Monday, December 01, 2008

2009 National testing or Inquiry learning?

When governments impose targets on schools it is not what you hit that counts it is what you miss because you weren't looking! Literacy and numeracy or life long learners?

The 'new' New Zealand curriculum provides a real opportunity for schools to develop a 21stC education. The imposition of national testing could well put this 'at risk' if what has happened in other countries is anything to go by.

National testing in Victoria - lets hope this is not the new government's intentions!

From a NZ teacher teaching in Melbourne – is this what is in the future for us? Not so much the ‘nanny state’ but the ‘big brother’ state!

‘We are right into national testing over here. There is now national testing of all year 3, 5, 7, and 9 students. It just used to be in the other states. Victoria used to be told that we were lagging behind the other states but now, low and behold, after national teaching we are one of the top states. We also have online testing in Numeracy and Maths with the results going to the Department. This is done 3x a year. Our reports are also put directly into the Department. Accountability is everything, don't worry about the teaching. We are told that it does not matter where the students start our job is to get them up to national average and they are trying to bring in performance based pay as well. Also pay incentives for expert teachers and principals to work in disadvantaged areas.

An agenda for 2009: a focus on Inquiry Learning

1. The ‘new’ New Zealand Curriculum is all about students being: 'creative energetic and enterprising’ able to ‘make sense of their information, experiences and ideas’ so as to become ‘ confident , connected and actively involved life long learners.’

2. It asks schools to develop students who ‘are competent thinkers and problem solvers who actively seek, use, and create knowledge’. This involves giving students more choice and responsibility over their learning leading to a more ‘personalized’ approach.

3. The NZC is asking schools to develop an inquiry approach to all learning; to develop schools as ‘communities of inquiry’. An inquiry approach is about engaging students in difficult questions and issues that are meaningful to them. It is about placing ‘learnacy’ above literacy and numeracy. This would be a major change of focus for schools.

4. The need is to present learning contexts to challenge students
(‘rich topics’) to be able to research and ‘reflect on their own learning, draw on personal knowledge and intuitions, ask questions and challenge the basis of assumptions and perceptions.’

5. Schools need to sort out an inquiry model for students to make use of. This model needs to move beyond the mere gathering of information to the deep construction of thoughtful understandings and, at the same time, develop the ‘key competencies’ or future attributes, or attitudes, or dispositions, required for ‘life long learning’.

6. Class inquiries ought to provide the ‘energy’ to focus the greater part of the school day
and include the teaching of information research and presentation as part of the literacy programme, as well as mathematical ideas, that may be required as part of any inquiries. The NZC suggests ‘doing fewer topics in greater depth’.

7. Such inquires may feature one Learning Area in particular but will most likely involve aspects (strands) of other learning Areas as well. The curriculum is to be seen as ‘deep’ ‘connected’ and integrated. Teachers may need to plan collaboratively.

8. Teachers will need to develop focused independent group work in all learning blocks including dedicated inquiry time. Groups, or individuals, may research individual aspects and then to share findings, with a wider audience through exhibitions, publications, demonstrations, performances, information media, or posting on web. Such findings are powerful means of assessing depth of understanding and knowledge of process.

9. By covering a range of inquiry topics (covering the full range of learning Areas Strands) students will also be given the opportunity to uncover hidden gifts, talents and interests that might become life-long passions, or vocations.

10. Lack of dedicated inquiry time is an issue so the idea of ‘re framing’ the literacy and numeracy blocks to develop appropriate research skills would seem an obvious answer. This would also include integrating use of ICT.

Be interested in any thoughts. An imposition of narrowly based national testing will provide a moral challenge for school leaders.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Bruce for the thinking !

It will be interesting to see what forms the National Party testing takes.

I think I remember reading in their policies that they would not introduce new tests but use pre existing tests. I'm guessing PATs and AsTTLe - whatever the outcome it will change the way we do things and may lead to stress.

Of course the most important things that a teacher does are never measured anyway - relationships, smiles, encouragement, challenge and affirmation.

Jane Nicholls said...

Interesting how many times we were assured that asTTle was not going to be used for national testing etc. Here come the league tables...

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks for your comments Tom and Jane.

I guess we will have to wait and see. Imposing tests, resulting in league tables, seems to run against National's philosophy of freedom, enterprise and individual responsibility.

Any government needs to: negotiate the right conditions, develop the 'capacities' of teachers and principals, and then trust teachers.

Miss. Communication said...

This is such an interesting idea. Living and learning to become a teacher in America is so conflicted. Much of what our program stresses agree with the new New Zealand curriculum - creating lifelong learners, developing students who are problem solvers, etc. However, our education system does not coincide. The emphasis is on standardized testing. I live in Washington State, and have been in many classrooms where kids are not being encouraged to become lifelong learners. Many teachers are conflicted by their desire to teach in a inquiry learning sort of way, and the requirement that their students perform well on tests.

I would be interested to see the impact that this has on your school system in 2009.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks Miss Communication. As we haven't yet introduced national testing we don't know what will happen. I agree with your thoughts about the mismatch between the ideals of true education and the effect of politically inspired national testing.

We will have to wait and see.