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Reaching for the Future

By Melanie Ward
Reaching for the Future

“Identity” by Clara, Grade 9 (Published with permission) 

The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us that we never quite know what is around the corner. Similarly, what the future holds is a frequent conversation topic in educational circles, with questions about the much-debated “21st-century learning” and “soft skills,” and how to prepare our young people for jobs that do not yet exist. The pandemic has also reinforced the interconnectedness of countries, whilst sadly highlighting inequalities and global challenges. Here, we look at how one international school is aiming to foster global citizenship and prepare its students for the future, through an innovative new grade 9-10 course to complement its existing International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) curriculum.

The “Reach” course has been developed collaboratively by a team of teachers at Rotterdam International Secondary School. After a period of planning and consultation, September 2021 saw the launch of the two-year course in line with the school’s vision—educating for self-awareness, curiosity, and integrity in a changing world—and core values: courage, relationships, respect, and responsibility. The course strives to enable students to “Reach” ...their potential ...their goals ...conceptual understandings ...out to the community and ...others through different forms of communication.

Conceptual, Connected, Authentic, and Inquiry-Based Learning
“Reach” is structured around Fullan and Scott’s (2014) Six Cs: the capacities of character, citizenship, creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication. The course encourages conceptual thinking as students explore the Six Cs, whilst making intra- and inter-disciplinary connections between and across them, their IGCSE subjects and other learning.

Learning is authentic, as students explore contemporary issues, connect these to personal contexts, and take action. In grade nine, students first consider their own values, and personal/social identities (Character), before building on this to inquire into the United Nations (2016) Sustainable Development Goals through local, national, and global lenses (Citizenship). Finally, they take action through an “Impact Project” based on a chosen global issue (Creativity). In grade 10, students work together with peers and their community through a service learning project (Collaboration), before individually researching a chosen 21st century challenge (Critical Thinking) in preparation for sharing their voice in a TED-style talk (Communication).

Reflecting the value placed on the learning of the course, completion of “Reach” is a requirement for progression to grade 11. The course prepares students for the IB Diploma Programme “core” and learning in the school’s senior years.

Student Agency and Voice
In line with the school’s mission—for every student to enjoy their youth—and Article 12 of the United Nations (1990) Convention on the Rights of the Child, student agency and voice are at the forefront of the “Reach” course. Learning is framed in the context of students’ own experiences and driven by their interests. Students have agency in setting their own project goals, reflecting on these, and taking action to effect change and influence those around them (OECD 2019). They are given choice in how they evidence their learning; in the recently completed “Character” unit, students communicated their understanding through animated videos, poems, vlogs, video games, short stories, podcasts, musical compositions, and paintings (such as this exploration of identity as part of a project by grade nine student Clara).

Students’ voices are listened to through regular class debate and discussion, reflective explorations, and final products. The grade nine “Impact Project” is celebrated at an exhibition, and the “Reach” journey culminates at the end of grade 10 with every student’s voice being heard in a TED-style talk.

Students contribute to discussions about how each of the Six Cs can be evidenced and collaborate to co-construct assessment rubrics. They use self- and peer-feedback—alongside teacher feedback—to measure progress towards their goals and the unit criteria. As the first year of the course is rolling out, opportunities are also being taken to gather student, parent, and teacher feedback, enabling evaluation of “Reach” in real time as well as feeding forward into future development of the course, for example:

  • “‘Reach’ is a subject that makes us recognize the changes in ourselves and the world around us.” (Grade nine student)
  • “‘Reach’ is teaching me about different perspectives, it's fun to see and learn about everyone's experiences.” (Grade nine student)
  • “[My child] is finding ‘Reach’ very interesting and stimulating. I totally endorse teaching a subject that seems not strictly academic, but is more focused on the students' personal development and has an international twist.” (Grade nine parent)
  • “To me, ‘Reach’ bridges the gaps between many different subjects. It illuminates the links between content, skills and understanding, while looking at the world and ourselves through a contemporary lens.” (“Reach” teacher)

Assessment and Technology
In contrast to the traditional quantifiable A*-G IGCSE grading system, “Reach” uses standards-based and co-constructed rubrics, with qualifiable criteria that exemplify mastery at different levels: not yet reached, reached, and reached and exceeded. In line with the school’s strategic goal of a positive approach to curiosity, inquiry, action, and reflection, students are assessed on the processes and products of each unit’s learning, through:

  • an ongoing online journal of “explorations,” that evidences a student’s thinking, inquiry, learning and reflection, and
  • an authentic product that demonstrates application of knowledge, skills, and conceptual understanding.

Ongoing assessment plays a vital role. Students who do not reach the criteria on first submission are provided with feedback and opportunities to develop further evidence for reassessment.

In making all of this happen, learning technologies play an integral role. Students use technology to explore topics, document learning on self-designed websites, communicate messages, and create products. They are taught and encouraged to learn aspects of coding, apps, websites, and other technologies to support their “Reach” learning.

Towards the future
Although we may not know what the future holds for the young people in our schools, we can strive to purposefully create learning opportunities that will stand our students in good stead as global citizens in an unknown future.


Fullan, M., & Scott, G., 2014. New Pedagogies for Deep Learning Whitepaper: Education PLUS. Seattle: Collaborative Impact SPC. Available from: [Accessed: 21 October 2021]

OECD, 2019. Future of Education and Skills 2030. Paris: OECD. Available from: [Accessed 27 November 2021]

United Nations, 1990. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. London: Unicef UK. Available from: [Accessed 18 September 2021]

United Nations, 2016. The Sustainable Development Goals Report. New York: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Available from:  [Accessed 21 October 2021]

Melanie Ward is Head of Middle Years at Rotterdam International Secondary School, The Netherlands.

Twitter: @rissnetherlands 

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