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Willowbank curriculum map

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Jane Danielson and Julie Cowan explain how exploring the curriculum was a mapping exercise at Willowbank School. The map analogy works for them, because on a map you can go to different places, get to different points, take detours, and take different ways of travelling. A map leads to the idea of the freedom to explore.

Professional learning conversations

These questions and suggested actions encourage you to reflect on your own school context.

What is curriculum design and review?

The New Zealand Curriculum states (p 37):

  • Curriculum design and review is a continuous, cyclic process.
  • It involves making decisions about how to give effect to the national curriculum in ways that best address the particular needs, interests, and circumstances of the school’s students and community.
willow bank school.

PDF icon. Curriculum map presentation from Learning @ School (PDF, 3 MB)

This presentation will enable you to use some of the Willowbank school strategies in your own school context. How can these ideas be used with your students and school community?

Have you seen?

National, school, classroom curriculum.

Reviewing your curriculum
This section of NZC online supports schools with the process of curriculum design and review. It includes information, research, tools, suggested areas of focus, and inspirational stories to help schools make decisions about how to give effect to the national curriculum.


I’m Jane Danielson, deputy principal, been there for eight years.

I’m Julie Cowan, deputy principal as well, when we started to unpack NZC we made the decision that for us, looking at our values and our vision we wanted to go down the route of calling it a map because on a map you can go different places, you can get to different points, it’s got that freedom to explore and take detours when you’re going different places because we all have different learning styles, different ways of travelling to wherever we’re going. So the concept of it being a map was really important for us to share with the staff. We have worked on gaining synergy with all the different elements of what was happening in our school. Our school vision ‘discover, develop, nurture’ is very very important to us and so that drove most of what we were doing, but we also needed to get that synergy between our ICT PD, our assessment for learning, our core values, everything that we were doing we wanted to bring that together, and the curriculum map was one of the ways that we did that.

We talk about a curriculum map rather than curriculum mapping - many people have done curriculum mapping and it looks quite different to what Jane and I have come up with in terms of that very diverse nature of what we’ve been developing with our staff and our community.

We acknowledge that the journey that we’ve been on isn’t finished and we’ve ended up at a place that’s good for our school but our curriculum map is not something that can contextually be changed to a different school but what we hoped would come out of our presentation was sharing some of the highs and lows of the journey and being able to help people as they go on their own journeys to develop their own curriculum maps.

Every school’s curriculum looks different and should look different, and there are things that you see that you think - that’s not right for our school, we need to go this way - and that’s really important reflecting on learning and going from there.

And the assessment for learning was a huge part because at the centre of our model we had to reflect and evaluate and set goals and that’s been really important as our central focus, because we’ve been doing assessment for learning it’s the way that our children evaluate what they’re doing - it’s the way that they learn. And so the fact that we were able to get that synergy between those different elements has been really worthwhile for the students.

So one of the things that we decided is that the key competencies, we saw those as the key to preparing our students for their futures, their possible futures. So we have many non-English speaking children and through our work with Tony (Ryan) we’ve looked at the fact that icons and visual things seem to help learners. So we created visual icons for the key competencies that had meaning and teachers were able to unpack those meanings with the students. They’re up displayed in the classrooms and that’s really helped the shared language of the key competencies within our school come alive.

We gather a lot of student voice on what we’re doing and try and walk the journey with the staff and the students so that it is constantly evolving and very reflective of our school, our journey, where we are now. We acknowledge that this time next year it will be different because it will have evolved our journey will have progressed.

And part of our curriculum map will be our inquiry model and we had experimented as a school we’d tried different inquiry models, some of them linear, some of them, you know, different shapes, or whatever and we looked at what we wanted for our school. And we came up with a map that had, as Jane said, evaluate, set goals, and reflect right in the centre, with the other arrows of the elements all pointing towards that to show that we’re always coming back in to that set point and that inquiry is not a linear process that you start here and you move on - it’s that you’re moving from focusing you might from there brainstorm some solutions or you might ask questions, you’re moving backwards and forwards and many of our teachers have worked with their kids to show how that works, mapping it with string in between the different elements and the key competencies are sitting around the side of that because they’re embedded and they’re in everything you do, they’re in every part of the inquiry model.

Published on: 25 Mar 2011