Friday, April 21, 2017

You are more than your NAPLAN result!

I don't know about you, but to me data seems to be taking over the world! Despite what we think, data does have an important place in the real world.  "All companies use data to create strategies, make important decisions, and set goals for the business. ... And in today's competitive environment, being able to make those decisions before the competition, or making the best decision for your business is crucial to growing your business"  ( 

We are told that we have never had more data available to us than any other time in the history of humankind. Data can be highly valuable in everyday life as it is used seamlessly the process of assessing, planning for improvement and measuring growth. Look at how many people have fit-bits now and measure daily physical activity and if you think that is impressive, people are gathering data on their sleep patterns; you don't even need to be awake to engage with data! 

Contemporary Learning, being student focused, is based on regular analysis of student achievement and progress data. Teachers continually collect data in both formal and informal ways, keeping in mind that often the most important aspects of a student you cant measure. At St Joseph's, we have implemented a practice called 'Professional Learning Teams' or PLTs, with a focus on student data around reading progress. Each fortnight, teachers meet in teams to explore these four fundamental questions:

1. What do we expect students to know?
2. How do we know if students have learned it?
3. What do we do if they don't learn?
4. What do we do if they already know?     
Richard DuFour - Professional Learning Communities, Solution Tree

Within this process, teachers collaboratively plan how they will facilitate learning in order to reach goals of learning for students. Having the collective wisdom of a team of teachers is powerful. 

"Teachers can be great alone, but are exceptional when working together. Imagine taking all of the great minds in the school together and coming up with the best resources, lessons, assessments, and ideas on how to be successful with all children - that's what PLCs are about." J Ramage

 They then go away and implement the learning sequences through teaching and then regather in a fortnight to review. The teaching methods are based on our whole of school approach of SSP. Data on student progress is then gathered and growth celebrated each fortnight. This regular and systemic use of data is highly effective in impacting student learning.

In addition to this, teachers have a whole range of other pieces of information about students as learners which we call learning dispositions (behaviours) which are essential for the process of learning. This incorporates so much more than the ability to do well on a test. I will pick up on learning dispositions in a later blog.

In contrast to PLCs, NAPLAN data is a 'snapshot in time' based on a standardised test which is assumed from content of the Australian Curriculum. A child's individual data is only gathered in years 3,5,7& 9 and therefore has limited capacity and application to improving individual student learning, as opposed to the regular and robust PLC model we use. Don't get me wrong, there is 'some' value in individual NAPLAN data, albeit limited.

Whole of school NAPLAN data is a different story as on an annual basis, we can consider group data to reflect on 'whole of school' performance. We now have access to longitudinal NAPLAN data for our school and can see how initiatives and models of teaching have resulted in academic performance. An example of this is our current focus on maths teaching, particularly the area of investigations and problem solving as NAPLAN data showed this an area needing attention. 

This is why in my opinion, NAPLAN needs to be approached with an informed and moderated mindset and be seen for what it is; a 'snapshot in time'. I cringe when I hear of students and parents stressing excessively about NAPLAN and in some cases, causing significant anxiety. NAPLAN is being administered in three week's time and I hope that this blog has assisted parents to see its value in context of the bigger picture. 

Let us all remember that our children are far more than their NAPLAN result!

for more information about NAPLAN, visit NAPLAN Parent Support

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Changing Brains is the Work of Parents and Teachers

"No matter what business you're in, first and foremost you're in the brain change business."  James Ryan, TREWTH Conference 2017

Catholic Education gathered recently for a conference on well being. The keynote speaker was James Ryan who is the official trainer and director of wellbeing for Pathways to Resilience Trust.

The brain is a fascinating organ and one we are continually learning more about. While I am far from being an expert or considering myself very knowledgeable about the brain, I am interested in how the brain functions and enables learning. What I do know from reading neuroscience research, is that the brain is an ever changing organ and that we are continually growing and strengthening pathways. This short clip provides great insight and a starting point - I would recommend watching it as a family and discussing it.

Knowing that the brain changes, supports our focus on 'growth mindset' and building capacity in our learners.  "The mind changes the physical structure of the brain. These physical structures are neural pathways and with the right conditions, neural roads, highways and superhighways can be built and strengthened. This is helpful in understanding the process of learning and how we develop social and emotional habits or dispositions. 
Our approach to literacy, SSP has been built on research around the brain and how we build and wire our brains for reading.  We also consider this in our approach to Social and Emotional learning. James Ryan spoke of the Broaden and Build Theory based on positive and negative emotions. In relation to healthy brain development, this theory proposes that

Positive Emotion:

- gives us a different life
- broadens our access to inner resources
- builds our social connectedness

On the contrary, Negative Emotion:

- narrows our access to inner resources
- reduces our social connectedness 

For further reading, access "The Emotional Life of Your Brain - how to change the way you think, feel and live" by Richard Davidson. I would also recommend accessing the Sentis video series on youtube, of which the one in this blog is a part. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Learning is More Than Passing a Test

Our aim at St Joseph's is for teachers, parents and students to develop a love of learning. To do this, we need to first have a conversation about what learning is and isn't.

What is learning? One train of thought is that is easy to measure, that data in the form of results can show learning and that we base success of learning on this data. I would hope that we view learning as much more than this! As Will Richardson states, "Learning is much more than what is easily measured." 

The challenge is to make our beliefs of learning as more than test results the focus of the work of teachers and parents in schools. Will often quotes that "kids are increasingly disengaged from learning and not ready for the world of work and learning past school. He says that we are "missing the boat."

"Learning makes you want to learn more" Seymour Sarason.  He believes that learning needs to be based on student passions, interests and should motivate them to pursue it at a higher level. On the contrary it should not be limited to studying, taking a test and then never think about it again. I would argue that the latter, is what learning has been characterised by in the past.

How do we respond to this in our schools, given that testing such as NAPLAN, obsession over 'reading levels' and standardised testing hovers over and in some cases, dominates the learning agenda? Will Richardson says that a change in focus from teacher organised and delivered education to student determined and directed learning based on passions and interests.  

Professor John Hattie of Melbourne UNiversity proposes that the answer lies in making our schools more inviting places to come and learn...  He suggests in his article Shifting away from distractions to improve Australia’s schools: Time for a Reboot (2016)  that high quality and passionate teachers is the place to start. The moment by moment decisions that are made in the heat of learning, in the context of the classroom; and the size of the effects of teacher expertise towers above the structural influences (class size, ability grouping, private vs public school et al.). It is teachers working together as evaluators of their impact, their skill in knowing what students now know and providing them with explicit success criteria near the beginning of a series of lessons , ensuring high trust in the classroom so errors and misunderstanding are welcomed as opportunities to learn , maximizing feedback to teachers about their impact. The mantra of Visible Learning relates to teachers seeing learning through the eyes of students, and students seeing themselves as their own teachers.

In the primary schooling arena, explicit learning of the basics of literacy and numeracy coupled with a focus on well being and dispositions for learning unlocks learning as described above. The introduction of the follow deep learning competencies are also key to success for learning in the 21 century and beyond. 

  •           Citizenship 
  •           Communication 
  •           Critical thinking and problem solving 
  •           Collaboration 
  •           Creativity and imagination
  •        Character education 

(A Rich Seam – How new Pedagogies find Deep Learning, Fullan & Langworthy 2014)

St Joseph's is on the journey of making schooling more welcoming and student- centred and where learning is measured, not just by scores, but by student engagement and desire to learn more.


A Rich Seam – How new Pedagogies find Deep Learning, Fullan & Langworthy (2014)

Shifting away from distractions to improve Australia’s schools: Time for a Reboot, Hattie (Oct, 2016)

What is Learning? Modern Learners - Will Richardson (2017)

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Reading is the Door to Success

In my opinion, reading is the most important skill a person can develop. It is a determining factor to success and well being in life. A love of reading is instilled into children by parents from when they are infants and is further developed at school.

At St Joseph's, we believe that it is our moral imperative for all children to learn to read so that they can read to learn. We have an intensive focus on learning to read (phonemic awareness and phonics, decoding and encoding) from Prep to Year 2 and then further developing fluency, comprehension skills, vocabulary in texts of increasing complexity from Year 3-6.

Before learning to read, reading for pleasure is paramount. Human connection, the development of security and special time with adults can be achieved through reading with and to our children.

"The benefits of reading for pleasure are far reaching. Aside from the sheer joy of exercising the imagination, evidence indicates reading for pleasure improves literacy, social skills, health and learning outcomes. It also gives people access to culture and heritage and empowers them to become active citizens, who can contribute to economic and social development." ( "Reading for Pleasure - a door to success")

It is commonly known that reading enjoyment is more important for children’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic status. This highlights for us at St Joseph's, the reason that reading for enjoyment at home is our only mandated nightly homework.

International research strongly suggests frequent reading for enjoyment correlates with increases in reading achievement. (Clark, 2011, Clark & Rumbold, 2006, Clark & Douglas 2011, PISA, 2009)

Reading at home as a part of homework has the purpose of increasing enjoyment in the activity. We therefore do not send home books of a difficult level. In the event of this happening, it is important that the parent reads the book to the child. The instructional aspect of teaching reading is not the job of parents; this is done at school through the SSP approach by teachers.

"...reading for pleasure was more important for children's cognitive development between ages 10 and 16 than their parents' level of education. The combined effect on children's progress of reading books often, going to the library regularly and reading newspapers at 16 was four times greater than the advantage children gained from having a parent with a degree." Dr Alice Sullivan

Once children can read, then potential is unlocked to achieve across all areas of formal learning and in life generally. The article mentions the positive correlation of reading online and a variety of hard copy sources and increased literacy scores and academic success.

Along with overall improved well-being, findings included increased empathy, greater knowledge of other cultures, reduced symptoms of depression and dementia, and improved parent-child communication and social capital for children, young people and adults. It also found that people who enjoy reading and choose to do so in their free time are more likely to enjoy all of these benefits.( "Reading for Pleasure - a door to success")

Reading also provides pleasure and stimulation of the imagination. The article explains the link with reading and the development of empathy, pleasure and empowerment. Reading can activate parts of the brain as it would if experienced in real life.

At St Joseph's we are future focused. We are changing practice and learning spaces to ensure that our children are prepared for the real work of the future. This article supports reading as a part of this when it states:
"Adolescents entering the adult world in the 21st C will need to read and write more than at any other time in human history. They will need advanced levels of literacy to perform their jobs, run their households, act as citizens, and conduct their personal lives. They will need literacy to cope with the flood of information they will find everywhere they turn. They will need literacy to feed their imaginations, so they can create the world of the future. In a complex, and sometimes dangerous world, the ability to read can be crucial." ( "Reading for Pleasure - a door to success")

I hope that this assists parents to see that their role in reading with their children every night for pleasure, is invaluable.It compliments and provides foundation to the 'teaching of reading' that we do at school. We can't do it on our own so let's continue to work together!

for the full article visit "Reading for Pleasure - a door to success"

Friday, November 18, 2016

Innovative Learning Environments - helping us change the way we learn.

My final blog for the year takes our attention to the use of Innovative Learning Environments (ILE) where digital technologies are integral and how they enhance the learning of our students. St Joseph's will be constructing ILEs as a part of the new school in 2017 and it is important that the community understand what they are and why we are building these and not the individual and isolated classrooms of the past.

I came across an article which explains it well, of which this is a taster. 

"Innovative learning environments can be characterised as having very flexible physical spaces. So, you’ll actually find that within a particular place that you have got everything from large spaces for didactic teaching (where a teacher stands at the front and teaches everybody), through to facilities for group work, through to breakaway spaces for groups of say 10 students to move, through to very quiet spots where two people can sit and work, and even through to almost retreat-type huddle spots where a person can go and work."  (Prof Wesley Imms)

The full article can be found at The Research Files Episode 24: Innovative Learning Environments

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

What a Standardised Test Cant Measure

At St Joseph's we are building a culture of learning, where students are inspired and motivated to learn at and beyong formal schooling. We also live with the reality that standardised testing is an imposed requirement and includes NAPLAN and others such as Progressive Achievement Testing (PAT). We have recently conducted the annual testing in Maths, Reading, Spelling and Social & Emotional/Wellbeing. This data is one piece of the whole child picture that can be used to develop a summative report at the end of the year.

Scores on a test can provide data on how a student 'performed' on that day in that context. Performance in such tests is a small part of and is very different to the whole picture of learning which is lifelong.  The following meme illustrates all the valuable aspects of a learner that standardised testing cannot. Importantly, it is these qualities and dispositions that research is showing more and more is what future success and employment are based on.

At St Joseph's, teachers are focusing more and more on the value of these qualities and dispositions and at the same time, considering the data of standardised testing. This is the very core of learning in a modern world where knowledge acquisition is not the end in itself, rather the learning processes which are ongoing. 

In our context of Catholic Education, we add to this list the personal response to God's call to service of the poor and marginalised.

Can you think of others?

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Campfires, Watering Holes and Caves… zones for learning

Campfires, Watering Holes and Caves… zones for learning.

There is an ever-increasing body of research which shows that the learning environment can have a positive effect on student achievement and wellbeing. The article “Does the Space Make a Difference?” states that the learning environment:

Significantly influence how technologies (both digital and physical) are used, and therefore, are perceived by students.
Increase the instance of active, collaborative, and multiplictious nature of student-centred learning
Affect a statistically significant enhancement of student engagement in their learning.
On average, different classroom layout explains 7 per cent of the variation in academic outcomes in
each study.
On average, when students transition from a conventional classroom to a NGLS, their academic achievement increases by 15 per cent. 
(Does the Space Make a Difference? 2016, Terry Byers Anglican Church Grammar School, Wes Imms The University of Melbourne)

The design of the new learning spaces at St Joseph’s has been influenced through such research as well as our own contemporary learning tours. Our spaces, or ‘learning studios’ as they will be known, will incorporate the elements of design which provide optimum benefits for learning.

Many of our teachers have already begun the transition from traditional to contemporary spaces. This varies from changes in furniture type, to furniture arrangement within the space as well as outdoors. This alone, does not improve learning outcomes as it is the way the spaces are used that enables flexibility and high engagement in learning. In our context, the digital environment is yet another layer on top of physical which accelerates learning.

Zones for learning is an environmental strategy which has been successfully adopted by a number of schools and which some of our teachers have employed recently. The concept enables learning to occur in a very deliberate and structured way in zones such as:

The Campfire: is a space where people gather to learn from an expert. In modern classrooms, the expert is not necessarily the teacher and may include a guest speaker (physical or digital) or even other students. This is the zone of the classroom where student gather to listen and have knowledge imparted. This is where explicit instructions are given.

The Watering Hole is an informal space where peers can share information and discoveries, acting as both learner and teacher simultaneously. This looks like groups of students gathered where students may come and go as needed.

The Cave is a private space where an individual can think, reflect, and transform learning from external knowledge to internal belief. This looks like individual students learning on their own in a quiet place. This can be achieved physically or through the use of headphones.

Students know what a ‘trusted learner’ looks like in each of these zones and is expected to make good decisions for theirs and others’ learning. Students who are not displaying ‘trusted learner’ behaviours lose their choice and are then confined to where the teacher positions them. As learners demonstrate greater self-responsibility, then greater agency is released to them.

This strategy, when utilised in conjunction with timely feedback about learning and clear and explicit learning intentions and success criteria can have a significant impact on student achievement and wellbeing.


Does the space make a difference? - Empirical retrospective of the impact of the physical learning environment on teaching and learning evaluated by the New Generation Learning Spaces Project. Terry Byers, Anglican Church Grammar School &Wes Imms, The University of Melbourne
Australia’s Campfires, Caves, and Watering Holes : Learning & Leading with Technology | June/July 2013 By Ann W. Davis and Kim Kappler-Hewitt