Monday, December 11, 2006

Last words on the draft NZ Curriculum

Posted by Picasa The competencies hold the key!

By now all the comments, from all and sundry, will have been sent into the Ministry about the draft New Zealand Curriculum.

It will be interesting to see what eventuates but three things I hope will be included in any revision. Lets hope the 'personalisation of learning', so often mentioned by the Minister, makes it in as the phrase marks a distinct move away from the mass 'one size fits all' education of the 1950s. I also hope that there is greater appreciation of the importance of developing the gifts, talents and interests of all students as a more important element of the vision. As we leave the industrial age and enter a new creative era this would seem vital. The third thing is to put back the phrase 'to develop a love of learning' included in an earlier draft as this is what must be preserved at all costs.

It will take more than the introduction of a new curriculum to change the basic 'mindsets' of our schools - particularly at the senior levels but the document has the right intentions and if implemented to the letter it could transform schools as we know it. It is far more than 'tinkering' and cannot be dismissed by those who say we are already doing what it asks.

The overview diagram ( page7) indicates what evolves from the vision and the key is the need to develop all students as 'confident', 'connected', 'actively involved', 'self managing', 'life long', 'thoughtful' learners. A 'love of learning' encapsulates it all; nothing must be allowed to destroy this for any learner!

No one would argue with the need to develop democratic values, respect, tolerance, a sense of excellence, care for the environment ( this might need greater emphasis?) etc but I see few schools, if any, that are models of democratic values; at best they are benevolent dictatorships. 'Personalised learning' would be one way to pass authority and power down to the students themselves.

The 'key competencies' seem to be the 'Trojan Horse' of the draft curriculum. Although not fully explained in the draft they represent a major shift in thinking.The draft indicates that it is these 'capabilities', rather than content objectives , are to be the outcomes of any learning experience. I am uncertain about the phrase 'key competency', feeling that it is a concept being pushed down from the tertiary level ( and a major OECD Report). Perhaps a more learner ( and parent) 'friendly' less technocratic term will eventate?

If schools were to focus on developing the competencies then selecting relevent ( to the learners) integrated contextual studies will be the means. The idea that 'learning how to learn' is more important than content, held by many primary teachers, is a myth. Learning has to be about something and needs to result in all learners developing their own personal mix of things they want to learn about. Knowledge is still vitally important but as means to develop both process ( competencies) and quality learning achievements ( content.)

For me a key phrase in the draft is the need to develop students 'who have well developed problem solving skills, are active seekers, users and creators of knowledge.' Achieving such creative students is the real challenge that the curriculum presents.

I can see, and already have seen, futile attempts to assess the competencies and, if teachers are pressurized to assess individual competencies in any learning task, then it could become a nightmare. Already there are those, responding to the current 'mantra' of 'evidence based teaching' developing complex rubrics to assess each competency - competencies can only be assessed against the quality of the task completed or they will focus teachers on the 'cart rather than the horse'. We have only just 'escaped' from assessing endless learning objectives - surely we have learnt our lesson in all this? No way can they ever be 'ticked' of as done! They are more dispositions to develop powerful learners; generic qualities dependent on meaningful contexts. If this 'lesson' is forgotten we will be in trouble. Competencies will , in the final analysis, depend on teachers professional judgement

Over assessing competencies will risk the loss of teacher creativity, fun and excitement. The Ministry advisers ( long removed from classroom reality) must be careful that they do not 'kill the goose that laid the golden egg' in an effort to prove a point to those whose 19thC minds can't see past graphs.

I wish there was greater emphasis on the need to develop problem centred contextual learning experiences but already subject specialists will feel somewhat threatened wilh the pressure leave their outdated isolated specialist teaching 'mindsets' to enter the 21stC. What is required of students is the opportunity to feel and act like scientists, artists, musicians, mathematicians , historians , geographers ,and multi media experts etc as they call on various subject matter to research and express their problems and thoughts.

A positive aspect of the draft is the emphasis on effective teacher pedagogy to create a supportive learning environment that identifies students needs and works in partnership with the students and their parents. Maybe there is a need to make a 'co- constructivist' philosophy clearer but such a philosophy is implicit in what is written in the draft . Schools will have to think long and hard to make explicit their teaching , learning and assessment approaches clear to all and to hold all teachers accountable for implementing them. If all this is realized then true learning communities based on inquiry will be established.

Most of the ideas in the draft do indicate a real need to transform our education system so as to create truly 21stC learning environments. That schools are to be encouraged to 'design' rather than 'deliver' a curriculum marks a dramatic shift of thinking at the Ministry ; one I am entirely supportive of.

I think the appendixes of 'learning areas' and levels ( a fob to subject specialists) is the weakest aspect of the document - a close look at some of the objectives defined will soon illustrate the problem of trying to define what students should learn. Still it is dramatically reduced from the previous almost incoherent Learning Area Statements. We should be thankful for small mercies!

Perhaps the next 'edition' will create a more unified document - shaking loose of the past is aways difficult but it has to be done. The previous curriculum statements all but destroyed the creativity of our most creative teachers.

Whatever is finally presented must value and keep the classroom teachers enthusiasm alive and well.

When all is said and done whatever happens only happens as a result of the intimate mutual relationship between the students and their teacher(s). It is all to easy for those who live in the higher echelons to forget this.

I would be interested in your comments about the draft curriculum or any of the views expressed above.


Anonymous said...

It is interesting to see such a Ministry critic as yourself in alignmnt with the intent of the 'draft' Ministry curriculum.

Bruce said...

I have always been a great believer in the state's role to ensure all students receive an education best suited to their needs.

The trouble is, over the years, this has not been the case. All to often the 'one size fits all' model fits only those whose backgrounds mirror the schools.

The new draft,and the Minister's talk about personalizing education, align with the views I have always held.

I was never 'anti Ministry' - more with their approaches. Now that they have 'seen the light' I am with them - even if still critically!

Anonymous said...

It will be interesting to see what finally eventuates re the NZCF but it will be totally amazing if secondary school ever make the leap into the 21stc!

Anonymous said...

I will have to back and read my copy of the draft more closely - more in it than I first assumed it seems?

tim said...

"The idea that 'learning how to learn' is more important than content, held by many primary teachers, is a myth."

I'm interested in how you feel this is a myth Bruce. At the school I teach at, we have real issues with students not recognizing their role in the school - as learners. If a student does not recognize that their role in life is to learn, to continue to learn - then we need to teach them that.

We learn how to behave/act/prepare in staff meetings and for conferences as adults - why is it not the same for children?

I agree we need to have content - relevant content that targets the students - but as part and parcel of the learning process surely, they need to have the skills that allow them to 'learn how to learn'.

Perhaps I'm reading more into your comment than I should - I do agree that the Draft Curriculum has some very powerful notions and important ideas for the future of education in NZ. I remember thinking when I was first exposed to it - that the biggest obstacle to its implementation would most likely be us - teachers and administrators.

for the record - I am a primary/intermediate trained teacher - but hope that isn't held against me. ;-)

thank you for your blog and articles - always much to mull over.

Tim Kong

Bruce said...

Thanks for your comment Tim.

The point I was making was that primary teachers recently have become 'carried away' with the idea of thinking processes.

I do believe in procees but it should be to make, develop, design, produce or demonstrate something. All too often I see teachers who seems to think that 'learning how to learn' is all there is.

Both process and product are equally impportant - but without something of quality to show for it is is a hollow victory of process over substance - or 'higher order thinking for thin learning'.

I think you are in agreement with me?

Teachers 'mindsets' will always be the biggest challenge in introducing new ideas as you say.