Weekend coverage on the NAPLaN league tables that the media  produces  to “rank” schools are exactly why  educators  don’t like the hype around these tests.  Everyone wants to make improvements to student learning and every school wants to  improve their strategies to do that (see our Results + initiatives below). We don’t like those types of comparisons, as they make broad judgments  based on narrow  data  not designed for that purpose.

It is ludicrous to think that  somehow teachers must be better at schools that have high NAPLaN scores, just as it is equally narrow thinking to believe that schools with low scores must have poor teachers. We know there are inequities in our systems; one of them is the  the level of funding per student that is associated with schools. One might contend that differences in funding of more than $10 000 per student per year,  which is evident in school systems across Australia,  should indeed have a huge difference on all sorts of learning outcomes. Imagine if Woodend had an extra $6 500 000 a year (650 students x $10 000)  to spend on improving student learning outcomes…

Extra money in education is needed and wanted but it can’t, by itself, be the panacea for all problems. There are plenty of schools with huge funding that don’t have elite results.  Unfortunately the hype around NAPLaN causes simplistic thinking about real issues of attaining great progress for all students and disguises a deeper problem: it takes significant new ways of thinking, in classrooms, in schools, in systems, and in families, to develop the critical and collaborative  expert learners we need for now and the future.   In South Australia, it is evident even from NAPLaN results, and even in so called high ranked schools, that  students have great difficulty solving more than relatively  straightforward  problems.

We know results may be strongly linked to socio economic  levels, however, we also know that  students’  mindsets and personal and social capabilities make a big difference to how they see themselves as learners. We  are trying, at Woodend, to make a shift in how we challenge students to remain  in the struggle; to see learning as finding ways to persist, to understand.

Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 12.06.04 pmWe have reported for a number of years on our  “impatient learners”; students who see maths, for example, as the rush to get a quick answer.  We are working with our teachers to try to improve  the types  of tasks set for students and the way we slow down students’ thinking so that the focus is on strategies; metacognitive thinking.  We want students to do more of the thinking and that means adults being  more strategic about  allowing students to learn to struggle, and see this as a good part of learning.  This is about  improving how we understand learners and learning; understanding how  and when to  intervene;  understanding  and developing the big transferable ideas in the curriculum, across all classes.

We believe that we can get better at  supporting students to  learn how to persist; not in a mind numbing way, but by using smart strategies that help them deal resiliently with difficulties and challenges.  This is why we have strongly set our sights on skilling teachers, parents (though our  Parent Engagement  strategies) and students  to better understand  the personal development improvements (executive  function and growth mindsets) that will bring about powerful learners. That is why we are working with our teachers on learning how to transform tasks into more challenging  and relevant learning experience for students.

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 10.38.50 pmWe hope that through improvements in our school community’s collective capacity,  our students will be able to  make great  progress in their learning, no matter what the starting point.

Our recent learning conversations should have supported this approach by making clear  to all, what specific goals we need to be working on to make better progress.

Moving into a space where great progress may be made , is about growth over time.  We hope in our school community that we are all working with the headset that we are  on the right track and that we are all learners  in this process.


Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 2.23.16 pmIf  every school were given  lots of extra money  to  bring about literacy and numeracy improvements, what would they do?

The state government has provided some welcome funds to help  Partnerships of DECD schools and preschools leaders support improvement strategies.

The Marion Coast Partnership is our partnership of 15  DECD preschools and schools, that are working together for leaders and teachers to share and develop good practice and focus on Literacy and Numeracy improvements.   All DECD Partnerships across the state have received  this funding.

The Results + (Plus) strategy is about making improvements  in literacy and numeracy  but  in powerful ways  that build students’ abilities to think and reason; to work collaboratively; to learn how to learn.  Results + is about leaders  and leadership teams looking for evidence of learning  (not  just  from NAPLaN) and  responding effectively with  teachers (and parents) and students  to keep students progressing at  higher rates of improvement.

In the Marion Coast  partnership we have been quite innovative in our use of these funds. For this year we have three  projects involving leaders, teachers and students:

  • Early Years Numeracy Project
  • R-9 Numeracy Project
  • K-12 Student Learning Rounds

These projects have started this term and will be reported on in this blog, next term.  The  Numeracy Projects involve us working with  Deb Lasscock and Prof Martin Westwell ( from Flinders University) to develop teams of teachers and leaders, that have deeper understandings of  intellectual stretch and about how to develop children and students’ abilities to  solve challenging problems  more effectively.  Designing  learning around Executive Function and Growth Mindsets are important elements of these projects.

The Student Learning Rounds is also about intellectual stretch and involves teachers and leaders training teams of children and students to be able to understand  what it looks like when  learners are really challenged.  Our student team  in this project will know what to look for in their own learning  and in the learning of others. They  will  conduct observations in some classrooms and provide valuable feedback to teachers about what stretch thinking they observe in students.  These Students Learning Rounds are  an innovative element in  our  quest to develop  greater ownership of learning processes by students, coupled with teachers using student feedback more powerfully to respond to learner needs.