Thursday, 31 October 2013

Scott Sargison: What happens when learning is the most important thing in your school?

Karyn’s Introduction:

Modular learning, 100 minute periods, integrated inquiry learning at senior secondary school

Scott explains why these things are so integral to the success of learning for our students.

What happens when “learning” is the most important thing in your school?

We developed our whole school- including our senior curriculum- very intentionally and unashamedly around what was best for our students and their learning. We fit the timetable and physical structure of classes around our student’s needs and best practice. The results are quite a different approach to learning in the Secondary School.
Julia Atkins model of values, principles and practices enabled us to really figure out the “Why”, the “What” and the “how” aspects of what learning would look like in our school and we were not going to let the timetable or limitations in terms of subjects and coverage get in the way of what was really important.

We looked carefully at what our educational values were as a school and a community of learners. We developed these as school wide values, which has enabled us to really build our principles and practices around them and justify “why” we are doing anything and everything that we do. The values were the things that we really believed in and wanted to see in what ever we did at school.

From these values we then developed our Principles of teaching and learning. These are the ideas or concepts we believe are inherent in all teaching and learning in our Kura. The 6 main principals we developed are Identity, Interdependence, Inquiry, Inspiring, Intentional and Individual. These principles really represent the “What” in our curriculum development. They are the ideas and beliefs that all our teaching and learning aspire to represent.

From the Principles of teaching and learning we have developed the practices. These are the everyday things that we do; they are the “how” of this model. Our practices are “how” we implement the principles and values that underpin everything we do.

Our first significant practice that we developed when creating our senior curriculum was a Modular Time table. We have a system of programs that run each term. So teachers collaboratively plan programs so students can choose their learning programs, and develop their timetables around four modules in a year. 

These programs are developed around a school wide concept for the module. Teachers are now consulting students about what the concept means to them and what learning is going to be valuable to them. Teachers then meet to plan the next terms learning programs. This includes brainstorming the possible achievement standards that may be used to design and assess learning. 

Programs are Integrated and multi levelled. So teachers will develop the big ideas and the deep understandings from the school wide concept. They then look at possible achievement standards across various curriculum areas. So for example if the school wide concept is Sustainability then teachers could develop the conceptual learning around a certain context or series of contexts. This could include a standard from Social Studies, another standard from Science and could involve a Media Studies, English or even an Art standard to present understandings and assess the learning and presentation process. This is just one combination; our teachers have been pleasantly surprised how easy standards from different curriculum areas actually compliment each other.

All learning is based around the principles of inquiry. For us this is a process but it is also an important value that is inherent in all we do. We don’t purchase and have never used textbooks. Learning is developed around the ideas that information is no longer limited to the teacher and the classroom. All learning activities are designed for students to ask questions, find information from various sources and synthesis that information to develop understandings. We also value learning about how to present and represent learning that has taken place. Learning activities reflect our principle of inquiry in action. All teachers subscribe to this and are motivated by this as its part of shared values and beliefs.

Each learning program contains two contact lessons with the teacher and one other independent time, each an hour and a half long. Students meet with the teachers and classmates for the two contact lessons. Teachers are required to provide a series of activities that are available to students on Monday morning when they meet with their advisory teachers. Students have a blank timetable and are then required to select the independent tasks supplied by the teacher and timetable these tasks into any independent lesson they have during the week. Teachers are required to supply a variety of independent tasks in which students can choose which ones they complete.

Teachers have increasingly become extremely versatile in adapting learning programs to the students they have in front of them each term. This has lead to a certain amount of student directed learning where students have a series of choices in the standards that they are assessed in and teachers will work with students to provide a learning program that is specifically designed for individuals, allowing student directed learning and personalisation.

There have been lots of other things that we have developed, some intentionally and some have just happened. Things like the use of Solo taxonomy to develop student’s ability to evaluate their own learning and make decisions based on their understandings. Students writing their own reports/ evaluations, 3 period days, Inspire programs, Advisory classes to name a few. 

Learning at our school looks different. 

The key is that everything we have done has been linked back to, and explained by our principles of teaching and learning and our collective and shared values.


  1. I really enjoyed reading this blog Scott. As a member of the Early Years Team I did not know about some aspects of your program.

    EG. Teachers providing activities and independent tasks on Monday morning for students to select from.

    How accurate and effective have students' evaluation of their own learning been to your mind?

    Can you see parallels between your and their assessments?

    1. Hey Carlyn, Thanks for that.

      Yeah, you would be really surprised at how brutally honest teenagers are with them selves. In terms of their focus and engagement they are pretty astute in identifying if they have been on to it or off and then reasons for this. Its like everything, some are more in tune with where they are at than others.
      One thing we have noticed is that the self evaluations are more meaningful and in depth if learning strategies have been structured and discussed in classes and as part of the goal setting for the term. So students evaluation has to be scaffolded and and part of goal setting.
      We often talk about what have we learnt today and how have we learnt it, what strategies do we have or could we use to learn this. So its really about getting students to evaluate, What have we learnt, how have we learnt it and how can this help me in my future learnings. When this is part of their goals, and modelled during the term, the end of term evaluative comments are much more insightful.

  2. Such self knowledge is so important Scott and it is wonderful the way you and your team are helping students develop it.

    Isn't it interesting that we are often harder on ourselves than others are on us, yet we tend to live in fear of their judgements?