Focusing on learners and learning - Education Matters Magazine
Professional Development

Focusing on learners and learning

Using its learning motto ‘where you are known’, St Bernard’s identified in 2014 the need to review the impact of learning success across the school community. This led to the school taking part in the Collaborative Impact Program, which four years later, has transformed its ability to ‘know thy impact’ through research, data and a rigour of employing effective instructional practices to ensure learning success for all students.

A co-educational primary school situated in Coburg, in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, St Bernard’s has provided Catholic education to children from Prep to Grade 6 since 1941. The school’s current enrolment is 206 students and is a diverse and multicultural community, with 40 different nationalities represented and 44.2% of students being from a Language Other Than English background.

The school took part in the Collaborative Impact Program in 2015, through the support of Catholic Education Melbourne. After participating in the Visible Learning Foundation Day and Evidence Into Action workshop series, the significance of deliberately gathering evidence to evaluate impact on learning success was highlighted. Moving beyond perceptions, this provided actual evidence, with rigorous data supporting the school’s journey moving forward.

The two questions that underpinned discussions at the time were:
• What do we know about the impact we are having on all of our learners?
• To what extent does data and evidence drive practice within the school?

The Leadership Team used a variety of Visible Learning evaluation tools to gather evidence. These included an online self-assessment matrix, staff Mindframes surveys and other tools. The school was also fortunate to undertake a School Capability Assessment, where an evaluation visit with the Corwin Team provided further evidence gathering and summaries of findings.

The collection and analysis of initial evidence identified the school’s baseline statements. It was apparent that the students could not describe what or how they learnt and its PAT results were on average below a year’s growth, or an effect size of 0.4.

Teachers used praise as a means of feedback and students identified that they were unsure of what to do when they made a mistake. The evidence also identified that learning leaders did not carry out walkthroughs and observations to consistently collect and use data to support decision making.

Through this evidence gathering process, two aspirational statements were developed for St Bernard’s:
• That all students understand and can articulate the characteristics of an effective learner.
• That all students understand what they are learning, how they are going and where they are going to next.

The first step was to develop a common language of learning across the school and to identify the impact on all students.

St Bernard’s undertook further professional development, both internally and in partnership with the Corwin Australia Professional Learning team. The school presented the evidence gathered and asked the question, “How do we build our knowledge in order to know our impact?”

Undertaking Visible Learning was a ‘just in time’ opportunity for St Bernard’s. The school had identified the need to investigate its aspirational statements but needed to explore its learning community at a deeper level, which was offered by the model of Visible Learning: Professional Development and Learning.

Over the next 18 months, the school developed the language of learning at St Bernard’s through the investigation of what an assessment-capable visible learner looked and sounded like. The school debated what learning dispositions it aspired its students to have and embedded the use of learning intentions and success criteria to bridge the learning gap and support effective use of the levels of feedback.

“So humbling to see these students so engaged in their learning, and talking about it – this is Visible Learning in action,” says Professor John Hattie, education researcher and Director of the Melbourne Educational Research Institute at the University of Melbourne.

Professor John Hattie has asked, “What if I have gotten it all wrong?” But the St Bernard’s School community is evidence that he wasn’t wrong.

Visible Learning has combined all that we know to enhance every learning opportunity. It has focused energy on evidence informed and deliberate instructional practices that make a real difference and the impact on every student’s learning success is now clear.

The opportunity to undertake Visible Learning has been transformational for the school’s students, its staff and the school community. Ongoing gathering and analysis of evidence continues to show St Bernard’s that its learners are making progress. The school says it is extremely proud to say that it knows its impact on all learners.

St Bernard’s has now developed:
• A common language of learning;
• Students who can clearly articulate their learning goals;
• Students who identify mistakes as opportunities to deepen their learning;
• Students who are exceeding expectations in school assessments and ask not only for their personal data, but feedback to support their next learning steps;
• Staff who believe and know they are accountable for all student’s ‘effect size’ and growth;
• Staff who can articulate where all students are and where to move them to next.

St Bernard’s lives and breathes ‘know thy impact’ in every aspect of supporting the learning growth of every student.

Most importantly, the school uses its data as a learning narrative, to work as a collaborative team, providing learning opportunities where all of its students are known and succeed.

Partner with Corwin’s team of Professional Learning Leaders to activate or extend your Visible Learning journey.

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