04 Focusing on the school's and national curriculum priorities

The 2012 ERO report The New Zealand Curriculum Principles: Foundations for Curriculum Decision Making found some confusion around the different intent and role of the principles, values and key competencies of The New Zealand Curriculum in improving outcomes for all students. Rather than using the principles as a starting point for curriculum design, they have often been something that has been grafted on to the curriculum retrospectively, if considered at all.

Leaders and teachers at Oratia School carefully integrate all parts of The New Zealand Curriculum with their own local values and priorities in a curriculum designed to fully engage and motivate their children. They aimed to ensure no part of The New Zealand Curriculum was neglected, while prioritising any principle or key competency that delivered most benefit to their children. They also monitored engagement by regularly seeking children's perspectives of how the curriculum, teaching and other aspects of school life helped them to learn.

This narrative shares some of their curriculum design and implementation strategies and their monitoring of students' engagement.

Children at Oratia School experienced a curriculum integrated across the learning areas, to give them opportunities to learn and practise new skills in authentic and engaging contexts. Teachers' planning was organised in ways that help children make connections across all learning areas, principles and key competencies as outlined in The New Zealand Curriculum. Leaders and teachers planned, implemented, and monitored their curriculum by:

>   clearly identifying their local priorities for children

>   collaboratively planning and teaching relevant and highly engaging learning activities

>   monitoring both student engagement and achievement.

Focusing on local priorities

Leaders stressed that all planning and review began with their strategic goals and plans. A key goal in their strategic plan was to provide a high quality education for children that inspired curious, creative and critical thinkers who achieve to their potential. Teachers emphasised the future-focused principle from The New Zealand Curriculum as a rich source of learning, relevant to students' futures. This principle was prioritised and outlined in the school's curriculum guidelines as shared below:

Future-focus issues include:

  sustainability - exploring the long term impact of social, cultural, scientific, technological, economic, or political practices on society and the environment

>   citizenship - exploring what it means to be a citizen and to contribute to the development and wellbeing of society

>   enterprise - exploring what it is to be innovative and entrepreneurial

>   globalisation - exploring what it means to be part of a global community and to live amongst diverse cultures.

Their curriculum also emphasised the key competencies from The New Zealand Curriculum. Teachers had looked deeply into the opportunities each of the competencies provided children and developed key understandings, attitudes and key skills for each of the five competencies. These were outlined in the school's curriculum and were shared with students to use as part of their self and peer assessment activities.

Many unit topics included opportunities for children to inquire into areas of interest for them that related to the current topic. The inquiries emphasised process and the development of skills and dispositions to facilitate life long learning. The model required students and teachers to:

>   include direct experiences

>   use e-learning tools to connect with experts

>   make connections between prior knowledge and new learning

>   reflect on new learning through individual and group activities.

Collaborative planning for the topic

Planning for each term's topic began with a collaborative brainstorm to explore all the learning to incorporate into the topic. Teachers together considered how they could combine:

>    the essential ideas to focus on

>    links to a variety of learning areas from The New Zealand Curriculum

>    the key competencies

>    the principles and values from The New Zealand Curriculum

>    their school values

>    aspects from their school wide te reo Māori plan

>    parts of the programme children could self assess

>    areas for teachers to reflect on at conclusion of unit

>    teaching points to focus on as part of their school's charter targets.

Following, we share parts of the brainstorm, planning and the implementation of a unit about Survival that Years 5 and 6 children told us they were enjoying during their reading, writing and afternoon programmes.

The diagram below shares the initial brainstorm undertaken by the leaders and teachers. When suggesting activities, teachers carefully considered both their local goals and the different parts of the national curriculum.

Teachers also developed the key understandings expected for students, and the teaching points or questions they would explore during the term. Although children were expected to gain new information, many of the understandings included strong links and gave priority to the key competencies. Students' initial understandings and teacher questions for the Survival topic are shared here:

The collaborative brainstorming and planning used teachers' strengths and interests and helped manage their workload. Leaders allocated planning and teaching responsibilities for the different parts of the topic unit and agreed teaching points to individual and groups of teachers from within the team. Teachers then developed detailed plans for each of the rotation activities and reading and writing programmes. The additional planning clearly emphasised how the activities focused on the agreed key understandings. Highly interesting and motivating activities were included to motivate children to practice the key understandings.

Engaging Activities

During the Survival topic, children were engaged in practical rotation activities during the first few weeks of the term. The activities were designed to help them understand and experience the breadth of survival skills and knowledge needed before they began their group or individual inquiries. The rotation activities also developed many aspects of the key competencies.

The survival topic was fully integrated into their reading and writing programme. Teaching plans identified objectives for Levels 2, 3 and 4 of the English curriculum. Below are those selected from Level 3 of the English curriculum.

Integrating the topic into the reading programme

During the reading programme children read the novel Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. The response activities clearly linked to the curriculum objectives above. When reading and discussing the novel the children were able to use some of the information they gained during the rotation activities such as shelter building, fire lighting, cooking outside, first aid and orienteering. As well as reading and discussing the novel, they engaged in high interest activities that involved:

>   writing predictions about what might happen next

>   writing about similar incidents from their own experiences

>   previewing complex vocabulary

>   finding out more about the aircraft involved and how to help someone who has had a heart attack

>   looking carefully into settings from the novel to identify objects and resources that could help the characters survive

>   answering comprehension questions that involved connecting multiple ideas together from the story to evaluate the characters reasoning and action

>   fun activities to demonstrate their ideas and understandings.

Teachers planned fun activities that allowed the children to work independently or with others to fully use the new information they had gained from the previous rotation activities, their own inquiries and the novel study. The fun activities are shown here:

The conclusion of the topic coincided with children attending their end of year camp where they had further learning opportunities.

Monitoring children's engagement

Leaders, teachers and board trustees were highly interested in how engaged children were in their learning. Each year they used and analysed the results from the New Zealand Council of Educational Research (NZCER) survey Me and My School (MMS). Data from 2011 onwards showed higher percentages of Year 5 and 6 children reporting positively about their time at school. Considerable improvements were seen in 27 out of the 28 questions in the survey when comparing results for Year 5 children in 2014 to those of Year 6 children in 2015. In 10 of the questions, the percentage of children indicating they agreed strongly with a positive statement or disagreed strongly with a negative statement had risen by more than 10 percent. According to the MMS Engagement scale, a student rating at 85 or more points on the scale represents a high level of engagement. In 21 of the 28 items, more than 85 percent of the students in Year 6 were classified as highly engaged.

The school also collected other information to monitor students' engagement and achievement levels. They collected data and analysed it to help identify the impact of new resources and strategies introduced in the school. They analysed national standards results comparing the beginning and end of year results to help determine the impact of the introduction of Chromebooks in 2015. Students were surveyed and their views and scores were reported to the board. Students gave a rating using a six point scale where 0 meant not at all and 5 meant a lot.

Question

0

1

2

3

4

5

How much do you think you have improved in your school work this year?

0%

0%

2.6%

70.5%

26.9%

0%

How much of your class time is spent on meaningful learning tasks?

0%

0%

5.1%

46.2%

48.7%

0%

Comments from the students explaining the issues or celebrating the improvements were also reported to the board. Students' views were valued and responded to.

Children had opportunities to develop their strengths and engage with their passions in a curriculum that included all learning areas and other aspects of The New Zealand Curriculum. This is shown in the image below that school leaders developed as part of their self evaluation.

High levels of teacher collaboration and ongoing internal evaluation helped to improve students' engagement in a rich curriculum.