Focusing on academics

Earlier this term, I wrote about the importance in building academic expectations for learning and the importance of accountability and responsibility.  In this second article, I explore some of the other factors which contribute to building a strong academic culture in a school and a high-quality education for our children.

Firstly, an academic culture is built through the preparation by teachers as they design learning for students. Not only is preparation dedicated to teaching curriculum and conducting assessment but also teaching students the processes of thinking. Teachers use many different strategies to support students in their thinking.  For example: real world contexts and making connections between classroom learning and authentic applications provide purpose and motivation; open-ended questions can encourage students to develop neutral pathways to explore possibilities; teachers scaffold thinking in visual mind-maps so that students learn to predict, draw conclusions, analyse and evaluate. Teachers model how to approach processes and tasks.

Secondly, students need to be challenged. If learning is too easy, students become disengaged or bored and they lose motivation. If the level of difficulty of the course content and assessment is too difficult and not supported, then students can become equally disillusioned, frustrated and may stop trying. Therefore, teachers try to find the right level of challenge- somewhere in the middle. Students need to learn to struggle, problem-solve and persevere. They also need to learn to fail and recover. Of course, as parents, we also try to find the appropriate level and type of challenge as our children take on new experiences.

Thirdly, an academic culture values teacher professional development and teachers collaborating in planning, assessing and evaluating student learning. Some of the most powerful professional development is when teachers analyse student work samples to reflect on standards of achievement. Primary teachers meet in Year Group teams as they moderate assessment against the achievement standards in the Australian Curriculum. In Primary professional learning, teachers are working in pairs to support each other in developing their literacy and numeracy instruction. In Secondary, the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority (QCAA) has provided teachers with professional development modules focused on assessment to support the new senior syllabus implementation. Teachers are attending QCAA workshops and conferences to ensure that they have a thorough understanding of the new senior courses. The growth of the St Andrew’s Institute of Learning (SAIL) over the past few years foregrounds that St Andrew’s is a learning community which is serious about investigation and implementation of best practice.

Lastly, we achieve a focus on growth and development by tracking student learning and growth. Of course, student data can take a variety of forms. Marks or grades achieved are recorded in St Andrew’s Live or Canvas; NAPLAN and Allwell assessment data is sent to parents. All this data is a rich source of information for teachers and our Director of Student Learning, Sue Bambling analyses our data, talks with teachers about student progress and works with them to cater for the diverse needs of students.

Having an ‘Academic Focus’ can be interpreted in a variety of ways and schools today wrestle with what this means in a cultural context where continual change, search for freedom and fun, and relative values are the norm. ‘Academic focus’ at St Andrew’s is achieved through strong goals, drive, purposefully designed learning experiences, rigorous curriculum and assessment programs, reflection on and evaluation of professional practice and consistent tracking of student progress.

Mrs Adele Guy