Dyer Street School – a review about student learning

The school had been involved in significant projects, such as the Building Evaluation Capacity for Schooling Improvement project and the Literacy Professional Development Programme (LPDP). These projects enabled the school to build staff knowledge and expertise in assessment, inquiry and review. At the same time, the school was in the early stages of a network called the Learning and Change Network (LCN), established during their participation in the LPDP.

This 2012 evaluation considered how the school was giving effect to the curriculum principles, how culturally responsive the school’s practices were, and how they were serving those learners who were not meeting National Standards.

 

Multiple triggers brought about this comprehensive review. Staff felt they may have been failing some of their students. Their hunch was supported by other anecdotal evidence and achievement information. Teachers noticed that some of their past students were not performing well and were disengaged in later schooling. Teachers demonstrated a sense of responsibility to improve their capacity and their performance by considering and changing what they could do better to serve these students and prepare them for later schooling success. They recognised that success at primary school was likely to contribute to a student’s success at intermediate and secondary school.

Leaders and teachers wanted to better understand what learning was happening at the school, how this learning was occurring and who was succeeding with the learning.

Noticing

What’s going on here?

Should we be concerned?

What is the problem or issue here?

How might we find out?

With guidance from external facilitators, leaders from the school and others in the LCN surveyed their students, parents, teachers and leaders. They sought to find out more about what learning looked like from each of the different perspectives.

Teachers and school leaders used an innovative strategy suggested as part of the LCN to seek the views of what learning might look like for students who hadn’t been achieving success. They asked the students, parents and whānau to draw a map explaining “what learning looks like for you”. The process entailed a series of meetings with stakeholder groups with each person in these groups drawing a diagram of what learning looked like. They were prompted to think about the place of students and their peers, parents and whānau, teachers, and technology in learning, and position them accordingly in their drawings.

Investigating

What do we want to know?

Why?

How might we find out?

Whose perspectives do we need to understand this better?

The maps were analysed across the school and across the cluster. The maps showed that students saw the teacher as the main source of their learning, that technology was something that they were rewarded with rather than a part of learning, and that their parents and whānau were not a strong part of their learning experience.In the maps teachers were more likely to be at the front of theroom. Technology was at the side and not integrated. Parents and whānau were also at the side. The maps showed us that learning might be teacher directed, with passive learners and passive engagement with parents. Learning was lateral and not blended at all.− Senior leadership team

Collaborative sense-making

What is our data telling us?

Do we have different interpretations of the data?

In collaboration with the staff and LCN cluster, the schools settled on three main priority areas for development and improvement. The three priorities were future-focused learning, families and whānau, and active learning. These priorities were taken back to the stakeholders to refine and understand them.

The three priorities gave direction to all aspects of the school’s planning and reporting. They guided teacher-inquiry topics, which also formed the basis of regular teacher appraisal.

Strategic and annual plans have changed to keep the focus on the three priorities. The strategic and annual plans describe the activities and outline how they will progress these aims. Reading, writing and mathematics targets now sit under goals to encourage students to be involved in planning their own learning, and to be active in their learning. Improvement strategies and indicators of progress are decided and documented explaining the role of students, teachers and leaders for each of the targets and goals.

Extensive information was gathered before implementing the approach towards future-focused learning. Leaders and teacherslooked at how other schools incorporated technology into everyday learning, surveyed the board of trustees, staff and community, and drew on research on 21 st century learning. The staff also undertook an analysis of their cultural responsiveness.

Teachers each develop an inquiry question that contributes to knowledge development in one of the three priority areas. Teachers set inquiry tasks, gather data and reflect on what they are learning in reflective journals. Over the term, groups meet three times to exchange what they have found and how their inquiry is progressing. Teachers challenge one another, ask questions and deepen their understanding in these sessions. At the end of the term all teachers give a brief presentation to the staff on what their hunch was, what they did and what they found.

Syndicate leaders observe the teacher and their practice and the teacher and leader then have practice analysis conversations (PACs). The PACs have a three-part format: pre-observation discussion; observation of practice; and post-observation analysis. The conversations follow observations of teaching and use teachingas inquiry cycle questions linked to the school’s priorities. As the change management strategy evolves, leaders are moving away from reliance on external facilitators.

As part of our work on the teaching of writing, teachers have taken the opportunity to be more reflctive within and across the school. They have also initiated their own collaborative meetings to discuss issues. In fact when they discussed “digikids” they did this over a glass of wine in their own time! Staff have a different perception of what professional learning is and the difference they can make when going to a course compared with reflction in-house. − Principal

Prioritising to take action

What do we need to focus on and why?

How do we give priority to these areas?

What implications do they have for our strategic direction?

Review and monitoring is ongoing and includes the voices of students, teachers, parents and whānau. Team and syndicate meetings include discussions about what has been observed and heard in practice analysis conversations. Some of the information discussed also comes from talking with students.

Teachers have areas of individual focus which are collated to find common trends as well as areas of strengths and weakness.

When we looked into these trends we saw we had to do more about deliberate acts of teaching.− Principal.

Students later repeated the mapping exercise. Teachers noticed changes in the way students think about their learning environments and their awareness of themselves as learners.

At the start of 2014, the school consulted the groups again and found that teachers, parents and students had differing opinions on student confidence with goal setting. This led to changes in how teachers promote student self assessment and an increased focus on teaching metacognitive skills. Other forms of evidence came from informal sources of feedback. Teachers noticed that in learning conversations with students they were better able to describe their own learning,demonstrating improved metacognition which is a crucial skill in active learning.

Outcomes for studentsBy the end of 2013 the numbers of students achieving at or above National Standards had improved:

This is a small table line 1 is reading, line 2 is writing and line 3 is mathematics. For 2012 % or above the figures are as follows: 74%, 68.8% and 78.6% respectively for 2013 they are 84.8%, 79.1% and 87.7%.

Monitoring and evaluating impact

Are we getting the intended results?

What evidence do we have of progress?

Dyer Street School: What happened next?

The improvement story didn't end there. When visiting the schools, some of the leaders talked to ERO about times where their achievement trajectory was halted or even declined - as happened at the end of 2014. This part of the case study highlights how they used their established internal evaluation practices to quickly respond to the achievement dip. Trustees, some parents, leaders and teachers all contributed to the noticing, sense making and prioritising to rigorously investigate what had happened and what they should do next.

In 2014, Dyer Street School identified three priorities for development and improvement: future focused learning, relationships with families and whanau, and active learning. Towards the end of 2014, the principal and staff at this school had a sense that the end-of-year student achievement data may not show the shifts the school had been seeking in terms of its targets.

 

While the data in priority learning areas across the LCN cluster indicated significant progress overall, leaders and teachers were concerned that the school’s own National Standards data was not looking as good as they wanted it to. This was an uncomfortable feeling.

Noticing

What’s going on here?

Is this what we expected?

When the board of trustees looked at the achievement data at the end of the year, trustees asked school leadership to what extent they thought the decline in the National Standards data was attributable to the introduction of chrome books. Similarly, the parent community, when presented with the achievement data, asked: “Do you think this is something to do with the introduction of the technology?”

Collaborative sense-making

What is our data telling us?

Is this what we expected?

School leaders recognised that there had been some unintended consequences in introducing new technology.

We had not paid enough attention to how teachers were going to get their heads around the use of the new devices and we had not been thinking about the pedagogy.− Principal.

Prioritising to take action

What do we need to do and why?

The board of trustees and the parent community accepted the “implementation dip” and responded by asking “What can we do to support you in making the improvements that are needed?”

The principal was very aware that the board and community were positive about moving forward because they had been informed as soon as the dip was identified by the staff:“…it would be a different conversation if the data was unexamined or unrectified.”

The school has made changes to its development approach. Teachers made sure that they set explicit and ambitious targets for their students. Systems were put in place to ensure that the monitoring of student targets is more deliberate and there is more analysis of teaching related decisions. Changes have been made to the meeting schedule to enable leaders and teachers to meet for this purpose. Class-by-class support focused on accelerating student outcomes is provided. Changes have been made to the way the teachers’ learning groups operate. To increase the depth of focus and foster a collaborative approach, teachers explore one area ofinquiry together for a term. Focused coaching support is provided. Teachers set individual goals, identify an area of inquiry where they want to make improvements, and coaching teams provide support and challenge as part of the process. This focus on practice has increased the rigour and ownership of the change process.

The pace of implementation is being carefully managed. As part of developing the future-focused learning emphasis, leaders and teachers visited other schools to better understand how they might approach this priority area. The visits and the conversations about what was seen contributed to new thinking about the use of space and flexible approaches that moved beyond being device driven. School leaders are now actively managing the change process and monitoring whether they have identified the actual problem and implementing the right solution.

We’re being much more strategic and systematic. We are thinking about the how and the why before the doing. What we are doing must support the learning. So in introducing the iPads we are making sure we have the right things on them and we have brought in an expert teacher to help us with that.− Principal.

What changes can we make that will give us an immediate response to the issues we have identified?

How can we involve other groups in the school is this review?