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Clarity about the learning gives students confidence and NCEA success

As part of a Leadership and Assessment PLD contract sole-charge physical education teacher at Excellere College, Ben Keyte, supported by the facilitator, inquired into his own teaching capabilities and practices in order to improve the learning in his classroom.

Focusing inquiry

Ben’s inquiry focused on his year 12 students at risk of not achieving NCEA Level 2. Based on their previous year’s data and his own observations, he made them the “target students” of his inquiry. He set out to find possible reasons for the problem.

Ben interviewed students, with help from the facilitator, to find possible reasons why they were not achieving to the standard he expected.  He discovered that they were not clear about what they needed to learn, even though he was sharing “learning intentions” with the class.  He used a matrix to self-assess his teaching capabilities to identify his current practice, which led to his identifying what new strategies could inform his teaching inquiry.

  • Ben used evidence to support his inquiry. He used student achievement data and his own observations. He looked for possible explanations for the problem within his own teaching practice, because this was what he had the power to change.

Teaching inquiry

Ben concluded that he was not making the learning requirements clear to target learners and that without clarity about what was being learned and how to measure their learning, students would continue to be at risk.

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Although students would see the learning intentions on the board, they did not understand what they meant or why they were important to them.

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Classroom observations and follow up conversations were carried out with the facilitator to assist Ben to explore his understandings about clarity.

Over the following one and half terms Ben deepened his skill in successfully framing and using learning intentions and success criteria.

Once students understood how to use learning intentions, Ben began to co-construct success criteria for the learning with them.

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I found the co-construction of criteria for success to be perhaps the most important aspect of my teaching development this year. It was interesting that I had not picked up on this crucial teaching practice before.

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From this point Ben was able to develop self- and peer assessment practices with ongoing guidance and critical conversations with the facilitator.

  • Ben worked with the facilitator over an extended period of time to improve his practice. He worked step by step, and evaluated progress as he went along.

Learning inquiry

Ben’s teaching inquiry led to students identifying what they had to do to improve their learning and the evidence required to reach the highest possible grade. Resulting student achievement outcomes were outstanding. In a class of eight students, four gained Excellence, two gained Merit and two gained Achieved. This showed that Ben’s top students had also benefited from what he was doing to help his target students.

One of the target students, who had not passed level one in physical education or in literacy, achieved all sixteen level two credits – nine with merit.

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Such a huge improvement was awesome and no one was more ecstatic about it than him.

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When asked by Ben what had enabled this result, the student told him that he knew exactly what was expected of him. Understanding the success criteria, and being able to compare his knowledge and skills against them, gave him a confidence boost. This helped him focus more in class, and to walk in to the assessment knowing he had achieved the learning, not stressing that he would encounter something he could not do.

  • Improved results showed the importance of being clear about the learning expectations. Both teacher and students found a pathway to improving achievement.

Key points:

  • The inquiry approach is a valuable framework to help teachers improve their practice in that it creates a systematic approach, implementation, and evaluation.
  • Improved practice comes from teachers asking themselves, “What do I need to do differently to get a better outcome for students?”
  • It is necessary to have a framework of effective pedagogy on which to base actions in the classroom.
  • Giving students clarity about the learning, and enabling them to assess their progress, gives them the confidence required to achieve success.
  •  “Student voice” is a powerful indication of teaching effectiveness, or otherwise.
  • Having somebody else review and critique practice is helpful. In this case it was the facilitator, but skilled leaders and teachers can fill the same role.
  • Effective learning and change take time and ongoing evaluation.

Read more:

This story, Assessment for learning in practice in a year 11 classroom – a teacher's story, tells Ben's use of fundamental assessment for learning strategies helped his year 11 students with NCEA success.