Monday, January 29, 2018

Deep Learning and Well-being (students and staff): A Way Forward for NCEA?

Claire Amos Steve Mouldey and Gerard MacManus have inspired me to get my blogging going again. As well, over the summer I read Grant Lichtman's latest book Moving the Rock and was reminded by his belief that connectivity empowers innovation, that innovative thinking doesn't occur in an isolated space, but in a connected setting. So if I want to keep up with the innovative thinking I'd better keep practising and modelling connection - one way is through my blog.

At the end of the summer holidays I was interviewed by Kathryn Ryan on Radio NZ Nine to Noon. I had been asked to talk about the motivation for and principles behind our decision to bypass NCEA Level 1 and send our Year 11 learners on a 2 year journey to a quality Level 2. We'd been talking this talk for a number of years and our 2017 students were the first cohort to move through that journey.

The decision to follow this path was based on our principle of Inspire through deep challenge and inquiry. If we wished to remain true to this principle we did not feel we could subject our Year 11 learners to a year of surface learning in a bid to chase in excess of 100 credits to gain NCEA L1, which is a qualification of very little currency. All of us on the staff had seen many examples of over-stressed kids in Year 11, losing all engagement with deep learning in their pursuit of credits. We had certainly seen and experienced the huge demands on teacher workload supporting students in this pursuit. As a result, in designing our approach to delivering NCEA the first principle we decided on was reduce stress.

We couldn't be happier with how things have played out at our school. Our students, at the end of the calendar year, have achieved NCEA L2 to a level expected by students from schools such as ours and the level of Merit or  Excellence endorsed qualifications was higher than expected.

What is more pleasing is the largely calm manner in which our students went about compiling their quality NCEA L2. I had learning conversations with most of our Year 12 students as the year drew to a close and 2 things stood out:

  1. The low levels of stress and anxiety many were experiencing as they explained their progress towards their quality qualification
  2. One student, in particular, reminding me that there was no panic or alarm that he was on track to achieve 'only'  70 of the credits he needed for Level 2 to be awarded in 2017 because he was coming back in 2018 as a Year 13 student and would pick up his Level 2 as he moved towards gaining his Level 3. This was a reminder to me to wind back the level of stress around NCEA.
I began to think about how we set our students on a 2 year journey to their quality qualification and that we didn't get hung up on reporting where they were at at the end of the Year 11 calendar year. Now that our narrative is changing to a 3 year journey towards a quality qualification I am wondering why we get hung up on where  every kid  is at at the end of the calendar year, while at the same time wondering what our school will look like in League  Tables which look at results over a calendar year.

With the upcoming review of NCEA, which has some great thinkers involved, I've been thinking about how our experience could influence the outcome of that review.

How about this  as a possibility?

  • A single qualification is awarded when a student graduates from secondary school.
  • The level of the qualification is determined by each student's best, say, 80 credits achieved over their last 1, 2 or 3 years at secondary school.
    • If a student knows they will be at school until the end of Year 13 and will be achieving the equivalent of NCEA L3 they shouldn't have to be jumping through the hoops and continual qualifications assessment required of Level 1 and 2. They could be spending those years engaged in deep learning as they bring together the evidence of this deep learning.
  • Published levels of school achievements would simply be the level of qualifications achieved by students as they graduate.

I'm only a country boy and there will be lots of fish hooks in my suggestion but if the starting point is the promotion of deep learning and student and staff well-being it might be worth considering.