Learning together: Collaboration to develop curriculum, pedagogy and assessment that promote belonging
In this paper we describe the processes and outcomes of a two-year project to develop the New Zealand Curriculum Exemplars for Students with Special Education Needs. We will show how the processes of collaboration and sharing which characterised all aspects of the project impacted on those involved and suggest that this is a way of working together that, if used more widely, would lead to capacity-building to promote inclusion. The project focussed on teachers working with students described as working long term at level 1 (of 8 levels) in the New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) (Ministry of Education, 2007). Earlier research had shown that teachers in regular classrooms in NZ were often puzzled about how to include some students with special education needs in their planning, teaching and assessment. Many teachers saw the NZC as irrelevant for some students with special education needs. The development of the Exemplars provides a very practical example of a framework that supports educators and families to work collaboratively; as well as the positive outcomes that are possible when working in this way. The project team included classroom and visiting support teachers (from primary and secondary schools, regular classrooms and special schools), curriculum advisors, assessment facilitators, and teacher educators. We pay particular attention to new understandings about curriculum, pedagogy and assessment that emerged as together we learned to use narrative assessment. Assessment tools can both enable and constrain what can be noticed and reported. Assessment methods as well as the results of assessment can lead to painting different kinds of pictures about students and teachers. Participating in the professional learning aspects of this project provided teachers with a language and a framework (Carr, 2006) to consider what learning might look in their classrooms. It became apparent that often progress is evident with the benefit of hindsight. This recognition challenges the belief that assessment should be predictive and predictable. Narrative assessment reminds us of the complexity of life and of learning; it also provides us with the means of better describing some of this complexity. We learned that when we write a narrative assessment, we do so with a particular way of understanding a student, a particular way of seeing and interpreting a student. When we share the narrative with other people, including the student, we are sharing our way of interpreting the student, sharing our sense of who the student is. As we engage in conversation about the narrative, all participants in the conversation are together constructing, and re-constructing the student’s identity as a learner. In our conversations about narrative assessment, we can be excited, affirmed or even challenged in our sense of who a student is. We also learned that our writing is influenced by how we understand ourselves, how we see and interpret ourselves and our actions. The way we construct our own identity shapes, and is shaped by, the identities we construct for our students, as well as the other people in our classroom and school communities. If we cannot see our students’ learning, how might we see our teaching; how might we see ourselves as teachers?