Academic reflections from the Dean of Teaching and Learning – Nicole Blyth
The Gonski report challenges schools and teachers to focus on every student’s learning journey. It does so in the knowledge that “an emphasis on the goal of student growth ensures that all students reach their full learning potential, regardless of the starting point and pace of learning compared to others”.
At Penrhos College, we have taken this challenge on board through our work to date on Visible Learning, learning intentions, success criteria and a focus on feedback. Spending substantial time on professional learning ensures that staff deliver lessons with a clear purpose that is articulated to students, as a means of indicating what success looks like at various levels. Feedback is then provided to support students to make progress on their learning journey.
The development of our new strategic direction has placed growth at the centre of what we do in the classroom, with our key aim being to “have each student strive to reach her personal best and for her to recognise her growth”.
Effective teaching therefore requires us to:
- Understand the knowledge and skills a student brings to the classroom, whilst recognising that every student is unique and will learn at a different pace. (Ausubel, 2000)
- Provide the stretch challenges that are neither too easy nor too difficult for students, with the right amount of assistance on a daily basis to support learning growth. (Csikszentmihalyi, 2014)
How in depth feedback supports student learning growth
At Penrhos, we value the trust parents place in our fantastic teachers that was reflected in the parent satisfaction survey results reviewed late in 2019.
Knowing each student and identifying what they can do is a key piece of the teaching puzzle. Our Year 7 English team, led by Ms Alison Kalajzich, have made great progress in reimagining assessment with a focus on feedback, rather than marks alone. Opportunities for formative feedback have subsequently allowed students to gain clarity around what they must focus on in their learning journey, so they are better prepared for summative assessment when the time comes for teachers to evaluate their progress.
What I find impressive about this new work, however, is how the staff have tied together the learning of literacy skills across the English curriculum with 21st Century learning skills such as collaboration, communication and self-regulation. Moreover, it has been fantastic to see this work flowing through to Year 8 in 2020 due to Ms Kalajzich’s fine leadership.
Penrhos teachers reimagine learning
Reflecting on the many classes I have visited in 2019 over the summer holidays has prompted me to share with you a small snapshot of the teaching and learning I have observed for the purpose of providing an insight into how teachers work to get the level of challenge right for each girl.
In Year 8, students were learning Physics and had the opportunity to incorporate some of the digital technologies available to them through this STEM task to help build their confidence in this space, whilst learning about energy changes and transformations. Students worked in groups to create a game or toy to share with the Year 2 girls, allowing the students to demonstrate their knowledge, be creative and collaborate with their peers. As the toys and games produced had a real audience in sight, this motivated the girls to do their best work and improve student engagement.
In a Year 8 Language classes the girls were engaged by a variety of activities across the listening, speaking reading and writing aspects of the curriculum. What struck me most was the high level of engagement and real sense of fun. There was singing of a popular song to practice reading and pronunciation, flash cards and games to help with rote learning vocabulary as well as online learning tools to check progress and provide instant feedback. The girls even got a little competitive working in teams to finish up the lesson with a range of questions in an activity on the whiteboard.
The three common key elements in these classroom activities were: a solid foundation where the interactions between the teacher and students, and student with each other displayed our College values of respect, empathy and synergy. The ability of students to talk about what they are learning and their next learning steps with a sense of pride, know what their teacher expects of them and actively working toward this challenge based on feedback from the teacher. The learning activities in the classroom are well organised and present a variety of options to meet the students’ needs.
Ausubel, D. P. (2000) The Acquisition and Retention of Knowledge. Dordrecht, The Netherlands, Kluwer Academic Publishers
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). Flow and the Foundations of Positive Psychology: The Collected Works of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Dordrecht: Springer,
Penrhos College is an independent, all girls school in Perth. Penrhos’ extensive offering starts in the Early Learning Centre, through to Junior and Secondary School. Penrhos is a day and boarding school for girls located in Como, South Perth WA.