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Queen’s High School – Developing a common language

Principal Julie Anderson explains how staff and students at Queen's High School in Dunedin have developed a common language for the key competencies.

Historically at Queen's High School we’ve always had a meeting where the teachers of each year 9 and 10 class talk about the learning of students. In 2007, as part of that, we started talking about how we were using key competencies in different learning areas in relation to each class group. Are we covering all competencies with this class or are there some we should concentrate on more?

What students thought

At the same time we were also involved in the Dunedin Collaborative Schools Project to help students transition from year 8 to year 9. Some of these students formed a focus group and were asked what the key competencies meant to them, and who among their friends demonstrated effective key competencies.

The following year we discussed key competency development with our year 11 students in our extra timetable hour. Our exploration in 2008 extended to having our year 13 students focus on key competency goal setting in a mentoring programme with younger students. This gave us some insights into student-supported strategies we could use within the school to help students’ learning of the competencies. The students’ input gave us some ideas to move ahead with.

What staff thought

Staff then got together and started thinking about what the key competencies looked like school-wide. We wanted to have something in student language, and it was also an opportunity for the staff to clearly understand what the key competencies meant.

At a teacher only day in June 2008 we used a jigsaw approach. We split into the five key competency groups, with a representative from each learning area, to read and discuss resource material about the competency. These groups were asked to develop five success criteria for what you would see if you were using each specific key competency well. This ensured that the point of view of every learning area was included and that each learning area had an expert in each of the key competency areas. These success criteria also drew on the data we had gathered from our focus group of students as well as the ideas of staff.

Developing a shared language

The next step was to develop these success criteria in student language. Our aim was to frame, in positive language, indicators specifically for student self-assessment and not for teacher assessment.

Naturally the question that arose was ‘How could you teach so the students would develop these competences?’ We had to think about what strategies can be used to help focus teaching and learning on the key competencies.

In terms one and two, every form teacher worked with the students during form time in a holistic way. They discussed using key competencies across different learning areas and in everyday life. Students could see during this time the way the key competencies had similarities and differences across the learning areas.

Subject specific teachers spent a curriculum day working together and decided on ways to focus on the key competencies for teaching units of work specific to their discipline.

Because of this development, we now have a common language across the school. We know there are other subject specific competencies for learning areas but our indicators provide a base for key competencies that will be common for all teachers and students.

We can now have conversations about student learning with all of the teachers who teach a particular group of students, or individual students, using the same criteria as a starting point. This is important in a secondary school where you have students who may be taught by up to eight teachers.

Where to next?

We are planning to source input from students on how they have found using the indicators for self-assessment. We are also going to revisit them as a staff to see how they are working across the school.

We are now looking at how we can further build these competencies into our learning areas so that key competencies can be strengthened and widened through their use for specific types of learning.

key competencies
learning areas
learning conversations

Updated on: 14 Oct 2009