From the category archives:


Australian National Curriculum

It turns out I was wrong with my guess of how it would all work out. I’ve deleted the incorrect parts of this post and suggest you look at the updated series I’m slowly trying to put together.

Australia finally has a national curriculum after about fifteen years of trying. It’s still being phased in but I’ve been playing around with the science curriculum since last year, mainly for writing teacher’s guides and personal development. I’ve programmed using it with one group of teachers but not taught using it.

So far, I love it. This is not to say it’s perfect – I love my husband too but there are times he annoys the heck out of me. But I think it’s going to give teachers some much needed direction and get us all moving together. It’s nicely balanced compared with the wild pendulum swings education has been going through.

(As a side note, I adore the fact it isn’t a book. Finally, something that takes advantage of the way the web works and let’s you organise the information the way you want to access it.)

The Pendulum

When I began teaching in WA I caught the tail end of the unit curriculum. This was an extremely prescriptive curriculum with around 40 objectives for each unit that had to be covered in your 30 lessons. It had fantastic resources attached with phone directory sized books full of suggested lesson plans and worksheets. You could literally follow the book from beginning to end and know you had it covered, even if learning about beach erosion was completely inappropriate in the desert and your students only remembered half of it.

Then came the massive shift to outcomes based education, when the focus swung a full 180 degrees from what you had taught to what they had learnt. Rather than prescriptive topics it was completely open and teachers were encouraged to go with local and specific topics and even, gasp, student negotiated curriculum.

Just to make sure there was even less direction, the outcomes were enormous. The Levels in WA were designed for students to work through in 18 months to 2 years, and Bands in the NT were even broader. In fact when they had been in a few years they were revised, and it’s quite possible for students to complete year 6 and leave primary school still in Band 1. Now that’s an E, not a good score, but the Australian NAPLAN mean for the end of primary school still only lines up with the beginning of Band 3, which means students are expected to spend 6 years getting through two Bands.

Teachers aren’t entirely on their own in this vast ocean of possibilities, there are lots of suggestions and indicators and resources to help, but classroom teachers had a huge responsibility in choosing what is taught and particularly at what level.

This is where the new national curriculum slots in.

There are two major differences that jump out at you when you first look at the new curriculum:

  • It is based on year levels.
  • The achievement standards include specific content.

Year Levels

Finally! Some guidance on what to do with your year 8 student who is still in Band 1. Rather than trying to thread your way between something that was written for early childhood and students with early childhood school abilities but teenage social abilities and interests there is finally an answer – THIS is what a year 8 student should be learning. You can take the context from the National Curriculum but teach it at the level your students are capable of. Yes, there may be a lot of Es. But at least all Australian students will be familiar with the important concepts.

It’s an objective way of working things out – rather than relying on other teachers’ interpretations of where the students are up to that may or may not match your own, you can at least be sure of what topics the students have covered. They may have covered it in a simpler or more complicated way, but at least you know what they did before they landed in your class.

I know this is truncated, it will be expanded over the next few posts. I’m just resurrecting this one because it’s coming up in searches and I feel bad if people are getting 404’d.

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You know, those things we’re all working off even though parents and politicians are desperate for us to put a number or grade on their kids. Outcomes are enormous statements that cover an entire term, semester or even year of work in one precisely crafted package. Luckily various education bodies have spent a lot of time and effort breaking them down and have come up with ‘indicators’ or ‘elaborations’ that are much more doable in a lesson or few.  The outcome is compulsory, the indicators are suggestions.

The point here, is that when you do an individual assessment task using outcomes kids can’t get it a little bit right. It’s a yes/no – they can do it or they can’t. You can either name the common shapes or you can’t, you don’t get it a little bit if you know triangles but not squares.

And this is where the precise crafting comes in, because if you check the outcomes on either side, they will be related and build. That is, they’ll look something like this

  • O2 – can name some of the common shapes (triangle, square, rectangle, circle)
  • O3 – can name all of the common shapes (triangle, square, rectangle, circle)
  • O4 – can name all of the common shapes and some others (triangle, square, rectangle, circle, diamond, hexagon, octagon, pentagon, oval)

So even if you have been programming and teaching purely for O3, you don’t test it. You do an open-ended assessment task and assess O2, 3 and 4 at the same time, ticking one or more of them.


Join the name to the shape

Of course, if someone names the oval and pentagon only where do you put them 😉

At the end of the term/semester when you are giving students an overall assessment you can add up all your little assessment tasks. Mostly 2s and a few 3s? Emerging 3. Mostly 3, a 2 and a 4? Comprehensive 3. And so on.

That’s assessing with outcomes. The rest is all elaboration on that theme.

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