Most great conversations start with a really purposeful question. A question that’s simple but not simplistic. A simple question posed in conversation recently was, ‘Are you engaging with the New Zealand Curriculum?’ Before you answer, think carefully about what that question actually means. In my humble opinion the New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) is one of the finest documents created. It has guidance, it asks questions, it can define your view of education. In any purposeful conversation or debate, there is usually a catalyst. So, before I go any further, I’d like to extend my heartfelt thanks to Daniel Birch, Principal of Hobsonville Point Primary School, for being an incredible thought provoker in conversation today.
The New Zealand Curriculum is a 49-page document that should underpin the content and practice of every educator in every classroom in the country. But does it?
Most of us, myself included, focused initially on pages 16-33, studying the learning areas and objectives, planning carefully for good coverage and making sure that I was accountable. But that still leaves us 32 pages to explore. Taking out place-holder pages, covers, and glossaries, we are left with around 28 pages of information, advice, and guidance, and it’s these where tremendous value can be found. So, I return to my original question, are you engaging with the New Zealand Curriculum? Looking back at my own classroom practice, and allowing time for the question to genuinely percolate, no, not fully. You see, the document was never designed to simply be a reference point for teachers to choose what to teach. It’s an all-encompassing document that stresses the importance of teaching the whole child.
When you look at the diagram, lifted straight from the document, it makes sense that about a third of the content is dedicated to Learning Areas. It could be argued that about a third of learning is assimilating knowledge in specific content areas. But what of the other two thirds?
Once again I return to the original question, are you engaging with the New Zealand Curriculum? All of it. With the pressure of National Standards and NCEA achievement targets, it stands to reason that there would be a logical slip towards knowledge in order to have something to summatively assess. Much of the brilliant research out there focuses on raising student achievement. As an example, John Hattie’s extremely highly regarded Visible Learning focuses on effect size and the influence on achievement. It’s a strong reminder that we are continuously surrounded by the language of achievement, value added and academic progress. But what of the main vision? What about the skills businesses value and are looking for? Don’t misunderstand my point, subject-specific knowledge very much has its place, but that place is just one piece of the complex puzzle that is teaching and learning. A wonderful colleague of mine mentioned recently that if we can get the values and key competencies right, the other things will sort themselves out. I think she has a point!
In recent years, the metaphorical pendulum has swung towards pedagogy and away from content. Most teachers and principals I engage with have a better understanding of research and how their students learn than ever before. Much of the challenge around maintaining this focus on powerful, meaningful learning opportunities lies with identifying our drivers. Why do we do what we do, not what we want as an outcome. Meeting a national standard or predetermined benchmark cannot and should not be a driver. It is an outcome. Put simply, achieving a standard is a result of good teaching practice with a balance of values, key competencies, and focus on learning areas.
More recently, I was shared into a fantastic ‘What if’ style set of statements, post staff meeting in a large high decile school. The staff meeting had centred around inquiry and curriculum, however staff were given the opportunity to share statements at the end of the meeting to further discussion, challenge concepts, and share ideas moving forward. It was here that a statement was delivered by a teacher that reignited this post, displayed by a small pocket of teachers from within the school…
“What if the New Zealand Curriculum had been designed by educators and not politicians.”
Having not been present at the meeting, I am not fully aware of the conversations that took place and led to this statement being shared. However, I’m led to believe that the statement came as a result of discussion with a small group of teachers. I was left almost speechless. As someone who works alongside schools, my place is not to judge, it is to educate, facilitate, and provide opportunities to explore. It has never crossed my mind that there could be a pocket of people out there who believe the NZC was designed by politicians. In the design of the original NZC, the consultation process was long and extensive. Educators from across the sector were invited to share their thinking and shape the way we deliver education in this country.
The link between those engaging with only the subject matter and learning areas and those who believe the curriculum was constructed by people outside of education is immediately apparent. If you believe something has been constructed by someone who doesn’t understand your role, you simply won’t buy into it. It becomes learning that is done to you- the most ineffective of all professional learning.
Linking to Digital Technologies | Hangarau Matihiko
It has been a priority for many New Zealand teachers for several years and more recently has become a national priority via the Ministry. Much like the NZC, the current draft copy must not be interpreted as a set of learning intentions to be adhered to. It’s a broader, more holistic, approach to establishing digital fluency within today’s learners. It’s new, but it’s not really new. Many forward-thinking schools have continued to push the boundaries of education and digital possibilities for years. The development of the DT & HM curriculum is simply a step towards helping others be and do more. Like the NZC it incorporates a strong ‘why’ and detailed explanations around the value we need to place in developing wider skill sets to meet the needs of both future employers and our current learners. It is not prescriptive, nor is it a sequence of lessons or breakdown of modules to teach. Like every other learning area (both within and outside of the NZC), the intention is to use existing strengths within inquiry teaching and extend them using algorithmic and computational thinking.
However you view the curriculum, there are some things you simply cannot ignore. It was designed by educators for educators. The intention is to teach the whole child, not to teach the content areas. If you want to teach for success, there’s no better place than to start with the NZC and utilise it to its full extent.