The last post looked at the work that Craigmore HS has undertaken with student voice. Craigmore’s successful initiative is taking place within the Teaching for Effective Learning (TfEL) paradigm. TfEL has provided the rationale and the tools, including some limited additional resources, for the school’s work.
This post looks at what Streaky Bay Area School has been doing in the same general area of student voice. It reinforces the importance of student voice is in lifting student performance. The efforts at Streaky Bay, reinforce the claim that irrespective of how schools approach the broad issue of student voice, its value in terms of improving the quality of teaching and student performance is striking.
For Streaky Bay Area School, the student voice initiative began with a senior school (10-12) SRC survey. The survey (2014-2015) was planned and conducted in conjunction with the University of South Australia. The intention of the survey was to determine what students in the senior school needed to improve their learning. The student survey identified 6 areas of improvement in which students wanted teacher support:
• Teachers explain things well
• Teachers tell me ways to remember
• Teachers extend us during class
• Teachers implement ICT to help us learn
• Teachers encourage us to summarise information and note take
• The class environment encourages me to achieve excellent results
Each of these was broken down into a series of actions that teachers could take to support their students’ learning. In the end there was a raft of improved actions. Some of the actions included:
• Focus on the introduction of the task and make sure that the steps involved in task completion are set out clearly and precisely, at the start
• Make sure all requirements are set out at the start and don’t introduce or add other tasks/content/direction halfway through the task
• Use exemplars because they are extremely helpful
• Be prepared to move about the class helping individual students where required
• Always give students the set criteria before the start of the task
• Task sheets need to be given at the beginning of the task and they need to be in language that is clear, direct and not confusing.
• Language needs to be simplified where possible and there needs to be a glossary of terms at the start of the task.
• Simplify SACE standards so that we can understand them.
• Teach us different ways to remember information and highlight what needs to be remembered
There was also set of suggestions for the use of ICT in the classroom, including actions like the filming and recording of lessons, which are so important in the context of schools like Streaky Bay that rely on a combination of ‘local’ and Open Access delivery practices.
There was a refreshing directness in many of the students’ suggested actions. For example, Year 10 students suggested that [the teacher] when introducing a task explain [to us] that this is the time to listen. Teachers were also reminded by the students that they should Always talk to us not at us. And students were not happy with some teachers [who] sit at the computer and don’t rotate in class helping.
The senior students were also asked to identify the actions that they could take to improve their own learning. These ranged from the very basic – stay on task, get to school on time [and presumably lessons as well] and work harder – through to a range of challenges which, even though they are so fundamental to the process of learning, some students find very difficult to tackle: ask questions and seek help when needed.
Similarly, the teachers were also asked to identify the actions that they thought the students needed to focus on to improve their learning:
• Be punctual and organised for lessons
• Do homework regularly
• Always listen attentively and follow instructions in class
• Use what is given to you, wall displays, task sheets, exemplars and performance standards constantly
• Proof read your own work and get others to proof read
• Involve yourself in learning – ask questions, respond to questions in class, involve yourself in class discussions
Overall, the school was very pleased with the results of its structured exercise in student voice. Certainly the Streaky Bay experience demonstrates that when students are given the opportunity to comment on teacher performance and, more pointedly, to identify the characteristics of teachers’ performance that assist them as learners – the qualities that describe teaching for effective learning – they have no difficulty or hesitation in doing just that. The language they use might not match the more theoretical variety employed in describing pedagogical theory and practice, but it is certainly adequate to the task. It is also apparent that students’ comments tend to cluster round 2 critical areas: task design and assessment criteria.
The SRC presented the results of the survey to the staff. Staff agreed to work on specific areas – e.g. task design – and, importantly, the school put in place a range of structures and activities, grouped round the priorities of TRACKING, MONITORING and INTERVENTION, to assist both staff and students to lift performance. Effectively, student voice became a plank in the school’s professional development program.
A renewed emphasis was placed on task completion and meeting deadlines. There was agreement in the senior school that the non completion of work was not an option. To assist, staff paid attention to making sure that due dates were set in advance and communicated to both students and parents. The school uses the Konnective App and students receive alerts before checkpoints, final drafts and the submission of tasks. Relevant dates are published for parents on the school website. If a draft is not submitted there is a strategy in place to make sure the student can complete the task prior to the final submission date.
Equally, attention was focused on monitoring performance. Staff currently fill in the Traffic Lights spreadsheet every 5 weeks and there are built-in procedures for working with students identified in the process.
Wall Displays 1, Streaky Bay Area School
Wall Displays 2, Streaky Bay Area School
The school has also put a lot of effort in to the use of wall displays, to the extent that they are seen as ‘ the second teacher in the classroom’.
As indicated, the most significant development in the school’s ongoing efforts to build on its initial work with student voice has been in the area of professional development. Student voice is now an integral element and staff are expected to collect student feedback at least twice per year. The feedback itself is structured round 3 key questions:
1. How is my teaching working for you?
2. What do I need to do to improve?
3. What advice can you give me to help me improve my teaching for your learning?
The relationship between the quality of the teacher’s teaching and the effectiveness of the student’s learning is highlighted in this arrangement and provides the theoretical basis for the PD program.
There are other aspects of the school’s focus on improvement in the senior school: the pastoral care program, subject and course counselling, delivery options in the area school context, teacher-principal meetings at the start of each year that focus on last year’s results … In any school improvement situation, it is often difficult to establish the relative strength of each of the various initiatives, strategies and practical supports being applied. However, in the case of Streaky Bay Area School it has been clear that the key improvement strategy and philosophy has been the deliberate focus on student voice. Equally, the school is convinced that this focus has both improved teaching and lifted student performance in the senior school.
Eliza and Karen Box, Senior School Staff
Chris Roberts: [email protected]
Senior School Coordinator
Karen Box: [email protected]