Key Competencies - from The New Zealand Curriculum to classroom


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An overview of the key competencies and what they might mean for New Zealand schools

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Key Competencies - from The New Zealand Curriculum to classroom

  1. 1. Key Competencies: The key to teaching and learning in the 21 st Century?
  2. 2. About the presentation … This PowerPoint presentation was created by Vanessa Witt for the EDIS723 (Inquiry Studies) course at the University of Canterbury College of Education in 2010. As a student teacher, I chose to inquire into the key competencies because I was excited at the prospect of implementing a more balanced, student-centred curriculum in my classroom (when I get there!). I learnt a lot about the key competencies through the course of my inquiry, and I hope that what I have shared in this presentation is also interesting and informative for you.
  3. 3. Questions <ul><li>What are key competencies? </li></ul><ul><li>Why are they in The New Zealand Curriculum? </li></ul><ul><li>How do they fit with the rest of the curriculum? </li></ul><ul><li>How are schools providing opportunities for students to develop the key competencies? </li></ul><ul><li>How could we monitor the key competencies? </li></ul><ul><li>And the big one … </li></ul>
  4. 4. … Will the key competencies make a difference to teaching and learning in our schools? ???
  5. 5. What are key competencies? Key competencies are the capabilities people have, and need to develop, to live and learn today and in the future. <ul><li>The New Zealand Curriculum identifies five key competencies: </li></ul><ul><li>thinking </li></ul><ul><li>using language, symbols, and texts </li></ul><ul><li>managing self </li></ul><ul><li>relating to others </li></ul><ul><li>participating and contributing </li></ul>
  6. 6. The Key competencies are: <ul><li>holistic – encompassing knowledge, skills, attitudes and values which cannot be separated </li></ul><ul><li>context-based – changing with the context </li></ul><ul><li>relevant – helping students to participate in the world right now, as well as in the future </li></ul><ul><li>future-focused – develop over time with a long-term (lifelong!) goal </li></ul><ul><li>student-centred – rather than knowledge-centred </li></ul><ul><li>inter-connected – they work together and influence each other </li></ul>
  7. 7. They are complex and inter-related … Word cloud created with Wordle -
  8. 8. Why are key competencies in The New Zealand Curriculum? <ul><li>The KCs were included in the revised curriculum in response to an OECD project called ‘Defining and Selecting Key Competencies’ (DeSeCo). </li></ul><ul><li>The OECD saw a need to develop a common framework to identify relevant competencies necessary for meeting the challenges of modern life in a rapidly changing world. </li></ul><ul><li>DeSeCo (2002) identified three broad categories: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>acting autonomously </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>using tools interactively </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>functioning in socially heterogonous groups </li></ul></ul><ul><li>and thinking was seen to be involved in all of these. </li></ul><ul><li>The links to the NZC key competencies are quite obvious! </li></ul>
  9. 9. Karen Sewell (Secretary for Education) gave these reasons … We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist … using technologies that haven’t yet been invented … in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.
  10. 10. In a nutshell, it is because ... SHIFT HAPPENS! ... and if you have managed to keep up with the ever-changing technology, you can Google ‘Did You Know’ to find the full presentation about how fast the world is changing by Karl Fisch, Scott McLeod and Jeff Brenman. (Many different versions are available on
  11. 11. How do key competencies fit with the rest of the curriculum? <ul><li>KCs align with the vision, principles and values. </li></ul><ul><li>Developing KCs is as important as developing content knowledge in the learning areas. </li></ul><ul><li>The learning areas provide a range of contexts for developing the KCs. </li></ul>More complex than skills, the competencies draw also on knowledge, attitudes and values in ways that lead to action. They are not separate or stand alone. They are the key to learning in every learning area. The New Zealand Curriculum, p.12
  12. 12. If Key Competencies are not the same as the Essential Skills, should they be broken down into sub-skills and assessed? … How?
  13. 13. How are schools developing key competencies in students? <ul><li>Schools are at different stages in the process of thinking about what the key competencies mean for their students and community and making changes that might be needed. </li></ul><ul><li>It is important that the Principal leads the change in a way that is supportive and manageable for teachers. </li></ul><ul><li>Some examples of what schools are doing … </li></ul>
  14. 14. Alexandra School rocks! The key competencies are unpacked for both senior and junior students. Senior students have a ‘wall of words’ and develop their own ‘key competency kid’ with personal goals on the back. Junior students also have them translated into language that they understand. They use a reflection book (covered in silver paper like a mirror) to help them set goals, reflect on their progress and keep thinking about the next steps. Thinking tools are used to develop the thinking competencies, especially with senior students. This has led to a deeper understanding of what they are experiencing. ‘ You rock!’ certificates and real rocks are used to reinforce the key competencies and values. Children bring rocks to school and these sit on their tables. They write the competency/value on the rock as a reminder. For more information about this school’s story visit:
  15. 15. Habits of Mind and Heart at College Street Normal School They built on Costa’s ‘Habits of Mind’ by adding values with their own ‘Habits of Heart’. To come up with ‘Habits of Heart’ they studied people who they thought might be role models (Ghandi, Martin Luther King) across a diverse range of religions and cultures and looked for similarities within these people. They came up with five habits of heart: 1. Practicing random acts of kindness 2. Respecting others by using good manners 3. Treating all people with kindness 4. Feeling and showing compassion 5. Placing other people’s needs before one’s own For more information about this school’s story visit: “ For probably the first time in my career as a teacher I feel that we, here at College Street, are giving the children the opportunity to take increasing responsibility for their learning.”
  16. 16. Attitude, Action and Achievement at Frimley School Frimley School started working on the key competencies in 2006. They unpacked the key competencies using key words to describe what they mean and sent these home for parents to discuss with their children also. They feel it is important for parents to support development of the key competencies at home so that students understand that they are important for all aspects of their life, not just while they are in the classroom. They now have the ‘Frimley Way’ model, so the key competencies come to life through their vision of attitude, action and achievement (Three As). They have aligned the school behaviour management system with the key competencies and give out ‘Awesome Awards’ for positive reinforcement. For more information about this school’s story visit:
  17. 17. Some common factors in the ‘model’ schools … <ul><li>Each school community unpacked the competencies in their own unique way (one size does not fit all!) </li></ul><ul><li>Students were involved in the translation process so they understood the language – using ‘child-speak’ </li></ul><ul><li>Collaboration / collegiality were seen as important </li></ul><ul><li>Key competencies were often viewed as an extension of the values already in place </li></ul><ul><li>Thinking about how to develop the key competencies lead to change in the school </li></ul>Note: this may not happen in all schools!
  18. 18. Discovery Time: developing key competencies through activity-based, child-directed learning <ul><li>A programme developed by Brenda Martin (RTLB) and Gay Hay (teacher) in an attempt to create a balance between the skill and knowledge demands of the curriculum and provide activity-based, student-directed learning (book published in 2008). </li></ul><ul><li>Held once a week for 90 minutes, Discovery Time provides opportunities for teachers to meet the diverse needs of students through well-planned, structured, ‘hands on’ experiences. </li></ul><ul><li>The emphasis is as much on developing the key competencies as it is on the learning areas. </li></ul>“ You get to do stuff that you have never done before and you think you can’t do it, but you can.” - student Website:
  19. 19. How could the key competencies be assessed? Assessing the key competencies was seen as a tricky issue right from when they were first being developed for The New Zealand Curriculum. When looking at assessment of key competencies in 2006, experts from NZCER identified issues of context, time and fragmentation. One suggestion was that teachers could assess the opportunity to learn the competencies, rather than assessing the progress of individual students. The MOE website ( refers to ‘ monitoring ’ of the key competencies, rather than ‘assessment’: Monitor = to keep track of; check continually Assess = to estimate or judge the value, character, etc., of; evaluate From this distinction, it seems that teachers are not expected to try to measure or evaluate the amount of progress a student is making in developing key competencies. So how could they keep track of them ??? …
  20. 20. What would monitoring of key competencies look like? <ul><li>Monitoring the key competencies is likely to involve: </li></ul><ul><li>Teachers monitoring key competencies with students, rather than ‘doing monitoring’ to students </li></ul><ul><li>On-going formative opportunities, rather than summative </li></ul><ul><li>The accumulation of information, rather than one-off examples </li></ul><ul><li>Self and peer-assessment, rather than just teacher judgments </li></ul><ul><li>An emphasis on qualitative information rather than quantitative information </li></ul>
  21. 21. How could we monitor the key competencies? Documentation for monitoring key competencies is not about recording indicators, criteria, marks, grades, or rubrics. Documentation for monitoring key competencies is more about rich descriptions, examples, accounts, and narratives. MOE: Documentation: Learning logs or journals Portfolios E-portfolios Learning stories Tools and strategies: Reflection time Leaving slips Learning blog Peer recognition Keep a camera handy! More information about these ideas here:
  22. 22. Will the key competencies make a difference? <ul><li>Rosemary Hipkins (NZCER) identified some challenges </li></ul><ul><li>to schools implementing the key competencies: </li></ul><ul><li>‘ We already do that!’ </li></ul><ul><li>‘ We haven’t got time to do that.’ </li></ul><ul><li>‘ What types of knowledge?’ </li></ul><ul><li>‘ If they’re not assessed, we’ll just ignore them.’ </li></ul>
  23. 23. Is there resistance to change? <ul><li>Characteristics linked to a willingness to change: </li></ul><ul><li>Openness to new ideas </li></ul><ul><li>Willingness to share ideas with colleagues and parents </li></ul><ul><li>Preparedness to take risks </li></ul><ul><li>Characteristics that work against change: </li></ul><ul><li>Cynicism about any suggestion for change/new ideas </li></ul><ul><li>Professional ‘experts’ who thought they knew it all </li></ul><ul><li>Insecurity about own practice and fear of being exposed </li></ul><ul><li>Lack of commitment to teaching </li></ul><ul><li>A conservative view that ‘all change is bad’ </li></ul><ul><li>The ‘tall poppy’ syndrome where teachers were resented by others </li></ul>Identified by Ramsay et al, 1990 in ‘Teachers and Curriculum Decision-Making’ by Clive McGee, 1997 This depends on the school/teachers involved …
  24. 24. Will the key competencies make a difference? My opinion … Clearly, some schools have embraced the vision of The New Zealand Curriculum and are already reaping the benefits of a more balanced, student-centred approach to teaching and learning. However, other schools are still only just starting the process of integrating the key competencies into their school curriculum, or are meeting some ‘road blocks’, so that they are unlikely to make the changes required to make a real difference. I am especially concerned now National Standards have been imposed on schools with such haste. There is a real risk that principals and teachers will not have the time and effort to put into developing a key competencies-rich programme because they are distracted by implementing National Standards.
  25. 25. Who can make a difference? “ It is their (teachers) skill that transforms inert curriculum into living entities in classrooms. It is teachers who make learning come alive for students. The success of curriculum rests upon teachers’ ability to make wise choices and see them through.” - McGee, 1997, p.15
  26. 26. Further reading … The New Zealand Curriculum. Ministry of Education, 2007. Key competencies: the journey begins. (Kick Starts). Rosemary Hipkins, Josie Roberts and Rachel Bolstad, 2007. Key competencies: exploring the potential of participating and contributing. (Kick Starts). Rachel Bolstad, Josie Roberts, Sally Boyd and Rosemary Hipkins, 2007. Catching the knowledge wave?: the knowledge society and the future of education. Jane Gilbert, 2005. Teachers and Curriculum Decision-Making. Clive McGee, 1997. MOE key competencies website: NZCER website: In print: Online resources: