Research School Network: Knowledge Organisers: Setting out a Definition Mark Miller, Head of Bradford Research School, asks: What exactly do we mean when we talk about Knowledge Organisers?


Knowledge Organisers: Setting out a Definition

Mark Miller, Head of Bradford Research School, asks: What exactly do we mean when we talk about Knowledge Organisers?

by Bradford Research School
on the

What is a Knowledge Organiser? If you’re reading this post, you probably have a decent answer for that question. You can picture what they look like and can readily recall some examples no doubt. But if you were to define it exactly, it’d be trickier, and your definition would almost certainly differ from the next person.

We’re about to embark on a series of posts on Knowledge Organisers, and it would be remiss of me not to set out what we mean when we say that term. Without a very clear definition of Knowledge Organiser’, there is a likelihood that we’re all thinking about different things. And in your own context, even a clear definition can be miscommunicated, misunderstood and can mutate.

My first encounter with the term was in Joe Kirby’s blog, written about their use at Michaela Community School: A Knowledge Organiser sets out the important, useful and powerful knowledge on a topic on a single page.” Beyond this simple definition, Kirby shared the way Knowledge Organisers were implemented as part of A 5 year revision plan’.

Jon Hutchison, who has articulated the curriculum vision from Reach Academy, has this definition: The Knowledge Organiser is the beating heart of each unit, with the core content meticulously curated and itemised to clarify the necessary (but not sufficient) knowledge to develop a sophisticated schema for each unit of work.” I like the way the thinking here emphasises not just the curation – the careful selection – of the knowledge, but the way that its ultimate function is to develop a sophisticated schema. Incidentally, the blog post that is taken from is called beyond knowledge organisers – building the best curriculum in the world’ and makes clear of the important role of knowledge organisers within that wider context.

So in striving for our own clarity, we standd on the shoulders of giants, but we also set out our own thinking. Bradford Research School sits within Dixons Academies and we say this about our curriculum:

The curriculum should be designed for content to be remembered in detail: to be stored in our students’ long-term memories so that they can later build on it, forming ever wider and deeper schemas.

Any tools we use should be aligned with this. So, we ask: where do Knowledge Organisers fit?

  • They curate the knowledge
  • They facilitate retrieval practice
  • They facilitate elaboration
  • They facilitate organisation
  • They support assessment of knowledge
  • They support independent study
  • They support curriculum planning – they are curriculum planning

And putting all of that together, here is our definition:

A Knowledge Organiser is a one-page document which presents curated, essential, organised knowledge with clarity. Knowledge is presented in a format which facilitates retrieval practice, elaboration and organisation, in order to develop a schema.

  • It is one page – because we want them to be kept simple.
  • It is curated – because we want discussion and thought around the knowledge.
  • It is essential – this is the best knowledge, the necessary knowledge.
  • It is organised – because it will be better remembered.
  • It is clear – because we want to reduce the working memory demands.
  • It facilitates retrieval practice – because this is one of the best strategies to make things stick.
  • It facilitates elaboration – because we want to connect knowledge together.
  • It facilitates organisation – because knowledge is best stored in organised relationships.
  • And those elements together help to build schema. 

If it doesn’t meet this criteria, then it’s not a Knowledge Organiser’ as we define it. The definition is particularly useful for us as a way to have a shared language across multiple academies in a Trust, so that everyone knows what we mean when we say Knowledge Organisers’. This doesn’t mean that a school couldn’t make them two pages or make any number of adaptations. It doesn’t mean that the definition won’t ever change, and indeed we should always be asking where we might be wrong.

We’ll continue elaborating on our ideas at Bradford Research School on Knowledge Organisers over the next few weeks and welcome feedback. If you want to share your own thoughts on Knowledge Organisers with us, maybe even as a blog post, please get in touch. And check back in with us for the next blog.

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