Cutting Edge Learning

Cutting Edge Learning

Thursday, 2 June 2016  | Di - Assistant Principal - Primary
One of my recurring ‘nightmares’ for many years was the rows of single desks in an exam hall at Monash University. My nightmare was that I could not graduate because I just couldn’t pass the exam. My hands were clammy, my mind was blank, and I couldn’t for the life of me remember what I needed to write on the exam paper. …Then I would wake up to realise that it was all behind me and I had graduated. Phew!

Tests or exams are something we all remember from our time at school. For some of us it is remembered with a laugh and ‘thank goodness’ that is over, but for others there is real anxiety in remembering the sense of failure that might ensue from not being able to put down your thoughts on the paper in the allotted time. Each person had different ways of approaching tests; some of us would cram the night before, and others procrastinate until it was too late to care, others would study systematically, and some would over prepare, steeling themselves against failure.

So what happens in the current day and age of education? A few weeks ago our students undertook NAPLAN (National Assessment Program- Literacy and Numeracy). What is a Christian approach to testing and how do we at MECS view the test/exam scenario?

These days we talk more about assessment than testing. As a parent you might be asking what does that mean? Don’t you just test to find out what my child knows or doesn’t know and give them a mark accordingly?

Assessment is way more than a test. As teachers we are much more interested in knowing what a student already can do in a given subject or area and then working out the next step to see our students growing and developing in their particular area of need.

Dr John Hattie, Director of Melbourne Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, says this: ‘If I had to reduce all of educational psychology to just one principal, I would say this: ‘the most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows. Ascertain this and teach him accordingly.’ (Ausubel, 1968:vi) (Hattie 2012, p. 37)

In my role as Assistant Principal - Primary I am constantly challenging the Primary staff to know their students well so that we can teach them at their point of need. To do this we use a range of tools: entry quizzes or pre-tests to find out what they know, questioning techniques; observations against known standards; observations against
developmental continuums; tools such as Reading Running records (which show exactly what a child does as they read via a recording mechanism), as well as standardised benchmarking assessments. We love to collect meaningful data as it assists in understanding the learning needs of our students and it keeps us accountable to our task as teachers.

In today’s teaching world we want to know about your child at every level when they start a topic of work. This is then used to set the targets so the child is working at the cutting edge of their abilities. Vygotsky (educational psychologist and theorist) called this ‘the zone of proximal development’. At MECS we use this knowledge to take our students forward in their learning. Assessment helps us group students for their learning needs. We call this ‘assessment for learning’. We find out what a student knows and can do and then work out what they need to learn, or the skill they need to acquire to attain the next level of understanding. We also use assessment to summarise the learning and find out what a student now knows as a result of a series of teaching lessons. This is called ‘assessment of learning.’ This is what the NAPLAN is all about: students are tested on their skills. The tests are developed to show a very wide range of ability. This standardised tool tells the data collectors what the state of play is for Literacy and Numeracy across the nation. We need to remember though that it is only a snapshot in time and it is a limited instrument that can only show certain data and information. We cannot see on a multiple choice question what went on in the student’s mind as they worked out the answer.

At MECS we use NAPLAN information to address teaching practices, confirm judgements and to monitor teaching programs and students. We do not however use that information to judge, label or pigeonhole students as Narelle reminded us in the editorial of Thursday May 12. We do not consider NAPLAN the definitive information on what a student can or can’t do. Our students are much more than the test. At MECS we believe every student can and will make progress. For some, this is against their own educational targets (Individual Education Plan-IEP) and for others it is against the national standards. We whole-heartedly believe that every student can be fully engaged in the learning process and be making exciting developments in their learning as they grow into Kingdom people. We are excited with the many ways we find out about our students and we are excited that we can group students carefully to give them cutting edge learning.

As you receive your reports later this term I encourage you to think about the learning journey your child is on and encourage them to engage for growth!

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