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Using a common language

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Teachers discuss modelling and use of key competency language, and how students are using it to describe and reflect on their learning. Students are beginning to use the language of the key competencies in the playground, during reflection time, as part of learning goals, and at home.

Professional learning conversations

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

The development of the key competencies

The NZC states (p 38): 

"When designing and reviewing their curriculum schools will need to clarify the conditions that will help or hinder the development of the competencies, the extent to which they are being demonstrated, and how the school will evaluate the effectiveness of approaches intended to strengthen them."

  • Think about the ways the key competencies are developed at your school. Where are you at now? What are your next steps?
  • Do you have a common language across the school around the key competencies? How could you develop one? What would it look and sound like?
  • What does student voice tell you about the development of the key competencies at your school?

Have you seen ...

Mangere Bridge school students.

The Mangere Bridge School digital stories raise many ideas about teaching and learning with key competencies. This tool highlights themes that help explain the progress teachers are making, along with considerations for moving forward.


Jan Bills, Deputy principal 

So we are halfway through the term and I think a lot of teachers have explored it in different ways in their classes. I think children are becoming more familiar with the language; they feel it’s a more natural part of their learning in the day. Teachers, themselves, talk about it with each other. I think that the inquiry has framed it well because it fits within the context of the inquiry. The learning is overt and sometimes I think children are using the key competencies with each other, naturally, and then suddenly realising ‘oh that’s a key competency’ and giving it the language that the teachers have tried to share with them.

Elizabeth Crisp

When I’m planning what I’ll do next in terms of our inquiry process, I consider the way the lesson is going to unfold and which competencies will naturally unfold. It’s really as simple as that, because in everything we do in life, outside of school and in school, we need those skills to make things work. 

So in the lesson that I took today, which was an inquiry-based approach, I wanted to place the children in the position of discovering connections, which was where we were heading in our inquiry, but I knew as well that they would have the opportunity to participate; they would need to think; they would also need to be able to relate to one another and work as part of a group.

Student 1

We were thinking that they’re different because that one’s got people and that one’s got leaves…?

Elizabeth Crisp

Where they are at is still with me modelling a lot of things, so I haven’t handed over a whole lot of stuff to them yet because they’re young; they are still working out how to do that, but they still need practice turning to a partner and contributing, taking turns, coming to agreement – all those are what the key competencies are.

Don Bitcliff

It’s how they treat each other in the key competencies leads beautifully into ‘how they treat each other’ and ‘how they approach their learning’. So when I’m sitting down with any group of children and I’m talking to them about their learning – their inquiry for example – I can refer to the key competencies; I can refer to the class charter, and the children click into that straight away.

Student 2

It’s like when you learn something new, you gotta think deeper to learn more about it.

Tanya Watts

The cards I use in my class – we call them evaluation cards – we do them at the end of the day. It takes about 15 mins, but it will get refined. We go around in a circle. At the moment I pick the cards for them, just randomly, so all the cards get seen and they all get used to them. When they are good at them, they will then choose their own cards to talk about.

Student 3

Today I struggled with my thinking because some questions I don’t know, and I found it really hard. But [Shanny] helped me with my work.

Student 4

I was a successful thinker today when I finished writing in my diary with a total of 86 words.

Tanya Watts

So we go around and they reflect on their day, basically, using the key competencies.

Rosina Prasad

We refer to the PowerPoint a lot – the pictures are up. The children know that they are part of each competency, and next would be to actually start having the children put it in their own words. To use their own words – [eg ]‘what does relating to others mean?’ Because I think sometimes when you use that term it is very, quite adult, and I’m a great advocate, I love using kids’ speak. I want them to turn that language into their own and really own the term ‘relating to others’.

Don Bitcliff

In these ways, when we are doing this, what it does allow me to do is to integrate dispositions into the learning and it makes it very explicit and very clear for the children – they know where they are going.

Tanya Watts

The children are getting better with the language and I actually hear them pulling each other up – they will say ‘are you managing yourself right now and stuff like that?’ The goal for me is that they will do this without me having to prompt them and remind them that these are the things they should be doing as good students, as good people in our classroom. It would be nice if they could link it in with their home lives as well – they come in and know that they were thinking well in the weekend and after school or… 

The other goal for me is that when they go home at home at night, and mum and dad or whoever says ‘how was your day? What did you learn?’ Then they don’t just go ‘good’ ‘nothing’ because that’s the feedback I’ve had from parents is that’s what they say. So they can say ‘I was a successful thinker today because I…’ or ‘I struggled today with myself when…’ That they know there is something that they can talk about from their day.

Elizabeth Crisp

I think these young children, some of them are quite skilled at managing themselves in their own little world. The challenge now is to bring ‘relating to others’ into that. 

A lovely little thing that happened in my class that was completely natural and unbidden was Erica wrote a little piece of writing where she talked about managing herself. When I read that I felt really excited because she understood that managing herself was about her making a choice; that when she was affected by other people, she had options. That showed me that – and the fact that she used the language that I had been feeding in constantly [eg] ‘hey when you are doing that you are managing yourself; or are you are managing yourself now?’ She understood that and it has become part of her language.

Jan Bills

Some children have chosen to take those key competencies and use them as part of their goals. That was interesting in the kinds of conversations that we facilitated with parents, when they did that, because the more we get the child to start or have the conversation running, the more parents understand that what they do at home and what the kids do at school has a nice marriage, and they can have the language to talk to their children.

So it’s a common language that can thread between school and home. I think parents understand that, in that the key competencies are more about ‘how I operate as a person’ and less about ‘did I learn how to spell a word today’. I think that makes a nice marriage between school and home.

Updated on: 21 Oct 2010