The importance of depth not breadth

Simi Rai

Saturday, 17 November 2018

As the proverbial phrase goes… ‘less is more,’ but in education ‘less’ isn’t always enough. In the current climate of constant government reforms to the GCSE and A-Level curriculumns, it is unrealistic for teachers to adopt this stance.

Heavier syllabi and longer exam papers are posing a great challenge for teachers, as they are forced to condense a great deal of content into one or two academic years. Pupils can barely process what they have just learnt, before they are expected to move on.

But what if there was a way for pupils to cover all of the content in a timely manner and understand what they are learning at a deeper level. Well they can, and I will explain how.

1. Prioritise

Break down the course, syllabi and exams into smaller digestible chunks. Think…what are the most important skills pupils require in order to pass the exam? Once you’ve prioritised the most important skills and content and pupils have the foundations, you can explore more complex material and dig deeper. For example, pupils aren’t expected to write an in-depth analysis of every minor character, so focus on the main characters first.

2. Think like a minimalist

Do you really need to annotate each and every scene in the play as a class? The exam will only consist of one, or at most, two scenes from an entire play, so sit with your colleagues and decide on the most crucial scenes to explore in depth. For example, with a play like Macbeth, if you are unable to cover it chronologically, work through it thematically.

teacher reading to class-1

Choose depth

Once the pupils have a fundamental understanding of a text or unit, spend ample time exploring topics and concepts in greater depth. Start a spontaneous debate, or discussion and get pupils to really think about the topic at hand. Using Bloom’s taxonomy teach them to look beyond what they are learning, and encourage them to analyse, evaluate and argue what they learn. These are the command words they need to reach the top bands.

4. Delegate

It is unrealistic to expect the teacher to explore every topic or unit during lesson time, so encourage pupils to fill in the gaps. Organise presentation lessons or homework tasks that encourage pupils to teach each other some content. Not only does this take some pressure off your planning, it encourages pupils to become independent learners and take responsibility of their learning.

In the end, less is always more. Pupils will not forget what they learn with pleasure, so take some time to explore content in depth and lessen your need to cover everything.

The exam can only ask a number of questions, so teach pupils to focus on answering them with quality, not quantity. Have fun with it!


About our Community Expert


Simi Rai
Community Expert

Over 5 years of experience in educational settings throughout London, Madrid and Barcelona. Whilst studying English Literature and Language at King’s College London and the University of North Carolina, she fell in love with her subject - both the study of literature and craft of writing.

After graduating, she completed the Leadership Development Programme with Teach First, whose mission is to provide equality through education, and attained her PGCE in Secondary English at Canterbury Christ Church University. She was then appointed as Deputy Head of English at one of the highest performing schools in England in a London inner-city academy.

Following this, she completed her Leadership and Management MA at University College London (Institute of Education) and became the director of an English Language company based in Barcelona.

Simi is our English Literature and Language Expert.

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