Friday, 14 June 2019

Changing curriculum - another piece of the achievement puzzle.

‘Mā te huruhuru, ka rere te manu’
‘Feathers enable the bird to fly’
( or 'Be prepared, have the right tools to achieve').

So says our beautiful whakatauki, gifted to our kura in 2017 by Ngai Tahu. It rather beautifully captures our reason for being. It tells us that we want our tamariki to 'fly', to be successful in their lives. It also tells us that we have to give them the correct 'tools' to succeed. The tools that our tamariki need to succeed have changed in many ways, although there are still many fundamental components that look exactly as they have always done.

These are perhaps best described by the 'Key competencies' described in the first half of our national curriculum, and they are:

  • thinking.
  • using language, symbols, and texts.
  • managing self.
  • relating to others.
  • participating and contributing.

All too often I hear the cry that as a result of the focus on the key competencies we no longer value knowledge in education in New Zealand, that 'knowing stuff' no longer matters. Utter nonsense!

Take the first competency listed above: thinking.

You cannot think in a vacuum. You have to have 'stuff' to think about, you have to 'know stuff' in order to be able to think. Schools first have to teach knowledge so that they can then develop thinking in students. The question open for debate is exactly what knowledge matters? Twenty years ago calculus was considered indispensable, but now maybe less so.

What is changing perhaps more than anything else though is how we do that. Schools all across the globe are rethinking curriculum - the sum total of the knowledge, skills, and attributes, that we teach.
Hornby High School is no different, and over the past three years we have been 'playing in the sandpit', trying out newer different ways of structuring and causing learning to improve outcomes for all of our learners. After all, across New Zealand, some groups of students do very well, while others have traditionally not done as well, and this is not good enough.

Central to our work so far has been our Learn Create Share pedagogy which we are still progressively implementing as part of our participation in the Manaiakalani programme, the benefits amplified by our use of Chromebooks and the ever growing range of digital tools. This pedagogy alone has already begun to show very significant improvement in student achievement, especially in writing, and you can see a previous post on that data here.

But what about how we structure the learning, and what students actually learn?

Beginning in 2016 we began some trails based around project based learning. From our learning in these trials, in 20198 we looked further into the operation of 'passion projects' for students. The learning from these trials was immense and lead to the formulation of our new Year 7 & 8 curriculum/timetable structure, our aim being to improve student engagement and achievement by building a solid foundation of literacy and numeracy (that's not new, we've always tried to do that) and then approaching traditional silo'd subjects in a more integrated way. We were inspired to quite a degree by colleagues at Campion College. So here is the structure we have been using in 2019:

The 'Hurumanu' blocks are perhaps the most interesting. We have a home room teacher working with a subject specialist. They design units that cover literacy and numeracy, the key competencies, and the specialist subject areas from the back half of the curriculum. For example a Hurumanu might include the homeroom teacher and an art teacher, or a PE teacher, or a science teacher.

The advantages that we have seen are significant. Students see specialist subjects in context. Home room teachers get to share the specialist knowledge of the secondary trained subject specialists, while the secondary subject specialists get to share in some of that rich pedagogy that is a part of a primary trained specialist's background.

The Wednesday 'Community Impact Projects/passion projects' have seen significant rises in student engagement. Students get the opportunity to tackle things they are passionate about, or to undertake real world projects that make a difference in their local community. Much of the data round this is still qualitative, observational, but what we think we are seeing is pretty powerful. Staff ensure that to some degree traditional curriculum learning is built into the projects too. These are as much a 'social enterprise' as anything else. We just don't give them the fancy/trendy names. We are simply honest about what they are, no fancy marketing spin here.

The 'Tane Mahuta' group for example are busily tree planting, composting, and generally improving their environment. They have learned a lot of science along the way.

This is a snapshot from the Tane Mahuta Community Impact Project group recently. The students were putting down some bark around the native garden area. It sums up how engaged the students (particularly the boys) were! 
These projects support the development of student 'agency', the idea that students increasingly have control over what they learn. This is essential to improved engagement, and therefore improved achievement.

Is this the 'holy grail', the ideal state? Nope!!! Staff already have plans to amend/improve/evolve this structure. We are also considering rolling this structure out to students in Year 9 too.

Beneath all of this change The Manaiakalani Programme stilkl sits as the essential approach to learning, and this is all a part of our journey towards that 'centre of creative excellence'.

Change is a difficult thing to embrace. It creates anxiety for everyone. We have taken a 'steady as she goes' approach, I believe in evolution rather than revolution when it comes to school change in existing schools. We have tried to make sure that staff have the time to be reflective, to adjust their practice, to get comfortable collaborating with each other. Being gentle, being kind, not only applies to the students. There is urgency to this change, but there is little point in forcing the pace of change if it means we leave figurative 'bodies' littered by the wayside. Our teachers are too precious to burn them off in our quest for change. However change must occur, because our rangatahi are too precious to leave languishing in the past. That is the moral imperative.

In the context of recent industrial action by teachers, I think it is important to be aware of the work that teachers do that is challenging and innovative, that pushes them beyond their comfort zones, and so creates its own stresses. I am personally grateful to be part of a team that is so willing to do this, to push back boundaries because it understands the need to keep improving the outcomes for our rangatahi, because it understands the moral imperative of equitable outcomes for all learners regardless of gender, race, culture or orientation. Without our teachers thing can never improve for our young people. We need to be grateful that so many have remained in our profession.

And of course this doesn't address the changes that we are likely to see at the senior/NCEA years, but that is another story. What I am convinced of is that without good solid engagement and achievement at this junior level, outcomes for senior students cannot and will not improve. These junior years set the solid foundation for that senior years achievement. In the same way that you cannot build a long lasting house without good foundations, so you cannot create good qualifications achievement without a good foundation in junior years curriculum and achievement.

Are we there yet? Nope. Are we on the journey? Most definitely.

Robin Sutton
Te Huruhuru Ao o Horomaka Hornby High School

1 comment:

  1. I love your Hurumanu blocks Robin, authentic learning resulting in empowered/agentic learners. Your unrelenting focus on what causes learning, curriculum design and the importance of the Key Competencies ensures you are well on track to your vison statement of Creative Excellence. I will be watching closely, thanks for sharing.