Stonefields School is a newly established school in Auckland, New Zealand. It opened its doors to a richly diverse and multicultural group of learners in February 2011 and has embraced a future-focused approach to learning. The school has been fortunate to begin from scratch—to embrace the opportunity to re-imagine learning and to consider what learning matters for learners and their future. Consideration has been given to both the soft and hard skills that will successfully equip learners for further learning and life.
Although the history is young, positive inroads have been made in the accelerated gains that are occurring in student outcomes. Recent external analysis using e-asTTle, an assessment tool used in reading, writing and mathematics, shows that students in years five to eight are realizing a three times greater than expected shift in reading and a two times greater than expected shift in mathematics.
The school has been reflecting and gathering evidence to pinpoint and understand what is causing the pleasing shift in learning. The success is put down to three main things.
Firstly, learners are intentionally taught learning strategies to help them overcome roadblocks. Being stuck in your learning is celebrated and significant time is taken to develop learners’ ability to describe and apply the learner dispositions (think, wonder, connect, reflect, be determined, be self aware). The art of teaching is to ensure the learning design puts learners in the ‘Goldilocks zone’ on a daily basis so they need to apply the learner dispositions to advance their learning.
Our student feedback reinforces that another one of the most valuable learning strategies they use in their everyday learning is the learning process. The learning process is a three-phased scaffold that allows learners to problem solve, investigate, find answers to questions they have, make informed decisions, and to advance their knowledge and understanding. The learning process begins with building knowledge, then making meaning and applying understanding. As one learner recently said, “It’s not a linear process, it can be an ‘unpredictable cycle’ if you are at the making meaning stage and realize you need to build more knowledge.”
Secondly one of the school’s organizational Mindframes and Values is ‘Empower Learners–Make Learning Visible’. Progressions are unpacked in ‘student speak’ to show developmental progressions in knowledge, strategy and concepts. John Hattie’s meta-analysis shows that building assessment capable learners has a potential 1.44 effect size. Learners who know where they are in their learning, what they are aiming for, and what their next learning step is are enabled to advance their learning without necessarily waiting for the teacher to be the knowledge builder. Progressions are unpacked in traditional areas like reading, writing, and mathematics and importantly in the valued competency and soft skill areas like learner dispositions and the ability to collaborate. How can we expect learners to advance their learning without being visible and transparent about what progress looks like?
Thirdly, considerable time and thought is given to designing learning that is real and authentic for learners. The school has reflected deeply about ‘What learning matters for learners and their future?’ A conceptual curriculum has been designed that looks at the macro and micro concepts and understandings that learners need to be thoughtful and effective meaning makers of the world in which they live. Stonefields School has also embraced a student lead curriculum where learners get to pursue strength based and passion lead learning for 20 percent of their week. The student voice is convincing when asked what the best thing about Stonefields School is– it is break through time, break through time, break through time. Student feedback suggests there should be more break through learning time each week.
We believe the positive shift in learners’ achievement is because the school is intentional about ensuring learners are, as one year eight boy recently said “comfortable being uncomfortable” in their learning. Students know where they are in their learning and what’s next and engage in learning that is meaningful and relevant. It is the combination of these factors that is leading to increased cognitive engagement, motivation and positive outcomes for all learners.