Two schools and
Lin Avery is principal of Glen Taylor School in Auckland, and Marie Barrett is principal of St John Bosco School in New Plymouth. They talk about how their schools will use the National Standards
Q What role might National Standards play in school self-review and curriculum planning and review? For example, how might you use the standards as you develop your school’s curriculum?
Lin At Glen Taylor, we are exploring how we might use the National Standards alongside our assessment information from e-asTTle, PROBE, PM Benchmarks, running records, GloSS, and so on, in order to enhance our diagnosis and inform our next teaching steps. The standards will help us to triangulate our achievement information and will support our already rigorous inquiry into what constitutes effective teaching practice.
In English, we have already used the draft National Standards together with the curriculum and The Literacy Learning Progressions draft to develop our school curriculum. We will use the standards as a reference point in developing our long-term plans, while the progressions provide us with the detail. At staff meetings, we will use the standards to examine where our professional development needs lie.
The maths curriculum team is beginning to change the maths overview by integrating the strands. We want to broaden our students’ experience of working on rich mathematical tasks, rather than being limited to tasks that focus on only one strand.
Using the National Standards as aspirational goals exemplifies for us what successful achievement looks like.
Marie The National Standards will enhance the performance of our entire school system. We will use them with the current assessment tools. The pedagogy that we already practise will enable us to set teaching goals for next-step learning.
Assessment provides the evidence for informed, school-wide decisions. It is the foundation for professional development, budgeting, and class planning.
The New Zealand Curriculum gives us clear guidelines, with expected outcomes. Formative assessment is our main tool in achieving those outcomes, with learning progressions, exemplars, and now, the new National Standards. At last we have that! Knowing that the standards are nationally referenced and not our own best guess, we can confidently lift teachers’ expectations of student achievement and develop a culture where teachers are consistently focusing on the effectiveness of their own teaching practice.
The key feature of our school charter is the development of reflective practice in teachers and students. Our parents are active participants in discussing student progress. The National Standards will streamline this process, providing clear pathways in home–school partnerships.
Q How do you make sure that teachers avoid “teaching to the standard”?
Lin We already practise careful diagnosis of our assessments – our teaching programmes have their origins in rich information about students’ learning needs. This will not change, but the standards will be a reference point for both teachers and students – a goal to reach for. They will give us a sense of direction, but there is no danger that they will take over from what we are already doing. The National Standards are not one-dimensional. It is not possible to teach to a standard and ignore the immediate learning needs of the students in our classrooms.
Marie Effective teachers will teach the gaps that the standard identifies, rather than teaching a prescription. This is not teaching to the test. All teachers need to understand the components within each standard and teach those specifically and intentionally, in a developmental and incremental way. We now have a national guideline to allow us to manage formative assessment and next-step learning, with high student involvement. This should bring about greater engagement with resulting success. Parents and whānau can be involved in understanding what the next steps in the learning look like, and can work with teachers to ensure success. The explicit nature of the standards allow everyone to have a clear sense of where the learning progression is taking them, especially the students, who will see a clear purpose for their learning.
What we must avoid is creating more tests based on the standards. The standards show a continuum of learning along which children will move at different paces.
Q How do you address staff and parent concerns about possible narrowing of the curriculum?
Lin Our community supports the national priorities of literacy and numeracy. The National Standards will not change this. We still teach the whole curriculum, but teaching it richly can occur only when literacy and numeracy is well-taught, particularly in the early years of schooling. Students have to be literate and numerate to achieve well in other curriculum areas.
Marie First of all, we have communicated what the curriculum is and we have ensured ongoing community understanding and involvement. We asked our community: “What is it that we really need to do here, to enable your child to be educated successfully?” Our parents resoundingly want their children to be able to read, write and do maths and to be happy.
Before anything else, students need to be literate and numerate to access the curriculum and to develop as happy, successful people, who know who they are and who can take advantage of all the opportunities the world holds for them. Reading, writing, and maths have always been the core curriculum components in primary schools and, in my experience, should continue to be the centre of any primary curriculum.
Using the National Standards as part of our classroom teaching will help to make what we already do more focused and specific. Expert teachers work quickly and effectively. Why should the curriculum delivery change? Creative teachers will always find time for creative activities.
Q What challenges do you see in communicating with a student and his or her parents and whānau about the student’s achievement and progress in relation to the standards? How do you address these challenges?
Lin The National Standards will be only one aspect of a student’s report. Our students already have complete access to their achievement data, and the National Standards won’t change this. The National Standards are not solely for teachers. We will share them with our children at student-led conferences. The standards will usefully exemplify our students’ learning goals – they can only serve to enrich home-school partnerships. Even if students have not reached a particular standard, they will be able to describe their progress towards achieving it. At our currrent student-led conferences, the children already explain their next learning steps to their parent. Now they will be able to show their parents what the next steps might look like.
Marie One challenge will be the question: “Why isn’t my child up to the standard?” I see this as an opportunity to engage that parent in what the child’s needs are (and it might not necessarily be learning).
Another challenge will be parents feeling vulnerable and unable to help their children. Schools need to provide a sense of belonging for parents so that they are comfortable about asking questions. Schools may need to provide parent education in areas of adult need.
In the education world today, parents have a right to know where their child sits, both on a continuum and against a standard. This is another opportunity for more purposeful, direct conversations with parents. Schools will need to educate communities about the standards and how they can best be used.
Q How might the standards support teachers of new entrants who have limited knowledge, understandings, and behaviours in literacy or mathematics?
Lin I believe the standards will give new-entrant teachers clear guidelines about what is expected, just as The Literacy Learning Progressions draft for consultation describes “the kinds of literacy knowledge and understandings that most five-year-olds have, which enable them to meet the demands of literacy instruction from their first day at school”. The standards will no doubt create a sense of urgency in getting children learning well from the day they enter school and, once successful learning is under way, will set the expectation that subsequent teachers maintain the momentum. We strongly believe this at Glen Taylor School. The National Standards will serve to strengthen this belief and, nationally, they have the potential to remove barriers to learning very early on.
Marie The standards give us a national picture. Effective teachers can identify the new entrant’s needs and design a learning pathway for that child, with the standards as a guideline.
Regardless of the students’ family background and experiences, we plan to use the National Standards to demonstrate to parents and early childhood educators where children can be and need to be by the end of their first or second year at school.
New-entrant teachers and family members must hold high expectations for all children. I have not met yet with a parent who doesn’t want their child to achieve. Now we have a national model of what a child can do, we have an opportunity to engage with a family on child development and quality shared teaching ideas. These topics will be at the core of the conversations we are having with parents.
We will develop a three-way partnership (teacher, family-whānau, and student) where the parents understand the role they have to play. The standards give us a tool to guide conversations about what we need to learn next.
It has been demonstrated that children who arrive at school with varied or limited understandings and behaviours in maths and literacy can catch up as a result of deliberate intensive teaching, together with family support. When it becomes obvious that sufficient gains are not being made, the school can more easily engage in early intervention strategies that are based on sound evidence.
We will work to create a sense of urgency about what each family needs to know and practise at home, building on skilled teaching that responds to the knowledge we are gaining about that child and his or her family.