Monday, April 27, 2015

Navigating the space between educational paradigms

One of the toughest things about being a champion for educational change is that you need to take people with you. In fact sometimes its even tough to take yourself with you.

Many times on this blog (and basically any chance I get to speak to groups) I have spoken about the need for educational change (see a particularly ranty presentation here). I know I am not a lone voice, in fact I get the sense that there is a veritable tsunami building up behind what initially felt like ripples and then waves of educators talking about this very issue. People like Sir Ken Robinson popularised the notion that schools need to change with his TED talk How Schools are Killing Creativity and Changing Educational Paradigms. This was echoed and reinforced by the work of Sugata Mitra with his hole in the wall work and his TED talk Build a School in the Cloud and I know we all cheered for that Logan LaPlante for whom Hackschooling made happy. Locally we have a growing number of educational leaders calling for change with NZCER writing an excellent report Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching - a New Zealand perspective and just this year we saw the launch of Dr Jane Gilbert's AUT Edge Work - Educational Futures Network. I am also proud to be part of school and team who are trialling different ways that we can better meet the needs of our learners in the 21st Century (check out Maurie or any of team's blogs to see what we are up to at HPSS).

I don't actually think the challenge is understanding why we need to change education or even what we need to do in order to change it. For me the central challenge is that we appear to be a bit stuck in the space between. The space between education's past and education's future. I suspect this period will be looked back on as that uncomfortably pimply pubescent period where we transitioned, painfully and unnecessarily slowly, from an industrial age education system to a more agile knowledge age model. But at present, we are neither there nor here. Actually who am I kidding. Plenty of people are still back there. And happily so. Some of us have hurled ourself into the unknown whilst many others have stuck with comfortable old 'there' and are  simply dangling pedagogical toes over the precipice whilst really clinging to the industrial mainland.

All around us are examples of businesses and industries who have made the transition - think about how you used to book travel, how you used to do your banking or share written communication - there are so many examples of change, because industries have to change, if you don't, you simply lose customers - in business you evolve or die.

However, compulsory schooling doesn't seem to work that way. For many, there is what is perceived as an intellectual argument for change that might make them feel a little uneasy maintaining the status quo. However as long as we have a system where schools can be positively antiquated yet publicly lauded as educational successes for hothousing students focusing on little more than assessment and results results results, then we are unlikely to see any sizeable change in the near future. I mean there are days when the NZ Herald or Stuff's education section feels like the educational equivalent of Antiques Roadshow! Add to this that for many, which school they attend is not their choice, and even if it was, there is so little choice that you are probably limited to choosing between co-ed, single sex and/or maybe religious or not. Then there is the issue that criteria for 'a good school' is so outdated that it seems based on little more than decile and league tables combined. In fact the more antiquated the school the more highly it seems to be regarded.

Be a pioneer and make change anyway and you run the risk of being seen as risking student success and making a generation of students guinea pigs. Irregardless of the fact that we are all failing our young people in numerous other ways with our national focus on results and little else. I actually believe we can move forward and deliver a better educational model AND have our students succeed at qualifications such as NCEA, I just think it's a shame that there is little enticing others to risk making change when the only thing that seems to matter to many are results which quite possibly have little or any relevance as an indicator for longterm success in the 21st century. Add to this the issue that if we do change schooling we must have the confidence of our students and community and often for parents their only reference point is their own education. Even if they actually didn't succeed in that system or even enjoy it, they are hugely nervous if we depart from a traditional school model and what the school down the road is doing. So as well as working hard to change and improve educational models we also have the additional job of translating and PR, "selling" one paradigm to those that came from another. This translation needs to occur for the educator as well. I know I have often faltered, knowing full well that we must make the change but at times terrified at the thought of heading off into such a new terrain with a map or guide book.

Add to this the issue that entering a new paradigm actually requires extra resourcing. At HPSS we are attempting all kinds of creative solutions to try and make future-focused learning happen on a budget and resourcing model that is well and truly based on an industrial age equation of one teacher to 25-30 students teaching students eight discrete learning areas. I would argue that if our government really wanted innovation they would reward those that are doing it with a different resourcing formula that allowed for greater planning and professional learning to reflect that we are no longer simply serving up tweaked iterations of what we  have serving up in schools for the last 25, 50 or 100 years. Change takes time, effective change takes a whole lot of learning.

Personally if I was Jo or Joanne Blogs I would be way less concerned that schools like HPSS are "experimenting" with new approaches and be way more concerned that many schools are not experimenting at all and that in fact they are being celebrating for engaging in damaging, high stress approaches to preparing students for little more that assessment success. That scares the hell out of me.

So what is the answer? I suspect we have to "feel the fear and do it anyway". I mean, human kind didn't create cars, learn to fly or fly to the moon by being safe and happily living in the past. I just hope we can find a way to have more, if not all educators leave the past behind us as well and for communities to demand the change rather than fear it.

Finally, I also hope this documentary comes to NZ - it might just encourage more of us to navigate the space between educational paradigms - the space between the past and the future. Before it's too late.

Most Likely to Succeed Trailer from One Potato Productions on Vimeo.

Friday, April 3, 2015

So why are you still doing NCEA Level One?

At HPSS we have been pondering this question for a while. There are a number of reasons we have been tackling this question. 

Firstly, because Maurie keeps asking us. (See his post on our NCEA journey here.

Secondly, because there is an increasing sense that students are being over assessed and are being forced to focus on formalised high stakes assessment for three (or possibly even four) years running. 

Thirdly, there is the issue that Level One NCEA Certificate is of little value. Once upon a time School Certificate did serve as an exit certificate for some, but today little if any students are likely to end their schooling journey at Level One. 

There's also the fact that you don't even need to do Level One to get Level One! As long as students get Level Two they actually achieve Level One by default at the same time - magic!

To add to this there is also the very real issue of student stress and anxiety bought on by over assessment. In this recent ERO report Wellbeing for Young People's Success at Secondary School (February 2015) : 19/02/2015 ERO identified assessment overload as one of the biggest challenges to student wellbeing, stating, "students in all schools were experiencing a very assessment driven curriculum and assessment anxiety. Achieving academic success is a part of wellbeing but is not the only factor. Very few schools were responding to this overload by reviewing and changing their curriculum and assessment practices."

Surely if this is identified issue we ALL need to be tackling this issue head on. 

Well at HPSS we are. 

Below is an outline of our plans for approaching NCEA in a way that will focus on doing less better.

Here's hoping we might be able to convince you to do less with us

HPSS NCEA Pathways Strategic Plan HPSS Vertical Logo CMYK.jpg

HPSS Graduate Profile

With the importance placed on NCEA Level Two by government and tertiary training (and by default, employers), we should expect that all HPSS graduates achieve Level Two NCEA (hopefully with endorsement) and that most achieve Level Three with University Entrance. Students will also be expected to be able to evidence development and mastery of Hobsonville Habits (possibly through a learning passport or portfolio).


NCEA at HPSS will be responsive to our learners’ needs, learners will be able to gain credits and recognition of their learning as appropriate to their readiness.

HPSS Foundation Programme and NCEA Level One

The first two years of the Foundation Programme (Year 9 and 10) at HPSS will focus on learning skills and learning how to learn. These years will focus on laying down the foundations for enjoying both academic and personal success throughout their time at HPSS and developing the skills needed to be confident, connected, actively involved, and lifelong learners.

During the third year of the Foundation Programme (Year 11), teachers within Level Six modules (and projects) will offer approximately 20 credits in total for the year (approximately 1-2 standards per module), which may focus on achieving the required 10 + 10 numeracy and literacy credits. Students would only be expected to submit evidence that suggested they were working at Level Six or above, meaning that students may begin building their portfolios at any point during their Foundation Programme. Throughout this period the focus of the modules would be building skills and learning with exposure to a wide range of learning opportunities.

Attainment of  NCEA Level One Achievement Standards will most likely be assessed as part of Level Six modules. The Level Six modules in the latter part of year will prepare learners for external examination as appropriate.

By the end of the third year (Year 11) it is expected that all students will have gained at least 20 credits at Level One (or above) and will have gained most, if not all literacy and numeracy requirements.

By offering just 20-30 credits towards NCEA Level One as part of the Foundation Programme means teaching and learning and the assessment supporting this, is:

  • Scaffolded
  • Transparent
  • Fair and valid and reliable (conditions, expectations set from the outset and equity of  access ensured)
  • Progressive
  • Allows for learners to gauge clearly where they are at and negotiate next steps
  • Aligned from an early stage to the pathways required/enjoyed/that engage them and will support personalised quality pathways into, through and beyond school.
  • No surprises
  • Builds capability
  • Ensuring we are focusing on teaching and learning rather than formal summative assessment
  • Supporting the wellbeing of students and minimising risk of assessment fatigue and related stress.

A more long term vision of what NCEA and learning pathways could look like are outlined here. Please note the colours equate to curriculum levels (Red = 3, Orange = 4, Yellow = 5, Green = 6, Blue = 7, Indigo = 8, Violet/Pink = 8+). Each block represents collections of modules offered to students in their 1st to 5th year at HPSS. Students might choose modules from any of the blocks in any given year according to where they are at in particular areas.

HPSS Future Transition Programme - NCEA Level Two/Three and beyond

All Level six, seven and eight modules will be designed with opportunities for students to be assessed against Level One, Two or Three Achievement Standards which are clearly signalled alongside learning outcomes and rubrics. Where appropriate, modules will assess learners at Level One and Two or Level Two and Three so that learners can be assessed at the level appropriate for them. Modules offered will be a mixture of single or integrated learning (when integration will facilitate deeper more connected learning). Modules in the latter part of the year will be designed to ensure learners are being prepared for required external standards to provide opportunities for gaining Merit and Excellent endorsement.

In the fourth year (Year 12) at HPSS the focus will be on students gaining at least 60 NCEA credits at Level Two or higher. This will combine with the students 20+ credits at Level One which will result in the student gaining a Level Two NCEA Certificate (as well as gaining Level One NCEA Certificate at the same time) with the opportunity to also gain Merit or Excellence endorsement.

In the fifth year at HPSS students will be continuing to work towards Level Two or Three NCEA whilst also pursuing learning beyond the school. This may include taking scholarship modules, tertiary level papers and/or gaining wider experience through internships or entrepreneurial projects.

The aim is that ALL learners will leave HPSS with a minimum of Level Two NCEA, hopefully with Merit or Excellence endorsement. Learners will also leave with a portfolio of work that demonstrates the development of Hobsonville Habits and Key Competencies to support ongoing success as life-long learners.

NCEA at HPSS in summary

Our intention is to provide a qualification framework that focuses on quality over quantity. The intention is for all students to gain at least Level Two NCEA and that most (if not all) will gain Level Three NCEA with some kind of endorsement.

A year by year outline could be:

  • By the end of Year 11 all students have gained at least 20 credits in total at Level One or higher. Most students will have also gained the Literacy and Numeracy requirements.
  • By the end of Year 12 all students will have gained at least 60 credits at Level Two or higher.
  • This will combine with the 20+ credits at Level One or higher to make up the requirements for gaining their Level Two NCEA Certificate (hopefully with some kind of endorsement). All students will have gained their Literacy and Numeracy requirements.
  • By the end of Year 13 most (if not all) students will gained at least 60 credits at Level Three. This will combine with 20+ credits at Level Two to make up the requirements (80 credits) for gaining their Level Three NCEA Certificate. Students will have also planned their achievement standards carefully to ensure entrance requirements required for their desired tertiary pathways.