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Snapshot 12: Choice, engagement, ownership

This snapshot describes how a small school increased the engagement and ownership of its level 7 English students by setting up modular programme and allowing students to choose what they would take.


We are a small school with a total roll of 260 and only four level 7 English classes.

Our department was concerned with the low level of engagement of some of our senior students, and that we needed to do more to challenge students who were excelling in English.

Teacher action

To cater for the wide range of interests and abilities and best use our own areas of passion and expertise, we decided to create and trial a modular programme.

The intention was that, despite the small size of our school, students would be offered a range of language and literature to be studied in a variety of ways. They would also be able to choose the content and text types that most interested them. All level 7 English classes were timetabled concurrently, which gave us the flexibility to offer this choice.

The modules offered in term 1 were:

  • Pacific poetry: Students will study poetry of the Pacific and complete two poetic presentations, two static images and a research assignment, as well as preparing for external examinations.
  • Drama studies – Romeo and Juliet: Students will explore the Romeo and Juliet script dramatically and present two scenes from the play. They will also construct and deliver a speech on a topical teenage issue and prepare for the external examinations.
  • Pacific film studies: Students will complete studies on Pacific film and the themes, plot and characters of Sione’s Wedding, No 2, and Matariki. Students will work towards completing extended writing such as essays and reviews as well as prepare for the external examination.
  • University literacy: Students will work to complete units of work that will give them university entrance. This is a basic reading and writing module for university purposes module.

Different modules were offered in the other three terms but literacy for university entrance was offered each term. Depending on their selection of modules, students would change classes and teachers each term.

What happened?

Some students were initially resistant to changing teachers and moving around, but in the end we had a whole cohort with completely individual learning profiles who were conscious of making their own choices and who were beginning to manage their own learning. Because they were able to choose their own programme, the students were more engaged in their literature and language learning.

In response to student feedback about the number of changes of teacher, we now offer just three modules (one in each of the first three terms), with students returning to their first teacher for the final term. The first (and last) teacher kept an eye on the student’s portfolio and had responsibility for assessments that took place during the learning.


  • English is compulsory at our school but none of the modules were. The modules empowered students as they had freedom of choice.
  • Teachers could teach topics and texts that they were passionate about and used their expertise; as a result, the students were inspired to be passionate about and engage with the texts.
  • Students became managers of their own learning and assessment.
  • Students could choose to go with their strengths or challenge themselves with different or more complex texts.
  • Students now had individual learning profiles that moved with them through the rest of their time at school.
  • Student portfolios moved from being the responsibility of the teacher to being the responsibility of the students.


  • Some modules had greater take-up than others, making the enrolments uneven. Fortunately, the teachers concerned did not mind the big classes. If more than 28 students had wanted to take a module, we would have split the students into two groups and repeated the module at a different time.
  • Management of class rolls and data (including NCEA entries) became more complicated, making more work for administration staff. Because our department was unanimous that this was the best way to cater for the learning needs of our students, we fought for it. In the end, the school’s MNA officer congratulated us and affirmed our efforts on behalf of the students.
  • While it was great in the end, it took some time for students to get used to being responsible for their own portfolios. The portfolios records of assessments and work that the students wanted assessed. Although they kept the folders in the classroom, the onus was on the students to keep track of their assessments.

Last updated July 17, 2012