New Basics: Queensland trials a curriculum for tomorrow
In 1999 the Queensland Government launched a discussion paper that
asked the questions:
What do we want State schools to be like in 2010?
What will teachers’ work be like?
How will learning occur?
What support will State schools need from Education Queensland?
During the consultation process for Queensland State Education 2010,
many teachers, parents, students and school administrators raised
questions about the appropriateness of current curriculum, pedagogy
and assessment. There was concern expressed that the world was
changing very rapidly and that the current school curriculum was not
keeping pace with this change.
Any significant changes to curriculum would need to focus not only on
employment, but also on enhancing social cohesion and a sense of
community and identity. For such a change to have substance, the key
message systems of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment need to be
aligned in ways that optimise learning opportunities for all students
(Berstein, 1990). Recent innovations and initiatives throughout
Australia (Herschell & Luxton, 2000) have tended to focus on each of
these systems separately. That is, we see curriculum frameworks
pulling in one direction, assessment approaches pulling in another,
and pedagogy programs or professional development pulling in yet
In this context, the most likely winner is assessment, often at the
expense of curriculum and pedagogy. While not suggesting that
assessment completely drives curriculum choice and pedagogical
practices, the opportunity for confusion and thus choosing the
failsafe assessment option—when curriculum, pedagogy and assessment
are out of alignment—is clearly increased, and further increases as
the assessment stakes get higher.
The New Basics Framework
An integral component of Education Queensland’s response to these
complex issues has been to develop the New Basics Framework. The New
Basics is a framework for curriculum, pedagogy and assessment that
provides opportunities for students to develop the skills and
knowledges to survive and flourish in changing economic, social and
technological conditions. It is a differentiated framework that
encourages schools to make curriculum choices in negotiation with its
community, while at the same time raising the intellectual quality of
learning across the State.
The New Basics Framework provides strength and support for success by
dealing with the three message systems simultaneously. The New Basics
triad includes the New Basics (curriculum organisers), the Rich Tasks
( assessing performance on transdisciplinary activities) and
Productive Pedagogies (employed for meaningful student outcomes). The
New Basics Project works with teachers and schools as they focus on
their core business of teaching and learning, but does so in a way
that directly confronts the challenges of these dramatically changing
times. It is about dealing with new student identities, new economies
and workplaces, new technologies, diverse communities and complex
Community expectation for learning that prepares students for the
complexity of modern life means that teachers must, to a certain
extent, reinvent themselves. It is this cultural shift that the New
Basics Project catalyses.
The work of teachers
At its heart the New Basics Project is about renewing our work as
educators, returning to the basics of curriculum, pedagogy and
assessment, with a clear focus on improving student outcomes through
increasing the intellectual rigour of their work. It is based on a
commitment to teachers’ professionalism. It recognises their capacity
for intellectual decision-making and their commitment to their
The New Basics Project also recognises the depth of good practice in
schools and assists schools to share and develop that expertise. It
aims to do this by facilitating a dialogue on pedagogy across 58
schools in the New Basics trial and encouraging innovation in those
schools to form the basis for wider change in Queensland State
This is a journey for schools and for Education Queensland. The trial
involves four years of exploration and discovery. The first year
focused on allowing the trial schools to prepare and, in conjunction
with the New Basics Branch, to develop, test and refine tools and
approaches. The first three-year span for completing Rich Tasks began
in 2001 and will be rolled out year by year.
The New Basics: Reconceptualising curriculum categories
There are four New Basics categories and they have an explicit
orientation towards researching, understanding, and coming to grips
with the newly emerging economic, cultural and social conditions.
These four clusters of practice are deemed to be essential for
lifelong learning by the individual, for social cohesion, and for
economic wellbeing, as described in QSE 2010.
Such conditions have intellectual, cultural, linguistic and social
dimensions. The practices connected with the New Basics may draw
selectively upon both traditional and modern knowledge categories
(e.g. disciplines, subjects, KLAs, themes, topics, issues). The 4 New
Life pathways and social futures
Who am I and where am I going?
Living in and preparing for diverse family relationships
Collaborating with peers and others
Maintaining health and care of self
Learning about and preparing for new worlds of work
Developing initiative and enterprise
Multiliteracies and communications media
How do I make sense of and communicate with the world?
Blending traditional and new communications media
Making creative judgments and engaging in performance
Communicating using languages and intercultural understandings
Mastering literacy and numeracy
What are my rights and responsibilities in communities, cultures and
Interacting within local and global communities
Operating within shifting cultural identities
Understanding local and global economic forces
Understanding the historical foundation of social movements and
Environments and technologies
How do I describe, analyse and shape the world around me?
Developing a scientific understanding of the world
Working with design and engineering technologies
Building and sustaining environments
Thus the New Basics categories capture various aspects of the person
in the world:
the individual—physically and mentally, at work and at play and as
the communicator—active and passive, persuading and being
persuaded, entertaining and being entertained, expressing ideas
and emotions in words, numbers and pictures, creating and
the group member—in the family, in social groups,
government-related groups, and so on;
part of the physical world—of atoms and cells, electrons and
chromosomes, animal, vegetable and mineral, observing,
discovering, constructing and inventing.
As curriculum organisers, the New Basics aim to help schools, teachers
and curriculum planners to move beyond a defense of status quo
knowledges to a critical engagement with the ongoing change that
characterises new times. The New Basics are predicated on the
existence of mindful schools, where intellectual engagement and
connectedness to the real world are persistent foci.
To enhance and facilitate such a focus the New Basics do not exist in
If the above curriculum were not associated with assessment built
directly from these organisers, then their impact on classroom
practice would be greatly diminished. In this sense we need to tie
this curriculum to richer assessment tasks.
The New Basics are “transdisciplinary”; that is, they draw upon the
discipline expertise of teachers and community members working
collaboratively to ensure connectedness to the world and the way it
works. This is essentially different from an interdisciplinary
approach that expects teachers to be experts across a range of
disciplines (or, sometimes, generalists specialising in none). The New
Basics Framework closely aligns the assessable work of the students to
the curriculum developed through the use of Rich Tasks.
Rich Tasks are the outward and visible signs of student engagement
with the New Basics curriculum framework. They are the assessable and
reportable outcomes of a 3-year curriculum plan that prepares students
for the challenges of life in new times. Performances on the tasks are
then assessed and reported to parents and the system at the end of
Years 3, 6 and 91.
This is a reconceptualisation of the notion of outcome as a
demonstration or display of mastery; that is, students are to display
their understandings, knowledges and skills through performance on
transdisciplinary activities that have an obvious connection to the
wide world. The idea is that preparation for a Rich Task involves very
detailed discipline input from a range of teachers, often well before
the task is carried out. The Rich Task then provides a real-world
context within which to extend, bring together and display high-level
knowledge of various disciplines. No single Rich Task is to be
completed by one teacher alone or within the four walls of one
classroom. Rather it is a collaborative effort that has an end-point
with validity in terms of its connectedness to the wide world.
The Rich Tasks require students to solve problems, be critical and
analytical thinkers and use the knowledge and skills they have
acquired in a variety of contexts in a variety of ways. The Rich Tasks
also require students to associate new learning with that which is
already known, to have a clear statement of expectations and realise
that their knowledge can be transferred to new situations.
Rich Tasks have been drafted by teachers, school administrators,
academics and Education Queensland staff. They will be scrutinised by
the trial schools. The short titles for the existing tasks are:
For Years 1-3
For Years 4-6
For Years 7-9
Web page design
Science and ethics confer
Multimedia presentation of an endangered plant or animal
Improving wellbeing in the community
Personal health plan
The built environment: designing a structure
Read and talk about stories
A celebratory, festive or artistic event or performance
Australian national identity: influences and perspectives
Historical and social aspects of a craft
Oral histories and diverse and changing lifestyles
Personal career development plan
Design, make and display a product
Opinion making oracy
PI in the sky
As can be seen from the exemplar below, the tasks provide the impetus
for high-level curriculum planning and implementation while, at the
same time, allowing teachers and students the freedom for expression
of local cultures and contexts. The tasks are designed to be the
hard-edged outcomes of three years of schooling. They make explicit
the sorts of activities in which students are to have engaged. They
invite teachers to use their imagination and expertise and to work
collaboratively in designing learning experiences for their students.
And they are the publicly accessible statements about the kinds of
learnings that societies value and schools transmit.
A Rich Task is a culminating performance that is purposeful and models
a life role. It presents real, substantive problems to solve and
engages learners in forms of pragmatic social action that have genuine
value in the world. Each task demands that students engage in solving
particular problems of significance and relevance to their world,
community, school or region. The problems require identification,
analysis and resolution and require that students analyse, theorise
and intellectually engage with that world. In this way, tasks have a
connectedness to the world outside school.
Each task is presented in detail thus:
The task specifications are given as an annotated and embellished
The flowchart is complemented by a written synopsis of the task.
This task description appears in the upper centre of the flowchart
under the task identifier.
Text in the top left-hand corner gives the New Basics referents.
Text in the bottom left-hand corner gives the targeted repertoires
of practice (and operational fields of knowledge).
Text in the top right-hand corner gives ideas, hints and comments
relating to how the task might be woven into the curriculum plan
and how students might be set up to undertake the task.
Text in the bottom right-hand corner gives the task parameters in
order to clarify and enrich the Rich Task’s function.
Each task is accompanied by a statement of “desirable features”. These
are the task-specific properties of student work that demonstrate
achievement in the targeted repertoires of practice and other aspects
signaled within the diagrammatic representation of the task. The
desirable features, therefore, contribute to the determination of the
grade awarded to the student for that task. They include statements
outlining evidence of high-quality performance and for acceptable
performance (i.e. successful task completion).
We now come to the heart of the matter: The New Basics Framework is
essentially about pedagogy. Rich Tasks, when associated with the New
Basics categories as curriculum organisers, are specifically designed
to encourage and support pedagogical reform. But, in order to focus on
pedagogy, teachers need the space to be able to extend and draw upon a
range of teaching practices. Neither a narrow curriculum nor a crowded
curriculum provides this space. In the first instance, teachers’
pedagogical options are limited to the scope of the curriculum and
assessment whereas, in the second, the demands for coverage provide
limited space for deep intellectual engagement with the curriculum.
For many years, teachers, teacher educators and researchers have
searched for “correct” or universally effective approaches to
teaching. Contenders have ranged from “focused instruction” to
“constructivism” and “integrated teaching”. Yet generations of
teachers see such approaches come and go with variable effects. If
there is one thing that the researchers on teaching over the last
three decades would agree upon it is this: Different approaches to
pedagogy have variable effects on teaching different things to
different groups of students. However self-evident and mundane this
might sound, it is an insight of value to the New Basics Project.
The School Reform Longitudinal Study (SRLS) (Luke, Ladwig, Lingard,
Hayes & Mills, 1998) coined the term “productive pedagogies” to
describe the art of teaching as a broad repertoire of teacher
strategies. The claim made in the New Basics Project is that teachers
need an expanded and flexible array of strategies to employ in
classroom teaching. They then need to be encouraged to make principled
decisions about what strategies to deploy based on the curriculum to
be taught and the backgrounds, styles, interests and capabilities of
To complete the New Basics Framework triad, the New Basics defines
pedagogical reform in terms of teachers’ engagement with Productive
Pedagogies—the collection of 20 teaching strategies (see later), and
organised around four broad domains:
supportive classroom environment
recognition of difference.
These four domains are considered (Luke et al., 1998) to be the
necessary, but not on their own, sufficient conditions for Productive
Productive Pedagogies are classroom strategies that teachers can use
to focus instruction and improve student outcomes. Of course,
opportunities for professional development in these strategies need to
be provided to support teachers’ work in different professional
combinations and with different groupings of students.
Some strategies are more suited for teaching certain knowledges and
skills than are others. Therefore, when making use of Productive
Pedagogies, teachers should:
consider and understand the backgrounds and preferred learning
styles of their students;
identify repertoires of practice2 and operational fields of
knowledge to be targeted;
evaluate their own array of teaching strategies and select and
apply the appropriate ones.
The following table identifies the major strategies within Productive
Pedagogies and also lists focus questions that provide a basis for
Table 1. Heuristics on Categories of Productive Pedagogies
Are higher-order thinking and critical analysis occurring?
Does the lesson cover operational fields in any depth, detail or level
Do the work and response of the students provide evidence of depth of
understanding of concepts or ideas?
Does classroom talk break out of the initiation/response/evaluation
pattern and lead to sustained dialogue between students, and between
teachers and students?
Knowledge as problematic
Are students critiquing and second-guessing texts, ideas and
Are aspects of language, grammar and technical vocabulary being
Does the lesson range across diverse fields, disciplines and
Is there an attempt to connect with students’ background knowledge?
Connectedness to the world
Do the lesson and the assigned work have any resemblance or connection
to real-life contexts?
Is there a focus on identifying and solving intellectual and/or
Do students have any say in the pace, direction or outcomes of the
Is the classroom a socially supportive and positive environment?
Are students engaged and on-task?
Explicit quality performance criteria
Are the criteria for judging student performance made explicit?
Is the direction of student behavior implicit and self-regulatory or
Are diverse cultural knowledges brought into play?
Are deliberate attempts made to increase the participation of students
of different backgrounds?
Is the style of teaching principally narrative, or is it expository?
Does the teaching build a sense of community and identity?
Are attempts made to foster active citizenship?
Source: School Reform Longitudinal Study (SRLS) Report, October 1999,
It has become clear that “dumbing down” (McGaw, 1996) is essentially a
pedagogy issue. As has been stated, unless there is a clear systemic
focus on broadening the array of pedagogical practices then the scope
and intellectual depth of the curriculum can only be dealt with
superficially. Likewise, serious pedagogical reform can only be
achieved if teachers have space to uncrowd the curriculum so that
students study fewer things but in much greater depth. Within the New
Basics Framework this is achieved through fewer but more connected
curriculum organisers and fewer but deeper outcomes. This is why none
of components of the New Basics are stand-alone. They are part of an
interlocking triad of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment. In the New
Basics one of them cannot exist without the other two.
Implications for school organisation
Two fundamental principles of the New Basics Framework are impacting
on school organisation in different ways in different schools. First,
in schools using a New Basics curriculum framework, students can only
complete their work by venturing into the world outside the school
Second, teachers need to work collaboratively, across disciplines, to
achieve the desired outcomes for students. Many schools already
encourage teachers to do this others are just beginning the process of
developing Teacher Professional Learning Communities to assist with
professional development and professional support (Education
This agenda is a courageous attempt to focus on education futures, new
citizenships and to up the bar intellectually for all students whilst
facilitating a reinvigorated professional accountability and
understanding. It provides a powerful linking mechanism to integrate
the three message systems of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment.
Bernstein, B. (1990). The Structuring of Pedagogic Discourse. London:
Routlege & Kegan Paul.
Education Queensland. (2000).Queensland State Education 2010.
Education Queensland. (2000a). New Basics Project Technical Paper.
McGaw, B. (1996). Their Future Options for Reform of the Higher School
Certificate. Sydney: NSW Department of Training & Education
Hall, S., & Jacques, M. (1990). The Meaning of New Times. New Times:
the changing face of politics in the 1990s. New York: Verso.
Herschell, P., & Luxton, P. (2000, March). A Curriculum for the
Future. QTU Professional Magazine. Supplement to the Queensland
Teachers’ Union Journal, 2–7.
Luke, A., Ladwig, J., Lingard, B., Hayes, D., & Mills, M. (1998).
School Reform Longitudinal Study (SRLS). St Lucia: The University of
NB. This paper was presented by Ezette Grauf of the New Basics Branch,
Education Queensland. It draws upon the many publications of the
Branch and therefore also contains the work of Ray Barrett, Kirran
Follers, Neville Grace, Ken Gray, Paul Herschell, Ray Land, Allan
Luke, John Martin and Gabrielle Matters.
New Basics Branch
1 The complete set of Rich Tasks for Years 1–3, 4–6, and 7–9 is
2 The cognitive and cultural, social and linguistic skills that
students need to develop.