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Snapshot 15: Trusting students and community

This snapshot describes 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.


Our school is high-decile, culturally diverse, and with a strong Māori presence. Parents and community are keenly supportive of the school, and the students (well, most of them, anyhow!) demonstrate good independent learning skills.

The catalyst for a redesign of our level 8 programme was our realisation that, as a department, we needed to be more open to new opportunities and to new voices/viewpoints. In particular, we realised that we were missing out on opportunities to engage parents and whānau in the students’ learning. We had been keeping them at arms length in the belief that if they got involved, work that students presented for assessment might not meet the authenticity criterion.

Also, our department comprised mainly women of European descent, so our programme reflected our particular cultural lens, not that of the students. From reading The New Zealand Curriculum, we were convinced that we needed to re-think our programme so that it was more inclusive of the diversity of the learners in our classrooms. We decided to use the vision, principles, and values of The New Zealand Curriculum as the starting point for the redesign process.

Teacher action

We decided to aim high in the first instance, and worry later about how to put our ambitions into practice. In the resulting discussion, we came up with the following as features of our ideal programme:

  • Offers assessment opportunities outside the classroom, and digital submission of work.
  • Activity-based rather than desk-based.
  • Critical thinking and student engagement embedded in every aspect of programme.
  • Uses new technologies to extend learning opportunities.
  • Group work, peer conferencing, review, and assessment are integral.
  • A high level of interaction with the community, including mentoring, visits, and exchanges.
  • Project-, rather than content- or assessment-based.
  • Incorporates self-review and peer-review cycles.

When we stepped back and looked at this list, we realised that implementing a programme with these features would involve big shifts for us all, and could be very daunting. Nevertheless, we took a deep breath, decided to put greater trust in our students and community, and set about devising such a programme. To give ourselves a security blanket, we wrote down the steps of our process.

Our process

  1. Getting to know each other and community: “Me and my turangawaewae”. We decided to spend time getting to know the class and our community and on letting them get to know us. We brainstormed how we might go about this, and teachers chose/adapted ideas to use with their own students.
  2. Communicating with community: we “spread the word”. The students all wrote letters and articles (which went into their portfolio) for the school website. We began a Facebook page and a YouTube channel. We described our intentions and hopes for the programme, and invited community members to participate by mentoring, visiting, or otherwise exchanging ideas.
  3. Policies and guidelines. After class discussion, we decided on and documented authenticity policies and review/feedback guidelines. These were then sent home to that ensure all interested parties were aware of the requirements and restrictions.
  4. Project ideas and scoping. Students explored own areas of interest/projects around which their year’s work could be based. We used teacher–student conferencing, peer and class discussion, and communication with parents and possible mentors (via Facebook and e-mail) to help students finalise their ideas.
  5. Proposal and acceptance. Students wrote a formal proposal for their project (this also went into their portfolio), which they submitted to their teacher. Teachers then collectively read and approved (or suggested amendments to) proposals.
  6. Resourcing. All proposals were shared, and resource ideas collected and collated. Resource lists included texts, people, and places. Students used teachers, other students, and people from the school (for example, the librarian) and wider community to generate their resource lists.
  7. Assessment. In consultation with teachers and classmates, students made decisions about which standards they would be assessed against, what they would offer for assessment, and when.
  8. Shared teaching and learning opportunities. With class input, teachers decided on opportunities (content and timing) throughout the year to work in groups or as a class. It was understood by all parties that there was a degree of fluidity about these decisions and that details would be finalised as needs were identified.
  9. Individual Education Plan (IEP). At this point, students were required to generate and submit an IEP summarising their project, resources, and assessment (achievement standards, checkpoints, and timing).

What happened?

As the year progressed, it became clear that communication and consultation – between teachers, between teachers and students, between students, and between teachers, students, and community members – was essential.

When we review the programme for next year, we have decided we will work on ways to ease teacher workload, but overall, student engagement and success has been at an all-time high.

Last updated July 17, 2012