Friday, February 08, 2008

Personal view of the New Zealand Curriculum

Schools are now beginning to focus on implementing the ‘new’ New Zealand Curriculum.

I guess my first reaction is one of relief in that it is move away from the impossible demands of the previous document by drastically reducing the impossible, all but incoherent, lists of learning objectives. The technocratic nightmare imposed in the 90s has all but gone but what is in its place?

Already conservative opponents, who reside in the traditional secondary schools, are calling the ‘new ‘document ‘woolly’. They of course would want to revert to some golden age of exams and academic excellence for the few.

The ‘new’ document is clear: ‘Curriculum design should begin with the premise that all students can learn and succeed’ (p29). The vision of the document states that students need to be, ‘creative, energetic and enterprising’. Key vision words are: ‘Confident, Connected, Actively involved, and Lifelong learners’. All students are to develop positive, resilient, learning identities that reflect ‘New Zealand’s ‘unique identity’.

I particularly like the phrase is that students should be, ‘active seekers, users, and creators of knowledge’.

I would have liked an even greater emphasis in the document on identifying, affirming and amplifying the talents and gifts of all learners.

Who can argue with the desire for all students to, ‘achieve personal excellence’, and that students should be, ‘encouraged to reflect on their own learning processes and to learn how to learn’, and that defining school values are vitally important.

To achieve the vision of the NZC students need to be engaged and challenged by a range of real life and future orientated contexts. What is required is a, ‘curriculum that has meaning for students’ ; ‘connects’ to their own environment and communities; and one that ‘makes links within and across learning areas’.

Key Competencies (a term that seems to reflect a technocratic mindset) are ‘capabilities for living and lifelong learning’ and are to be seen as ‘the key to learning in every Learning Area and, along with the Learning Areas, are ‘both a means and an end’. Key competencies are to be learnt in context to become part of each students ‘learning identity’.

Students, the NZF repeats, are to be seen as competent thinkers who, ‘actively seek, use and create (their own) knowledge. To do this students need to develop a ‘metacognitive’ understanding of their own learning – being able to think and reflect about their own learning processes. ‘Managing self’ is about having a ‘can do’ attitude and being able to, ‘set personal goals, make plans, manage projects, and set high standards’. The document values working in teams and being able to relate to others empathetically.

It would have been valuable if there had been a section clearly defining the need for a basic inquiry approach to learning. A range of references to inquiry teaching are to be found in the various Learning Areas sections. Defining a basic inquiry approach across the curriculum would be a valuable exercise for schools to do

The teacher’s role is to develop their classes as learning communities, accepting and connecting to all learners – a classroom where all students develop ‘a sense of belonging and confidence’.

Providing challenging learning experiences in all area of learning is one of the main tasks of the teacher so students can ‘construct’ their own learning; ‘Intellectual curiosity is at the heart’ of powerful learning it is obviously stated.

The Learning Areas section provide guidance for the selection of authentic contexts. The emphasis on making, ‘use of natural connections that exist between learning areas’, is welcome. Advice is given that each learning area has its own language, or discipline, or perspective, and students should learn to appreciate the essence of each. Integrated programmes can all too easily neglect the importance of real content.

Selected learning contexts need to be interpreted and expressed by a range of language and creative media. Creative teachers will recognize the ideas of ‘multiple inelegances in these ideas.

Schools have the freedom to develop their own curriculums within the guidelines provided. The levels statements are problematic to me. I would’ve preferred more specific core requirements for each developmental level (early primary, primary, middle school, and early secondary) and find the repetitive statements on each level diverting.

It is the opportunity for schools to develop such creative programmes that make me so supportive of the NZF. For older teacher it is all a little bit, ‘back to the future’

The Effective Pedagogy section is most valuable but does everything but say it is based on a ‘co –constructivist’ approach. Teachers are asked to value students ‘prior learning’; to value relationship between teacher and learner; to involve students in their own learning, including self assessment; and to include ‘parents and caregivers as key partners.’ Students are also asked to reflect on new learning and relate it to what they already know – ‘to think about their own thinking’.

To achieve such progressive ideas teacher will need to involve themselves in ‘learning conversations’, so as to, ‘provide encouragement, challenge, support and feedback’, ‘building on what students know’; and to assist students ‘make connection between learning areas. Such conversations provide opportunities for realistic assessment. Assessment, the NZF suggests is, ‘an ongoing process that arises out of the interaction between teaching and learning’; ‘integral to the inquiry process’; ’much of evidence is of the moment’, and ‘takes place in the mind of the teacher’.

The suggestion to, ’cover less but cover it in greater depth’ is most welcome, as is the need for teachers to inquire into, ‘the impact of their own teaching’. This reflects the research that states that it is the quality of the individual teacher that is the key factor in student success.

The NZF gives great freedom for schools to respond to, ‘the particular needs, interests and talents of students in their classes’. By asking teacher to place students at the, ‘centre of their own learning’, the NZF is a welcome move toward a future orientated ‘personalized learning’ agenda.

I see little to stand in the way of primary schools implementing the requirements of the NZC but it will be problematic for the timetabled subject specialist secondary schools; with their genesis in a past industrial age. Such schools will need a structural and cultural change to be able to provide ‘authentic learning experiences’ and success for all their students.

The NZF is by no means a perfect document but compared to its predecessor it provides a relief from past requirements. It vindicates the ideas of creative teachers, who have had a battle the last decade or so, and, best of all, it provides a starting point to develop a truly creative 21stC education system


Anonymous said...

You seem to have changed your tune, over the past years, about Ministry curriculums?

Anonymous said...

I think that the change is due to having a document that is more workable for a creative teacher - the type of learning Bruce has long been the champion of.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks Jody!

I have nothing against the Ministry when they are heading along the right track, as they currently are. It is great to see them ditching the faulty technocratic curriculum ideology of the past decades - although they tamely call it revision!

The 'new' curriculum offers creative teachers, and schools, a great opportunity to take centre stage in the educational debate, rather than being pawns. The Ministry's role is to support innovative schools and to assist them share and access good ideas.

If this turns out to be the case then we are on the same creative highway!