Wellbeing focus at Greymouth school improves boys’ literacy

Issue: Volume 98, Number 2

Posted: 11 February 2019
Reference #: 1H9r01

Like many parts of the West Coast, the Greymouth community has been through tough times. At Cobden School, students’ wellbeing must be addressed before they can start learning – and wellbeing is priority number one.

Student Isa works on a project of his choice in the playground, a boat picture. Self-directed learning is having positive results on boys’ literacy at the school.

When Cobden School Principal Noula Markham arrived in 2010, many students were underachieving. She says teachers worked in silos and that needed to be broken down.

“Nothing can be fixed in isolation, and learning depends on wellbeing, hauora.”

Boys’ low literacy levels were a major issue, so developing their writing confidence and capability was a major focus.

“Scoping of individual needs is paramount. We encourage students to follow their passion, which could be something like the Titanic sinking. Their passion sparks their writing.”

In 2016 many boys were not achieving at the expected level in writing. But, as a result of the changes, 93 per cent of boys have made progress in writing to date, as measured by the asTTle writing rubric, and rigorous moderation.

The percentage of boys writing below standard has fallen dramatically, but the focus is on progress rather than achievement. Contextual literacy and maths are studied in the morning, and in the afternoon the students work on self-directed cross-curricular projects.

Each student has a graduate profile outlining their strengths and learning needs and the school also works on background issues.

The bigger picture

Noula says the school looks at the whole picture. “We teach collaboratively and involve families and the community. Social media is a vital communications tool, and we use Facebook to communicate to parents important messages.”

Seesaw is used to share learning and their children’s achievements. There is free Wi-Fi in the school grounds, and parents often come to the grounds to use it on their phones.

Student feedback is sought constantly on how teaching practice is or isn’t helping them. Noula says self-directed and self-regulated learning empowers children to have a voice and to instigate change, not only at school, but in their lives generally.

“They co-construct the curriculum and work on projects where they have a lot of choice, which many of them have never had before in their lives.”

Year 6 student Callum Hope says, “We learn more here and the people are nice and generous about things.”

Building resilience

Noula says, “Through our intense support, layer upon layer, we are building students’ resilience and ability to focus on learning, and there is one overarching message: nothing should stop you achieving.”

Tuakana teina is embedded and shapes the way students interact. Age groups intermingle, and one idea originating from the students has led to organised games in the playground run by the students, so that no one feels left out. Noula says often there are Year 8s playing with Year 5s.

Recently, the students designed and organised the school’s ‘buddy benches’, where they sit to help each other. Year 7s integrated the study of water into art and that led Year 8 student Tyrone to design and build a bed-size model of the Titanic as a project. The ship has a particular fascination for him and some of the other boys.

Tyrone also recently built a raft to examine the science of floating and sinking. He says, “It feels great that I’m learning and I’m making good progress now. The school gives me the help I need and I have choice in my project work.”

Taking responsibility

Noula says, “We say to the children, ‘We are not giving you an education – you are taking responsibility for your own learning’. They respond fantastically to self-directed learning. They also gain from seeing their school as a whānau, which they are part of, which includes students, teachers and support staff.”

Recycling goods supports learning

Some families need practical help with basic household goods, so a shop in the school grounds sells donated clothing, shoes, and other goods such as blankets and sheets. Students set up and now manage the shop.

Students can buy things either for themselves or for their families using “banqer dollars” instead of cash, which they earn by doing tasks. The students managing the shop are learning skills such as collaboration, teamwork, negotiation and project management.

Tory Hartill is one of them. She says, “The shop helps parents to buy things like school jackets for the kids, so they aren’t cold.”

Driftwood pile generates endless creative play 

Recently a large amount of driftwood from a nearby beach was placed in the school play area as a play resource – nature’s own building blocks. Each day children of all ages worked collaboratively to move it about and create new structures, such as a fort or a boat. “We were amazed at the creations they would come up with each day,” Noula says.
Visit the school’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/cobdenschool(external link)
Tailored approach encourages first steps in writing

Two years ago, one of Cobden’s 11-year-old students was not engaged in literacy and refused to write even one word, and his behaviour was getting in the way of his learning. Now he writes once a day, every day, and takes a copy of what he has written on his iPad to the office of Principal Noula Markham, and gives it to her. 

She places it in a folder that contains all his work. He writes about his life and what is happening at school. It is just a paragraph per day at this stage, but Noula says his literacy is improving and “he knows that we value what he writes”.

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

Posted: 9:00 am, 11 February 2019

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