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Turning kids on to learning

Raising student achievement is driving Kaiwaka School’s curriculum development and changing classroom practices.

In this snapshot, Principal Barbara Bronlund outlines her belief that children benefit from being fully engaged in their learning, and that inquiry learning encourages excitement and engagement. Teachers Sharlene Tornquist and Lindy Gaskin share the excitement and challenge of changing their classroom practice.

During 2010, the school gathered evidence to show that students are at the centre of learning. Barbara explains, “One of the priorities that came out of the MECI report was the importance of student voice and the roles students take in class. ”

“The shift, to me, is that students need to learn in a different way. That’s what pushed us. Through the inquiry pathway we try to get them more involved. It really showed when they were making films. They were working in weekends.”

Teacher Sharlene Tornquist extends her own practice and her students’ learning by taking on new challenges as part of inquiry learning.

“I decided to do movie making which I’d never done before myself. At the ICT conference, they were talking about competitions. I thought, that takes it to the next level because you’ve got to get it done, and I just thought that’s really powerful.”

Sharlene found an ideal opportunity to indulge her passions for inquiry and ICT when The Auckland War Memorial Museum launched a movie competition based on an inquiry on a museum artefact.

“The Museum provided a really nice motivation, where students got to meet a movie director who talked about how he made movies. They also suggested different inquiry questions.”

She likes the fact that inquiry learning involves so many different aspects and requires a range of skills and competencies. She constantly encourages her students to think more deeply as they research questions.

“What I really like about inquiry is that students’ passion comes into it. All the different passions were coming through and that’s the key to inquiry. An adviser gave me this feedback when I shared what we were doing. She said, ‘What you are doing in your classroom is the ultimate, because that’s what it’s all about - children following their passion and then using ICT tools to communicate that learning’.”

Sharlene explains how the inquiry process strengthens the key competencies.

“When you’re learning to storyboard, you’re learning the inquiry process, but you’re also learning to work together in groups. You’re learning how to manage yourself. The children all wanted to be leaders, but they had to learn when to lead and when not to. They all had to participate.”

Authentic contexts

Providing authentic contexts for learning can provide unexpected consequences. For example, Sharlene’s students learned about copyright when they submitted some photographs to the museum.

“We’d taken some photos of a picture in a book and the museum instantly came back with ‘You won’t be able to use in the competition’ due to copyright issues. So that was a really good learning for me and for the children. The Museum were wonderful to talk to. They gave feedback and I was in constant email contact back and forth. So for me as a teacher it was great to be communicating with another institution and getting that nice relationship going.”

Celebrating learning

Sharlene has learned some important lessons about inquiry learning. She now celebrates learning – in this case by putting on a movie premiere. (Room Five’s blog.)

“The classroom was packed. We had over 50 people. I couldn’t fit them all in, so they were in the corridor. “I think that’s where inquiry leads. You do all this learning and then you have the celebration. It is a whole package of learning. The parents and community are involved, and that’s really special too. That’s the key for children, when their learning is valued, they want to learn more.”

She explains that changing her practice has happened over a number of years as she has thought about inquiry.

“It is really big learning. You change entirely how you teach and it can be scary doing something new and different. But the rewards are more, because now I see the strength in it. I’ve learnt how to facilitate. I like to be in control of everything, and I had to let go and trust the children. So there was that letting go, giving them the opportunity, knowing when to pull them back and give them more skills.”

Teacher Lindy Gaskin says that The New Zealand Curriculum and the change to an inquiry approach has led to a great deal of thinking and learning for her.

Lindy created an authentic context to explore migration and what people take from one place to another, linking the initial learning with the school camp Taurikura on the inland side of the Whangarei Harbour.

Lindy involved the school community by asking the children to talk about where their own ancestors were from. Everybody migrated from somewhere, including Hawaiki. They looked at settling, what the people brought with them and what New Zealand might have been like when they first arrived on a waka or tall ship.

“All of a sudden you’ve got to teach some geography and you haven’t planned that, have you? And that’s exciting. You hang on behind the children. Where their learning takes them is exciting, and I do love that. It was a learning curve for children to think in the past, and to imagine being on a boat for three to six months.

The class ‘migrated’ down to the bottom field, through a bush, the playground. The field became HMS Playground - we were on the boat and we were being very sick and we had to carry everything. We had to have grain to plant, and ship biscuits without maggots in them. (We’d made the ship biscuits and carried them in our airtight containers.)

Geographically, Kaiwaka is magic. Lindy made good use of the reserve nearby, with a track through it. They walked carrying baskets and all our stuff, quilts and so on, in our long skirts. It was very hard after they’d got off the boat."

At all stages the students worked in teams to participate and contribute. For example, a group made a fire, where they gathered to eat the ship biscuits, taking out pretend maggots. They set up and made a tent for them all to sleep in - a tarpaulin over the bamboo sticks. At all points of the inquiry the learning was very real for the children.

Both teachers strive to provide authentic contexts and ensure their students are fully engaged in inquiry learning, thus supporting their principal’s vision for learning at Kaiwaka School.

Updated on: 21 Nov 2010


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