Tonight after school, we held our termly Middle School Kooyonga Cluster meeting. The focus was on Student Initiated Curriculum and we had some guest speakers - practicing teachers who were prepared to share their experiences and individual approaches. First up, we heard from Richard Maynard, who talked about his school's approach titled "Personalised or Individualised Learning @ Seaford Rise 6-12 School." He started by briefly skimming though the theoretical base (omitted because of time constraints which is a pity because it would have been useful background) and then gave us some contextual information. Seaford Rise has a purpose built Middle School which is quite uncommon in the South Australian education system. The 6-9 year levels comprises 50% of the school's 888 kids in a low to middle socio-economic area in southern Adelaide. There, the Middle School is divided into four sub schools. Richard talked about the use of the James Beane model of negotiated curriculum with three focuses that the students identify through the process (an issue you are interested in that affects your life, Australia and then the world) which then leads to interest based planning. For students inexperienced in the process, scaffolding is provided for successful negotiation. As Richard pointed out, a "free for all" with choice doesn't work and the structures also include rubrics generated for marking. Reflection is also a very important component and is based on DeBono's six hats. An interesting point that Richard also made was that it takes time for students to effectively be in charge of their own learning but once they mastered the strcutures and accountabilities built in, they used the independence effectively. He also pointed out that his classes weren't as switched on or cooperative when faced by more "traditional" or authoritarian style teachers. A high school teacher in the group asked the question about what to do if a student encountered a teacher later in their schooling (Year 10 onwards) whose planned content had already been covered as an independent choice. Richard's response was beautifully simple - let them negotiate an alternative! As he pointed out, covering the curriculum is about mastering skills and concepts, not chewing through prescribed content.
We also heard from Peter Jones, a Year 6/7 teacher from East Torrens Primary, a very culturally diverse school. All children have an Indiviual Learning Plan (ILP) which lasts for a semester and culminates in a three way interview. All ILP's have the previous ILP goals listed, then the next goals are negotiated with the teacher. His perspective was quite different from Richard's as he had inherited a system - albeit, one he was happy to be part of, while Richard's point of view was driven by the fact he was a prime mover in the design of his school's negotiated curriculum focus.
This was an informative hour and it is great that student initiated curriculum is still a focus within our education system, although I am sure that a majority of educators would find the approach to be a big risk to take in terms of changing their practice.