I’ve finally figured out the 9 day school system used at Havelock North H.S. and I’ve even determined that I like it. Even though, it seems a bit confusing this type of scheduling really opens the door for a more balanced school year. It ensures that every class is held a similar number of times (seeing as holidays usually fall on Mondays and Fridays) and also makes it so that no teacher ends up with that rowdy 5th hour (last class of the day) every single day, or every Friday. This schedule can also be really good for students because it keeps each day a little bit different instead of always being the same classes each day, requiring students to stay fairly organized.
However, my next big challenge is the assessment system. New Zealand curriculum is comprised of a variety of internal and external assessments and rather than saying pass/fail or A, B, C, D, F, students reach N– Not Achieved (1-2), A – Achieved (3-4), M – Merit (5-6), and E – Excellence (7-8). Each of these levels has points associated with it which nearly goes back to the assessment system they used previously with percentage. In order for students to gain university entrance, they must have a certain number of credits, but in New Zealand the credit do not come from completing the work for an entire course, they come from individual assessments. Many of the teachers (at least in the English department) are a bit worried about this assessment system because they are seeing an extreme lack of motivation at the end of the year from many of their students when they have already completed the necessary credit numbers. I also learned that they have cream of the crop classes, mainstream courses, and there are also courses with those students who are barely achieving.
Internal assessments could be speeches, static images, creative writing, essays, etc. Each English class is required to include speeches at some point during the year. Students are provided with examples of speeches that would receive the marks mentioned above. In one of my free periods, I listened to some of the speeches for my cooperating teacher’s Year 13 class. One of them was about Donnie Darko and the themes found within it, one compared 1984 and Animal Farm, and another showed a negative perspective relating to the viewing of The Piano in school. One of the important things to remember and emphasize with students here is that when they write a speech it needs to provide a clear perspective and be backed up with lots of evidence and comparisons. Each of these speeches also needs to be videotaped so if the National Office of Curriculum ever wants to see one of the speeches to verify the mark given, they can do so.
The videotapes also come in handy if a student wants to appeal their grade. I find this fascinating, but I do see the value in it. Having the opportunity to appeal requires students to really take a closer look at their work before deciding if they really think the mark they have received is most appropriate. So, for example, a student in English class appealed an essay they wrote. That student would have to fill out an appeal form which then goes to the head of the department. Both the head of the department and the teacher who marked it will review the assessment and remark it. What the student needs to understand is that if they do not have evidence as to why they should have a better mark, there is actually a chance their mark could go down rather than up if a teacher looks at it and after reading it a second time doesn’t see as many good things in it as the first time it was assessed. This teaches students to question their own work and learn when it is beneficial to argue for what you believe in and when it is not.
Another type of assessment required in the curriculum here is a standardized listening test. In order to prepare for this, students are given practice tests where they must listen to a story and either draw a picture like the story states or to fill in a chart about different people with the correct information. The actual standardized listening test has an answer booklet with just the questions, audio to read the stories to the students, and a teacher’s manual with the stories and the questions. This test was much more difficult than the practice ones because it actually required students to pay attention to details and look into the texts of the stories at different levels beyond the surface. I think we should do these here in the states regardless of the fact that I would have probably done terrible on it myself. Despite that, English teachers both here and in the United States are always talking about incorporating all four language areas: speaking, listening, reading, and writing, but listening is often never targeted specifically.
Some other tidbits—I was informed that not only do the students wear uniforms (except year thirteen), they are also required to have natural hair colors and girls must wear their hair up. Males need to have their hair cut so it is not touching their shirt and females cannot wear make-up, earrings or nail polish.
Another part of the school culture here is participation in outdoor education including tramps. I went on my first tramp on a Sunday and Monday. I left for the Sunrise Tramp with the Year 10 class from Havelock North H.S. These outdoor education trips all have different levels and distances students need to walk in order to advance to the next level of tramp. This was a bronze level trip.
We started at Triplex Hut and walked 650 vertical meters to get to Sunrise Hut which is where we stayed for the evening. After about an hour of rest, we walked another 3-ish hours to Top Maropea Hut and back. On the way there, the students saw some patches of snow left from winter and were throwing snowballs at each other. They were so excited to see that little bit of snow, it was hilarious. We also saw Armstrong’s Saddle which is where a New Zealand pilot crashed in the early 1900s. The next day on our way back, we went down the mountain following the river. The river water was chilly, but not as cold as being in outside in a Wisconsin winter for a few hours. We had to cross the river 21 times in order to reach the path back to our starting point. In most parts, the water was only about knee-deep so it wasn’t too bad, but with the wind and the currents it was tricky at some parts. Overall, what I found really unique about their hike is that they do not leave any trace of them being there behind (no banana peels, apple cores, etc. Whatever they take in, they take back out in rubbish bags.) Part of this is to detract from the spread of unwanted predators in the area like opossums and deer.
Here is a picture of our map and the group of students who went…
On the way to Top Maropea Hut…
The sunrise at Sunrise Hut…
It was beautiful! I am definitely going to do another tramp if I can!