These curricula bring together the most important information from both the British National Curriculum and Swiss Lehrplan 21 into one document, thus strengthening not only our bilingual concept but also the cooperation between our English and German teachers.
More than 10 years ago, SIS Switzerland embarked on the journey of developing their own bilingual curricula for their kindergarten and primary schools. The fundamental belief was that a common curriculum would allow our English and German teachers to work more closely together and allow students’ knowledge and skills to transfer more easily between the two languages. We also wanted to align our understanding of not only the subject but also the art of teaching.
Developing Literacy Skills at SIS
Our SIS Switzerland curricula are based on the British National Curriculum and the Swiss Lehrplan 21 and are cross-referenced against our comparative tests and approved resources. They combine all relevant and important information from both the British and Swiss curricula, ensuring all requirements are met, and thereby strengthening the bilingual approach of our schools. Each curriculum works on the basis that there are elementary competences of which some are unique to each language, and deeper competences that are transferable between languages. By allowing our English and German teachers to plan and work together based off a common curriculum, these competences are strengthened in both languages. Teachers are encouraged to give an equal weighting to both elementary and deeper competences at all levels, as both are equally important for learning. Additionally, the methods which we want teachers to use are outlined in each curriculum, again bringing alignment across languages and strengthening the students’ transfer of knowledge.
Firmly imbedded in all our curricula is the concept of differentiation, allowing students to work at their own level and to keep progressing. With this in mind, progress indicators were developed with levels for the students to work through seamlessly at their own pace. These progress indicators are integral to teaching and learning at SIS Switzerland because they serve as a guide for teachers to create learning goals, to differentiate, and to assess. They also make giving students feedback and determining their next learning steps easier.
The SIS Writing Curriculum
The SIS Writing Curriculum was the first curriculum to be developed and introduced in Switzerland in 2012. The writing curriculum allows teachers to effectively plan, teach and assess writing, and gives students the opportunity to express themselves in written form creatively, imaginatively and effectively with confidence. The writing genres of personal experience, narrative, poetry, argument, explanation, instructional and report writing are currently included in the curriculum. Our kindergartens focus exclusively on personal experience writing, whilst in primary school all genres are covered. To ensure coverage of genres, each school has devised their own tracking system so that students meet with each genre in each language on a rotational basis. A whole term is normally devoted to a writing genre to allow in-depth teaching and learning to occur.
At the same time the writing curriculum was being implemented, the SIS Writing Portfolios were also introduced as a way to showcase students’ writing over time. A minimum of four texts are chosen in English and in German every year to be included in these personal portfolios and each text is accompanied by a self-reflection. Students take great pride in their writing portfolios and they are a treasured item when they eventually leave SIS and take them with them.
The SIS Reading Curriculum
In 2014, the SIS Reading Curriculum was introduced, which follows a similar format to the writing curriculum and also includes progress indicators. The curriculum gives students opportunities to explore language through books and to develop strategies in order to become competent and confident readers. Alongside progress indicators for processing strategies (how to decode a text), the reading curriculum provides progress indicators for comprehension strategies (how to understand the text). These comprehension strategies include: making connections, predicting, asking questions, visualising, inferring, identifying the author’s purpose, identifying the main idea, summarising, analysing and synthesising, and evaluating.
Just like the writing progress indicators, the reading progress indicators provide teachers with clear learning goals, the opportunity to differentiate, and allow specific feedback to be given and assessment to take place. They also make it easy to determine the next learning steps, thus ensuring students’ progress.
Giving equal weighting to both processing and comprehension strategies is important. By building up a repertoire of reading strategies, and an awareness of how to put them all together, students can derive meaning from a text, which enables them to respond. They learn to think critically, analyse the meaning of texts, and reflect upon them.
To assist schools and teachers on how to implement each curriculum, a directive which outlines the way in which the curriculum is to be used accompanies each one. With the success of the writing and reading curricula, SIS Switzerland decided to continue developing their own curricula further. Since then, the IT, science and maths curricula have been developed and implemented. And to keep up with new research, both the writing and reading curricula have undergone reviews.
The Value of Professional Development
Professional development is key to building teacher understanding of a new curriculum and to that end, SIS Switzerland devotes two years to each curriculum: the first as an introduction year and the second as an implementation year. Our annual company professional development days run several workshops on the curriculum in focus where teachers can mix with teachers from other SIS Switzerland schools and share ideas and expertise. The introduction of any new curriculum becomes both a company and school goal, thus keeping the focus high.
Knowing how valuable professional development is to upskilling teachers, SIS Switzerland has gone one step further and developed a trainer programme, wherein specialist subject experts visit schools to deliver workshops. These workshops are especially targeted at understanding the new or reviewed curriculum or maintaining the high quality of delivery of an existing curriculum. In the case of the writing and reading curricula, a literacy trainer has been employed to run in-school workshops twice per year. The literacy trainer visits each school full of new inputs and prepared to build on teachers’ current knowledge and develop them further. Teachers always leave these workshops feeling motivated and inspired.
The SIS Switzerland curricula embody our education philosophy and are the backbone of teaching and learning at our kindergarten and primary levels. We firmly believe in the success of our curricula and the strength that they give to our educational concept, and we will continue to revise existing curricula and develop new ones in the coming years.
Janet Meister, Chief Quality Officer, SIS Group