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Waimairi School – Curriculum development

This snapshot is adapted from the blog of Principal, Mike Anderson. Mike takes us through the first three phases of curriculum development at Waimairi School and gives us some insights to where they are heading next.

Phase one

Late 2008 was all about clarifying our values and beliefs about learning at Waimairi. After community consultation workshops, we built up a definitive set of values and beliefs about learning at our school.

What emerged were a set of andragogical rather than pedagogical values and beliefs. This is an important distinction. We worked out our values and beliefs to create great learning, not a set of words for kids to work towards. The pedagogical values are already set out in the NZ Curriculum document. How we unpack, filter and engage our pupils with these will soon become a natural flow.

Waimairi values and beliefs for teachers to work with:

  • We value success/excellence - We believe learning at Waimairi is about excelling
  • We value knowledge - We believe learning at Waimairi is about substance
  • We value creativity - We believe learning at Waimairi is about originality
  • We value passion and inner drive We believe learning at Waimairi is about dedication and zest
  • We value relationships and community - We believe learning at Waimairi is about rapport
  • We value needs based learning -We believe learning at Waimairi is about being distinct

From these values and beliefs, a strong literacy learning curriculum statement (Literacy @ Waimairi) was put in place. A similar document called Numeracy @ Waimairi, which matches the school's values and beliefs with the knowledge of effective maths teaching outlined in the National Numeracy Project, is in its final draft stage.

Staff who are designing and implementing the NZC were supported by a professional learning programme which exposed them to a variety of approaches and models of school curriculum localisation. The two key aspects of the PD programme were: a five-day tour of innovative and best practice schools in the North Island and training for implementation of 4 Minute Walkthroughs.

Phase two

Staff retreat.

The second phase of our curriculum development looked at the Key Competencies. We can't expect teachers to have any moral authority to build key competencies unless we know and understand what they are, and how they shift depending on the context they are being used in. So in July 2009 it was off to throw some axes and shoot some bows and arrows.

The point of this exercise was to show that everyone who thinks they: participate and contribute, relate to others, think, use language, symbols, and texts, and manage themselves don't always do so in equal measure in very challenging situations - such as those which our children face every day in their schooling.

Phase three

Next we explored the 'essence' of the other subject areas and explored what our localised curriculum approach would be. This exploration started with science by asking what learning about science means at Waimairi School.

Looking at page 28 of the NZC it is very easy to work out which words represent what science education is all about. The following words just roll off the tongue:

Observing Testing Investigating Gathering Modelling Debating Connecting Problem Solving Communicating Theorising Recording Applying Concluding Deciding Acting Recording Analysing Hypothesising Interpreting

But the big question is 'What does a high quality and advanced level of each of these words mean?'

This is the real curriculum challenge. We need a framework to help students and their teachers build up their understanding. We want to build understanding of knowledge, not just more knowledge.

We decided to take a look at SOLO Taxonomy which provides five stages describing levels of increasing complexity in student's understanding of subjects:

Example of SOLO Taxonomy at Waimairi School
I need help to predict or explain

I can predict or explain with no elaboration

'If I push a pen off the ed of the table it will fall onto the floor'

I can predict or explain with elaboration

'If I push a pen off the table it will fall onto the floor because it is pulled down by a force (gravity)'

I can predict or explain relating to another similar situation

'If i push a pen off the table it will fall onto the floor because it is pulled down by a force (gravity) like when I jump off the playground'

I can predict or explain with many examples not related to one situation.

'If i push a pen off the table it will fall onto the floor because it is pulled down by a force (gravity) like when I jump off the playground. And like when water stays at the bottom of a cup and I think also like how planes crash when their engines stop'

The most important aspect is the inclusion of the children in a simple, yet, powerful, framework. This means the learner as well as the teacher can plot progress over the term, assess themselves against the taxonomy and really understand the formative feedback received from a teacher.
Phase three of our curriculum localisation has freed teachers and children to engage in a diverse range of scientific learning. The school-wide commonality is embedded in what we are learning. How we are learning is ranging from space to plants, to chemicals, to wherever children's interests and inquiries take them. Adults can cook up as many diagrams as we want but children's setting of direction and understanding of their own learning is what really makes the difference.

Where to next?

Phase four will be adding the children's voice, passions and interests.

So where are our localised curriculum documents?
In the words of Lester Flockton 'the bigger the document the less effectively used it is in classrooms'
I like to view Learning @ Waimairi as something which documents the good practices we are developing. If we see document as a verb not a noun we understand that the phase three work with SOLO has to run its course as a trial before really sound use of it can be documented in Learning @ Waimairi.


Published on: 17 Nov 2010