Dainfern College in Gauteng Xtends its offering

| March 29, 2019 | 0 Comments

BY KAREN COSH

Schools are continually bombarded with information about new educational innovations and pedagogical changes.

As responsible educators, we need to research international educational trends with a mind open to the changes and challenges that are presented. However, it is also important for us to study the educational landscape and the context in which we find ourselves in South Africa as we evaluate which trends are applicable and beneficial to us as individual schools. Any move in terms of curriculum development needs to be carefully researched and implemented in the best interests of our students, staff and the greater school community, taking into account the nurturing of independent thinking as well as the future marketability of all our students.


Integrated studies
One of the most recent educational trends is the integration of various subjects in the senior phase. By definition, an integrated curriculum is one that connects different areas of study by cutting across subject-matter lines, emphasising the unifying of multiple concepts. Integration focuses on making connections for students, allowing them to engage in relevant, meaningful activities connected to real life. This integration aims to teach skills rather than content and thus leads to less formal assessment.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) in its Future of Jobs Report,2 forecasts the top 10 job skills required in the marketplace according to chief human resources officers across the globe. The top 10 skills identified are constantly being revised, indicative of the dynamic and ever-changing human skill sets required of future employees. This in turn impacts on the relevance of curriculum development.
The skills identified for 2020 are:
Complex problem solving
– Critical thinking
– Creativity
– People management
– Coordinating with others
– Emotional intelligence
– Judgment and decision-making
– Service orientation
– Negotiation
– Cognitive flexibility

The Finnish model of education can also influence global curriculum development. Whilst the success of some of their methods is due to the specific context in Finland, the emphasis on less formal assessment; the great value placed on free time and play; the learner-centred classrooms with much self- assessment and collaborative learning, are certainly elements from which South African schools would benefit.3
Developing a modular curriculum
Following significant research as well as a visit to Finland by college principal, Matthew Davies, Dainfern College commenced the development of its own modular curriculum for Grade 8 and 9 students. The aim was to augment the existing curriculum to ensure it aligned with the skills demanded in the workplace as well as the focus on skills rather than content, and process rather than product, as identified in the Finnish education model.
Named “Xtend-it”, this new curriculum programme was launched to staff in November 2017. Staff then spent the next nine months developing their own unique curriculum. Four modules of 39 lessons each were developed, all designed to develop the skills of collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, reflection and the collection of information, as well as to enhance character development.
As Dainfern College is a Round Square school,4 the Round Square Discoveries of group work, communication, tenacity, courage, self-awareness, sustainability, inventiveness, diversity, problem-solving, inquisitiveness, compassion and responsibility, were intentionally imbedded in each module, as was an element of play.

About Xtend-it
All four Xtend-it modules are cross-curricular and focus on skills rather than content. They are student driven and teacher facilitated. No homework is given for Xtend-it and all work is completed in class so students have to work within a required time frame and the work is their own, without outside assistance.
The first module, iMe, focuses on the fourth industrial revolution and its impact on society, as well as the ‘soft skills’ that are needed to ensure the sustainability and marketability of humans amidst the ever-increasing utilisation of artificial intelligence.

The second module, StratSci, focuses on what we call strategy science and was conceived out of a need to teach students to be deliberate in their intentions and actions through a process of anticipation, forethought and consideration of consequences, before action is taken.

The third module, Nervis Terrae, focuses on the nervous system of the earth. This module explores the different nerves the earth has to offer within the ownership realms of society, resources we use and the environment. Here students are required to discover solutions to various resource and environmental issues.

The fourth module, Second Sight, is based on the concept of biomimicry and focuses on looking to the natural world for solutions to everyday problems. This module is offered only to the Grade 9 students due to the higher order thinking skills required and the greater depth and maturity of thinking that comes with age and experience.

The launch of Xtend-it
Dainfern College introduced the Xtend-it programme into the Grade 8 and Grade 9 curriculum in the final term of 2018. Key subjects such as English, the first additional languages, mathematics and elements of the natural sciences and economic and management sciences curriculum continued through the term, while other subjects in the curriculum were replaced by the Xtend-it programme.
There was less overall assessment across this programme and all assessment focused on the process rather than the product. The final task in each module was multi-layered and students were able to present their tasks via various media whilst meeting the requirements of the task. For example, they could create a children’s story book, make a short movie, write a research essay or present an art work whilst still meeting the outcomes of the task. There was no final examination for Xtend-it but the students did write a core skills test to ascertain the level of skills gained.
We experienced both positive and challenging outcomes through this process:
For some students there was a measure of discomfort as they adapted to the new curriculum, whilst other students found the modules challenging and thoroughly enjoyed the different context of learning.
The notion of work not being for marks was uncommon as students and parents generally tend to be mark driven.
We found that some students struggled to apply themselves to the Xtend-it tasks as they “didn’t count”. They had to be guided to focus on the learning process and not the final mark.
Those who were historically straight-A students felt very insecure with the new way of learning. They were used to being given information and now they had to find the information themselves and apply their knowledge to solving problems. It took time for them to adjust and move out of their comfort zones.
We also learnt that change management in our school is vital for parents as well as staff and students, and that change needs to be communicated effectively. Some parents immediately bought into this exciting new way of teaching, whilst others had to be convinced. We learnt that our communication with parents needed to be more intentional and have resolved to hold an information evening rather than rely on emailed communication that parents do not necessarily read.
What the students thought Students were encouraged to reflect on their learning throughout Xtend-it and gave some very thoughtful feedback. Kiana Chipeta, who was in Grade 9 in 2018, found Xtend-it an enlightening experience that gave her an opportunity to freely explore a more empowered side of herself.
“The different modules challenged my thought processes and stimulated my creativity. We had to step out of our comfort zones and think at a more innovative level. Xtend-it made students aware that we can all
be innovators from a young age and that our capabilities go way beyond school,” she said.
Luke Kraus, also in Grade 9 last year, agreed. ““Xtend-it was truly something different. It tested my peer group in a way that would have never been achieved in a regular school system. Bonding played a large role and we all learnt new things about one another, and tested friendships we would have thought unthinkable before. I really enjoyed learning not only about interesting and current affairs, but also lifelong, practical skills that can be applied to most situations.”

What the teachers thought
Not all teachers bought into the programme immediately; some of those who were not involved in the development of the modules could not immediately see the value of the curriculum and were critical of it at first.
The teachers who were involved in Xtend-it saw tremendous growth in students during the term and believe that not only were their students enriched by the process, but that they themselves were also stretched, reporting phenomenal growth in their own confidence as teachers and their ability to innovate. Their collaboration skills improved greatly and they learnt to trust other colleagues with whom they had not previously worked, especially across subjects.
Claire Weerepas, head of life sciences at the college, noted that being part of a collaborative team enabled teachers to devise a variety of strategies for teaching and learning in new and exciting ways. “Teachers often view students as empty vessels needing filling; stepping into the role of facilitator during the implementation of a module allowed us to realise that students are brimming with potential and ideas,” she said. “Seeing students recognise not only the value of their skill set but that of their peers was powerful. The students’ level of engagement in the task was at times chaotic but always enthusiastic and goal-orientated. The end product was an innovative masterpiece, with each student taking ownership of the whole task and showing great understanding of the process they had taken to reach the solution.”
Social sciences teacher Juan-Paul Oosthuizen enjoyed watching students start to express themselves with newfound confidence and persevering to achieve personal goals. He felt the most impactful moment of the Xtend-it programme was watching students discover abilities they never knew they had. “Overall the introduction of Xtend-it was a real success: an experience made possible by a dynamic team of passionate teachers and a group of students who bought into the fact that they could be something more,” he said.

What we learnt
All in all, the development and implementation of this new Xtend-it curriculum was hard work, labour intensive but incredibly worthwhile as it energised and stretched students and staff and brought an academic vibrancy to the educational space at Dainfern College.
We experienced a number of very positive outcomes:
– There was less absenteeism during the Xtend-it modules than at other times of the year.
– The students participated more actively in their learning and the quieter, more reserved students were able to make valuable – contributions to learning discussions.
– Students reflected that they were more confident about communicating publically and had learnt to work with others far better.
– The students enjoyed the creativity and the freedom to present their findings in different ways.
– Students’ problem-solving skills were honed and they began to be more critical in their self-awareness.
– The students enjoyed working with peers from different classes and getting to know others with whom they had been at school for a number of years but who had not been in their class.

Alexia Duvenage, a Dainfern College student now in Grade 10, perhaps sums up Xtend-it best:
“We live in a society where we are often told what to believe and that makes our world less innovative and creative. At school, we are so focused on the curriculum and assessments that I didn’t realise how much I was missing out on. Xtend-it taught me that I can think and learn about topics that I would never have thought about before. I have benefited so much from this experience and I am so thankful to my teachers for providing me with this opportunity. Xtend-it is teaching kids how to be future innovators and creators, it is special, it is unique, and it is awesome!”

This article is based on research and curriculum development carried out at Dainfern College where Karen Cosh is deputy principal: academics. The Xtend-it programme name and iMe, StratSci, Nervis Terrae and Second Sight module names are the intellectual property of Dainfern College.

References:
1. See: https://study.com/academy/lesson/integrated-curriculum-definition- benefits-examples.htm
2. See: https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-future-of-jobs-report-2018
3. See: https://www.businessinsider.com/how-finland-beats-america-on-
education-2016-11?IR=T]
4. Round Square is an internationally diverse network of 200 like-minded schools in 50 countries on six continents that connect and collaborate to offer world-class programmes and experiences, developing global competence, character and confidence in our students. (See: https://www.roundsquare.org/being-round-square/who/rs-schools/).

Category: Autumn 2019

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