Thursday, November 15, 2007

The New Zealand Curriculum - good news at last

I have just managed to get hold of a final copy of the New Zealand Curriculum.

I think most teachers will feel well pleased with it. Teachers ( well creative ones anyway) have always 'colonised' official curriculum's to suit their own hard earned beliefs. The day of 'experts' knowing best in any organisation s well past and, today, real change requires a creative mix of both 'top down' and 'bottom up' initiatives.

The key to the future is to establish conditions to release, and take advantage of, the creativity of all involved.To use two current 'buzz words': 'life long learners' working in 'learning organisations'. This, one would hope, would include schools. For schools to transform themselves however it will require new forms of leadership and a genuine respect for the ideas of their students.

A close read, for those who can be bothered, will show that there are a few subtle differences of emphasis in the 'new' curriculum. Naturally there is no attempt to 'own up' to the poor design of the previous curriculum with its endless strands levels,objectives and impossible accountability demands. I guess it is seen as 'organic' growth but of course it isn't. In many respects it is 'back to the future' for creative teachers who now will be able to breathe more easily.

Premised on the need to thrive in an unpredictable future the key to students success are the key competencies and the development of 'students who are creative, energetic and enterprising.' I particularly like the phrase that students are to be, 'active seekers, users and creators of knowledge. I also like a little more emphasis on issues of sustainability.

As for the key competences ( a phrase that still reminds me of a past mechanistic or technocratic era) there is an interesting rearrangement and an emphasis that they should 'not be seen as stand alone' and are both 'a means and an end' to learning. Thinking ( previously listed 5th) is now number one and includes my favourite phrase: students who 'actively seek, use, and create knowledge'. A constructivist philosophy underlines the curriculum.

The Learning Areas are also to be seen as both a means and an end and, 'while presented as distinct, this should not limit the ways in which schools structures the learning experiences offered to students'. Emphasizing connections between learning areas and integration is encouraged.

The biggest change from the past curriculum is reducing individual Learning Area books to an A3 pullout page for each level
(included in the new document). I am sure this will be more than enough to ensure a core of learning requirements are achieved.

The effective pedagogy has been rearranged placing 'creating a supportive environment' first. As mentioned a constructivist philosophy underpins the this section if not mentioned directly. 'Personalised learning' ideas are also apparent but once again is nor mentioned directly.This is a surprise because it seemed to underpin the speeches of our previous minister and expresses the real difference between the future emphasis and the academic 'one size fits all' approach of the past.

An new inclusion in the NZC is a suggestion to do fewer things well - 'to cover less but cover it in greater depth'. This will be welcomed by those who have been overwhelmed by the need to cover all the previous unwieldy curriculum requirements. Those who have aways known that depth of understanding and pride of achievement can only come from such approach will feel rightly justified.

The new emphasis placed on inquiry learning will please those who believe that students awareness of the learning process is important. Not a lot is new in this section ( John Dewey wrote about this early last century) but it is most welcome.

All in all the NZC gives, 'schools the scope, flexibility, and authority they need to shape and design their curriculum so that teaching and learning is meaningful'. The change from 'delver' to 'design' is pertinent.

Schools now have a great opportunity to be creative and to make full use of the talents of both teachers and students.

If there is a challenge it is whether middle, and particularly secondary schools, can develop structures and meaningful learning contents for all students to be their own 'seekers, users, and creators of knowledge'. This is the area where exciting innovation needs to occur.

I fear a few 'mindsets' will need to change if the opportunities of the Curriculum is to be realised but, if we are to be successful as a 21stC country, we have no choice.


Jody Hayes said...

Hi Bruce... exciting stuff... looking forward to the start of 2008 and putting some of this into action. Hopefully our copies will arrive before the holidays.

Anonymous said...

Ichy and Scratchy ( Well known Ministery technocats!)are very pleased to be able to deliver this new attempt. We have always been full of purrpus and pawed over endless bits of information like your Blog and the "The Cat In The Hat etc, in fact we have scratched thru all the litter!. We now call ourselves "Creative Cats" We understand fully the need to explore creativity and to look further into the reasons,whys and where fors as we have heard that we may have to hunt for our food in the future rather then just be given it on a plate!

Kind regards, your friends Ichy and Scratchy (ps do you have any good books on "How to Hunt in High Rises" suitable for us Hep Cats??)

Bruce said...

Thanks for your comment Jody -I thought schools would have it by now! Be a shame if schools were the last to get a copy!

As for you 'hep' cats Itchy and Scratchy great to have you back! Didn't know you guys worked for the Ministry! Glad aslo to see that you are now creative cats! I will give some thoughts about ideas to hunt in high rises!

Anonymous said...

I think your comment, 'back to the future', is really pertinent'.

Respect for students' ideas is the key to successful teaching followed by the skill of the teacher to help students deepen their knowledge and achieve personal execellence.

The focus on the 'key competencies' is a step in the right direction and takes the emphasis off learning 'stuff' and then regurgitating it. I prefer the phrase 'future attributes'.

As for students being 'active creators of their own knowledge' how come we had forgotten such a basic idea? Why did we focus on unweildy assessment of learning objectves? Surely principals knew better?

Any assessment in the future ought to aim at somehow assessing how well students are becoming active, creative and caring learners ( the key competencies).If this is done we ought to avoid trying to assess subskills but consider each student holistically.

And the 'revival' of pedagogy is also about time -particularly an emphasis on inquiry; John Dewey, et all, must have been rolling in their graves over the technocratic nonsense of the past decade or so!

And as for 'doing fewer things well' has the Ministry at last caught on to what you have been saying all these years?

And you are right -will secondary schools be able to rise to the challenge ? Currently they the home of the full range of educational dinosaurs!

Jody Hayes said...

Hi Bruce... it has arrived ... must be out of the loop to get it so late. Caught myself reading it over dinner! Anyway, much to think about.

Bruce said...

The key is to interpret 'it' to suit your beliefs - been a bit hard in the past but now possible. Creative teachers have always 'colonised' official curriculums to suit themselves! It is all about helping students develop the 'key competencies' ( future 'mindsets') through exciting learning adventures based on realizing their own felt concerns and particular gifts and talents. This means 'learnacy' before literacy and numeracy! This will be hard for some teachers to do!