Concept overview and rationale to provide an alternative for senior school students

This proposal is a response to a number of issues, including:

It builds on the successful aspects of both the Senior Individual Programmes of Study (SIPS) programme and the Academies. It extends these into a cross-curricula scenario with a greater emphasis on a more democratic way of functioning and a greater pool of expertise through the combined resources of several teachers. It is intended not to displace our current approach to teaching, but to sit alongside it. It can grow by replicating itself into a second Company involving a slightly different focus, or modify itself year by year to cope with similar numbers but changing demands.

Conceptually, imagine a situation where we have an area set aside for this Unlimited Learning project (such as one level of one of the blocks). We have a six-classroom space, and with that a provision for approximately 120 students and the corresponding allocation of 8 teachers. However, not all students or teachers would be there for all five hours per day, so we would probably have 150 students and a group of 15 teachers involved. Junior school students could also be involved for extension at various times.

The focus is on cross-curricula learning folios of projects designed by individuals or groups of students in collaboration with a guiding teacher. NCEA credits and other credentials would be integrated into the projects but not overrule the spirit of inquiry. The learning projects would essentially be research in the sense of finding out what they don't already know, so all participants in this Learning Company would be involved as learner-researchers, seeking new knowledge and awareness in a spirit of collaborative endeavour. Planning and revising of goals would become an integral part of the learning process - day, week, term and year-long hopes, dreams and expectations would be agreed and modified with students choosing to align their planning with others in similar or group projects and teachers with whom they find a learning affinity acting as learning coaches and mentors. Teachers would build their own folios - individually and collectively - about teaching.

Projects such as the production of the school prospectus would be not additional to the learning portfolio for some students, but rather a key component of it. Similarly a number of Young Enterprise groups may arise with different themes according to the expertise and goals of all the company directors. The emphasis is on finding authentic learning experiences and finding assessments to match the desired outcomes rather than the other way around.

Teachers with subjects that might be otherwise non-viable, such as Philosophy or Economics, could choose to participate in the Learning Company to get access to a group of interested students, combining their presenter role with that of coach or tutor offering skills in other areas such as Language or Metacognition.

Sample timetables in the Unlimited Learning Space for a typical day: (based on 1:15 ratio)
Teacher A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O Total teachers Total students
Period 1               8 120
Period 2             9 130
Period 3                 7 110
Period 4                 7 115
Period 5               8 125

Students would know the teacher timetables and plan their timetable of support access accordingly.

The Report on the New Zealand National Curriculum, 2002 (excerpts shown at conclusion of document) shows various threads across the different Learning Areas:

In our current arrangements teachers work in isolation from each other with a strong focus on subject content and summative assessment. Inter-school competition exacerbates the situation by focusing on NCEA credits and credentialing rather than learning. In a collaborative constructivist context teachers could work more to their personal strengths. For this to happen the locus of control of learning and the locus of responsibility for learning needs to revert to the learner - both for students and also for teachers as role-models. There would therefore be an expectation that all the teachers involved would be undertaking some studies themselves - preferably involving a research component.

Based on preliminary discussions, teacher and student participation is assured: a number of teachers have already expressed their support and enthusiasm to be teaching in this environment. These include Biology, Physics, English, Computer Studies, CISCO, Art, Music and Maori. This alternative model may not be an appropriate context for other subjects which would remain as they are at present: only available in the mainstream scenario.

The benefits for the teachers of the standard classes would be the absence of those who do not apply themselves to their studies. The benefits for the teachers in this alternate context would be the chance to work more closely with colleagues from across the spectrum of subject areas with interested students for two- or three-hour blocks of time. The benefits to the students who select this set of options would be the capacity to form meaningful understandings with their teacher-mentors and choose individual or group activities that are at the pace they are comfortable with - rather than class lessons which may be either too fast or too slow. Extensive research including that by Hattie (Auckland) and Kalantzis (RMIT) shows that the biggest school factor in improving student learning is the relationship between the teacher and the student.

The curriculum demands can be addressed in a mode that is better for some students who struggle with the traditional model, the learning opportunities can be greatly improved, the school's reputation can be significantly enhanced and the existing status with strengths in ICT, Academies and bicultural growth can be the springboards for further development and growth.