The place of English: the K-10 English Syllabus in NSW


Louise Ward (NSW, Board of Studies)

This was a session focused on English implementation in NSW.  NSW is still in familiarisation mode with English, 2014 for Years 7 and 9, 2015 for Years 8 and 10. I suddenly felt that the first 30 slides of my own presentation coming up next were now redundant. Gulp.

Ward spoke of the ‘challenge’ of being ‘required’ to include elements of syllabus that ‘were written by someone else’. ‘We had no choice’. Yeah, that seems pretty much how NSW has seen this exercise, I think. As in, dragged to it, kicking and screaming.

She emphasised the ‘familiarity’ of the document, for teachers. Teachers should feel ‘comfortable’, this is an opportunity to refresh and renew, not replace. Okay. Maybe some discomfort would be a good proximal learning moment?

Ward argued that the rationale for English has not changed: the students are at the centre. (good) But it was interesting to hear her emphasis on ‘explicit instruction’ and mandatory Shakespeare, which you would probably not hear in Victoria. She criticised the ‘silo’ approach of the ACARA strands, and how NSW stayed with what they knew and valued (stages rather than years, strands incorporated under outcomes).

The NSW organisation of content was shown as a multi-coloured kind of pin-wheel of the kind I can never really read.It looked a bit like the IB coloured pin-wheel, which I also cannot read.

Interestingly, they moved in English from 11 outcomes to 9, deleting technology as a stand-alone outcome. And here endeth the Education Revolution.

Ward was very enthuasiastic about a new resource that  has just been launched: Suggested texts for English k-10.

Photo: Place by Warrick

Incorporating the Australian Curriculum

The Bridge

This third session at the Oxford Conference was presented by Howard Kennedy (NSW  Board of Studies)

I felt like a spy. Maybe the only Victorian in this NSW syllabus briefing getting the secret perspective from below the surface!  I thought it was interesting to title the session: ‘incorporating’. This was a session focused on the NSW changes. They aren’t talking about implementing. Its incorporating.

NSW announced a new syllabus website last November. They’ve had thousands of hits. ‘And we’re not even teaching this yet’. Okay. We are.

Kennedy went through the rationale for the AC, and I was surprised to that the old chestnut about families and students who move annually around Australia; I thought that had been dismissed as the reason for all this stuff, and he actually dismissed it a bit himself, when he gave us some Defence Force data about research they’d done, about it not being the curriculum that was the hard thing for students who moved, but the different starting ages, which haven’t really been addressed by anyone to my knowledge. I was surprised to see that he still felt the need to explain and/or justify the rationale for the AC at all, but it was an interesting enough looking-back at the history of this space since 2008.

He denied that “NSW had gone off and done their own thing”, which is basically what I thought. Instead, he argued that the NSW stakeholders requested additional elements. His slide said that in 2010 they endorsed the content, then agreed that the content should be refined. We want more detail, argued NSW teachers (not the response from most Victorian teachers) NSW was used to detail. A study in NSW was 70 pages each. In the ACT, the whole syllabus was 32 pages. Apparently NSW teachers love being told what to do, or love clear, detailed outcomes. Take your pick.

His take-away message to phase 2 and 3 teachers: ‘the curriculum needs to be achievable within existing indicative time requirements and NSW KLA structure, and the appropriate time-frame (a full 12 months preparation). I read that as your time for the subject you teach won’t change.

He then showed us how NSW were basically explaining the ACARA dotpoints. One dot point in ACARA Science becomes 4, one Maths dot point on triangles, becomes 12, the word ‘perspectives’ needs to be explained (imagine how a Turkish person would have felt at Gallipoli?)

Every student has to have been taught this stuff by the end of 2015. (pretty much indecipherable diagram)

The NSW syllabuses for the Australian Curriculum website looks pretty good. He was very happy with the level of interest in the NSW web site from all over Australia and the world. When he showed us the site, some malware or spam started coming up. It was nice to see the site being used live, which is always risky.

The site itself has some good features, some learning support materials, and a thing called ‘Program Builder’, which is available to NSW teachers and others (?) through Scootle. In this section, teachers can create units and programs based on the NSW syllabus. Already, 71,000 units have been developed in Program Builder.

You know, in all this talk, not a mention of the learning, the intention, the big picture and, in the program builder, units build of content and assessment with none of the enduring understandings or intentions that characterise UbD. In this model, curriculum units were cut and paste out of content. I did like that they had unit templates which were able to be customised.

The bridge: photo by Warrick