Excellence in Learning
Give of our best, so when the gates swing wide,
And through the larger world our way we choose,
Of life’s high enterprise, which we descried,
Never can we the vision wholly lose.
(Excerpt from CGGS School Hymn)
In singing the School Hymn at our Leaver’s Service, we are farewelling our girls as they pass through the School gates one last time as inspired learners, transitioning to the next phase of their education and adulthood.
As learning communities, we are all being challenged to understand what excellence in learning looks like in an rapidly changing world – learning that will prepare our students for life beyond our School gates. This learning, also called the Learning that Matters, is purposeful learning that is relevant to the lives of the learners and is the focus of my work with the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE).
There is no doubt that academic mastery remains a key element of powerful learning, however, alone it is not enough for young people to flourish in their professional careers beyond our School gates.
In aiming to raise the bar on student achievement by helping teachers improve teaching and learning, the HGSE has been working closely with a leading education program called Expeditionary Learning (EL). Informed by research, teachers are planning and delivering programs that facilitate significant overall improvement in student achievement across a range of metrics.
The three dimensions of student achievement in the EL model are:
- Mastery of knowledge and skills
- Development of character
- High Quality Work
The production of High Quality Work is defined as a significant factor in improving student achievement and through the EL program it is described as work that students were proud of, and that other people took notice of. The attributes of this high quality work include:
- Complexity – complex work is rigorous and includes higher order thinking, demonstrates consideration of multiple perspectives, often connects to big concepts and prioritises transfer of understanding to new contexts
- Craftsmanship – work completed with care and precision and may require multiple drafts
- Authentic – work that demonstrates the original, creative thinking of students, often uses formats and standards from the professional world and connects academic standards with real-world issues
At Camberwell Girls, all three of these dimensions are incorporated into our academic and wellbeing programs across the whole school. When I speak to teachers they are quick to provide me with examples of High Quality Work including:
- Year 3 Lego Design Inquiry, where as part of the BTN (Behind the News) segment on an Australian Lego designer for the inquiry unit ‘What Makes Australia the Lucky Country?’, students were given the task of researching, planning and creating a Lego model of an Australian natural or manmade landmark. In addition they also created a Lego manual using the iPad application Explain Everything, to create a visual procedure of each step needed to develop their model. Their clients were the Year 1 students, so their models needed to suit this age group. The students used their knowledge and understanding of 3-Dimensional shapes to create their own packaging for the models and the Year 1 students tested the models and procedures and provided feedback. This project integrated the Inquiry unit (with a geography focus) research skills, English reading, comprehension and procedural writing skills, Digital Technologies, Mathematics (3-Dimensional shaped) as well as critical and creative thinking.
- Year 7 English, where the students wrote a feature article on an area of interest related to the plight of refugees, tied to their study on ‘The Bone Sparrow’ text. The project was completed over several weeks and involved students researching, analysing and evaluating information about their chosen topic from a variety of sources, connecting to other disciplines including geography and politics. The task required considerable planning and they were scaffolded in their organisation; drafting and editing of their piece. Using the perspective offered in the novel as a starting point, the students needed to consider the experience of refugees from a context of their choosing and communicate this to a broader audience, utilising the conventions of a newspaper feature article. The task enabled students to offer their insight and perspective on a real-life issue, without simply giving an opinion; the perspective needed to be more subtle and implied, in keeping with the purpose of this style of writing.
- The work of students from Years 8 and 11 when they participated in the National History Challenge. In this year’s topic of ‘Making a better world’, students defined a personal topic of inquiry, identifying a range of reliable sources and developing an evidence-based interpretation of the past. Some of our entries included:
- Winner of the State Award for the category of History of Sport, Rubi Brady (Year 8) prepared a scrapbook on indigenous Australian athletes, arguing that sport proved an important symbol of reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, as it was a public arena in which other markers of inequity were irrelevant and personal ability could be celebrated
- Jamie Tak (Year 11) wrote an essay on prospects for Korean reunification. She examined several plausible scenarios in which reunification could occur (including military conquest by the collapse of the Communist regime and its absorption by the south and by negotiation), examined obstacles to overcoming these (risks of military activity, especially North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, economic disparity, the cultural isolation of the north) and proposed methods by which these could be realistically overcome. Her essay drew on current research from American and Korean think tanks and government departments and was firmly grounded in current academic debates.
- In Year 7 Geography, Bethany Orme’s poster on ‘The livability of my local area’ represented a complex survey of features of her local area, classified as environmental, economic, social cultural and technological factors. She extended her research to include a comparison of the survey data with that of Deloitte Access economics. Her poster was well crafted and demonstrated meticulous attention to detail. Her survey questions and images were all original and she utilised Google Earth to complete a labelled transect of her local area.
At Camberwell Girls, I am confident that our students are equipped to embrace academic excellence in their learning and focus on their development as healthy young people, to achieve their best through learning that matters. As teachers, we are focused on the development of curriculum and experiences that incorporate the dimensions of mastery of knowledge and skills, development of character and the production of high quality work.
In doing this, we are preparing our students so that they can achieve excellence in their learning as well as life beyond the school gates.