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KCs and PRIDE Challenges

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Building learning power through homework

Principal Neill O'Reilly explains how traditional homework was re-visioned, and the influence of the key competencies on the PRIDE Challenges programme.

"Why is it that learning at home had to be just about paper, just about head and paper? And also if we were being honest about a community based curriculum, what right do we have to impose our form of learning on the home? So we started to brainstorm and came up with a different notion around children being able to learn through doing."

Neill O'Reilly


Building learning power through homework

Neill O’Reilly, Principal:  

I was at Clarkville School and we had a stunning group of young ladies in year 8, who [had]... were doing a whole range of things at home. So: Netball, hip hop, gymnastics, and other activities that were taking these girls [time] four nights a week, and we were giving them traditional homework. Some of those girls would come at the end of the week and say, "Look sorry, I didn’t complete my homework," or "Can I have an extension?" It got me wondering why we were even making these girls do what I call "chew and spew" – taking information from somewhere, putting it on there, spewing it out. It wasn’t really beneficial. It made me really question the quality of what we were sending home. If we were asking them to bump other activities at home, then what we were sending would have to be really high quality stuff.

One of the things we had been doing at Clarkville was, we had re-visioned our school and we’d used the Herrmann Brain Model to think about the types of learning that we wanted to happen. The neat thing for us is when we looked at the Pathway Awards – PRIDE Challenges – is that they fitted really nicely with the four different quadrants in the Herrmann Brain Model. Particularly it was neat to see the red and yellow – the interpersonal thinking – and the creative and critical thinking. So it was neat to have a home-learning system that wasn’t just based on analytical thinking and sequential thinking. So that was really important for us for going forward.

When the draft curriculum and new curriculum came out, it was also really exciting to look at the key competencies because when we overlayed the key competencies onto this, what I realised was, unknowingly, what we had done in the past was use ‘using language, symbols, and texts’, and some would argue, 'managing self' – although I would argue it was parents managing child. So when we looked at that, it was really exciting to see that 'participating and contributing', 'thinking', 'relating to others', 'managing self', because this is an optional programme, they were actually really strong components of what we were offering. So the children having the option to do this… if they don’t want to do it that’s fine, because what we were offering – what was compulsory – was going to improve outcomes. This was really more about developing those key competencies. 

At the same time I had read the research from Quality Teaching for Diverse Students 2003 Best Evidence Synthesis, and it had some really strong stuff in there about homework; the fact that there wasn’t really good justification for anything other than reading and basic facts. So that got me thinking about, maybe we could do something different. These are country children; they were doing lots of wonderful things. Why is it that learning at home had to be just about paper, just about head and paper? Also if we were being honest about a community-based curriculum, what right do we have to impose our form of learning on the home?

So we started to brainstorm and came up with a different notion around children being able to learn through doing. It takes a whole year, and as they get further up the school, they have to do more challenges. So, for example, a year 3 has to do seven challenges; year 4, eight; year 5, nine; year 6, ten – in fact, it may go up in twos. The bottom line is that we're not going to say to children, "If you do lots more challenges, here’s a different award." It’s up to them. If they want to do more, it is about them as a learner and they will get that internal feedback as they go. So if they end up doing 20 challenges, good on them; that’s fantastic. But we have to be really careful about moving the goalposts for our children and changing the reward at the end. Particularly, our boys like to know: “What is it you want me to do? When do you want me to do it by? And what do I get if I do it at the end?” 

For our year 3, 4, and 5, they get a badge that they wear on their shirt. For our year 6, they get a unique piece of pounamu that is engraved with PRIDE and is blessed by a kaumātua, and gets presented by a really important official or dignitary at the end of the year. So they have a lot of pride about being up there.

We do a number of things to encourage participation. At our learning celebration assemblies, children are allowed to go up and talk about what they are doing in their PRIDE challenges. It is fascinating to see. I’m challenged by this notion of risk taking because as adults, we would be very nervous about going and standing in front of a group of people. These children get up in front of 600 of their peers to show a piece of art. Man, you put yourself on the line for that. So we encourage them to come up and share what they have done – and that is really neat.

Updated on: 23 Jan 2011