other hand, this model requires students to cover more complex topics earlier, just a few months into the subject. It might be that students won't yet have the skills, maturity or familiarity with Economics needed. Students did used to sit papers in the January of Year 12 and so have previously risen to this challenge, but that doesn't necessarily indicate that it is ideal for all students. I'm honestly not sure how much difference this makes, but it might be worth considering.
If classes are taught by a single teacher, this model is quite straight forward, but it requires a lot of communication and co-ordination between teachers if teaching is split to make sure handoffs are smooth, misconceptions are picked up on and all the prerequisite knowledge has been covered. Another thing to consider with this structure is that students don't get their first taste of Macro until several months in, which may or may not be a problem. It could potentially also be a little more difficult to make connections between Micro and Macro, but this could be overcome with conscious planning.
Model 2 is very common in schools where classes are split between multiple teachers. Teachers still need to communicate and co-ordinate to ensure the synoptic links are made but the day-to-day needs might not need to be as intense as in Model 1, as teachers have a little more independence. A few teachers in our chat noted that this model sometimes resulted in confusing ideas in Micro and Macro, especially in diagrams. Whilst this can happen in Model 1, it may be that learning the AD-AS model while they are still not quite fluent in the D-S model, for example, might contribute to this. Talking explicitly about the relationships and distinctions might help with this. Conversely, some teachers thought that separating Micro and Macro between different teachers in different classrooms helped them to distinguish between the two sub-disciplines. Whilst there is some evidence to support this idea, there are also concerns that it might help students remember the learning experience, but not necessarily the content itself.
With this model, students cover harder topics later on and have a broader experience of Economics by the time they get there, but there is likely to be more time between lessons. On one hand, this means you might need to spend more time recapping, but it might also give students more time to reflect and digest homework tasks ready to build on it next time. It also gives scope teachers to specialise and refine their practice. In settings with multiple classes in each year group, it might be more efficient for teachers to research, fine-tune and prepare the same macro lesson to two classes than cover all of the content with one class. However, as we all know from our lessons on The Division of Labour, specialisation can cause inflexibility in timetabling and replacing teachers, and can make it harder to make links.
Model 3 is more uncommon. Generally there is one teacher who alternates between Micro and Macro, for example a week-on-week off model, or assigned lessons in the week dedicated to each. Unlike Model 1, students encounter Macro early on, and harder topics are left towards the end of the year. However, it needs to be carefully organised to consider the prior knowledge required. Students might struggle to switch between Micro and Macro, or get stuck in to a topic only to be interrupted by another and then have to return in a week's time. On the other hand, it might make synoptic links easier, and the break between the topics could give time for teachers to assess work and use this to inform their planning, something that might be more difficult in Model 1.
Model 4 is a more flexible version of Model 3. Teachers integrate the teaching of Micro and Macro, but not in a strict routine. Whilst students need to be flexible enough not to need the strict routine of Model 3, it allows them to round off learning one concept before moving on to another. It also allows teachers to arrange the topics in a way that ensures students have the prerequisite knowledge and links can be made. This is a challenging task, but what you might lose in telling a clear 'Micro' story and a clear 'Macro' story, you might well gain in a more rounded understanding of the subject and better links between them. Another thing to consider is that by changing the order of the spec around, it might be harder to source relevant materials, but over time you could make and adapt your own. This will obviously take a lot of time, so you'd need to consider the trade-offs involved with such an undertaking.
One teacher or two?
Clearly the number of teachers teaching each class makes a big difference when choosing the A-Level structure. In some cases, that decision is out of a Head of Department's hands: there may only be one teacher, or timetabling constraints may make it necessary to have two. As a reference point, most teachers in the chat co-taught classes alongside another teacher.
Having a single teacher gives that teacher more control and autonomy, but on the flip side, this might be a lot of pressure for an inexperienced teacher (although this can be overcome with good department support). Single teachers will spend more time with the class, which means they might be able to build relationships quicker, but a two-teacher model gives students more variety in terms of teaching style and economic perspectives (I know we try to be neutral, but our own experiences are likely to come across in our teaching). Developing systems and routines might be easier with one teacher, and it avoids students playing one teacher off against the other, which sometimes can happen with two teachers, but this can be overcome with good communication and consistent policies (although the latter has to be balanced with teacher autonomy). The time needed for co-ordination and communication might be a burden, but it is also likely to result in natural collaboration. That said, single teachers can certainly collaborate, but they might need to be more deliberate about this.
Breadth vs Depth
Along with the configuration of Micro and Macro, we also talked about how we approached breadth and depth of topics. I wanted to know whether teachers preferred to give students a broad overview of a range of topics and how they fit together before revisiting them to add depth, or whether they found it better to take each topic in turn. The AQA AS course leans slightly more towards the former, which helps natural revision and synoptic links, but teachers mentioned that students didn't have the time to fully get their teeth into a topic before moving on, which they found frustrating. My concern would be that weaker students might end up being aware of but not really understanding anything because of the speed at which you'd have to move to cover the full range of topics, but that equally they might benefit from the familiarity and repetition in Year 2. The Edexcel AS course leans towards the latter: there are fewer topics but covered in more depth. As a result, you have to be far more deliberate about revision. It also makes planning the sequencing of topics a little more challenging because in-depth evaluation often requires familiarity of other areas (I think this is perhaps more of an issue in Macro than Micro). Clearly, if you don't have students sitting the AS paper, then you can move either course around to fit your preference.
Aside from 30,000 ft view, we also discussed the placement of particular topics. Inequality was one that was discussed, because whilst it fits in with the other Macro objectives, it also ties in strongly with Poverty and Labour Markets. Nichola shared how she had found that students weren't able to write about inequality in enough depth when she taught it at the end of Year 1, and had since moved it to Year 2.
Labour Markets were also moved around quite a bit. Despite its clear links across the curriculum, easy to see it as a more individual little section, again sometimes put in that awkward gap after Year 12 exams, but we discussed how moving it to directly after Market Structures might add an extra dimension to students' understanding, especially in AQA where more depth is required.
I studied a Model 1 type course at school, and have had more experience teaching this way. I also really value the autonomy afforded by just having one teacher, but I might think differently if I was in a department with lots of communication (my only experience of co-teaching in Economics was made a bit tricky by us having no working hours in common!). I think these experiences have shaped my preference for this course structure. Familiarity was not an uncommon reason for choosing course structures, and this is understandable: what we know better, we probably teach better.
However, I might play around with a Model 4 type structure to explore its merits- I'll let you know how I get on!
If you're interested in attending the next Econ Ed Chat, check back for updates.