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Approaches to programme design

Programme design can begin at any of a number of different starting points. This section describes some of the possibilities. Whatever the starting point, the primary purpose of all programme design is to meet the learning needs of all the students in a specific group or class.

Student interest and choice as the starting point

Consider how the programme(s) might:

  • allow students to choose texts, activities, and products
  • allow students to negotiate assessment opportunities and appropriate achievement standards
  • make use of student surveys and student voice to ensure that the learning experience is authentic for students
  • be given room to evolve in response to ongoing student feedback
  • make use of texts and resources that are in the public domain
  • scaffold students to own, reflect on, and set goals.

Read snapshot 5: Video gaming as a context, to learn how one teacher inspired his students to learn in English simply by using a context that motivated them.

Read snapshot 7: Film study to see how students responded when able to select their own film for study from a list of suitable films.

Read snapshot 12: Choice, engagement, ownership to learn how a small school increased choice and student ownership through the introduction of a modular programme.

Watch this teacher describe how his students are involved in course design - Putting students first in English at Albany Senior High School

Reflection as the starting point

Starting with reflection, planning might involve:

  • departmental discussion on the effectiveness of current programmes
  • collaborative planning of new programmes
  • re-envisioning and re-framing existing programmes in light of changing circumstances and new opportunities (for example, when new technologies become available)
  • establishing review dates at specific points in the year to evaluate progress and set future goals
  • designating responsibility for data collection and review of different parts of the programme to specific teachers.

Read snapshot 14: Getting out of a rut to see how an English department reflected on its lacklustre performance and then went back to key documents to find new direction.

Connections as the starting point

Consider how the programme(s) might:

  • utilise a range of texts that have similar settings, ideas, or characters
  • connect with what students have learned in previous years
  • allow teachers and students to co-construct programme content
  • connect with students’ real lives – their cultures, interests, experiences.

Read snapshot 16: Pasifika poetry and English classics to see how a class of Pasifika students explored themes such as identity and belonging first in the works of Pasifika poets, then in English literature texts, thereby enhancing their understanding of both.

Key concepts as the starting point

See key concepts of English.

When planning a programme around the key concepts, you might:

  • begin with a departmental discussion in which you tease out teacher understandings of identity, communication, story and meaning
  • deliberately select texts that will offer students good opportunities to explore these concepts
  • devise activities that explore one or more of these concepts from a variety of angles
  • explore opportunities for students to engage with the wider community.

Read snapshot 17: Planning around the key concepts for suggestions on how a focus on the English key concepts can bring coherence to programmes.

Planning for differentiated approaches

When planning programmes that offer differentiated approaches to learning, you might:

  • ask students what approaches to learning work best for them; use their feedback
  • investigate common contexts that students at different levels can explore in quite different ways
  • investigate allowing different students to be assessed in different ways or against different achievement standards
  • allow students to choose a context from a short list of possible contexts, in discussion with the teacher
  • make assessment for qualifications accessible to a wider range of students.

Starting with vision, principles, and values

Challenge yourself and/or your department by inverting the traditional paradigm and beginning your planning with the curriculum vision, principles, and values instead of the achievement objectives (or achievement standards).

When planning in this way, you may want to:

  • ask yourself what kinds of teaching and learning are most likely to develop young people with the attributes described in the vision
  • take time to focus on the principles one at a time and consider how they are worked out in your programme(s) and school
  • consider how values questions as they arise can be exploited for their learning potential
  • set up opportunities that allow/require students to engage with the wider community
  • emphasise links across curriculum areas and interests, encouraging holistic thinking.

Read snapshot 15: Trusting students and community to see how one English department redesigned its level 8 programme from the ground up to give students greater choice and agency in their learning, and parents and community much greater involvement.

Starting with AOs, processes and strategies, and aspects

See Understanding the English curriculum.

When planning from this starting point, you may want to:

  • build a teaching and learning programme around the aspects of English
  • expose students to a wide range of texts and connections between those texts
  • equip students to make explicit links between the four aspects, and the processes and strategies when making and creating meaning.

Read snapshot 18: Using the AOs to identify learning needs to see how the teacher of an all-boys class went back to the curriculum to identify and plan for the learning needs of their students – with results that surprised everyone.

Last updated August 16, 2019