Tuesday / April 23

How Do You Know They’ve Learned It? [Case Study: Quirindi High School, NSW] 

 I now know that it’s all about students’ learning and now I know a plethora of ways to make sure that every lesson my students have learned something – whether it be before the lesson, during the lesson or after the lesson. And I never would have learned that if I hadn’t: (a) become a teacher here and (b) undertaken Corwin [professional learning]. – Angela  

There’s an air of confidence at Quirindi High School. Students exude it; teachers like Angela breathe it. They’re not there yet, but they’re on a journey and they’re feeling good about the destination.  

That journey has been a long-term and intentional one. It began over 7 years ago with the introduction of Assessment for Learning and has been strengthened through a 3 year Visible Learning School Improvement Process focused on the principles of Visible Learning. Now, in their Evidence of Impact cycles, the school is reaping the rewards of a culture open to change, structures to support that change and an investment in professional learning.  

Through the process, teachers and leaders have become very clear about their mission. Contrary to prevailing views and perhaps surprisingly for some readers, the teachers argue it’s not about student achievement or about engagement. Some students achieve regardless of their teachers’ best efforts and engagement in a lesson doesn’t necessarily result in learning. Rather, at Quirindi, the emphasis is unequivocally on progress.  

Being able to evidence progress in learning is something that Andrew and Peter, the school Impact Coaches, have been exploring with staff over several years. Angela laughs when she thinks of Andrew’s inevitable question to new staff and the predictability of their green responses, including her own on her arrival. His question, ‘How do you know that they’ve learnt?’ is highly revealing. Equipping teachers to answer that question of impact lies at the heart of the QHS journey.  

As Jenny, a Head Teacher and PDHPE teacher, frankly admits:  

The most important aspect is getting an assessment of what’s actually happening. You can think that you’re doing a great job, but the data says otherwise and really reflecting on that and moving forward is really important.

Ian, the Principal, is encouraging of professional discussions which focus on students as learners and the part that individual staff play in that learning – sharing the what and the how of impact:  

People are really starting to delve into understanding their impact on learners and how that is happening.

In the spirit of ‘no hiding’, teachers are encouraged to be honest in their professional self-appraisal. While it’s hard to imagine her being anything other than an enthusiastic and effective teacher, Liz regrets that her students of the past 30 years didn’t have the benefit of her newfound knowledge.  

I get really upset when I look back at the students I was teaching 10, 12 years ago and I think how basic my teaching was and how much better I could have approached things now with the knowledge that I have.

Liz’s honest, albeit overly harsh, self-analysis is symptomatic of a culture that puts a high price on professional growth and on pedagogy that demonstrably results in student learning. The change for Liz has been ‘liberating’:  

The kids are very good now because they understand how to learn but it’s also my understanding about how much they’re learning and how effective my teaching is with their learning, and then both sides being able to articulate that. It’s not just the what you’re teaching, it’s the how you’re teaching and why you’re teaching it.

Read more about Quirindi’s assessment transformation here. 

Written by

Dr. Pam Ryan is an educator who consults in Australia and internationally on leadership and school and system transformation. Having previously been Industry Professor (Learning and Education) in the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney, Pam is now Adjunct Professor there. Previously Pam spent 10 years as secondary principal and 11 years as an Education Director in NSW and Hong Kong. Pam has authored: Leadership in Education: Learning from Experience (2015); Wise Heads Wise Hearts (2016), and Action and Reflection Tools for Busy School Leaders (2017).

No comments

leave a comment