NZ English Curriculum Development @ HPSS

At HPSS we are continuing to develop a cohesive and robust ‘Foundation Curriculum’ (Year 9 & 10) that is connected, focussed on problem solving, mastery, personlisation, deep learning and inquiry. The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) requires that each school develop a school-based local curriculum that reflects the national framework:

The New Zealand Curriculum sets the direction for teaching and learning in English Medium New Zealand schools. But it is a framework rather than a detailed plan. This means that while every school curriculum must clearly be aligned with the intent of this document, schools have considerable flexibility when determining the detail. In doing this, they can draw on a wide range of ideas, resources, and models. (Ministry of Education, 2007, p. 37)

Our Foundation Curriculum is founded in the NZC and underpinned by 8 ‘Big Concepts’ derived from the curriculum. These concepts are used across all learning areas and are explored in the contexts in which they are taught for the purpose of helping “students to make connections across learning areas as well as to home practices and the wider world.” (NZC) Over the course of 2 years a student will be exposed to and explore all 8 concepts.

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 9.17.13 am

With a focus on the ‘Big Concepts’, each learning area has developed a Foundation Curriculum founded in the NZC. Outlined for each learning area are ‘Big Ideas’, Generic Learning Objectives or common standards (GLO), Generic Capabilities (generally transferrable) and discipline specific practices.

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 11.55.08 AM.png

Foundation Curriculum Overview


For each GLO a rubric is generated in a way that ensures, both teachers and students are clear on the intention of the objective and the demands at each level of the NZC. The rubric includes a general statement about the focus, dispositional (Habit) indicators, learning process model and curriculum level breakdown of an objective. For example, over a 2 year period, the Foundation English Curriculum covers the key aspects of text types, text structures, language features and conventions, purposes, audiences and crafting a range of texts. These aspect would be covered multiple times.

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 9.08.53 am.png

Foundation Curriculum Learning Objective Rubric

EnglishGenericLORubricTextStructures ♦ EnglishGenericLORubricTextTypes

In order to determine essential elements and to map a junior curriculum a deep analysis, synthesis and understanding of the curriculum was required. For the English learning area this included curriculum mapping of key aspects of curriculum levels 4 & 5, with an alignment to curriculum levels 6-8 and NCEA. Looking at the NCEA matrix was also useful as the creators of that matrix already developed a process to assess the curriculum at Levels 6, 7 and 8, which helped to identify the big concepts that run through a learning area.


Achievement Objective Language Analysis: Understanding the intent of the Achievement Objectives for a learning area and how these stepped form level to level was important. In part, it required an analysis of the language progression between levels for the learning area. This acted to further assist in highlighting the key differences/steps between the curriculum levels.

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 12.21.33 PM

Snapshot of Speaking, Writing & Presenting from the NZC

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 12.21.22 PM

Snapshot of Listening, Reading & Viewing from the NZC

‘Groupings’Using the NZC, NCEA, school courses and other resources, we established a common understanding about the ‘essence’ of the learning area and possible ‘groupings’ or ‘strands’. We grouped the English curriculum into the following categories:

  • Making Meaning through close readings, connected readings, independent readings and inquiry/critical readings;
  • Creating Meaning through speaking, writing and presenting.
Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 12.57.27 PM

Curriculum Level 4 Close Reading Map

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 12.57.43 PM

Curriculum Level 5 Creating Meaning Map

L4 – Close Reading (Making Meaning) ♦ L5 – Connections (Making Meaning)

In addition to these groupings we developed sub-level criteria. The criteria was based on SOLO and followed a similar pattern to NCEA (not a mini NCEA). Progress indicators were designed to describe the sub-levels. 3 levels of achievement at each curriculum level were established:

  • Students working at Level 5 will…
  • Students achieving with … (confidence) at Level 5 will…
  • Students achieving … (perceptively) at Level 5 will…

The language describing the progression reflects the overall intent or nature of the learning area. The language of NCEA achievement standards was useful in establishing possible ‘strands’ or ‘groupings’, identifying ‘key skills’ and establishing how a progression might be described.

Key Skills: We identify the main skill(s) required for each of the achievement standards that were relevant for our junior curriculum. Some examples of those key skills are:

  • Describe
  • Explain
  • Demonstrate
  • Participate
  • Apply
  • Investigate


The result was the development of ‘Big Rubrics’ for each of the groupings that mapped the English curriculum from Level 4 – 8.Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 8.55.40 am

Writing-BigRubricEnglish ♦ OralText-BigRubricEnglish ♦ VisualText-BigRubricEnglish

PersonalReading-BigRubricEnglish ♦ ConnectedReading-BigRubricEnglish

This post has been an effort to provide a high level overview of the complex and robust process of junior curriculum development undertaken so far. Much of this work on the English curriculum has been completed in conjunction with expert teachers and facilitators, in particular Cynthia Orr, Sarah Frost and Ros MacEachern (Britton).


In the Pursuit of Answers

Is it enough to be able to find answers? In this day and age, is the challenge really even finding the answer? Answers have a way of helping us to feel knowledgable and accomplished. What happens if the answer is ‘wrong’?

As teachers, we experiment, research, explore and challenge in the pursuit of answers. Sometimes we may even be striving in the hopes of finding the holycheck grail of answers to a multitude of educational ills. However, in our own pursuit of answers we can be lost and this is often transferred into the learning space. Students may be deceived into believing that the answer is all that matters. Students need to be able to develop habits of learning and questioning, in the understanding that knowledge cannot be force-fed.

A disadvantage to students in suggesting that the answer is an end result, might be that they may not seek to understand how the answer plays into their own world. ‘Correctly’ identifying a metaphor in a passage of text simply works to highlight that a student knows the answer. Do they recognise the significance of this knowledge and understand the way in which it interacts with their world?

How might we focus more on helping ourselves and our students develop habits of learning and questioning? It is important for students to be able to identify, recognise and deduce accurately bodies of information, but delivered in isolation they are effectively mining for answers.

In ‘Can a school be built on questions?’ Warren Berger shares five learning skills, or “habits of mind,” matched up with corresponding question:

  • Evidence: How do we know what’s true or false? What evidence counts?
  • Viewpoint: How might this look if we stepped into other shoes, or looked at it from a different direction?
  • Connection: Is there a pattern? Have we seen something like this before?
  • Conjecture: What if it were different?
  • Relevance: Why does this matter?

Finding an answer can be hugely beneficial to developing understanding but I wonder if at the heart of what we are trying to achieve, is greater understanding. Understanding how to question will lead to a self-perpetuating pursuit of answers.

The teaching of nationally assessed standards is all too often driven by the need for students to produce the ‘right’ answer. In most cases it is difficult to ascertain who is driving. In Aotearoa New Zealand, we are certainly more fortunate than most, in that NCEA (National Certificate of Educational Achievement) allows the flexibility to develop the requisite habits of learning and questioning. The question is, do we avail ourselves the opportunities afforded to us?

Deborah Meier asked “what if our schools could train students to be better lifelong learners and better adapters to change, by enabling them to be better questioners?”


5 Ways to Help Your Students Become Better Questioners

The Quest to Ask Better Questions

Can a school be built on questions?

The Right Thing, Said Once