Understand, Know, Do: a framework to inspire deep and meaningful learning

Issue: Volume 100, Number 13

Posted: 14 October 2021
Reference #: 1HAQSM

The New Zealand Curriculum refresh is underway, signalling a major next step in the development of our national curriculum. In this article, we explore some of the changes, including Understand, Know and Do – the new framing in Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories curriculum content.

The AOTEAROA installation project is part of Sylvia Park School’s ‘Aotearoa: Our Story: Nau Mai, Haere Mai’ inquiry.

The AOTEAROA installation project is part of Sylvia Park School’s ‘Aotearoa: Our Story: Nau Mai, Haere Mai’ inquiry.

The purpose of The New Zealand Curriculum refresh, including the Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories curriculum content, is to inspire and guide the kind of learning that will enable young people to be confident, connected, and actively involved members of society; the kind of learning that will support them and their communities to thrive.

A key consideration in refreshing our national curriculum is the need to enable schools and teachers to understand and give effect to national aspirations, while at the same time providing enough flexibility to be responsive to what ākonga, whānau, iwi and community see as important.

Journey to today’s curriculum refresh

There has long been a focus on delivering a broad and balanced national curriculum, although its content and structure has varied over the years to reflect society’s changing views about what is important for young people’s learning.

From 1961 to 1986, content-focused syllabuses, guidelines and textbooks prescribed what teachers should teach, with a focus on subject mastery measured by tests and exams.

The 1980s saw the development of a draft of New Zealand’s first national curriculum but it was sidelined by the reform of the administration of education in 1989 and by a change of government in 1990. 

Curriculum development resumed in 1991 and New Zealand shifted to an outcomes-focused curriculum design. It was thought that a focus on outcomes would lead to more equitable patterns of achievement because it would give schools the flexibility to try different approaches to teaching, while keeping a focus on the outcomes that mattered. 

Dual curricula were developed to reflect Māori-medium and English-medium pathways.

Overarching vision

In 2007, The New Zealand Curriculum as we know it today was born, with its overarching vision, and description of the essential nature of each learning area. Learning areas remained divided into eight levels with each level made up of achievement objectives that outlined what was to be achieved.

The levels were only loosely associated with years at school as it was expected that, within any classroom, students would be working at a range of levels and progressing at their own pace.

The Kōrero Mātauranga | Education Conversation in 2018 captured 43,000 New Zealanders’ hopes and aspirations for ākonga. Equipped with this information, a Ministerial Advisory Group investigated Curriculum, Progress and Achievement in 2018-2019.

Their fundamental question was: how do we strengthen the use of the national curriculum in understanding and supporting all ākonga to progress and achieve, and enriching their opportunities to learn?

The group identified that significant changes to the national curriculum were needed to make it equitable and fit for purpose and the future, with a clear commitment to upholding Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

“We are focussed on improving equity and excellence in an education system that serves and grows diverse learners,” says Pauline Cleaver, Ministry of Education’s Associate Deputy Secretary, Curriculum, Pathways & Progress.

“It’s best captured by the idea that ‘the curriculum fits the child’. We want to help make sure that every learner leaves school with the skills, capabilities, and knowledge they need for success in work and life.”

Framing learning

The draft Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories curriculum content signals a move from an outcomes-focused curriculum to a progression-focused curriculum, one that recognises ways in which learners’ knowledge, understanding, and capabilities grow and deepen over time. The ‘Understand, Know, Do’ structure encompasses:

  • Understand: the big ideas
  • Know: rich contexts for exploring the big ideas
  • Do: practices that bring rigour to learning

Each of these elements has a separate focus. They don’t need to be used in a certain sequence, instead they enhance each other. Students deepen their understanding of the big ideas as they explore the context (know) using the critical inquiry practices (do).

When the three threads are woven together, they create the learning all ākonga should get the opportunity to experience, learning that cannot be left to chance.

The Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories curriculum content is structured this way to help teachers design learning experiences that weave these elements together so that student learning is deep and meaningful.

The ‘Understand, Know, Do’ framing will be applied to all learning areas as they are refreshed, making it easier for teachers to explore opportunities to integrate across curriculum areas.

Understand, know, do

‘Understand, Know, Do’ in action

Barbara Ala’alatoa, principal of Sylvia Park School in Auckland, says ‘Understand, Know and Do’ has always been a fundamental part of their inquiry process.

“’Understand’, ‘know’ and ‘do’ are of equal importance; they need each other,” says Barbara.

“Any understanding, any inquiry that is absent of knowledge – the ‘know’ – runs the risk of being fluff, and any inquiry that is absent of the big and enduring and connecting ideas – the ‘understand’ – runs the risk of being irrelevant to our learners in the here and now.

“Any inquiry that is absent of the practices that bring rigour to learning – the ‘do’ part – runs the risk of not motivating, challenging and engaging our learners, let alone inspiring them to act on what they’ve learned. When we deliver equally on these, our students will be informed. They will be active and passionate learners who will go on to make a difference in the world,” she explains.

Barbara describes how the ‘Understand, Know, Do’ framing was incorporated into an inquiry Sylvia Park School did in 2018 called ‘Keep calm and carry on: how do we deal with conflict?’. The knowledge component drew on the 100-year commemoration of World War I and they developed an inquiry question that aimed to make World War I relevant to learners: how do we deal with and respond to conflict?

“Now that’s something everybody can connect to. Learners could make comparisons to stories about reaching agreements to end conflicts, or ways in which people supported each other through conflict. Suddenly, World War I meant something to them. It also gave the learners a sense of connection, identity and belonging by learning about and relating to a really important event, in our place, Aotearoa.

“However, it’s one thing to know what students will learn in terms of knowledge and big understandings that might be developed. It’s quite another thing to develop ways in which learners will develop strategies to process and truly engage in their learning in a way that will bring about deep understanding and active participation.

“And that is why I’m really excited to see the ‘do’ part of the ‘understand, know, do’ framing, and the discussion relating to the Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories curriculum.”

Sylvia Park School principal Barbara Ala’alatoa says the Understand, Know, Do framework is a fundamental part of their inquiry process.

Sylvia Park School principal Barbara Ala’alatoa says the Understand, Know, Do framework is a fundamental part of their inquiry process.

Barbara says the ‘do’ part is an essential part of learning.

“These are processes by which we ensure that students develop multiple perspectives on a controversial perspective; that they’ve sourced valid and reliable information from a whole range of sources, not just the ones they like.

“They’ve sorted and synthesised ideas, actions or events that they’ve had to compare and contrast; knowledge and ideas that they’ve actively constructed or reconstructed; and events or scenarios. And [these processes ensure] that they’ve taken action as a result of this rigorous learning they’ve undertaken.

“The thing about the ‘do’ part of the framework is that it helps us to ensure maximum contribution and participation in their learning as well as a consideration of what they will do as a result of their learning,” concludes Barbara. 

Listen to the podcast(external link) with Sylvia Park School principal Barbara Ala’alatoa talking about the ‘Understand, Know, Do’ framework in action. 

National curriculum refresh

Over the next five years, Te Tāhuhu o te Mātauranga, the Ministry of Education, is undertaking a refresh of the national curriculum, which includes The New Zealand Curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa. Aotearoa
New Zealand’s histories and Te Takanga o Te Wā mark the first step towards the changes in the respective curriculum documents.

Information on the refresh of The New Zealand Curriculum can be found at education.govt.nz(external link), and on the redesign of Te Marautanga o Aotearoa at kauwhatareo.govt.nz.(external link)  

To help with your implementation journey, regardless of what stage you are at, support guides and resources are available at education.govt.nz(external link).

School leaders can use the poutama with their teachers to identify where they are at and identify their next step: ‘Supporting school leaders to understand and plan for Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories in social sciences’.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 9:11 am, 14 October 2021

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