Saturday, May 4, 2019

Weaving a coherent curriculum Graduate Profile and Badging

Weaving a coherent curriculum
Graduate Profile and Badging
By Paula Wine


At Rototuna Junior High School developing future-focused skills and 21st century outcomes is at the
heart of what we believe and do.  It is one thing to say we value these skills, but how do we teach them
and how do we assess them? We value the New Zealand Curriculum’s vision to foster dispositions for
the future so our students will be active, contributing members of society.  We believe the key
competencies are “capabilities for living and lifelong learning” (p.12) but we wanted to make this more
explicit in our curriculum design and in our assessment practices.


Our starting point in 2015 was to articulate what values and dispositions we wanted our students to develop.  We designed our CLOAK and this became the foundation of our dispositional curriculum as well as our shared language for how to be a learner at Rototuna Junior High School.  The CLOAK is is what our learners value, how they organise and reflect on their learning, it is the foundation of our pastoral system, it is how we acknowledge positive behaviour and it is how we structure our end of year prize-giving.

Graduate Profile

In 2018 we designed our Graduate Profile to make visible (and further unpack) what skills, dispositions
and capabilities we wanted our students to have by the time they left us in Year 10.  Our Graduate
Profile was designed through consultation with staff and students. We will review it regularly to see if it
reflects what we want for our learners.


In 2019 we have introduced badging at RJHS.  The ‘why’ behind badging is
  • To make dispositional learning and progress visible to both teachers and students
  • To validate and elevate dispositional learning in the ‘hierarchy’ of learning
  • To empower learners track, manage and display competence
  • To motivate continued engagement (Hurst, 2015)
  • To ‘weave’ key competencies and traditional content (Hipkins & Cameron, 2018)
  • To value learning in both formal and informal settings

How did we get here?

If I ask any teacher to finish the following statement about their students ‘At the end of their schooling,
I want them to be…’ quite consistently, this is what they say...
For a long time now we have saying we value future-focused skills, dispositions, key competencies,
capabilities, and I'm sure that by engaging in our learning programme our students were getting exposed
to these things...yet when I analysed lesson plans, unit plans, learning tasks, and assessment tasks, I
could not consistently find the explicit teaching and assessment of these elements.  Instead, I would find a heavy serving of content and some skills. Why? If we say
future-focused and dispositional learning is what we want for our learners, and yet we default back to
predominantly teaching, assessing and valuing traditional content and skills, we aren’t doing what we
say we value.
What we see as the important purposes for learning has big
implications for what we should plan, teach, and assess.

We needed to change this and we needed to start somewhere.  There is critique and discomfort that
capabilities are ‘too nebulous to be assessed reliably’ (Hipkins & Cameron, p.20).  I agree that it isn’t
straight-forward. However, if fostering dispositions for lifelong learning is seen as important, and if
strengthening key competencies is seen as an important means of achieving this goal of life-long
learning, we need to explore ways of elevating this learning to be as important as content learning.  
We needed to ‘weave’ this into the traditional content. What we value is changing, so we need to
develop our understanding of how what we now value might be assessed (Hipkins & Cameron, 2018).

How are we doing this at RJHS?

Design for learning - explicitly teaching key competencies and future focused skills (our CLOAK).
Assessment and Tracking - for each facet of our CLOAK we have designed progressions, the foundation level being the criteria from our Graduate Profile.  The progressions ensure that progression is visible.
Learner Agency - students collect evidence that they have achieved the criteria for each letter of the CLOAK; once they feel they have sufficient evidence they pitch for their badge.  
Weaving Across the Curriculum - learners need demonstrate the competencies in at least three of their courses to ensure a range of evidence is gathered (which equates to a blue digital badge) before they can pitch for their bronze badge (an actual badge)

Be open to unintended (emergent) outcomes - we are very early in our badging journey.  
We don’t know how this is going to go, so we’ve deliberately started small (just ‘Ourselves as Learners)
and we’ve reassured teachers that the mere act of having students engage with the criteria and
progressions, the teachers bringing attention to these through their planning, language, and
assessment, and the students pitching for their badges is a win.  We can’t let the worry of getting it
wrong stall us from leaning into this uncertain place.
Encouraging performance-based, rich learning experiences as ideal tasks to demonstrate competencies.
Collecting evidence in Learner Portfolios.
Ongoing PLD, resources, exemplars, user-friendly LMS, and celebrating the wins are all helping to
keep the badging momentum going.  
Having an achievable, measured approach, with constant support
Fostering lifelong learning...It more actively includes the student in all aspects of
decision making...thinking about their success in terms of learning to learn, with the
aim of empowering them to continue learning at and beyond school.’
(Ministry of Education, Assessing Key Competencies, 2007)

How is it going so far?

So far we have 5 students who have achieved their Bronze Badge.  The quality of their evidence is outstanding. They are stoked to have achieved this and they are asking for more. Many other students are actively working toward their blue badges. Students are talking about badging...they are showing an interest, asking questions, clarifying, and collecting evidence. The quality of thinking and reflection that learners have put into justifying their evidence is exciting.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Learner Agency at RJHS 'Take Two...'

Learner Agency at RJHS
Take Two..."

By Paula Wine

Learner Agency at RJHS…Take Two

Last year I wrote a blog about learner agency at RJHS and how we have tried to develop learner agency at our school...through Learner Narratives, IEMs (Individual Education Meetings), SOLO rubrics and curriculum trackers.  After two years, we have reflected on these tools and practices, and we’ve made some changes that I’m excited (and optimistic) about.
So what have we done? Well first of all we’ve got rid of the Learner Narrative.  The original intent of the Learner Narrative was to act as a tool to empower each student to be a leader and driver of their own learning.  It was essentially a google doc with a template where students could link in samples of their learning, set learning goals, and reflect on these goals and their learning.  Great idea right? Except it wasn’t. After two years we realised that it wasn’t achieving what we’d hoped it would. The Learner Narrative became exactly what we didn’t want for many students...something they complied with, completing each section begrudgingly.  It became an ‘add-on’ and far from the ‘inspiring tool’ we’d hoped it would be. The other design fault that was niggling away at me was that it was organised into courses (Modules and Flight Times), which was basically silo-ing their reflections by subjects. The exact opposite of ‘connecting our learning’.

So what have we done instead?  Firstly we’ve introduced the Learner Portfolio.  How is this different from the Learner Narrative?  What makes this a better tool to empower and develop Learner Agency?
  • We’ve changed the structure of the Learner Portfolio - The Learner Portfolio is now organised, not in courses, but in C-L-O-A-K sections.  Our CLOAK is our dispositional curriculum, it is the essence of our vision and the characteristics we are trying to develop in our learners.   We want to ignite our students’ passions, develop their resilience, perseverance, collaboration, kindness, and their ability to drive their own learning so that they can achieve in all that they pursue.   The CLOAK is not a ‘subject’ on its own, but is woven through all of our learning through every Module, Flight Time and Advisory Session. Previously we felt like we were trying to 'teach' the CLOAK, mostly through our Advisory programme. What was sometimes missing though was the meaningful connections to link the CLOAK to...for example, we would talk to the students about 'Challenge Our Mindset' or 'Learning is Connected', but these habits and skills have more meaning when they are taught in the context of our ongoing Module and Flight Time learning.

  • We’ve changed who owns the Learner Portfolio - What goes into the Learner Portfolio is completely up to the learner!  Previously the teachers would tell students what to include as evidence and tell them when to link it in.  Not exactly agentic. Our new Learner Portfolio allows students to choose which piece of evidence they want to submit, when they want to submit it and why.  The learning evidence can come from any Module, Flight Time, Advisory class, extra-curricular activity or experience outside of school. Learners then link their evidence into whichever of the five C-L-O-A-K portfolios it fits best.  For example, if they have evidence that they have demonstrated ‘Challenge Our Mindset’ in two of their courses and then at their weekend netball game, they can link in photos, samples of work, or video with a reflection as to why this is evidence of their Challenge Our Mindset learning. If we want our learners to feel inspired, engaged, and truly driving their own learning, we need them to own the process.  
  • We’ve changed the scaffolding of the process - each learner now has a set of guidelines with reflective questions they can refer to independently to support their portfolio development:
Learner Portfolio Guidelines:

  • Work on your Learner Portfolio regularly - set time aside during your Independent Advisory time each week to prioritise your Learner Portfolio
  • Include evidence of C-L-O-A-K learning from across your learning...your module learning, flight times, or advisory time, extra-curricular activities, etc.
  • Quality Reflection - think deeply about your learning using the prompt reflection questions below
  • Make it yours!  Use written work, video clips, photos, etc.  
  • Aim for a minimum of 1-2 pieces of evidence per C-L-O-A-K each term.  
  • It doesn’t have to be a finished piece of work...try to capture genuine evidence of CLOAK learning anywhere, any time.  
  • Enjoy!  This is your learner portfolio.  Make it matter to you!
  • Remember the ‘why’...reflecting on your learning helps you become an active, effective,  life-long learner.

Examples of reflective questions we have provided, different questions are provided for each letter of the CLOAK:

CHALLENGE OUR MINDSET Reflective Questions
Challenge our Mindset Goals:
We have a growth mindset
We try new things

We embrace the learning pit
We persevere when things are hard
Possible Challenge our mindset reflective questions:
  • How have I demonstrated a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset?  
  • How have I taken a risk in my learning?  What have I tried that is new? How did this go for me?

  • When I was in the learning pit, what strategies did I try to get out of the learning pit?
  • What learning was challenging for me?  How did I persevere through this? What was the outcome?

    • We’ve changed our Advisory Time by introducing Independent Learning Time (ILT) - students now have 45 minutes during each Advisory block.  This is a time for learners to make decisions for themselves about their learning.  As John Spencer describes in his book ‘Empower’, it is important to develop the mindset of self managing...of following through on your plans and continuing with tasks even when nobody's looking over your shoulder. During ILT students will learn how look at their week ahead, prioritise what is on top for them, set learning goals, and self manage to achieve their learning goals.  This is a time for teachers and students to model, coach and use ‘learning to learn’ skills; learners need to be able to organise their time, identify their priorities, figure out how they learn best, practice study skills, concentration skills, meeting deadlines, etc. This is a time when students can spontaneously add to their Learner Portfolio, when they feel motivated to do so. This might also be a time for learners to engage in design thinking, inquiry, or passion projects.  While students are working independently Advisory Teachers will have time to do ‘one-on-ones’ with their students; during the one-on-ones Advisory Teachers can connect with their learners and see how they are going with their Learner Portfolio. If progress is slow, this is a learning opportunity.
    • We've changed the tool we use to link our evidence...instead of a Google Doc (not that engaging) this year we have introduced a new LMS called Schoology. Schoology has a user-friendly, engaging interface and functionality. It allows for easy uploading of evidence in multiple media (print, photos, video, voice recording) so we expect our learners will be more 'into' this tool. It also allows for embedding reflections, teacher comments and 'in-the-moment' sharing with parents/whānau.

    In essence, we wanted our students to shift from a compliance model of learning, to a model where students see themselves as the main drivers of their own learning journey.  

    Where to next? In the background we have been working on a Graduate Profile for a Year 10 student leaving RJHS. Our guiding question has been 'What dispositions, skills and knowledge do we want our students to have by the time they leave us at the end of Year 10?' In our draft Graduate Profile the focus is on future focused skills and dispositions as opposed to a bunch of content knowledge. Once we have worked through the Graduate Profile as a staff, eventually we would like to have a system where students 'pitch' for their C-L-O-A-K badges, by sharing evidence from their Learner Portfolio to justify that they have achieved that particular level of the CLOAK. Again, the onus is on the learner to drive their learning in their time.
    Through the combination of student choice, engaging authentic contexts, Learner Portfolio, and Independent Learning Time, we are excited about moving in a direction that is truly going to grow student agency.  It won’t happen overnight.  Ultimately developing student agency will happen with agentic design and pedagogy. We will need to teach our learners how to be agentic; we need to model and scaffold how to be drivers of our own learning.  There will be some students who will struggle with self starting or with self managing during Independent Learning Time; this is their learning.  To develop student agency we need to give students some times during the day when they are not told what to do or how to do it, and they have to decide for themselves.  We need to give them space to get it wrong (and right) and to learn from this. As John Spencer says ‘Student choice is the heartbeat of ownership and empowerment’ (Empower, 2017, p. 35).

    Thursday, October 19, 2017

    Enabling Gifted Learners at Nueva School Campus - a Quick Write

    Enabling Gifted Learners
    Our Senior Leadership Team visited the Hillsborough Nueva School Campus
    Paula Wine - Reflections of our 3rd School Visit


    Our third school visit takes us to Nueva School located in Hillsborough, close to San Francisco and Silicon Valley.  Nueva School originally opened in 1967 as a school for gifted  K-2 learners.  Since that time the school has grown to serve pre-K to grade 12 (the new campus at Bay Meadows in San Mateo opened in August 2014, home to grades 9-12).  Our first visit took us to the picturesque pre-K to grade 8 campus in Hillsborough.  
    Nueva currently has a roll of 800+ gifted and talented learners. To be considered for this school prospective students do an IQ test (the Wechsler Intelligence Test) and if they achieve a score of 130 or above they are considered for enrolment.  The cost of this independent school ranges from $27 000 (pre-K) to $44 000 (grade 12) per year.  

    Nueva is a student-centered school known for inquiry-based interdisciplinary studies, constructivist project-based learning, a focus on social-emotional learning and design thinking. The school also offers specialist teachers in numerous other core and elective areas, including STEM, writing, the arts, entrepreneurship, music, and physical education.

    Nueva School
    Nueva is a beautiful campus, happy and vibrant.  Nueva’s catchphrase is ‘teaching gifted learners by doing and learning by caring’. The school was founded as a place where gifted students could learn in an emotionally safe environment, with a programme which provides challenge and the opportunity for learners to delve into their passions (through self-directed projects) and ‘design thinking’ ways to make the world a better place.
    During our tour we visited several middle school classrooms (similar to our year 7 and 8s).
    Things I noticed:
    • I-Labs (Innovation Labs) are a key feature of this school - they resemble a typical science or hard technology space in NZ.  I spoke to one teacher getting ready for her class of 4th graders.  She happens to be a Mechanical Engineer.  The I-Labs are a place of Design Thinking, problem solving and innovation.  Students spend a lot of time in the I-Labs, both during class time and outside of class time.  If they have a passion for design and technology they will love the I-Lab.
    • Many of the teachers at Nueva are actually not teachers by trade; they are Mechanical Engineers, Computer Engineers, they have their PhD in Marine Biology or Mathematics, they are Physicists from Stanford University, etc.  When I asked about this, the reasoning is that young gifted learners have complex questions and the teacher needs to be able to have ‘mental flexibility’ to go deeply in any direction with a learner.  I personally think nothing trains a capable teacher who understands the art of teaching; with that said, deep content knowledge is really important for any inquiry, project based or design thinking project learning.
    • Nueva has a psychologist (working along-side with a teacher) who comes in to teach about the science of the mind, metacognition and the Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) programme (which sounds very similar to our Health and Physical Education programme and aspects of our Advisory programme).   During the SEL programme learners are taught about how to deal with stress, anxiety, emotions, sexuality, identity; how to develop empathy, an understanding of social justice and equity; and how to be action social change.  The psychologist and teacher are ‘on alert’ for red flags (students who are struggling) during SEL time and they refer any concerns to the school counsellor.  Social-Emotional learning, we know, is so important for emerging adolescence. For us, though, it is best delivered by the Advisory teacher.  Discussing the SEL programme with Nueva has made me reflect on our Advisory programme.  I think an idea for us could be to develop our own school model for our students, a step by step approach to identifying issues and taking action to solve their issue.  If we develop our own model, then we can empower our learners with a tool, a process for dealing with the hard stuff.  We could design an acronym that is portable (similar to WARM as part of our restorative approach).  This could be a proactive approach to dealing with life’s stressors and building resilience.  I think it is important that we all have a shared language around this and that the process or approach is ubiquitous and portable.
    • Listening to Nueva staff talk about SEL has also made me reflect on our Advisory curriculum.  We all know that  year 7s have very different social-emotional needs as compared to year 10s.  It may be time to have a closer look at our Advisory curriculum to ensure we are designing our programme to best respond to these differing needs.
    • Design Thinking is, like previous schools we’ve visited, a prevalent part of the Nueva curriculum.  We happened to have lunch with Scott Swaaley (who we recognised as the teacher from the movie ‘Most Likely to Succeed’).  The cool thing about this is that Scott used to teach in San Diego at High Tech High previous to Nueva.  When I asked what he likes most about being here, he reflected on the hours he used to put in back then to achieve the quality and high standards of the High Tech High projects.  His hours were crazy (by his account 120 hours per week…).  Do we want this for our teachers?  No way.  What I do think would be helpful though is to develop teacher resources (scaffolding, backward planning, question prompts, and processes) to ensure our teachers have a kete of tools to support our learners to achieve deep learning and conceptual connections.  It’s one thing to have a great idea and a vision for the outcome of a unit; it’s another thing to get the kids there.  Already we have many examples of modules where teachers and students have achieved this.   So let’s pool our great ideas to ensure we are building capacity in this area.  According to Hattie the effect size of Inquiry Learning is really not that impressive (0.31, below the hinge point of 0.4) so we have to make sure that what we do is resulting in depth.

    • As part of the Innovative Learning Conference, I attended a session ‘Design Thinking in Middle School Science’ where the Nueva 6th grade (year 7 in NZ) science teacher took us through how he uses Design Thinking in his classroom.  He starts each year with what he calls a low resolution project, just a week long, to get the kids to experience the Design Thinking process.  Then throughout the year he does 4-5 bigger projects, with the year culminating with one big project that is multidisciplinary across all subjects.  In between projects he teaches content and skills.  It might be interesting for us to explore doing a project across modules to incorporate more than one curriculum area.  I liked his approach in that not every finished Design Thinking project has to be ‘high spec’.  I also liked how he highlighted the similarities between Design Thinking and the Scientific Process.

    • Nueva recognises that gifted and talented students have some unique characteristics and needs they cater for, such as gifted and talented kids needing social-emotional coaching, needing to develop inter- and intrapersonal skills, needing to have space to be deep thinkers and understanding they can be highly sensitive, being encouraged to be inquisitive and being able to indulge their intense interests and questions about the world around them, and understanding that those who exhibit ‘scattered professor syndrome’, need help to manage their thinking.  It is an interesting concept to me to have a school for gifted and talented students (800+ students no less).  While it does feel ‘elitest’ (let’s face it, this is a school for very bright kids whose parents can afford to pay the tuition) I do feel there is a takeaway here...when we talk about inclusive education often what comes to mind are learning difficulties.  How are we catering for our gifted and talented learners in our setting?  How is their experience of learning and socialising?  How is their anxiety?  Are they happy, challenged, inspired?  This is worth exploring.

    • When Nueva School had parents who were worried about the lack of spelling and handwriting, the school organised parent education evenings... potluck dinners where the parents could come in and experience a Design Thinking experience.  I think this is a great idea.  Having our Thursday morning parent drop-in sessions in Term 2 has been such a positive way to let our parents see what learning is like at RJHS and alleviate their fears about noise level, behaviour and learning.  A way to enhance this could be to invite parents into sessions in the evening where they get to experience our learning process.
    • At Nueva they say their biggest indication of success is that the students are happy.  This reminds me of one of our original parent meetings in mid-2015, when we asked our parent community ‘What are your hopes for your child at RJHS?’ The overwhelming response was ‘We want our kids to be happy and confident.’  Are our students confident?  How do we know?  Are our students happy?  How do we know?  My anecdotal information is that our students are highly engaged and happy, and that they have wonderful relationships with their teachers, especially their Advisory teachers.  It is always good to look for the ‘canary in the mine’ though, and ensure we know how are students are doing with regard to their well being.

    Nueva School, final thoughts
    Nueva is a beautiful school and campus with vibrant, happy staff and students.  Compared to RJHS it is a contrast to our context is an independent school, catering for gifted and talented learners, with a teaching staff predominantly composed of Engineers and other Industry experts, not to mention the steep yearly school fees.  The conversations with the Nueva School staff have been interesting, as well as some of the sessions at the Innovative Learning Conference.  
    To be honest, though, one of the most powerful take-aways for me is that we are miles ahead of other education systems in terms of our curriculum and our pedagogy.  Of course we’ve picked up a few ideas and definitely this has been a time to reflect and think about our next steps, but overall I’ve felt affirmed and quietly chuffed with what we are doing in little ol’ New Zealand at RJHS.