Today I was privileged to visit Clarkville School, a school of around 200 students in rural North Canterbury. Principal Pene Abbie and her team certainly demonstrate the idea of creating "better learning environments". Despite being an older school, the staff and students have worked to create flexible learning spaces in their existing buildings and are using collaborative teaching approaches to engage their learners.
Pene described their journey beginning with staff developing a shared understanding of inquiry learning. Inquiry and the key competencies drive the curriculum at Clarkville, with strong student voice. The aim at Clarkville is for children to be leading their learning and this was certainly evident as I toured the school.
In 2012, staff and BOT representatives visited several schools in Sydney, which served as a catalyst to change the environment. At the beginning of the new school year, the classrooms were emptied of all furniture during the first week of school. Students were involved in discussions about the kinds of furniture that they wanted to use in the classrooms and really began thinking about their environment. A "funny money" auction was held for the students to "buy back" the furniture that they really wanted for their classrooms. Additional funds were then used to purchase items that were still needed. Staff and students have worked hard to create learning environments that enhance the pedagogical approaches used at Clarkville.
Collaborative Teaching was originally trialled in the Year 5/6 area of the school, with other teams gradually joining in. This year, all classes are being taught collaboratively. I especially liked the way the teams are named; Ignite (NE), Launch (Y1-2), Discover (Y3-4), Explore (Y5-6) and Aspire (Y7-8). The Ignite class often works in with Launch, but provides a safe and secure environment for 5 year olds making the transition to school. Teachers plan collaboratively and have collective ownership of the students. Both teachers are present at student led conferences.
Discoveries at Clarkville:
There are no bells ringing at Clarkville. There are break times and duty teachers, but there are no interruptions from a ringing bell or other signal. If students are engaged in their work, there is no point interrupting them. Instead, there is flexibility.
Clarkville believes learning doesn't just start at 9am. There are before school opportunities for students to participate in CHILL - children leading learning. There are activities and workshops based around the inquiry theme, available for students to participate in. This also provides an excellent opportunity for parents to participate in a learning activity with their child.
The school has a BYOD programme, which has been the inspiration for this year's inquiry theme of "Cybersafety." No device is specified, students can bring whatever device they have. Clarkville has excellent community support, so uptake has been high, particularly in the senior end of the school.
When choosing an Inquiry theme for the year, the focus is on authentic contexts and student needs. Student voice is powerful at Clarkville. Students are involved in the planning process, as part of a team made up of students from years 4-8. They will even attend BOT meetings as necessary. Younger students often get to contribute their ideas as well. Curriculum coverage is back mapped.
Professional development and continuous improvement makes use of the three P's. People, pedagogy and place. There are focus groups of teachers responsible for the development of each area. People looks at the staff, students and community. Pedagogy looks at constantly refining and improving exemplary practices. Place examines the learning environment.
Students are very aware of their achievement. They have learning pathway folders that contain their goal sheets and reflections, peer feedback, learning maps and learning stories. A Year 8 student explained to me that he knew how to read his Asttle data in order to know his next learning steps in Maths. Students opt into workshop style learning as necessary. Teachers are not necessarily teaching groups of students, they are teaching based on the student's next learning steps.
With inquiry learning, teachers prepare workshops to facilitate knowledge building in the "Finding Out" phase of an inquiry. They teach students from Years 1-8 in these sessions, reiterating the belief that all teachers are responsible for all learning. In the Going Further stages of inquiry, students work in their teams and this will often lead to students teaching other students.
Staff are using the Teaching as Inquiry model and meeting in Professional Learning Groups to further develop their professional knowledge. A mentor is available for support. This is leading to excellent discussions and teaching and learning decisions based on best practice research.
I loved the way teachers are teaching every student in the school. What could be ways of grouping students so that something similar could be done in a large school? Perhaps vertical teams?
How do we ensure that inquiry learning is authentic and access student voice so that they are truly involved in the process of developing and leading their learning, not just asked for an opinion?
It was an awesome experience to visit Clarkville School. I really appreciate Pene and the staff making time for me, and I had two wonderful tour guides from the senior school. Tena Koutou i a koutou manaakitanga mai. Thank you for your hospitality.
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.