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Key competencies and a thematic approach at Katikati College

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An important feature of key competencies in teaching and learning is that they integrate knowledge, attitudes and values, in ways that lead to action in authentic contexts. A thematic approach presents a potentially useful way of making this feature of key competencies happen. In this video, Natalie Cowie from Katikati College discusses how her staff have explored using a thematic approach.

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Key competencies and themes
This discussion tool presents some considerations for discussion about three features of the thematic approach outlined in this clip from Katikati College.


We’ve used the NZC as a driver for change, it underpins everything we do. And what has been really exciting, is that we can start with those big ideas. That’s how our thematic programme works, we have a real emphasis on critical thinking, which is important. We had looked at what the KCs look like for us, in English, so that had been an important process - but now that we’re completely thematically planned, we start with what we want the kids to get out of it and then plan backwards.

So once we have those big ideas, those concepts, those enduring understandings, then we move back, then we decide how we’re going to get there.

What’s been exciting for us is that we’ve moved thematic planning from, you know, traditionally the year nine and ten, across the board so we have it at year thirteen and all our courses are based on themes. Now, for instance, we might have at year ten a theme like ‘get up, stand up’ which is very much involved in human rights and again that aspect of our vision - promoting people to be valuable members of society. So we’d look at that and then we decide what the children or whatever are going to do. But we’ve done the same thing with year eleven to thirteen. So they’re all based on a theme, whether it be something like redemption, and so, it was big idea stuff, it’s universal idea stuff, and it’s making again connections, connections, connections. Because that’s the key to learning.

The idea of the thematic planning came about after reading the curriculum and looking at it, looking at the KCs and thinking that the way to deliver this, is to look at what you want the final things, the understandings that you want the students to get, it has to have clarity. It has to have connections. They often don’t know why they’re doing things and so if they understand that these things are all linked and are coming out with the same understandings, then you’ve got a successful programme.

The way that we’ve integrated the KCs into our planning is, after we get the understandings you want, we think about, you know, how we will do that, and we’ve had a huge emphasis on critical thinking. The thinking has been really important. And part of the way that we get kids to think is through those connections and making connections, often with quite disparate sort of texts and activities but they can then make all the links back and see that once again an idea that we’ve been discussing is of relevance here. And then we’ll link it, often, through to the use of blogs for instance to things that are happening today and they realise the enduring relevance of the work that we do. They just don’t see it as some dusty old text, they see that some things never change.

I think the challenge is, of thematic planning, is making sure that it’s not just a name, that you actually do it. You have a theme and you integrate it through and that everything you do, you aim to link to that theme. You aim to link it to what’s happening in the world today, it’s just not a name for a course, everything needs to fit in together for the kids to understand where you’re going with this.

We’ve had a lot of success with our thematic programme. I think one of our greatest successes is with our scholarship students because they do a lot of connecting and often with the oddest things and a lot of that work is done through a scholarship blog that we run. It allows us to cater to anybody’s needs or interests and so they can be reading and viewing things that seem vastly different but they’re making those connections themselves. And they’re coming up with amazing work but they’re also succeeding in the scholarship exams in a way that is clearly better than the past.

My advice to anybody who wants to lead their faculty in a thematic approach is make it meaningful. Make sure that this is just not a token effort as I think I said before and that people buy into it. And the way to encourage people to buy into it is to help people think about the connections they can make between the text book, going back to what are the enduring understandings you want your students to get from this course. And that’s something that we’ve put a lot of time into and a lot of resourcing.

Published on: 30 Aug 2011