Curriculum implementation exploratory studies: Final Report

Publication Details

This final report provides an overview of the findings from the Curriculum Implementation Exploratory Studies (CIES) project.

Author(s): Bronwen Cowie, Rosemary Hipkins, Sally Boyd, Ally Bull, Paul Keown, Clive McGee, with Beverley Cooper, Jenny Ferrier-Kerr, Anne Hume, Anne McKim, Judy Moreland, Michele Morrison, Rachel Bolstad, Lorraine Spiller, Merilyn Taylor, and Russell Yates, New Zealand Council for Educational Research, The University of Waikato. Report prepared for the Ministry of Education.

Date Published: October 2009

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This report is available as a download (please refer to the 'Downloads' inset box).  To view the individual chapters please refer to the 'Sections' inset box.  For links to related publications/ information that may be of interest please refer to the 'Where to Find Out More' inset box.

Section 9: Theme G: Aligning structures and supports

The final theme reports on how the various implementation activities already outlined are being drawn together in day-to-day practice within existing, and in some cases changing, school structures. Some of these matters have already been introduced in earlier sections. Drawing them all together here illustrates how far-reaching and profound the changes associated with the implementation of NZC can become once schools have embarked on the journey.

Planning for implementation

In the second phase of data collection it seemed that most schools were adapting their planning documentation to align it better with the intent of the new curriculum. Many schools (both primary and secondary) were experimenting with planning formats that included principles, values and/or key competencies as well as the learning areas. In one primary school there was a reported shift away from planning which emphasises topics and content towards planning which also emphasises concepts and processes. In one of the intermediates, a two-year programme was being planned around the four future-focused themes in the curriculum. Many schools were beginning to look at using the essence statements of the learning areas to base planning around. At one primary school the principal had modelled this approach with one learning area at a staff meeting and then encouraged staff to plan the other learning areas in a similar way. Many schools spoke of adapting old unit plans to fit the new curriculum and some said they were relying on the greater detail provided in the previous curriculum documents to flesh out what to teach.

In many schools, planning was being done at a school, syndicate or department level but then individual teachers had the freedom to adapt the basic plan to suit the needs of the students in their classes. This flexibility seemed to be a key element in new ways of planning. Some of the primary and intermediate schools were experimenting with "retrospective planning". This was seen as particularly helpful where schools were operating an inquiry-based programme to ensure that adequate coverage was being given to all learning areas. One school was planning inquiries that stretched over holiday breaks so that different aspects of their programmes were beginning and finishing at different times, rather than all at the same time. Another primary school described how one unit of work had been so successful that they had extended it into the next term, and foregone the unit of work they had planned for that term.

Most school leaders saw the new planning templates as working drafts. They were there to be reviewed, adapted and revisited based on what teachers learnt as they tried them out. Some principals felt that by experimenting with new ways of planning teachers were consolidating their understandings of what was different about the new curriculum. By contrast, others cautioned, though, that moving too quickly to documenting what was being done could encourage a superficial understanding of the new curriculum.

Planning and processes for reporting

Some schools had put time and energy into developing "progressions" in learning they expected from students. In these schools, the progressions were being used for reporting to parents.

Most schools in the study reported changes in how they went about reporting to parents. As already noted there seemed to be a move toward more student involvement in reporting to parents. Student-led conferences and portfolios of work were in many instances replacing traditional parent-teacher interviews and formal reports. Although in the first round of interviews many schools were beginning to think about assessing key competencies, in the second phase many of these schools seemed to be questioning whether this was a worthwhile activity.

Changing the timetable and other structures

The secondary schools in the study were experimenting with changes to the timetable. One school had introduced a 10-day timetable where every subject had at least one 100-minute session each fortnight. This shift to a longer teaching spell has significant pedagogical implications, challenging some more traditional teaching methods. One teacher remarked that although having a double spell next to a lunch hour provided enough time to take students outside the school, the paperwork associated with Education Outside the Classroom (EOTC) policies was often still a disincentive to do this.

An area school had recently moved to 1.5-hour periods as an incentive to encourage teachers to be well planned and change their practice. Again, the longer periods are giving teachers more time to engage in deeper discussions with students about their learning, set group work, and take students on off-site visits.

Two of the secondary schools were experimenting with vertical age-range "mentoring" groups and also grouping students across age groups for enrichment.

Some schools were thinking about new ways of organising physical spaces to better accommodate new pedagogical approaches. Some were also concerned about the provision of adequate ICT facilities to support newer approaches to learning and teaching.

Changing appraisal processes

In many schools, aspects of the new curriculum and its implementation were being linked to teacher appraisals:

Example One:
In one school, the conceptualisation of what effective pedagogy would look like, feel like and sound like in classrooms was developed by the teachers. This had then become a reference point for the principal's classroom appraisal visits and for formative feedback from the principal to teachers.

Example Two:
At another school the key competencies were underpinning the teacher performance agreements for all staff. Each component of the performance agreement had been matched to the relevant key competencies.

Example Three:
One area school has recently shifted from the established peer appraisal system to a more challenging "staff review" process led by the curriculum leaders. Staff are observed teaching and given candid feedback, framed by the pedagogical expectations of the NZC. Next learning steps for their professional growth are identified and then resourced as appropriate.

Example Four:
In another area school a peer support system has recently been established. Each teacher has been assigned an "accountability partner" with whom they engage in reflective discussions.

Example Five:
In one primary school the principal has trained other senior leaders to carry out "learning walks" that give them a snapshot of practice across the school. Teachers collectively develop the observation criteria for any one session so there are no surprises. The principal noted that, after the initial apprehension, the teachers have come to appreciate the informative nature of this appraisal strategy.

Aligning internal and external structures

Many schools spoke of the benefits of developing collaborative relationships both within and between schools in the area. Often Extending High Standards clusters were the catalyst for staff in an area to work more closely together. Many staff, particularly in smaller schools, spoke of the benefits of being able to talk with teachers in other schools who were working at similar levels to themselves. Principals also seemed to find the sharing of ideas and professional learning with other principals particularly useful. The developing relationships between primary, intermediate and secondary schools in some areas also facilitated consistency and better use of assessment data as students moved between schools. Some principals saw competition between schools in an area as unhelpful for meeting the needs of the whole community.

Challenges, tensions and solutions

Schools felt there was value in taking time to unpack appropriate structures and ways of working with NZC in depth, despite the added workload for staff. Some schools felt there was a need for MOE-funded external expertise so that good practice could be shared more widely and to avoid reinventing the wheel.

Many schools in the study had initially experimented with assessing key competencies and had since begun to question whether this was a worthwhile endeavour. Similarly, many schools were rethinking their approaches to inquiry-based learning and questioning what was most sustainable and effective for their students. One school worried that if they were not seen to be "doing inquiry-based learning" they would be considered to not be implementing the curriculum.

Some schools were coming up with innovative ways of supporting staff to deal with the increased workload associated with the implementation of the new curriculum. At one secondary school the BOT had funded ground supervisors to free staff up from interval and lunchtime duties. At one secondary school, each department was provided with a day for planning and writing new schemes during exam time.

At many schools there was a high turnover of staff and it was necessary to put time into "catching new staff up". There was also concern that the openness of the new curriculum did not provide sufficient support for less-experienced teachers.

What does this look like when it is working well?

Schools that seemed well advanced in implementing the new curriculum displayed many of the following characteristics:

  • Planning is dynamic, fluid and driven by student needs, interests and the local community. It takes account of wider school processes and structures, not just classroom programmes.
  • The school/department has developed broad overarching policies and plans to "set in place" what is valued in the school. Teaching, learning and assessment plans are generated from these to meet the needs of different classes/students.
  • Other aspects of practice and policy are aligned with the overall direction signalled by implementation decisions. For example appraisal foci and practices are aligned with intended changes in teaching and learning.
  • School processes and structures are evolving and aligned to support both students and teachers to build their learning capacity. The emphasis is on personalised learning programmes for students. For example, inquiries that encourage students to do things with knowledge, alongside members of the local community, are enabled by making longer learning periods available.

Where to find out more

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