The curriculum here is very similar to those found in America by having focuses on reading, writing, and maths. The biggest differences are that instead of having science, they call it Inquiry, which starts out being guided by the teacher in order to build background knowledge, but the final project is student led in the sense that they conduct research on something that they are interested in that fits within the theme of the unit for the term, and prepare a presentation of some sort as a final product. For instance, Year 2 is currently focusing on Australasian animals and their habitats in “Animal Antics.” They went on an excursion to Healesville Sanctuary (I went, too!) to observe their chosen animals, then conducted research and recorded their findings in a formal writing piece, and are now creating their animals and their habitats out of recyclable materials in preparation for their presentations of their creations and all that they have learned about their animals.
Once a week, starting in Foundations, students also go to a class called LOTE (language other than English), where they are learning Chinese. In past years, the language being learned was German, but they recently made the switch to Chinese. Nonetheless, this is definitely something unique that is not found in the majority of public schools in the US as far as I am aware.
At the start of the day, starting in Year 1, students typically work on spelling using a program called Smart words. This program allows for differentiation in terms of reading and writing progressions, and has specific activities for students to do each day (five days total for an element such as “ee”). The intention behind the program, which is to encourage teaching how to spell is an interesting one, however, from what I have observed in multiple classrooms, is that students tend to just copy down the words to get it done as fast as they can, and don’t apply the spelling practices to their own writing. Students in the younger grades are encouraged to use inventive spelling, however, by years 4,5, and 6, the amount of misspelt words that I have seen of familiar words is far more than what is acceptable. Personally it is a complete 180 from what they do in Foundations, which incorporates a combination of phonics in their reading and writing instruction (but is not entirely focused just on phonics). I guess this could be a great example as to why teaching reading and spelling is such a hot debate amongst educators!
Rolling Hills encompasses Dr. Brian Cambourne’s (head of the Centre for Studies in Literacy at Wollongong University in Australia) Condition of Learning theory for all subjects, especially in literacy. The summary of the seven conditions (which are interconnected with one another) are as quoted from Rolling Hills’ staff handbook:
The standards that are used here are called AusVELS, and are strikingly similar to Common Core in the sense that there are areas within literacy for reading, writing, speaking, and listening. In maths (for year 4), there are focuses on number and algebra, measurement and geometry, and statistics and probability. Other standard areas for the general classroom include Personal Learning, Science, Thinking Processes, Interpersonal Development, ICT (Information and Communications Technology), Humanities, History, Design, Creativity and Technology, Communication, and Civics and Leadership. At this point in time, I have not seen any history taught in classrooms. Standardized testing (NAPLAN) is done in years 3, 5, 7, and 9, and tests students in reading, writing, conventions, and numeracy. Personally, I think it’s great that students don’t have to take them every single year, because I think that standardized testing doesn’t always show what students are capable of, and the time set aside for the testing takes away from time the students could be having learning!
Rolling Hills has a general pedagogy in place to create consistency across the board. I have seen this in practice in all of the classrooms I have been in so far, and incorporates whole group instruction, individual/small group work time, and whole group reflection during each lesson. This helps students to take some time to regroup and think about what was meaningful to them, and what they took away from each lesson! The overall school pedagogy is well summarized in the staff handbook, stating overall that the pedagogy is multifaceted, and based upon the belief that all students can achieve, while incorporating multiple intelligences, E5, and student-centred interest to drive learning.
As a school, there is a universal understanding that if someone is about to speak, and raises their hand (at an assembly, or even in the classroom), the audience will also raise their hands and stop talking to listen to the speaker. This is magical! Each of the classrooms I have been in have different management styles in terms of attention grabbers, but I have found that they all work very well if the students know them, and are are actually quite fun to implement! One of the ones that the Foundation classes use is “5,4,3,2,1…rainbow!” When the teacher gets to the number one, the students clap their hands together and then make a rainbow by spreading their hands apart, and then listen intently!
Another thing that has been very effective in terms of management is the consistency of the daily routine throughout the school, which starts the moment the students walk in the door for the day. The expectations are the same no matter the year or the teacher, which has most definitely made the transition from classroom to classroom easier for me; so I can only imagine how comfortable this routine becomes for the students as well!