This year, a number of changes have been introduced. Lesson times have increased to 75 minutes and the Puna Ako programme has been introduced. How are these going so far?
Lessons have been extended from 60 to 75 minutes. Here’s what some of our students and teachers have to say.
“I think it’s good for practical lessons like PE, outdoor education and hospitality because you get more time to do the stuff and you’re not sitting in a class reading.” Saskia Hall (Year 12)
“There’s less moving around so you get to a place and you stay there – it’s more meaningful time. There’s a calmer feeling around the school because there’s less movement.” Courtney Gravett (Maths teacher)
The decision to move to longer learning times was partly influenced by student feedback following at home learning during the Covid lockdown last year. Many students commented that they preferred having time to become more immersed in learning tasks and changing between subjects less frequently. Year 9 student Noah Leighton explains “I definitely like longer lessons better. I went to middle school in America and had 45 minute lessons. There’s a lot more you can do in class because you spend less time on things like going through the roll and packing up. You have more time to get into the work.” There is educational research behind this too. Longer lessons allow for more time to progress from the shallow elements of learning to deeper understanding.
Of course changes to the timetable mean that teachers are having to think carefully about how they structure lessons and as a school we have done some professional development around this. Active pedagogies is a teaching style which encourages students to move around to find out or share information. Teaching methods which bring in a range of shorter connected activities within each lesson can be particularly helpful for students with learning differences. Sophie Rangi (Year 12 ) comments, “In physics it’s good – we get a lot done. It gives the teacher more time to explain things to us and if some people are struggling they get the time to help them with it. In some classes we do quite a lot of work and then have a game that’s still linked to the class but is more of a fun thing then back to the work.”
Julia Brown, a science teacher agrees, “I’ve been able to do more interesting things. I have tried to provide more varied activities during a lesson. For science practicals it’s way better because there’s a clear set up, time to do the investigation and a proper clean up time at the end. And it gives time to set up actual classroom routines – to start every lesson with the same type of starter activity and then also a wrap up routine at the end.”
The move to longer lessons also means there are now four rather than five classes per day so wasted time in transition is eliminated. One unintended consequence is also a benefit for students; “Bags are less heavy as there’s one less book to bring to school.”
Puna Ako – The Learning Spring
Puna Ako is a new programme delivered by class tutors over one lesson per week which aims to pull together the threads of learning, school life and progression into future pathways. This inspired the name ‘Puna Ako’ or the learning spring. There are a number of features of Puna Ako – some relevant to all year levels and some specific to particular year groups.
The intentions of Puna Ako include fostering a sense of involvement in the life of school and creating a sense of community. Tutor classes will work together to plan and implement in-school and community projects, cultural or sports events. Another key aim is to allow time and space for tutors to get to know the students in their class as learners and to effectively monitor their learning progress across the range of their classes. Academic conversations which encourage students to take agency over their learning, to track their progression and set goals for their next steps will be prioritised. Developing study skills will also be a focus as we move through the year towards internal and external assessments.
Well being is another priority. Puna Ako will allow time to be spent on activities which foster hauora (well being). The school week is busy and taking time out to connect with each other and engage in meaningful but enjoyable non academic activities can help strengthen relationships and find meaning in school and community life.
As students move into the senior school, tertiary study, careers guidance and key life skills can be covered including aspects of gaining a drivers’ licence, budgeting, managing money and basic first aid.
The Puna Ako programmes are developed by a team of teachers from across learning areas and input is sought from staff, whanau and students about the competencies, skills and supports which are most highly valued.
Although there have only been a few sessions so far, students have had a chance to engage in some interesting activities. Marley Smith in year 10 comments, “The activities are fun. We did some stuff around friendship and we did a personality test.” Some of the lessons are designed to encourage interpersonal skills and enhance relationships. “It’s been interesting finding out about who you are as a person. It’s about helping us be the best person we can be to our friends and helping to stop friendship dramas.” Psalm Carnegie (Year 10)
The focused time allows for guidance conversations between tutors and the students they look after. One year 12 student says, “I was able to discuss what I want to do, possible careers, thinking ahead for year 13 and university. It’s more calm than listening to someone lecturing about it. It doesn’t feel pressured it’s a good atmosphere to be able to ask questions and discuss freely.”
By Hannah Banks