Posts Tagged ‘key competencies’

Why “participating and contributing”?

March 23rd, 2012

The 2012 Shifting Thinking Workshop is based around the overarching theme of “participating and contributing”.


Those of you from the school sector will recognise “participating and contributing” as one of the key competencies from the New Zealand Curriculum. Here’s what the NZC (p. 13) has to say:

Participating and contributing

This competency is about being actively involved in communities. Communities include family, whānau, and school and those based, for example, on a common interest or culture. They may be drawn together for purposes such as learning, work, celebration, or recreation. They may be local, national, or global. This competency includes a capacity to contribute appropriately as a group member, to make connections with others, and to create opportunities for others in the group.

Students who participate and contribute in communities have a sense of belonging and the confidence to participate within new contexts. They understand the importance of balancing rights, roles, and responsibilities and of contributing to the quality and sustainability of social, cultural, physical, and economic environments.

At the Shifting Thinking Workshop we want to unpack and explore the notion of “participating and contributing”, not only as it applies to students, but also for adults, and for New Zealand as a society. What does it mean to participate and contribute in a 21st century world? To what, with whom, and why? How can we all learn to become better and participating and contributing, and why does it matter? How do we support learners to develop the knowledge, skills, experiences, and inclinations they need to participate and contribute to their worlds right now, and throughout their lives? What are the barriers that we, as a society, have created which limit peoples’ opportunities to fully participate and contribute? How can those change?

There are so many questions we can ask.

There are so many ways to think about participating and contributing!

This is why we (the organising team) have identified five Entry Points to help get us started  (I discuss where those came from in this video). Our entry points certainly aren’t the only ways into thinking about participating and contributing, but we hope that you will find at least some of these entry points hit on areas that you want to think more about.

We’d love to hear your thoughts about participating and contributing in the weeks leading up to the Workshop, so feel free to drop us some comments!

Workshop 2012 , , , ,

Video: Guy Claxton—Helping students build “learning power”

November 23rd, 2009

[23MB streaming Flash video]

Earlier this month, Guy Claxton, well-known British educationalist and writer, was visiting Wellington. We took this opportunity to get him to talk to some of the school communities we have been working with in our research project, Families and community engagement in education. Guy talked about why and how education needs to be different and what parents can do to help their children. One of the main messages he gave was that schools need to be helping students build “learning power”. He was clear that this did not mean neglecting standards but rather ensuring that students were taught in ways that also helped them become more independent, resourceful, and resilient learners.

Community engagement , , , ,

Opportunity to contribute and participate

October 27th, 2009

Thanks Rachel for your comments on the first thinking piece I wrote from the conference.

The second idea that I found myself musing on as I reflected on the conversations held during the Educating World Citizens for the 21st Century symposia relates to the “opportunity to contribute and participate”. I am curious if you think there is anything  useful or new here that can nudge our thinking forward in terms of what might constitute a 21st century curriculum in practice. The essence of the idea is that young people are living in the 21st century, that they have insights that we can learn from, and that they have a contribution to make ­ and we need to provide the tools and the opportunities for them to do this. In the context of schooling some commentators suggested that young people need to be considered as resource and not a problem to be fixed. Ronald Dahl, a professor of psychiatry and psychology, highlighted the fact that although early life is very important in shaping the brain there are other important times too. He suggested that adolescence may be a unique time with new interactions developing between neural pathways. It is a time when thinking and control systems are getting stronger and with scaffolding, he thought, this energy can be used to ignite passions; to take action in purposeful activities. Another speaker, Jacquelynne Eccles, said it was young people who led the de-segregation of schools in the United States and asked “how can we encourage them to take responsibility – to understand that they have the opportunity to make changes”. She used a wonderful metaphor of leadership, calling for young people to be “thermostat leaders” – changing the climate of the society and for them not to be as many leaders ­ merely “thermometer leaders” ­ who just read and report on the climate.

The idea of young people having the energy and ideas to shape a more positive  future was picked up by other speakers. It was suggested that many young people are interested in contributing, in making a difference to current global challenges, such as global warming, and are open to being engaged. However, the opportunity to participate in this way is often limited and as Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk, suggested we often say, “don’t get distracted, concentrate on school stuff” rather than saying “here’s a window of opportunity to work in the community”. A number of examples were given that illustrated how powerful such experiences can be for learning. One commonly used is for older students who are struggling to succeed at school to have the opportunity to teach younger children. This strategy takes what the older kids have to give, recognises this and draws on it, and so provides a context for building confidence and the courage to continue to learn. To be able to contribute, participate ­ and lead ­ young people need not only to be given opportunities; they also need to be given the tools to take up such work.  Further they need to think they have something to contribute. This was an idea raised by researcher Peter Benson whose work involves talking with young people and he too took the position that young people were not vessels to be filled up but flames to be lit. His research, which involves interviewing young people demonstrated that while about 75% of young people can identify and talk about what really interests them, and the other 25% can do so with gentle probing, the significant adults in their lives (such as parents and teacher) frequently were unaware of this interest. Overall, Benson’s research has shown that: (1) everyone can describe what gives them joy and satisfaction, what Benson calls their “spark”; (2) young people yearn for authentic relationships: (3) they want opportunities to nourish the “spark”; and (4) they are keen to live in a community where they are seen as a resource not a problem to be fixed. He wasn’t suggesting that “sparks” should necessarily relate to a vocation, in fact he argued that they shouldn’t be turned into a vocation too soon. What was important was nourishing this interest/passion as it was this that helps people thrive and so feel compelled to participate and contribute in the world of today. He suggested that we should be asking all young people the following questions: what is your spark; who helps nourish your spark; who knows of  your spark; what gets in the way of your spark; how can I help?

There aren’t really any new ideas in all this either but perhaps it is helpful to think about them in the context of notions of our notions of participation and contribution, one of the key competencies in the New Zealand school curriculum. What do you think?

Shifting schooling , ,

Opportunities to Learn

October 18th, 2009

I have just attended a symposium in Washington DC that was designed to provide a conversation about the kind of education that would be most likely to provide young people with the tools they need to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The conversation drew on perspectives from educational theory and practice, philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, and the wisdom of the contemplative traditions. So what did I learn that might help us as we think about shifting our thinking ­ and that of our students’ ­ to 21st century thinking? The first thing that struck me was that there were few new insights from the educators.  On the other hand, the importance of positive relationships and the need to actively support the social and emotional well-being of young people ­ as a necessary condition for cognitive achievement ­ was reinforced again and again. This is not new knowledge but it is useful to be reminded how important these factors are if young people are to actually have the opportunity to reach their potential. These are qualities also needed by 21st century educationalists, as argued by Christopher (May 18).

There were two ideas that I thought might contribute to our discussion, both of which focus on the nature of the curriculum and pedagogy.  I will begin with the first idea which I think of as “opportunities to learn”. In this context there were two areas raised that gave me particular food for thought and I am sure many of you will be able to add insights that will extend the points made.

Drawing on current research into brain development, the neuroscientist Richard Davidson, argued that as the brain is plastic, and will change in response to experience, education literally changes a child’s brain, its function and structure. This is particularly true in the early years but is also true during adolescence (and as we now know, it is actually never too late as brain cells continue to make new connections throughout life). However, an early investment is healthy brain development is better! In this context Davidson argued that a very important skill to learn was that of self regulation; the ability to regulate emotions. There are times where having  negative emotion is a helpful response but not if it persists beyond the point it is useful. He gave the example of a student having an argument between classes and suggested that if the negative emotion is still lingering in the next class it will interfere with the ability to learn. If these kind of disruptive events happen frequently then the opportunity to learn will be seriously impaired. He also pointed out that in the last 100 years the average age for the onset of puberty has gone from 16 to 11 (in some cultures). However, one of the parts of our brain – the prefrontal cortex ­ is not fully mature until early 20s. So this gives a lengthy time in which the capacity of the brain to regulate emotions is not as well developed which led Davidson to pose the question “can we teach our children to better regulate their emotions, to recover from adversity more quickly”? His research suggests that a productive avenue to pursue is interventions derived from contemplative practices which can assist regulate emotions and make for more steady attention (this might be as simple as having quiet times during the day or taking a more formal approach such as meditation). He also suggested that qualities such as empathy, calmness, and cooperation are best seen as skills that can be taught and learnt and not as fixed personality characteristics. Other speakers also cited research that showed that practices that support social and emotional learning have a positive impact on academic achievement. The point was made that there is a need to practice these ways of being, as the state a mind is in on a daily basis will become its “normal” state.

The second area was also one related to supporting the opportunity to learn. One of the other speakers, the psychologist Nancy Eisenberg, apart from also reinforcing the importance of young people being nurtured through positive relationships, explored the importance of emotional regulation as well – and ways educators might support learning to self regulate. Her research indicates the importance of adults modelling such practices and using reasoning to talk through issues and emotional responses as this helps young people to learn to manage themselves positively. A negative practice, she argued, was to take a punitive approach as then the young person only focuses on themselves and their punishment and doesn’t learn about the consequences of their actions on others.

Both these examples reinforce the importance of an education that is holistic ­ that provides the opportunity for students to be educated as cognitive and emotional, ethical and social beings whose lives are deeply interconnected with others. It is a reminder that developing particular habits of mind are just as important as developing cognitively, well in that these are intertwined.  Educators have long understood the importance of educating the whole person and this is an approach that is evident in curricula that emphasise knowledge and competencies (as described in the New Zealand curriculum). It is interesting to see the growing evidence from other disciplines of the importance of these competencies for any learning. It is also an ongoing challenge to develop ways of supporting students to actually develop their competencies so they are truly prepared to deal with, learn, and thrive, in the complex world in which they live. I know there are many schools that are already supporting students to learn “habits of mind” and that they have been doing so for many years. It is a timely reminder that such learning is just as important – and perhaps more so ­ in the context of a 21st century framework.

Shifting schooling , ,

Communities learning together

September 23rd, 2009

Our school is participating in the Families’ and Communities’ Engagement in education research project. In this blog I describe the “lever” we are using to generate opportunities for community engagement.  Our school’s research has been around investigating further what our student researchers meant when they said “ learning happens if you feel confident”.  Our intention has been to work with three different student groups in the school to firstly define confidence, to identify ways it is already built in school and to investigate how it might be developed further. The students will then report their findings back to their parents and others in the wider learning community. The purpose of this forum is to create a focus for discussion about the learning capabilities parents would like their daughters to develop –in particular around confidence and resilience. We are hoping parents will have ideas about the strategies they use to help develop confidence and how we might work together to build and maintain confidence. We are also hoping that by discussing a specific capability that the parents ( in earlier research)  have also identified as being important we will be able to more readily engage them in discussions around the changing needs of learners of the 21st century.

In our Wellington discussion workshop Jane Gilbert spoke of the importance of collective decision making given that the ‘knowledge experts’ may no longer exist. The intention of our ‘confidence forum’ is a first step in modelling communities learning together.  

During this research project we have also read widely around concepts of confidence, why it is important and how it might be demonstrated both in and outside the classroom. Of course the best information has come from the students themselves. 

 We also decided to use three different research methods to collect the information. With the Year 13 students we presented them with the Year 9 findings from the year before and asked them to develop a series of survey questions that could be given to two tutor groups (approximately 45 students). They trialled their first survey on their own tutor class. This highlighted the need to ask less questions and to eliminate redundant questions. At this point we asked Josie and Rachel (NZCER researchers) to advise us. The second survey was then given out. During the analysis sessions that followed they quickly realised that their survey still needed further refining. The initial data from these surveys was not as reflective/deep as we had expected from Year 13 students but it did indicate clear trends, some of them unexpected. The discussions about the data with the research group was much more useful.

With the Year 10 group (student researchers of 2008) we interviewed them as a group using similar questions that the Year 13 group had designed. The information gathered from this was more as we had expected – deeper and more reflective – probably because there was opportunity to ask further questions. There was certainly some obvious similarities about the responses but also some interesting differences highlighted between the experiences of the two age groups.

The third group of Year 12 students (student researchers of 2007) we simply presented  with the summarised findings of the other two groups and asked for comment. Their responses were more far reaching, less structured and therefore probably more genuine than the other two groups because they were not constrained by giving expected answers to given questions.   

So in summary: Research Process Evaluation

  • Writing survey questions is more difficult than it seems! It is often not until you see the results that you begin to understand what questions really needed to be asked. These questions need to be constantly refined.
  • Data gathered from surveys is often interesting because it highlights possible trends and may provide some unexpected issues but only really becomes enlightening after opportunities to discuss and reflect on results is given.
  • Sometimes the unexpected data highlights a group of students whose experience is different to the majority and this could lead to the need for further research to explore what made their experiences different to others.
  • Gathering data through focused discussion and interview provides deeper analysis. 
  • The most genuine response came from presenting the group with summary findings and asking for comments, rather than responding to set questions. This seemed to be because the questions weren’t already leading the responses. There were no expected answers.

Community engagement , , , , ,

Participating and contributing: a new thinking object

June 19th, 2009

I’ve just uploaded a new thinking object. It’s a “scenario card” from NZCER’s newest KickStart on Key Competencies resource series. (The full resource is available on the NZCER website )

The KickStart resource is designed to stimulate conversations and discussions in staffrooms and classrooms about the meaning of “participating and contributing” – one of five key competencies in the New Zealand Curriculum. Among other things, the resource pack includes a set of 14 “Scenario Cards”. Each contains a small story designed to elicit  discussion.

The stories are fictional, but many are based on things we have seen and experienced ourselves in schools we have worked or researched in. There are stories from both primary and secondary school contexts. Many of the stories contain some kind of dilemma or “twist”. The idea is that by discussing these stories, people will start to see both the complexity and opportunity inherent in a key competency like participating and contributing, as well as how it could fit into school life in different ways and times.

Guess what! We’ve chosen one of the 14 scenario cards to give you, lucky readers, as a freebie!

This particular scenario card tells the story of a teacher who asked two year 10 students  how they think they participate and contribute in their school.  The students begin by talking about various things they do at school, like helping to clean up rubbish, but end up having an interesting little debate about whether or not the subjects they learn have anything to do with participating and contributing.

At the end of the story, we’ve put some questions to discuss.

Would you like to discuss this thinking object with us? Yes? Great!

You can view the scenario card here.  Please post your comments below. (And if you’ve already used the full Kickstart on Participating and Contributing resource in your school, we’d love to hear how you used it and what happened!)

Shifting schooling , , , ,

Key competencies: Is anything different?

June 15th, 2009

There is something niggling at me about the key competencies – but I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. This somewhat rambling blog is an attempt to clarify my thinking. Any comments/ insights will be most welcome – I do hope my confusion isn’t infectious though!

When the revised New Zealand Curriculum first appeared I was really enthusiastic about the key competencies and excited by what I saw as their potential to transform education in NZ but now I’m not so sure about how powerful they really are.  The key competencies are described in the NZC as “capabilities for living and life long learning”. As such they are closely connected to the vision, “Confident, connected, actively involved life long learners.”  This presumably means that the development of these competencies should be the goal of education and if they are the goal then may be we need to think  differently about what we are doing in schools.

It seems to me, that we don’t really have a way yet to think and talk about the key competencies without treating them either like another content area, or a set of generic skills. What is the relationship of the key competencies to the learning areas? How are they really different from the Essential Skills of the previous curriculum? We talk about competencies being broader than skills – that they embrace attitudes, knowledge, skills and dispositions – but do we think about them differently from how we think about skills? We talk about including key competencies in planning, and incorporating  them into or weaving them through learning areas as though they were objects. It seems to me that regardless of the intent of including these competencies in the curriculum, the result is that the only way we can make sense of them is to make them fit with how we currently think about what we do in schools. Perhaps the key competencies are taking the shape of the container they have been poured into (and now I am treating them as things!)

If we were to ask ourselves how each learning area contributes to the development of confident, connected life long learners  and focus our teaching on that wouldn’t we be developing key competencies (even if they didn’t appear in the curriculum document)? After all, the essence statements (in the curriculum document) for each learning area seem to embrace the competencies people need to function effectively in society. Does it matter then whether they are developed through science, or social studies or art? My gut response is that yes a broad curriculum is important for all students, and that each learning area will contribute in a particular way to the development of the key competencies, but is that more important than learning something in depth? Does breadth or depth better serve the purpose of developing the capacity of an individual to participate fully in society? If the purpose of public education is to develop these competencies in all students, might it be that different students would develop these competencies through different pathways? Are there really core subjects (learning areas) that all students need to be exposed to?

I do think that all the different learning areas have the potential to develop the key competencies as long as we are teaching them for that purpose. What I’m not so sure about is how comfortable I really am with the idea of a learning area simply being the vehicle for developing key competencies! I seem to carry within me some deeply held, but barely conscious beliefs about what’s valuable in education. These beliefs are sometimes in conflict with what I know at another level to be important ideas. I know these beliefs are there because they sometimes surface when I think about new ideas about education in relation to my own children!  I doubt that I am alone in carrying these deeply held, yet seldom accessible beliefs. Perhaps it is these belief systems that are the real barrier to educational change as we subconsciously subvert new innovations to  fit with what we already know.

If this is so, perhaps the real function of the key competencies is to remind us of what should be important in our teaching. I think the challenge  is how we use them to help us think differently, rather than squeeze them into something that is familiar to us.

Shifting schooling , , , ,