Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Way We Have Approached (and Evolved) Catering for NCEA

As an area school we are in a great position to personalise learning.We have small numbers of learners. We know our learners really well. We will have learnt with them and from them for 10 years by the time they hit a need to demonstrate their learning through qualifications. 
We develop programmes based around inquiry for the first 10 years of their learning, with lots based on personal interest, and some based on teacher guided concepts.
If we believe this is the best way for our learners to learn then why would we change that and let NZQA requirements dictate the way we do things.?
So from the start we have tried not to let NCEA dictate to us the way we organise the learning for our senior learners. 
Inquiries have been developed underneath the umbrella of a theme each term. Classes at Year 11-13  had to be an integrated inquiry and offer at least two learning areas, they had to cater for any students from Years 11-13 that wanted to take them. Learners opted into 3 or 4 classes for the term from a selection of 10-12.  Classes were advertised out at the end of each term, with an indication of the standards that would be likely to be covered in them. The classes followed a pattern of an immersion into the theme, and then real depth learning for 5-6 weeks followed by, in the last 3-4 weeks of the term, an introduction of the standards and working towards completing them.
Ultimately our learners were more engaged and taking more ownership of their learning than when we began as a school. And the achievement results steadily increased as well.
But when we reviewed our programmes last year we felt there were some key parts of learning that were thriving in the rest of the school but wasn't quite hitting it at Year 11-13. And we were focused on dissecting the engagement in learning rather than achievement results of NCEA standards.
  • It wasn't personalised- learners selected their classes each term, and there was differentiation of what was being offered in class but it wasn't personalised to each learner.
  • It wasn't always integrated learning- a teacher taking two or more learning areas sometimes ended up making some basic links but teaching those areas side by side rather than through each other. And it wasn't always real inquiry learning either.
  • It didn't allow teachers to plan and teach as collaboratively as the rest of the school was doing.
  • And it wasn't really centred on learners needs and/or passions. While there was some attempt to get student voice into those class offerings, this was still very much on a  group basis. And we often found that our learners lacked a bit of life experience to develop a real passion into things they could get a real flow into inquiring into.

While we are happy with what we've achieved in the last few years it was time to shake things up a bit further this year.
What are we doing differently?
What you value is what you measure-  I wrote about this at the end of last year. You can read this blogpost here.  We are using some of the lessons we learnt with our Year 6-10 learners in 2014 and developing ways to use this with our Year 11-13 learners.
We have introduced daily passion experience classes to widen students areas of interest and passion- (to be explored further in another post) These classes will focus on widening comfort zones and deep learning without any reference to credits , although learners will document their learning in an ongoing portfolio. Later on  some of the learning done in these classes may inspire personalised learning towards credits- to be negotiated between teachers and learners individually back in the learning community.
We will be continuing to use the inquiry approach we developed as a school last year which has been documented here and here.  
Back in the learning communities there will be some teacher directed inquiries based around our learning muscles which learners will be able to opt into and out of. These will be developed and delivered  by two teachers working together with deliberate cross curriculum pairings. And these pairings will change regularly as we develop further inquiries. 
At the experimenting stage independent learning and workshops will be available to any learners for Years 8-13. When they hit the engage part of their inquiry and individually meet with a teacher to construct a big question to explore further, some links will be made to possible standards that learners can work towards and the support that they will need for this- including any acts of deliberate teaching, incorporated into their explore plan. This will be shared on an electronic forum for all six teachers working with this learning community. Then they can also add their suggestions to this learners explore plan.
When they have explored the learning through the questions they write, and move to the establish and explain stage of their inquiry is when we will look at the requirements of any achievement standard in depth, look with the learner at their portfolio of learning and construct specific steps to be able to meet the criteria of the standard. 
At the same time Year 8-10 learners are following the same pattern, without having to look at the standard, but also creating a rich portfolio of their learning which will be regularly discussed with them and as a teaching team. If there are learners working at an appropriate level in Year 10 in particular, this learning may go into a process (that we are still figuring out) wherein it can be used for NCEA the following year.
Learners are  creating their own timetables each day based on a mixture of the teacher directed inquiries and their self  directed inquiries. An overall learning community timetable for the week allows them to schedule when they are required to be at a workshop with a teacher, and also gives them the freedom to book in for small group and individual meetings and session with a teacher. This also allows teachers the time to roam and support individual learners, as well as take workshops focused around deliberate acts of teaching. We set up our staffing to have two staff members skilled in facilitating inquiry learning and personalised programmes released from teaching in order to provide intensive coaching of other staff on a daily basis.
We know things will change as we go, and we are small enough to be really flexible and allow this. We have approximately 80-90 learners in this community with 6 teachers and electronic systems and a 1-1 device rollout allows us to have a close and detailed idea what each learner is working towards on any day. I am sure there will be stumbles and issues along the way and we will have to evolve systems and procedures and meet challenges. But for our learners, right now, this is the way we are trying to ensure that while they leave school with qualifications, more importantly they leave school with passion for being lifelong learners.
We are determined to focus on learning not achievement. A prior blogpost about this can be found here.
Claire Amos from Hobsonville Point Secondary School wrote about the fact that "Too often in schools assessment is the the tail that wags the curriculum design dog."   You can find her blogpost here

There is much in these draft ideas of how HPSS is going to approach NCEA when their learners get to Year 11 that is food for thought and will definitely be an influence for us at Te Karaka Area School going forward.