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Lifting student engagement through curriculum integration

Teaching and learning has been revitalised at Fraser High School through curriculum integration and the use of authentic contexts. 

Senior secondary students have recently produced the first issue of a visual culture magazine. This project offered learners a viable career pathway, and enabled them to develop values, knowledge, and capabilities for life beyond school.

Fraser High School students.

"If I didn’t get into this class I would have dropped out of school … [there were] no other classes I was interested in.”

Jeremy, student

Evolution of the Curriculum Integration Project

Sam Cunnane, head of the arts faculty at Fraser High School, noticed that many of his students were passionate about visual arts. He wondered if this passion could be ignited in other curriculum areas. Through discussion the students suggested that they might achieve better results if they produced work for a range of assessments through the context of visual arts.

At the same time, the school’s group of ICT cluster facilitators were exploring ways to ensure that teaching programmes were curriculum rather than assessment driven.

The Curriculum Integration Project grew out of these discussions. The essence of the project is that by working to produce an authentic product, in this case a visual culture magazine, students generate evidence of rich learning that can then be assessed against a range of NCEA standards. Sam says the scheme is about “turning the way we approach NCEA upside down by getting students to produce an authentic project.”

Creating Passionfruit Magazine

In 2012, 17 students worked with three teachers to produce the first issue of Passionfruit Magazine and an associated website. The magazine, aimed at visual culture consumers aged between 16 and 19 years old, features images and articles by and about New Zealand artists.

The project facilitated student learning in visual arts, English, art history, media studies, and graphic design. Students studied one other subject of their choice outside of the project.

Fraser High School.

Learners had whole days during the week to engage in the project. At the beginning of the year the students were able to design their own work space, which includes flexible and interchangeable spaces for talking and working in various sized groups, spaces to socialise and recharge (couches and kai), and spaces for making work.

You can follow the development of Passionfruit Magazine by reading Sam Cunnane’s blog.

Community engagement

To produce the magazine, students made connections with the wider community for support. A media specialist met with the students on several occasions to share valuable insights into the publishing industry. Other people from the local publishing industry shared their ‘real world’ experiences. Artists and designers were interviewed by the students and offered their time to run workshops or to be filmed for stop-motion videos of them making work.

"Today has been the best day ever! I interviewed Mark Hamilton, an amazing local photographer who was kind, friendly, and very funny when he was talking about his photographing career and experiences. It was absolutely daunting and exciting at the same time."

Sarah, student

Interviewing an artist.

Student, Deaan Marchioni, interviews painter Meredith Collins in her home studio.

Student outcomes

Improved achievement in English

Teacher Lorena Strother has noticed improved educational outcomes in English. Students who were previously disengaged in English are now enthusiastic writers who understand the purpose of their work. Having an authentic context has encouraged students to craft their writing for their intended audience.

"We know that it’s going to an audience so we … try and make it better ‘cause it’s not just for an assignment … it’s something that other people are going to see, so we work on it and develop it more."

Sharnae, student

"He learnt so much about structuring an essay, about punctuation, about making sense, about proof reading … even developing the ideas … I look at individual students … and the movement this year has been quite phenomenal. They are developing their writing skills and their literacy to a level they probably wouldn’t hit in English because of the lack of engagement."

Lorena Strother, English teacher

Development of competencies

The authenticity of the project has enabled students to develop key competencies. Managing self has been a key requirement as students worked under a flexible timetable. They established personal goals and made plans to ensure that deadlines were met.

"I made lots of lists so I remembered the stuff that I needed to do … And if I’m waiting for something else to finish, I do something else in the time. So I get things done quicker.”

Sharnae, student

Students also needed to develop effective interpersonal skills to relate to a diverse range of people, from fellow students, to artists, and publishers. A team spirit emerged during the project, as students realised that the success of the project was dependent on teamwork and collaboration.

Success banner.

"...with a class like this, you know people’s strengths and if you need help with something, you go to that certain person … so everyone is pretty helpful."

Ezra, student

Learning to learn

Another outcome of the project was the opportunity for students to reflect on their own learning processes. One student realised that talking ideas through before writing them down helps her learn:

"I’ve learnt that I find it a lot easier to say stuff rather than write things down. If I talk about it and brief it, then it’s all in my head, … as long as I can see everything in my head then I can do it."

Deaan, student

Another student found that she liked spending whole days on the project because it enabled her to get things done.

"Not having much timetable... it’s easy to get things done, instead of having to stop and start every hour."

Sarah, student

Next steps

Fraser High School is introducing the Music Project in 2013, which is designed to engage musically able students with literacy and numeracy. Participating students will be able to gain literacy and numeracy qualifications for tertiary study.

Tags:
art
careers
community engagement
english
integrated curriculum
key competencies
learning to learn
secondary

Updated on: 15 Jul 2013


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