Recently I read Richard Wells new book "A Learner's Paradise: How New Zealand is Reimagining Education." I've followed Richard for a few years - he writes an awesome blog, shares great iPad tips and tricks and was a CORE efellow last year. Make sure you follow him on twitter if you don't already.
I was interested to read this book for a few reasons. Firstly, I have been trying to find out more about teaching and learning in high schools. As a primary trained teacher, my knowledge of high schools are really based on my own experiences, which are now scarily over twenty years ago. Next, I taught in the United States for six years. Friends and colleagues would often ask me about the education system in New Zealand and it was often hard to explain to them just how education here "works". This book provides a great overview to the kiwi education system in a way that people from other countries could easily understand. Finally, we are currently having a brand new high school built in our local area which opens in 2017. My own children will eventually attend there. I have been following the process closely, intrigued as to how they are setting up their curriculum and learning spaces. I found this book really helpful with providing background knowledge about the way high schools operate in New Zealand.
This video provides a great summary of the key themes of the book.
So I don't want to spoil the book for you, but thought I would share some of my key takeaways. I certainly feel like I have a much better understanding of the secondary schooling system and the maze of NCEA after reading this book. It made me feel proud to be a New Zealand educator and highlighted the many positives we have in our system.
I particularly identified with the Richard's thinking around transitions - from ECE to primary to secondary to tertiary. He highlights the loss of potential that happens with these transitions. If teachers don't know or acknowledge what the student brings with them as they walk through the door, then much is lost. "When teachers of older children remain ignorant of these developments, they underestimate the progress made by students in the earlier years. This can lead to inappropriately reduced expectations of students in high schools." (A learner's paradise, p44)
That constant movement from "king of the hill" to "bottom of the pile" needs to be addressed in New Zealand schools. How does that feel to a learner? And what opportunities are being missed if we don't build on a learner's prior knowledge and experiences? Richard outlines how communities of learners have been created to develop a more seamless education pathway for New Zealand kids and I think we have a real opportunity here to build relationships, learning pathways and collaboration across educational sectors.
I also liked the practical solutions that Richard provides for overcoming barriers to student centred learning. His key components for success - timetabling to learn, teachers releasing control and letting the students drive their learning, enabling technology to empower and having students design and have ownership of their assessment. Many schools are on this journey and working to overcome real or imagined barriers to effective 21st century learning.
So after reading "A learner's paradise" it was with excitement that I saw this curriculum plan from my new local high school. So many of the ideas in the book are reflected in the learning design that Steve Saville and his team are putting into place for the new Rolleston College. I'm feeling very excited that my children will experience quite a different way of learning at high school than I did. Some awesome possibilities on the horizon.
Think about "A learner's paradise" for your school's professional learning library. It could work well as a "book club" type text as there are supporting reflective questions throughout which would build in opportunities for discussion and self-review. I particularly think primary teachers should have a read. Expand your knowledge across sectors and remind yourself that we live in an awesome country.
My name is Ngaire Shepherd-Wills. This website is a record of my TeachNZ sabbatical, Term 2, 2013 and then I have continued to share my wonderings and discoveries about Innovative Learning Practices. I now work for CORE Education. Views are my own.