Alternative curriculum engages college students

Issue: Volume 98, Number 15

Posted: 2 September 2019
Reference #: 1H9xp3

A cross-curricular programme at Porirua College is developing real-world skills and pathways to the future for its participating students.

Andy, Year 10, spreads fertiliser at Porirua College’s revamped garden.

Every Friday during term 2, students at Porirua College headed into town or the great outdoors, or learnt a new skill as part of the school’s Ko te Hapori programme. The trial saw students choosing a course from an alternative curriculum, which included language and cultural activities, gardening, sports, outdoor activities and learning to drive.

Ragne Maxwell became principal of the college in 2016 and says it became clear that while teachers, parents and students loved the school, students didn’t see all the learning as engaging, relevant or reflecting their cultures.

Nearly 75 per cent of the school’s students are from the Pacific Islands, 23 per cent are Māori and the remainder are Pākeha or children from refugee families from Syria, Colombia and Myanmar.

In 2017 research was done to establish how to move the school forward.

“We wanted the learning to be culturally relevant for our students because they have incredible values in their cultures,” says Ragne.

“We’re finding out what culturally connected and engaging education could look like. I know there are a lot of schools in New Zealand engaged in exploring that because our curriculum invites us to create a local curriculum based on the needs of our students.”

The New Zealand Curriculum sets the direction for student learning and provides guidance for schools as they design a responsive local curriculum with rich opportunities for learning. Localising the curriculum in ways that meet the needs of all diverse learners is critical.

The importance of local curriculum design, the creation of rich opportunities to learn, and the use of engaging programmes for students support ongoing learning about the things that matter to them most.

Pride in kaitiakitanga

As part of the Ko te Hapori programme, a group of students transformed a once out-of-bounds, overgrown garden at the school.

“They planted a furrow garden in a traditional Māori way and a rongoā (medicinal) Māori garden,” says Ragne.

“They waterblasted old woodwork and stained it up and have got that area back into being a lovely area of the school, where students can now sit in the gardens and eat the food out of it.

“They have made a real-world change in our school. It was a very popular course as a result, with people wanting to change from other courses when they saw what those kids were doing and achieving.”

The cross-curricular kaitiakitanga course was taught by a science teacher, a te reo Māori teacher and a social sciences/English teacher with a focus around learning traditional Māori ways of caring for and relating to the land. A volunteer from a community afforestation group was also involved.

Real-world experiences

Ragne says that connecting Porirua College’s students with real-world experiences is important for two reasons.

“Firstly, a lot of our students lead incredibly sheltered lives and stay very much within Porirua East; they often are not that familiar with the options that are out there for them.

“The second important thing is to motivate students because if they find a dream, they’ve got something to work for and it really drives them to do the hard yards.”

A work experience course for Porirua College’s Year 12 students saw them visit and assess cafés in Wellington and use that knowledge to run a café at school during the last weeks of the term.

“Most of them had never been out in Wellington, so it was also teaching them to go into the city and learn to be independent.

“If we don’t introduce them to new environments, then they are not going to have the confidence to be in those environments and move on. They will end up having a very narrow view of what their futures can be.

“We want to develop real-world skills and pathways to the future which students see as relevant and interesting and take them towards jobs.”

A course called ‘Put the You in Uni’ for Year 12 and 13 students saw them meet former Porirua College students at Victoria University.

“They are used to very personalised relationships, of living in a world where they know people and are introduced to other people that they know – not researching on the internet for a service and then signing up,” explains Ragne.

Traditional approach helps

Ko te Hapori takes a tuakana teina (traditional Māori buddy system) approach, with many courses offered across a range of year levels. One of the objectives of this is to demystify NCEA.

“Instead of becoming intimidated by NCEA, younger students saw that they could do work alongside seniors, where they saw the seniors were doing it at a higher level with more detail,” says Ragne.

About half of the school’s 500 students responded to a student survey, with over 75% saying they liked the whole-day model of Ko te Hapori, having more than one teacher and learning with students from other groups.

“They liked having a sense of power over their learning and they liked getting out of the classroom and going out into the community and the wider world.”

Ragne saw how transformative the programme could be when a Year 9 girl who had been struggling to transition to secondary school ran up to her after the first day of her course.

“She said, ‘Look, Miss, look!’ She was pointing right across the valley to the maunga and she said: ‘I was up there and this is the track I took to get up and this is the track I took to get down and I did it!’

“She had done something that she really valued and found exciting and had had some success at and she didn’t want to lose that. And she started going to all of her classes.” recounts Ragne.

“That’s a transformation. Her experience of school has been changed by that experience. We have seen that engagement with a number of students who don’t engage in education, but we have also seen a lot of students who do engage taken outside their comfort zone and having new experiences and developing confidence.”

Ragne says that while she doesn’t know what education is going to look like in five years’ time at Porirua College, “we have GOT to step outside the box and find a way to make education an exciting, engaging, relevant experience that stimulates students to think and to learn because they are motivated to do so.”

“That’s the journey we have started on – we don’t know where it’s going to take us, but we are doing it together and we have a belief that we are going to create something really exciting.”

A culturally connected curriculum

After a two-year trial, Porirua College plans to offer Ko te Hapori, the alternative curriculum, to all students for part of each week in 2020.

During 2017, some success criteria were developed for the programme, including engaging students in learning and building independence and resilience. The Ko te Hapori model emphasises team teaching, cross-year levels (tuakana-teina relationships), integrating and connecting subjects, and extracurricular and deep learning.

“One of the principles was to focus on the learning and what we thought was really valid and valuable learning for our students, and to make the assessment naturally occurring out of the learning,” says principal Ragne Maxwell.

Rigorous selection process

Ragne says course selection and development is a rigorous process. Teachers write a course proposal that goes to the school’s head of faculty meeting. Proposals have to include links to The New Zealand Curriculum, including any assessments that are going to be included, an outline of the course and how it will function.

The aim of Ko te Hapori is to collaboratively create a rich, engaging, connected curriculum, with pedagogies including team teaching, universal design for learning, student inquiry and place-based learning.

After the first trial in 2018, Porirua College developed an aim for Ko te Hapori: to collaboratively create rich learning and grow courageous learners who are skilled in literacy, critical thinking, creativity and learning to learn.

Many of the courses are co-constructed, with people from the community bringing in specialist skills. An ‘adulting’ course saw staff and community members teaching their areas of expertise, such as dealing with emotion, flatting and financial literacy.

The new normal

In 2020 Ko te Hapori will be normalised within Porirua College’s timetable. Juniors will have a five-hour alternative curriculum slot per week and seniors will be offered four out of five subjects, plus a subject from the alternative Ko te Hapori programme.

Some courses in the alternative curriculum will offer students the opportunity to gain 14 Level 3 credits for an approved university entrance subject.

“We are currently training a group of Year 12 and 13 leaders to run a collaborative workshop for our students and parents about constructing our model and deciding on courses for next year,” says Ragne.


What the students think

What course did you do?

Brodie: Kaitiakianga

Eliha: Faasinoala - Wayfinder

Treselle: Going Outdoors


What did you learn on the Course?

Brodie: We learnt about rongoa māori and tikanga; the right plants for the right place. We learnt about how pollution is affecting eels’ habitat and breeding.

Eliha: We went to an Anzac Day mural and learnt about the meaning of it. Firefighters came to school to teach us fire safety. We did a section on careers - I want to be a doctor.

Treselle: We climbed Rangituhi and looked at old trees. I got to the top, it was a big achievement and I was proud.

Has it inspired you to do more learning in this area or consider career options?

Brodie: I liked this learning style as it was cool to be away from books and computers.

Treselle: This learning was cool and fun. I wasn’t going to classes before the course but after the course I decided to go to all my classes.

Eliha: This course has made me want to do more research about careers.

Culturally responsive way of working vital

Evidence suggests that Pacific and Māori learners thrive in learning environments that use culturally responsive pedagogy, reciprocal learning relationships and opportunities for collaborative learning, where their identities, languages and cultures are valued and there exist strong connections to families and whānau. These learners want to see a culturally responsive way of working that is meaningful and more relevant to them.

All learners should be offered a broad education that makes links to effective teaching approaches within and across learning areas, provides for coherent transitions, and opens up pathways to further learning.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:52 am, 2 September 2019

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