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Vertical curriculum planning

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Sarah Hynds explains how her whole school plans together across the levels of the curriculum to increase collegiality, ensure that transitions between levels of the curriculum are smooth, and to develop a shared ownership of students.

Professional learning conversations

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

A connected curriculum

To ensure greater coherence, teachers need to have consistent understandings of learning progressions within learning areas.

The NZC states (p34):

“Students learn best when they are able to integrate new learning with what they already understand. When teachers deliberately build on what their students know and have experienced, they maximise the use of learning time, anticipate students’ learning needs, and avoid unnecessary duplication of content.” 

  • What processes do you have in place that ensure that teachers work together across syndicates or teams?
  • How do you ensure that your staff have shared language and understandings when talking about student learning?
  • What kind of input do your students and teachers have in the review, design and planning of your curriculum?


Sarah Hynds

The reason why we wanted to start planning vertically (meaning that the whole school plans together across the levels of the curriculum) was because we wanted to increase our collegiality. Oftentimes in schools we tend to stay very much in our syndicates and we thought it was really important that our staff were talking across the syndicates as well. We wanted essentially to bring our staff together. We wanted to ensure also that the transitions between the levels of the curriculum - not just between the year levels - but the levels of the curriculum were smooth. That we were setting our children up for success. We wanted to ensure that the teachers understood the transitions as well. So that they understood what came before and maybe what comes after their children. We also wanted the teachers at our school to have shared ownership of all the students. We wanted to avoid ‘they belong to your syndicate’ and so on. We wanted to develop a shared ownership of the children. We also wanted to develop a shared language and sets of understandings so that when we were having professional learning conversations we were talking the same language. That kept them focused and really productive. We also wanted to make differentiation easier for teachers, for our time-poor teachers. Oftentimes it’s really difficult to go and locate resources at different levels to meet the individual needs of the students. So those were our rationales behind deciding to embark on vertical planning.

The process is that at the end of a particular year (so in this particular instance it was 2010) we collectively developed a balanced curriculum for the year. How we decided what went on there was a mixture of significant events that were coming up in 2011, and again we’ve done this for 2012, so significant events. Also, we wanted maybe some teacher input to say, ‘look for years we’ve done this’ and we really need to get away from that so bringing in some historic information and ensuring that we were getting a balance but also student voice as well. What was it that the students were interested in? We’re getting better at that. We are going to be introducing, this year one of our goals is to introduce an interest analysis to more formalise that process rather than just collecting random voices.

Once we’ve done that, we allocate planning time in staff meetings and team meeting times. Something that we think is really important. If you want something to be successful and you want to develop quality unit plans for teaching and learning you need to allocate the time to do it. Now teachers from across the school, from across the levels of the curriculum can choose what team they would like to be on.

We also ensure that we have put aside enough funds to purchase resources to ensure success across the levels of the curriculum. Now that group of people who worked on the inquiry team for term one 2012, may not necessarily be the crew that works on the term two 2012 inquiry team.

Teachers initially started by going on teams where they were comfortable. Where their strengths were, they began to build relationships and find out what it was like to work with different people in different syndicates and share ideas. Now that we’re much better at that and more comfortable, people are now opting to go on teams perhaps where they feel that they need some professional development and therefore are growing themselves, learning and growing themselves. So it is open - as long as we’ve got a balance of people at levels of the curriculum at any team teachers can select what team they would like to be on the planning for.

This concept of vertical planning hasn’t been without its challenges. We had to get used to working with different people but the benefits of it have been significant. The collegiality amongst our staff, the ability now to understand where people have come from and where they need to go to. It has also meant that the teachers are able to work smarter rather than harder because at their fingertips they have the information and the resources available to them at any of the levels of the curriculum to meet individual student needs. I would recommend other schools trialling this system because there will be definite benefits from it. In saying that, it’s important that we always develop systems that work in our special place.

Published on: 08 Aug 2012