Tuesday, 20 June 2006

West End - The Thinking School

What a great opportunity today to visit West End School in Palmerston North with Jacqui & Megan from Eltham Primary School. Eltham had begun their journey down the pathway towards Curriculum Integration "The Eltham Way" to the point where they were starting to pull the threads together of what it would look like in their school - the nuts & bolts of it - how to make it work for them. This journey has stalled of late with recent staff turnovers and now they are looking to restart the process. Today, if anything, was an affirmation of current thinking & an opportunity to take away practical strategies & a framework to help scaffold the process.
Thank you to Gary Punler, Principal West End, for spending lots of time with us sharing the West End story and then setting us free around the school! Thank you also to all the teachers who so kindly put up with us traipsing in and out of their rooms with our cameras, taking the time to answer questions and being so welcoming. Kids too were excited about sharing their learning with us :-)
Gary's most potent words of wisdom were that be sure about the 'Why' and the 'How' will follow - whatever 'model' you put into place. Your staff really needs to buy into the bigger picture vision to make changes together. Everybody got on the bus at West End because they all believed that they needed to chuck out the 'over-crowded' curriculum and focus on skills for learning within an integrated curriculum. So how does it work here - well a picture tells a thousand words. Gary believes that they have not achieved full curriculum integration as literacy & numeracy are taught outside the framework then all other areas come within a term long 'rich topic', explicit learning intentions, rubrics, student portfolios within 'Thinking & Learning Strategies' (key competencies): Information Skills, Investigating, Working Together, Using classroom opportunities and managing learning time, Knowing We're Learning, Thinking strategies (the whole range here with a big emphasis on 6 hats but introduced across the school levels based on Pohl's framework). I am a bit biased here but i was surprised to see that ICTs didn't figure as an explicit part of their overall framework. There was a document that highlights ICT skills that should be used within the Integrated Curriculum. Apart from a couple of students publishing we didn't see much activity in this area. Digital photography was used a lot by teachers especially in the junior classrooms to model learning intentions and one class had been videoing their KapaHaka - a great way to self & peer assess. A curriculum review team looks out for learning areas that may be missed along the way that need to be picked up on with future learning. School teams plan together, with the first two weeks of a unit providing a wide knowledge base for students to ask their own questions and direct their own learning (i think the term 'front-loading' fits in here). There is a lot of self & peer assessment where students (with teacher guidance) provide feedback & feedforward for next steps. They have developed a very comprehensive CDP - curriculum development plan that provides the structure that they all work within. Overall it's not rocket science (don't we know all this stuff) but it's no silver bullet either. The point of difference though is this school has successfully pulled it together, they have worked together over the last four years to develop a model that works for them based on the needs of their children and not upon a document dreamed up by experts in Wellington. Gary sees this as a continual work in progress as he says there are no final documents everything is always a draft. He and a number of key staff have led the changes but he expresses pride in the fact that his teachers have picked up and run with this further than he ever expected.
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