What is the Renaissance Program?
The Renaissance Program is a new program at the University High School where students are explicitly taught the skills of reasoning, critical thinking and developing an understanding of the place and importance of ethics. These importance of these skills is recognised in Victorian Curriculum’s “General Capabilities”, where they are labelled as: critical & creative thinking, ethical capability, personal and social capability and intercultural capability.
Critical thinking is a pillar of the Renaissance Program, modelled through questioning and dialogue. This is the practice of asking questions fundamental to the human condition, and being constantly reflective thinkers. Students will develop reasoning and logic skills, while learning to be comfortable with uncertainty and challenging their own knowledge and beliefs.
The Renaissance Program draws from a range of disciplines, allowing students to see the importance of each subject area and their relevance to each other. Through a critical examination of the arts, sports, role models, culture and community, students will celebrate their own and others’ identities, and challenge assumptions about their place in the world.
Why teach these skills?
The process of engaging students in collaborating through critical thinking encourages ethical behaviour–this process underpins fairness, respect and care within the community and the self. Critical thinking is also an invaluable academic skill as students move through their secondary schooling, and is required in the upper levels of all subject areas. By developing their personal and social skills and ethical thinking, students also become more active members of their own communities, and take further responsibility for all choices they make in their personal, social and academic lives.
Students in Year 8 are at an important phase of their social and emotional development, and through the Renaissance Program they will develop the skills to become resilient, ethical and reflective learners. These skills will also help them move towards the Galileo Program in Year 9, which further emphasises collaborative work and community engagement.
How do classes run?
Each Year 8 class is blocked with another Year 8 class from a different sub-‐school to work as one regular whole group. Every group receives a single and a double session each week. Classes are team taught with two teachers. The classes are conducted in the theatrette of the Gene Technology Access Centre (GTAC), which is a large space that can be converted from lecture style seating to small group table work and open floor space.
Many of the sessions in the Renaissance Program are run as a “community of inquiry” (Lipman, 2003)—students work together to examine a problematic concept and follow the inquiry where it leads, consistent with logic and critical reasoning. Classes are based on foundations of mutual respect between all class members, and students are encouraged to assist each other, challenge each other, build on each other’s ideas and identify each other’s assumptions.
How are students assessed?
Students are assessed in a variety of ways to ensure that all skills are observed as equitably as possible. Throughout the year, students will keep a digital journal where they will reflect on their own development. This informal and low-‐stakes writing will allow students to take ownership over their learning and be formatively assessed.
Each unit will also contain a summative assessment task. These tasks include a range of progressive dialogue and enquiry assessment models, all of which focus on ensuring that students can take the most appropriate method to communicate their thoughts and ideas to a specific target audience. For example, every student is required to teach their own class for a full session about an area of their own expertise. This task has been proven to develop empathy as well as develop student efficacy. In the second half of the year, students move on to engage more with the broader community, as they undertake an action project responding to a need within the local area that has previously been identified. Furthermore, to show their development over the year pretesting is also conducted with specially designed critical thinking tests that students will attempt multiple times throughout the year.