Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Personalising learning and the 'new' curriculum

  Posted by Picasa Reading the latest speech from the Minister of Education Mr. Maharey it seems that new directions are being introduced in education that will, in his words, ‘re-orientate the system to put the learner at the heart.’
For student centred teachers this is nothing new but for others, as the Minister says, ‘it will mean ‘looking hard at how we teach, what we teach, and how we assess’.

There will be a strong focus on classroom teachers as it seems research indicates that up to 59% of the variance in student achievement can be explained by effective teaching. It probably sounds mean but I wonder what this measure of achievement is – love of learning or marks for literacy and numeracy?

The Ministry now realizes that the best way to ensure quality learning is to engage students in their own learning. It is great that this idea has emerged after years of believing Ministry imposed curriculums would do the trick. No matter it is a good idea.

Along with the above there is the realization that high expectation of teachers is also a key variable. Isn’t research wonderful?

Following the ‘successful primary and numeracy initiatives', they are being extended into secondary schools. I would’ve liked to have seen a ‘learnacy initiative’ developed but that would be too much to hope for! 'Secondary school teachers need to see all students as successful learners and acknowledge that a better understanding of student’s lives outside school, their aspirations and what they bring to the classroom is vital', the Minister says. This would make a change from the rampant ‘deficit theory’ thinking that is held by many secondary teachers of too many failing students. The Ministers emphasis on personalization will challenge this demeaning point of view.

He says that if these ideas were achieved it would certainly make a difference to the chances of students currently exclude and that ICT, combined with a personalized approach, has the power to transform teaching. Currently ICT is over-promised and under delivered; 21stC tools trying to fit into 19thC structures.

As for what we teach the Minister says, ‘we need to provide every student with the key skills for learning and life. Skills we hope will enable them to reach their full potential as individuals.’

The current NZ Curriculum has been revised and simplified and will allow schools the freedom flexibility to focus on individual learners. The curriculum will:

• Combine the seven Learning Areas into one document
• Focus on effective teaching as the most important thing to cater for the needs of all students
• Strengthen school ownership of curriculum
• Encourage home and school cooperation and communication.

Assessment will be focused on providing high quality information to parents, students and teachers. Sounds like there could well be a few ‘fishhooks’ hidden in this simple statement?

As for the future the Minister says the Government has two developments:

1. The School Strategy which focuses on effective teaching and engaging families and whanau informed by ‘evidence based teaching’. Let’s just hope that not too much of this evidence has to be on paper. It is what the learner can do, perform, and demonstrate that ought to count. I prefer ‘evidence informed’.

2. Secondary School Futures to encourage debate about the purpose of secondary education twenty years from now. All a bit late I would have thought. We already know enough about learning organizations and teaching and learning for all students to succeed – why wait so long. A bit like Nero fiddling while Rome burns!

The first of the two is obvious the second urgent. If we want to ‘retain’ and ‘engage’ learners we can’t make the 21st C with schools designed in the 19th.

Let’s hope these changes are made by the Ministry supporting and sharing the ideas, expertise and wisdom currently in the schools and not through the idealistic eyes of distant researchers. ‘Best research informed practice’ is preferable to ‘research led’ change.

All these changes will become increasingly difficult to achieve the further up the school system one goes. They are already in place in many junior rooms!

It will take some courage by all involved – none the least the Minister and the Ministry to combat the entrenched power of the so called 'successful' secondary schools with their self centred middle class parents who might think they might have to lose or share some of their ‘social capital’ and power!


Anonymous said...

It does all sound exciting but I agree it will take some 'grunt' to get the ideas into the hidebound secondary schools.I aslo share your concerns about the 'fishooks' hidden in 'evidence based' assessment. The evidence is, as you say, in what students can do - or what they want to continue with when they leave school

Anonymous said...

Lets hope they get some new advisers - people who actually taught in a creative way with the 'student at the heart' and not with those rather silly curriculums they were all so proud of!. Or at least they should tap into the wisdom that exists outside of Wellington - Taranaki even!

Anonymous said...

It is amazing how much common sense was filtered out by the 'experts' - now of course they think they invented it! We should be thankful! No way! All they have done is play 'catch up'.

Bruce Hammonds said...

I guess we should just be pleased that the ideas got to the 'top' so they can free the creativity of those at the 'bottom!. When it comes to leadership through ideas in action the 'bottom' is the 'top!