By Dr Nina Hood
When I was teaching, I loved the creativity of developing resources and designing tasks for my students. However, I often thought about the hundreds of teachers around New Zealand (and the world) who were teaching the same subjects and content that I was, and how absurd (and wildly inefficient) it was, that for the most part, I was responsible for independently designing and resourcing my own lessons.
While I was always in departments that had a bank of shared resources, I was struck by the often-disjointed curricula I encountered, which seemingly lacked clarity of purpose, or a clear understanding of the key knowledge that students were supposed to be learning, or why this knowledge was valuable. Similarly, many of the teaching tasks comprised low-level activities that expected little of students and rarely encouraged higher order thinking or independent meaning making.
During my second-year teaching, I distinctly remember deciding that I wanted all my Year 9 social studies students to be able to write a solid paragraph and then to be able to extend it into a longer piece of writing. I explicitly taught my students what made a quality piece of writing in social studies and supported them as they learned how to craft their own thinking and writing over multiple lessons. However, there was nothing in the national curriculum that instructed me to do this, and there was certainly no directive from the school that this was an important thing to do. Rather, I did it because I believed that learning to write well was essential and that students needed to be explicitly taught how to do this and to have plenty of opportunities to practice, rather than leaving it up to osmotic chance.
This early interest in instructional materials stayed with me and it ultimately became the topic of my PhD research, in which I investigated the early days of online resource sharing sites, seeking to understand how and why teachers shared and used resources online and the impact this had on their professional learning and teaching practice.
Now, I have returned to questions of curriculum design and instructional materials. This reflects my ongoing disquiet about the variable ways in which the New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) is being implemented across different schools and by the growing (largely anecdotal) evidence of the impact this is having on students’ school experiences and learning. There is the story from a friend whose son finished intermediate school and remarked “all I learned during the past two years was how to make friends”. And while the development of social skills is vitally important, schooling must extend beyond this. Then there’s the colleague whose daughter, who currently is in Year 6, has studied Kate Sheppard for the past three years and yet does not seem to know that much about her. There is the pre-service teacher whom I (inadvertently) terrified when I told her that the NZC does not actually tell her what to teach and that she’ll need to make decisions about what topics and content to cover (although, as others in the class assured her, it is important to note that many schools have developed their own local curriculum to support teachers with this).
The report is an attempt to find out more about what is happening with respect to curriculum design and instructional material development and use in schools across New Zealand. There are many things that it does not and cannot do. It does not make definitive claims about how the curriculum should look like at either a national or individual school level, although it does report on research which makes suggestions about what makes a [national] curriculum effective. It does not specify what knowledge should be taught or what competencies developed over a child’s time at school, however, it does integrate high level findings from research on both these areas. Similarly, it does not pass judgement on what instructional materials teachers should be using, who should be developing them, or from where they should be sourced, although it does suggest that they should face some degree of quality control and ensure that they promote rigorous tasks.
As such, this report does not provide answers to some of the big questions and debates currently swirling in New Zealand about the curriculum. But, by uncovering some of the processes and practices around curriculum design and instructional material development and use currently in place in New Zealand schools, it does raise questions about what is happening and identify issues that need to be investigated further if our aspiration as a country is an education system that is both excellent and equitable. It is hoped that the findings presented can be a catalyst for discussion at both a national and an individual school level.
The report will be released on September 4th.
We will be hosting an online panel discussion at 7.30pm on September 5th to discuss the key findings of the report. You can register for free on our website.