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Putting students first

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To improve student engagement and achievement at Taihape Area School the staff have put students first; structuring their school curriculum around the students' aspirations, interests, and preferred ways of learning.

This film is part of a series, designed to provide support and inspiration to schools that are in the process of reviewing their own curriculum.

Professional learning conversations

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

  • Consider the changes that Taihape Area School has made to school structures, curriculum, and pedagogy. How do these changes link to the vision and intent of The New Zealand Curriculum? Think about the principleskey competencieseffective pedagogy, and messages about curriculum design and review.
  • How do you ensure that your school curriculum meets students' interests, aspirations, and preferred ways of learning?
  • Do you need to address issues around student achievement and engagement? What particular issues? How might you address them?

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V/O: Student attendance at school has improved dramatically. One of the reasons for this is the way school days are structured.

Boyce Davey (Principal): There’s three parts to the day: you break, come in, and you break for morning tea and you break for lunch, and then you finish in the afternoon, of course. That’s how our day’s organised and so it’s not a big change from what you have to do, you know, in real life.

Barbara Wallis (teacher): Initially, yeah, the staff saw it as a lot of work, staff saw it as this was totally different to the norm, that they had to actually look at the planning, there is no longer you could keep teaching the same things over and over again and flick out the same plan, because what worked for 55 minutes didn’t work for an hour and a half.

Jordan Haines (Winiata Iwi Education Forum): Some of the changes that have come along with the new curriculum have been the options, and the options came from the aspirations and dreams of the students within the school.

Boyce Davey: Our day is structured a bit like a work day. The whole-day options and the different subjects like hiphop, skiing, kayaking, and the number of things that we do that are non-traditional, they’re all about discipline, self-discipline, thinking, planning – the key competencies fit in really well around those. They’re really encouraging our students to communicate, to connect.

Nicola Chase (Te Kauhua facilitator): As facilitators with our other hat on, we had to go back, look at this thing, and say, well, participating and contributing is about this Manaakitanga, whānau, relationships is about whānaungatanga, so fits our key competencies into the values of Māori rather than the other way around.

Barbara Wallis: Teachers actually looked at what they were teaching and how they were teaching it, and how best to engage the students and motivate the students. From it, I think the teachers got to know the students a lot better. And therefore were teaching more to the students' needs, and with setting goals and things like that they made a huge big difference.

Lucinda Lindsay (student leader): But now they’re incorporating different ways for us to learn. It’s not all about putting something on the board and writing it down. It's about doing group work and bouncing ideas off each other, and doing it together, not just do this, do it now, do it like this.

Morgan Whatarau (student leader): A teacher would throw a book in front of me and I just found it so boring, didn’t want to come to school. Now the teachers understand I don’t like that way of learning, I’m more visual and a hands-on sort of person. And it’s helped me lots, like I wake up in the morning and I’m like, yeah, let’s go to school today sort of thing. Weekends I sleep in because I’ve got nothing to look forward to, but yeah, it’s lots of fun. It helps.

Boyce Davey: It’s structured to create opportunity for having part-time staffing; there’s a lot of wonderful people out in the community who want to work in here, but they don’t want to work in here full time. The structure is allowing us to utilise community resources.

Ngahina Transom (Te Kauhua facilitator): It’s about relationships with community and engaging again with whānau, so our whānau are coming in as leaders and being the teachers within the school, so that’s empowering them to come and share their knowledge and skills with the students in the school. And it’s not just about the teachers, where the expectation is that the teachers have all that knowledge and will provide that information to the student.

Dave Whatarau (parent): I was always down the school, pestering teachers, getting in their faces, asking questions, and giving my opinion. And now I'm on the other side of the fence, as I've been dragged in, not necessarily dragged in, but I’m involved now. I'm in the school, I'm voicing my opinion to the children now, and trying to teach them, or show them that this is how things are done, as an individual, and as a group or a community.

Morgan Whatarau: Option days, you get a whole day of doing something that you really enjoy. Last year I did, I think, PE for a whole day, and it was just something that ... I mean, you had theory and practical in both and you had a whole day of it, and you got what you would normally do in a whole week over in just one day. And it was good, like you could do assessment one period and go out and do practical the next. It was a lot of fun just to get everything done in a whole day instead of a whole week.

Ngahina Transom: A little project that went on last year was the group of students, they made Wendy houses or play houses, and then they donated them back into the community. They went out to the kohanga, the kindy, and the play centre within the rohe, so they were giving back to the community what the community was putting in, which also leads the students to thinking about, well, I’ve got these skills in this area, I’ve really enjoyed it, perhaps I can go off and do some apprenticeship work.

Barbara Wallis: The option days were a lot of hands-on practical work amongst the theory. It made teachers think, well, they needed to be doing that kind of thing in their classroom programmes and in their normal subject programmes, and so it got away from lessons being very book-based and writing off the board and things like that, and looking at students and how they learnt – so the options had big spin-offs for the normal classroom programme.

Scott Sargison (teacher): It’s about tailoring the learning for the student, rather than making the student try and fit the learning. It is how he has changed the whole culture of the school by accepting the students that we have and saying okay, we need to fit the learning around them, rather than giving them this learning and trying to put them into these peg holes.

Boyce Davey: Our NCEA data is really, really good now. It’s gone from, like, the bottom 25 up into the 70 per cents, and our kids are wanting to achieve.

Morgan Whatarau: The teachers want to help us learn – it's not a job to them anymore, they want to do it, they want to help us achieve.

Sammie-Jo Bowsher (student): Now that I’m sixth form and that I will want to learn, me and teachers have been getting along pretty well and they’ve just … they never used to understand what I wanted to do, but I didn’t want to do anything back then, I just mucked around, but now it’s like they want to teach me, so it’s good.

Emma Finegan (student leader): I’ve seen changes with the teachers as well, like they’re more positive and they make us more motivated, like I want to come to school and learn, and it’s not just like we have to come, we chose to come here for year 13, so that’s really good.

Boyce Davey: It is quite wonderful training for tertiary if you’re going to go into tertiary. Wonderful training for work, the work environment, and it really, yeah, a lot better than 40 minutes.

Updated on: 10 Feb 2015