Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Memo: the challenge of the NZ Curriculum

A close reading of the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum would indicate that our schools need to dramatically change if they are to provide all our students an education to allow to thrive in the future.

The 'new' New Zealand Curriculum provides schools with a challenge but only if they are able to think out of the current 'mental boxes', or 'mindsets', they find themselves in.

This will requires more than 'makeover', or a few 'add-ons', what is needed the questioning of all processes and activities . All too often the basic assumptions underpinning schools remain unquestioned but unless the purpose of schooling in the 21st is faced up to, and 're-imagined', things will remain much the same. UK educationist Guy Claxton's latest book, 'What is the Point of School?', provides the question (and a few answers).

A few thoughts to consider:

1 Schools ought to be about keeping the love of learning alive in all students to ensure all are 'confident, connected and creative learners'(NZC).

2 As research indicates, and reinforced by common sense, that students learn when their, curiosity, interest, or attention is alerted. Ensuring this innate disposition to learn is kept alive, in all students, ought to be our number one priority. Guy Claxton has written that 'learnacy', or the drive to learn, is more important that literacy and numeracy'. This is echoed by creativity expert, Sir Ken Robinson, who says that creativity will be as valuable as literacy or numeracy in the future. Our 'new' curriculum wants all students to be 'seekers, users and creators' of their own knowledge.

These thoughts are not reflected in the schools I visit.

A look at the time spent on various Learning areas, or a glance at the school wide assessment 'targets' that schools report on, would reinforce this lack of balance or reflection of past practices.

3 The 'new' curriculum indicates a need for future capabilities, or as they are called Key Competencies', to become central to all learning and that they are to be seen as a 'means and a end' to develop 'life long learners'.

Developing engaging 'rich' real life problems, based learning contexts, for all Learning Areas, is a future challenge. Schools need to see themselves as 'communities of inquiry' allowing teachers to utilize the idea that 'intellectual curiosity is the heart' (NZC) of all learning. If this were the case programmes ought to feature students' questions, 'prior ideas', tap into their individual talents and gifts, and take advantage of their immediate environment. The 'new' curriculum wisely recommends that schools do fewer studies in depth' to develop students competencies and understandings. This would also apply to maths studies.

Classrooms would need to feature such inquiries, drawing and integrating where necessary, all the Learning Areas. In contrast most primary classrooms spend most of their time and energy on literacy and numeracy, all too often, with little 'connection' (NZC) to other Learning Areas.

The 'essence' and the different perspectives, or ways of thinking, of each Learning Area, are vital to ensure the talents of all students are to be given a chance to be recognised and amplified and to develop key competencies in authentic situations. Currently Learning areas are being neglected simply due to a lack of time and a lack of appreciation of their value, by teachers, of how important they are to individual students.

4 Literacy and numeracy programmes need to be 're framed' to achieve the vision as outlined in the NZC. All to often the are taught as independent of other Learning Areas. This is not to underscore their vital importance as 'foundation skills' but to emphasize they are are also a 'means to an end' - 'confident learners' able to use such 'basic skills' to interpret and express ideas involved in inquiry learning challenges across the curriculum.

Future schools need to integrate into the literacy block all the skills students need to read and research information and also ways to express ideas gained. This would include aesthetic design and presentation skills and use of appropriate information technology. Meaningful skills of research reading are obviously of vital important if the limited time given to inquiry learning is to be taken advantage of. Every opportunity to integrate inquiry content into literacy block would, in effect, 'kill two birds with one stone'. First drafts of research tasks should be completed in this time to allow students complete their work independently in the afternoon 'inquiry block'. Science experiments ( shared science thinking and writing) could be completed and written up as models during literacy time.

The same integrated concept applies to maths that is required as part of students investigative work. This needs to be modelled in the numeracy block.

Such thinking integrates the morning skills block with the afternoon inquiry learning time ; and provide the means to infuse the Key Competences.

I think the above ideas expressed are worth consideration by schools.

To me, they reflect not only what modern research into learning, and how our brains work, but they also the creative work of both our 'pioneer' teachers and the 'creative' teachers still to be found in our schools. If such ideas were to be implemented then school assessment priorities would need to change to reflect the competencies as outlined in the New Zealand Curriculum. We need to assess what we value.

As mentioned the ideas above could provide the inspiration for a debate about how to implement the vision and the challenge provided by the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum?

It would be beyond much current'tinkering! Dramatic times require courageous thinking; it is time to escape from the limitations imposed by the past before it is too late.

Any thoughts?


Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more Bruce. What a challenge though. What would we use for targets if we didn't spend 4/5 of the day on Literacy and Numeracy? Oh that's right the other 5 curriculum areas all taken in the 1/5 of the day left. Balance????

Bruce Hammonds said...

I have convinced myself that the education ideas ( hardly original) I wrote up in my blog are the way to go. Schools that don't move in such directions are living in the past, simply frightened to move , or haven't thought it out! As for National's testing....

Anonymous said...

Just to confirm your comments Bruce in light of our election:

Do they ever need it! This No Child Left Behind law, tying school funding to test results, has bled all of the fun and enrichment out of the school day. Second and third graders -- six to eight year olds -- only get recess two days a week, and art and music and library get an hour each, so that teachers can concentrate on teaching to the test. A test that drives the kids bonkers, with its ambiguously-worded questions and rigorously inside-the-box thinking. Don't get me started.)

We sure as hell don't need this.

Anonymous said...

If we change the Government in NZ I can't see introducing national testing as a 'courageous transformational change towards a better future' - more step back into the past. Be just a copy of President Bush's failing NCLB or the UK's equally failing national testing and league tables. No creativity in either.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks anonymous. There is no balance in our current schooling- even in the best of our primary schools.

And the USA National Testing ( NCLB) is the last thing we want in NZ. Our kids are tested enough now. As it is said it ought to be 'about teaching and about time'.

Suzie Vesper said...

What I keep coming back to is that they can't bring in testing if teachers simply refuse to do it! We should all stand tall here.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Evidently the Scottish teachers resisted National testing - if they can we should be able to. But whatever we have to show we are accountable.