The Teaching and Tracking of Key Competencies

Over the course of the year I took the approach of measuring key competencies and collecting data on the development of key competencies. This was a consequence of my inquiry into how much my teaching was focused on assessment rather than learning. The importance is captured by this idea straight from the NZ Curriculum:

Key competencies matter because they support dispositions that will enable young people to learn well now, and to go on learning throughout their lives.

The approach I took was to include more explicit teaching of key competencies in my teaching and to have students complete three self-assessment surveys that asked them to rate themselves (a general question – problematic in retrospect, but still gives usable data), share an example of where a key competency was applied, and finally set a goal for the next term around the development of that key competency. The data has allowed me to reflect on this area of my teaching and develop an action plan for taking this area further.


The data here shows an increase across the year, but a curious drop off in term three and four. This is reflected in the other key competencies, and I would suggest both the increase in sample size (in term two the motivated students were more likely to complete the survey) and the nature of the school year, whereby by term three many realise they have achieved their goals/the necessary credits and therefore coast to the end of the year. I found this a problematic part of such a student centred course, as self motivation was key to success – but I don’t feel like I explicitly addressed this enough.

The shift in the written responses provided some interesting insight. Some of the responses in term one represented some quite basic understanding of the idea of thinking as a key competency:

Thinking skills like guessing what people are saying? Yeah i use it all the time.

I used thinking skills when I was developing the concept: I wanted the concept to be entertaining to the audience and spark a conversation about genders, this meant that I needed thinking skills to make these work together.

It took me a while to think and come up with an idea and then develop it.

But later in the year it was clear this understanding had developed as more insightful and reflective responses suggested a deeper understanding of this key competency:

I was able to look at topics and go beyond what was there to reach a higher level of thinking.

I particularly remember the time while talking about Modern Family and Mr Cargill went and flipped perspectives on the show. This was a light bulb moment on how there are always two sides to each perspective and something to discuss in between too.

Throughout term 3 and 4 I have tried to extend my thinking to the wider world and incorporate these ideas into my assessments and general thinking when I approach something. Not just thinking about passing or in the moment but the further thinking and effects.

Critical thinking was a focus of term three whereby I would often assume the role of devil’s advocate or mediate a debate with the class on a contentious topic or issue.

Using Language, Symbols and Texts

This was generally a key competency that the students struggled to understand. Over the course of the year, this increased in the sense that a connection was made between this competency and expressing knowledge and understanding. This led to one reflective response that I found interesting:

Using the correct terms and skills when it comes to external and internal assessments. I understand and know the skills I’m just not distributing it in the right places

This captures the concept of communication as multi-faceted. This student is reflecting on the fact that they understand the ideas that they wish to communicate but that the representation of their ideas did not meet their level of understanding.

To develop this area further I think I need to take more explicit steps around teaching this area for students to be able to recognise the learning they have developed in this area. They have all learnt about visual storytelling, as well as communication in media form (as I would estimate 90% of them have submitted an assessment using a blog or weebly etc.) They have all developed writing skills as well with the concentration of conveying higher order thinking and learning new terminology a regular focus. But all this needs to be explicitly conveyed to the students.

Managing Self

This represents the same trend of improvement, but no significant shifts to speak of. The agentic style of the course has offered the chance for students to reflect on how they approach this aspect of their personal development:

This term I learnt from my mistakes where I started my assessments earlier

I set mini deadlines for my film production that I could make.

My self management was extremely poor in term one, hardly doing any work at home and talking off topic in class.

This gave them the opportunity to identify areas of growth. These included:

I am hoping to keep a consistent and balanced workload throughout the term for the future assessments so that I can do my best work.

I should probably get feedback from the teacher if i’m unsure about something because he has a different view on things.

I hope to possess more self motivation to complete tasks earlier in order to be highly successful.

However, the question that remains for me, is while I am giving them the opportunity to self-manage, how do I ensure as a teacher that they are maximising their learning from this opportunity? I’m absolutely sure I haven’t got the balance between freedom to delve and checkpoints to conform right and I know that this balance needs to be differentiated from student to student.

Relating to Others

This competency shows a visible shift. The main focus for this year was about capitalising on the multi-level aspect of the class using the principles of ako, collaboration, reflection, whanaungatanga, and me whakamatau.  This manifested in weekly critical quartet times where the students were organised into groups to reflect on prior learning and use each others experience to develop deeper understanding and outcomes. During this time I was able to observe the groups and their dialogue and support them in developing skills around how to navigate a deeper discussion through asking questions and promoting opportunities to contribute. This was reflected in the comments:

I related to others I don’t really talk to when we had our critical quartet sessions.

I applied these skills in our critical quartets where we helped each other develop some ideas and give feedback.

In my creative quarters I was put with people I wouldn’t normally communicate with and I talked to them about my script and my opinions and problems I have/will encounter during the production of it.

There were further efforts to create a collective environment where the priciples of ako were visible, but I don’t know that I could claim that I’ve truly capitalised on the potential of this. I am considering how to further integrate the year groups so that there are more opportunities to develop skills for this competency. From quartets to trios? Or learning peers? Finding more connections between the learning areas or more cross content? More student voice operating in a teaching capacity? These thoughts need further exploration.

Participating and Contributing

I tend to frame active involvement in the community as participating in the online global community. For this media studies course this usually meant creating work that contributed to the online knowledge economy or creative products that could achieve a wide audience. Like using language, symbols and texts I don’t believe I explicitly taught this skills well enough for this feedback to provide much insight. Some interesting comments did emerge:

Unfortunately my contributions community wise have been low with my film not being up to par, not attending 48hrs and in my opinion my learning and work as a whole have not come been up to anything notable which for me being a person with high hopes in this industry is a little bit of a bummer.

Having to actually avoid saying too much in class, because it’s more so for the people who don’t understand it. By myself answering so much, it doesn’t become as beneficial to those who don’t understand it.

I have really tired to voice more of my opinions and contribute

These responses (and many others in a similar style) show that clearly the explicit teaching was missing, but also that there are interesting student assumptions in play. It is worth considering how the students value knowledge and contribution of knowledge – and then how to shift this to something that is more valuable to them as lifelong learners.

Overall, collecting this data has been highly valuable, but next year some changes I need to investigate to develop my teaching in this area include:

  • Integrate more explicit teaching of the competencies into my class design
  • Use the data proactively throughout the year to address individual learning needs
  • Integrate the key competency self-review process with the critical quartets (or whatever system that might look like next year)
  • Review the gathering of quantitative data on key competencies – at the very least I need to rephrase my questioning.
  • Inquiry into self motivation – by following through on 2016’s goal.

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