Monday, May 22, 2006

On the right track at last!

  Posted by Picasa The revised New Zealand Curriculum will be coming to your school soon; June I believe! In the meantime I have acquired a ‘leaked’ (or is it ‘drip fed’) draft document so I thought I would give it a preview!

For those, old enough to remember, it will be a case of ‘back to the future’ or ‘deja vu’

It will be welcomed by all who are sick and tired of not quite knowing where they stand about assessing learning objectives and for those who have long felt uncomfortable with the ‘top down’ compliance ‘define and measure’ concept behind the original New Zealand Curriculum. In the future, it seems, we will no longer have to ‘deliver’ curriculums but instead ‘design’ them to suit the particular circumstances of the school.

And, of course, the ‘old’ NZCF was hardly original, as anybody who has seen any number of similar documents from other countries or states, would know. It bears the closest resemblance to the English National Curriculum but, thank goodness, we never took it as far as they did in the UK and we have avoided the creativity killing national testing and associated ‘league tables’.

I have been a long time critic of the structure and mindset behind such curriculums but am now pleased to be able to support the ‘new’ document; it will make a pleasant change. I don’t even mind if they don’t apologize for sending us down the wrong trail for the last fifteen or so years. No doubt the Ministry will call it natural evolution but to me it is a bit like big clumsy dinosaurs changing into flexible new mammals overnight; I would call it the Ministry catching up with the reality of innovative schools.

The ‘new’ document opens the way for greater school freedom and flexibility for schools while still retaining basic core understandings. All the incoherent objectives, levels and strands for each learning area have been reduced to a single A3 piece of paper to cover all learning areas. The remaining ‘core’ will provide important national consistency while freeing up teacher and school initiative and enterprise.

The main thing is it will provide a clear sense of direction without all the complicated roadmaps to follow of the past. It is based more on profession trust than compliance.

It is all about teaching and learning these days (one wonders why this common sense idea a needs to be revived). All of a sudden those in their ‘ivory towers’ now understand that it is the quality of each individual teacher that is the key factor in a child’s growth; the power of relationship and high expectations. I have recently heard the Minister talking about ‘personalizing education to fit the curriculum to students’ rather than vice versa! The old pioneer creative teachers will ‘spinning in the graves’. The managerial education factory system of Henry Ford may finally be replaced by the democratic learning communities of John Dewey! Better late than never. Mind you it will take lot to shake up traditional secondary school structures and ‘mindsets’ with their genesis in the 19th C but, who knows, the power of ICT might simply pass them by.

Mind you I have few concerns. The foreword starts with the importance of literacy and numeracy – I would have thought it might’ve started with the need to develop the creativity and talents of all students as the number one priority. ‘All our students will stand tall as New Zealanders’, confident, connected, lifelong learners who are actively involved in a range of life concerns. These ideas, expressed in the draft, as a vision for our young people, I would have put first.

I guess we will have to live with the clumsy ‘key competency’ phrase but in reality it is all about the attributes required of a future citizen – the ‘new basics’. It is the development of such competencies, plus ensuring important key understandings are in place, that will eventfully provide the missing element, allowing ease of transition between the various schools levels for our students that is currently missing. It is great to see values rising through the ranks as developing appropriate democratic values will be a growing concern in a multicultural and rapidly changing world. And it is also great to see environmental sustainability included – it is after all a world priority!

A phrase I loved was ‘intellectual curiosity’ and students who are ‘active seekers, users and creators of knowledge’. Pedagogy is strangely defined (‘the art and science creating the conditions for effective learning’) but a ‘co- constructivist’ philosophy strongly underpins this draft. The draft mentions that, ‘effective teaching practice should encourage a love of learning’. You would never have seen ‘love’ mentioned in earlier technocratic documents – it would not be possible to measure. I also liked a simple phrase, ‘success breeds success! An emphasis on doing fewer things well will lead to excellence one of the principles mentioned in the draft.

The various learning areas are represented by ‘essence’ statements which focus on the ‘key ideas’ students should gain through experiencing them. Schools are encouraged to develop their own programmes which could start, ‘with the shared values and beliefs of the community’, or the ‘learning needs of the students’. And integrating learning areas around realistic contexts studies is strongly suggested as subject, ‘boundaries are more apparent than real’.

Assessment includes all the ideas most schools now use; it primary purpose is to improve students learning and teachers teaching. All those check lists and tracking sheets are now truly history! I really liked the idea that assessment is ‘ongoing process between the teacher and students’ and that much of it takes ‘place in the mind of the teacher’. Profession judgment is being given its rightful place again.

Not a lot is new but nothing wrong with that; but it does look good.

It is about teaching and about time!It may spark a new creative teaching revolution. Who knows?

The document I have is only a draft; the real thing will be coming to your school soon! Worth reading!


Kathy H said...

I'm glad to see that sustainabilty is on the cirriculum. I have often heard that educating people about sustainability is ineffective due to the 'lag phase' but i see it as inseperable from any other strategies to be put in place.

Bruce said...

Hi Kathy, great to hear from you again?

Sustainability is at the heart of everything - not just ripping the planet apart to make temporary wealth. For too long we have lived with this 'myth of progress' which eventually will destroy civilisation as we know it.Past societies might not have had this ecological understanding so they have an excuse but we do and still we don't seem to change. Must be this 'lag' thing - or 'information drag'.

Nothing will matter if we don't start to learn from the mistakes of the past. I wonder what they said in Easter Island as they felled the last tree? Doh!

Anonymous said...

Jeez Bruce are you mellowing in your old age - saying nice things about the Ministry! If what you say is true then let the good times roll!

Bruce said...

I do feel we are on edge of some exiting developments and it is great to have a Curriculum that is in tune with the times and not one holding schools to past thinking.

Anonymous said...

But are the schools up to it - too many principals seem to like all the managerial nonsense? Gives them the illusion of power! 'Rule by clearfolder' and now 'evidence based learning' - but learning what?

Bruce said...

This thought ( young principals seduced by managerialism) has been suggested as a 'roadblock' to personalised learning' by Dean Fink. ( See an earlier blog this month).

'Evidence and research based' learning is another current fad - I prefer Andy Hargreaves phrase 'evidence engaged'. That is schools thinking their own way into the future as there is both 'shonky' evidence and research ( see 'Federally approved' reading research in the USA and the damage done by focussing on narrow 'targets'.) Plus all the 'paint by numbers' language and, worse still, 'creative ' art, dominated by imposed criteria and doubtful exemplars; the over use of both often misses out on 'off the wall' creativity.

Bruce said...

It is better schools 'design' their own curriculums and then continually improve them through 'enlightened trial and error' - possibly the best description of any so called 'inquiry method'. Let's leave curriculum 'delivery' in the last century where it belongs! Life, as they say, is not a rehearsal and nor is education - it is 'learning by doing and reflecting'. 'Just in time' learning rather than 'just in case'!

'If a thing is worth doing it is worth doing badly'. (G K Chesterton) And if you have to comply ( 'targets', Annual Reporting etc) do it badly and get on with the important things!