Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Learning Partnerships

We can't do it alone. We (the school- teachers, leadership, support staff) need to partner with our community and our families if we want to see our children achieving the best possible outcomes and to develop as confident, connected lifelong learners.
One of the most positive aspects of Windsor School is the commitment to partnering together for our children. This was evidenced over the last two nights where over 95% of our parents booked online and attended our student led- 3 Way learning conferences. The remaining 5% will make a time in the next few weeks to hear about their child's strengths, needs, goals and key competency development. How exciting to have such a commitment from our families.
There are some reasons for this:
1. We welcome our families on day one at our Powhiri and affirm the key role they have played and will continue to play in the successful upbringing of their children.
2. We honor our parents as first teachers and we value their intimate knowledge of their child
3. We commit to valuing their time in a practical way but not sending home meaningless homework
4. We offer home learning alternatives that re in force our belief in the value of authentic home learning
5. We regularly seek ways to welcome our families to the school and seek their input through opportunities such as the Pukeko Cafe and regular consultation evenings.
6. Our focus is about developing lifelong learners. Children who can articulate what they are learning, why they are learning it and where they will learn best.
7. We sincerely believe that if we partner together we can achieve more.

I must admit I am challenged then when I still hear of schools in 2012 holding "Parent interviews" where the child is not present. Why do this?
If the interview is about the child and his or her learning why isn't the child present. To omit the child creates uncertainty, it re inforces the mystique that can surround learning and it re inforces chinese whispers. Can you imagine going to your annual appraisal and being told you are not needed, rather other people will talk about you and some information (who knows what) might be shared with you...?

In 2012 (in fact for many years) there really is no place in NZ for learning conferences that do not include the child if we want to uphold the principles and values of the New Zealand Curriculum.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What are our children learning?

Nuthall's findings about what children are learning compared to what is being taught is a real challenge to teachers and schools. If there is a significant difference between the two then basically we are wasting time.
In Christchurch in 2012 I believe there is a 'sense of urgency' for learning. After the events of 2010 and 2011 we cannot afford to waste time on busy activities when meaningful learning is needed. So what do we need to do?
One option is for teachers to continually reflect on their practice through questioning their children. A simple "What have we been learning?" can start the process - provided- the teacher does not then try to explain to the child what the intention was until they get it right or say "Come on you know what we are learning!"
If they cannot articulate it they don't know! If they cannot give examples they don't know, if they cannot apply it in another context they don't know.
Rather gathering data and then reflecting on responses may help teachers to refine their practice so that there is less of a gap between the learning intention and the actually learning taking place.
There is really nothing to lose. If a child does not know what he is learning and the teacher realizes this and then refines the teaching what a great outcome!
This is an ongoing challenge for u at Windsor and something that we are asking ourselves and our children.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Composite or multi level classes...

Windsor school, like the majority of NZ primary schools has (and has had for many years) a number of composite classes.

Currently over 50% of the classes are composite. Each year this still causes concern for some families. Today I had a very positive meeting with a group of parents where they asked me about composite class. Here is an overview of the Q & A and discussions.

What are composite classes?

Composite classes are classes where the children may by from two or more Ministry defined year groups (i.e. Rm 15 Y3/4 class)

Why would we have them?

For a variety of reasons including

  • Meeting social needs
  • Meeting academic needs
  • Allowing children to learn within a more effective group to meet their needs
  • Matching children to teachers
  • Maximising teacher strengths
  • Minimising classroom sizes

What are the negatives about composite classes?

There are none according to the research and according to children once they get into them. Research in NZ, the UK and Australia shows that children in composite classes achieve outcomes no different to those in straight year group classes.

What are the benefits?

Research shows that children in composite classes...

…socially, their development is enhanced. They are more confident, can operate better as part of a group, are more assertive, become more independent learners and better problem-solvers. They also make friends outside of their standard age-groups. In later life, if we have a one year age difference with someone this becomes of no consequence. Veenman (1995).

New Zealand rates as one of the best educational systems in the world. Teachers who are New Zealand trained are sought throughout the world. Why? They teach to stage not age! They teach what your child needs – not a Year __ curriculum from a text book.

Won’t it spoil things for my Year 5 child if he is a Year 5/6 composite?

No, in fact it will probably improve his ability to cope with delayed gratification (a much lacking character trait in 2012!)

Won’t things be to hard?

No-stage not age

For my Year 6 girl in a Year 5/6 class won’t it be to easy?

No-stage not age

Won’t my child who is in a Year 3-4 composite learn bad behavior from the Year 4’s?

No. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that Windsor children get more ‘naughty’ as they get older (if fact the opposite is seen)

How about the Year 5/6 doesn’t it mean they might go on the same camp twice?

Yes- and they love it and eagerly anticipate returning and giving things another go

Isn’t this just streaming?

No, although we do try to create groups within the classes so that teachers have (preferably) no more than four groups for reading, writing and maths

What would be some of the implications of having straight year level classes?

Some classes would be 18 others 36. Children would still be taught according to their stage not age but some of their classes would be very large and some very small.They will miss out on some social, emotional learning opportunities

Teachers may become of the belief that they should teach a “Year __ curriculum”- i.e. teach to age not stage.

Don’t we have a curriculum for each year group?

No . We never have. We have a curriculum separated into levels (children in Year 1-6 are expected to move through level 1,2 and 3) The curriculum was designed in the knowledge that learning is not linear and children, regardless of their age have differing needs and learn at different paces.

What about National Standards?

National Standards are an indication of where the Ministry believe that a child should be at the end of each year. This does not mean we should limit children who have already exceed the standard (stage not age) nor reprimand those who do not make the standard by the expected year (this is one of the issues critics of National Standards have- we have internationally recognised educational system and it appears we have taken a step back into the notion that children need to learn in year ‘lots’ and meet a year standard each year…)

What happens when my child goes to intermediate or High School?

This does depend on the school they are going to. Best practice would suggest that if they go to a school that has a straight Year 7 they will still teach according to need (stage), indicators might be maths, reading, writing groups within the class. Differentiated (needs based) home learning (homework) not just photocopied worksheets for the whole class (especially if these do not change from year to year). Learning conferences where the teacher talks about your child and his or her needs…

In summary Windsor practice of having as many composite classes as possible is based on sound research, positive feedback from those who have actually experienced composites and teacher feedback. We will continue to:

-Teach according to need (stage)

- Do all that we can to ensure that the class that your child is in is the 'best fit' for him or her

- Communicate with our families and receive feedback regarding the effectiveness of our teaching and learning programmes

Consult with staff, children and families before we make our decisions about placement each year.


Saturday, February 18, 2012


2012 has much promise for us at Windsor.
  • We have joined up as an enviroschool
  • Our "big idea" is Creating a better world
  • Our children are very excited about being back
  • Our staff started the year with a fantastic two day retreat exploring creativity, team work and improving literacy outcomes
  • Our school is now totally furnished to enable children as lead learners
  • Our network and fibre optic cables have allowed us to move to mobile devises to empower children
  • Our focus on "Positive and challenging learning environment" in 2012 will see professional learning exploring 'learning-focused relationships' and 'skillful thinking'. It is very likely to dip us into the learning pit as well!
  • Our specific targets in writing (Y5&6 boys), maths (Y 4&6 girls), Improving relationships and trust (junior to senior pupils) and CHILL Factor (Children Independently Leading their Learning) provide us with clear direction
  • We have a positive and supportive community partnering with us
2012 will have it's challenges, our community is still reeling from the earthquakes and subsequent ongoing trauma not only from the aftershocks but also with the minefield of EQC, insurance, CERA, Government policy and employment issues. The overriding feeling though is one of determination, of pushing ahead and giving our children the best possible learning opportunities available.
Rock on 2012!