Over three years, the senior leadership team had focused on formalising and embedding their self review practices. Up until this point, internal evaluation had “just happened” in an unstructured way. This informal internal evaluation was well established, but it had been hard for the school to measure the effectiveness of their evaluation. They decided to make their internal evaluation systematic and strengthen the alignment between internal evaluation and the school charter.
The senior leadership team drew on ERO’s resources and employed an external expert to work with them and the board of trustees. They also looked at good practice in other schools.
The school identified three main areas of focus: student progress and achievement; staff performance; and the annual aims, goals and objectives stated in the school charter.
This evaluation came about as a result of the analysis of achievement data in writing. The writing review provided a framework for future reviews in other curriculum areas. They have since used similar processes to review their teaching and learning in reading, mathematics, and the arts.
At the beginning of this process, data literacy expertise lay mostly with members of the senior leadership team. Their mid-year analysis of data in 2012 revealed poor achievement in writing. This was disappointing as teachers had recently participated in writing-related professional development. Senior leaders decided that they needed to take a closer look at what was happening as what they were doing was not getting results.
What’s going on here?
For which students?
Should we be concerned?
Senior leaders decided to investigate further by carrying out classroom visits, looking at teachers’ planning for writing and students’ writing samples, and talking with students.
What is happening in classrooms?
What might help us identify what good practice looks like?
How do students feel about themselves as writers?
The initial observations and other evidence confirmed that teaching practice was highly variable and likely to be contributing to the “pretty grim” achievement data.
Leaders decided their first development step was to establish a shared understanding across the staff of what effective teaching in writing looked like. The senior leadership team led this as a collaborative activity, collecting the views of teachers and building a consensus around these fundamental aspects.
At staff meetings, teacher discussions and moderation of judgements about writing samples helped to build a shared understanding of what good writing looked like. Leaders and teachers drew on Ministry of Education resources, including curriculum documents, the English Language Learning Progressions, Literacy Learning Progressions, Effective Literacy Practice, and the National Standards Reading and Writing document
Leaders challenged teachers by posing the questions:
Collaborative sense making
What is our data telling us?
What might we need to explore further?
What does the research evidence say about effective teaching?
What does effective practice look like?
To effect real change, teachers needed to be on board. Leaders knew that to achieve this would take time and would need to be well thought out, planned and resourced. A central thrust of the improvement effort was to improve teaching practice through professional discussions, coaching and guided critical reflection.
Video recordings of writing lessons were introduced as part of the professional development and proved to be a particularly useful tool for critical reflection. Teachers used their first videos to help identify their own needs. They shared their second videos with the professional development provider, and from there were invited to share their videos and reflections with colleagues or at team meetings.
Leaders initially kept out of the video process to encourage candid and fearless reflection and to help teachers maintain control. Teachers needed to feel that the review process was being done with them, not to them.
Collegial video-review sessions also proved to be effective. Once teachers became comfortable using the video it was accepted as an integral part of the writing professional development. Senior leaders used the videos as part of facilitated discussions with teachers to reflect on practice, celebrate successes and to set goals.
Priority was given to the collaborative development of writing progressions with finely graded sub-levels. This level of detail defined in the sub-levels helped teachers to recognise the steps children may take to progress, particularly for students with low achievement in writing.
Exemplars gathered from children’s writing now sit alongside each level and sub-level to provide more detail for teachers and children. Pieces of children’s writing are moderated fortnightly in teams and twice a term across the whole school.
Prioritising to take action
What do we need to do and why?
How big is the change we are planning?
How are we going to get teachers involved and engaged in this change process?
What support do we need for our leaders? Our teachers?
What strengths do we have to build on?
Developing the writing progressions involved ongoing clarification and sometimes contentious debate. Leaders felt that they could have developed the progressions themselves and imposed them upon teachers, which would have been faster. However, this would not have achieved the level of ownership by teachers that the collaborative process fostered
The development of the writing progressions gave teachers more responsibility for analysing their own classroom data. All teaching staff, rather than just the senior leadership team, are now responsible for improving achievement across the school.
The progressions are now used to inform planning, teaching, identifying next learning steps, assessment and reporting to parents. Students know about and have access to the progressions, and are able use them to reflect on their success and next steps. Leaders and teachers continue to have a focus on improving outcomes in writing. They recognise that this focus needs to be ongoing as results are still not good enough.
The language in the progressions is used by teachers when conferencing with students about their writing and for feedback in the students’ writing books.
Outcomes for learners
Percent of students achieving at or above National writing standards:
The biggest gains are seen in Years 4, 5 and 6 and are particularly evident for Mäori and Pacific students.
Monitoring and evaluating impact
What are we learning here?
How well are our strategies working?
Are we getting the intended results?
How do we know?
Is this good enough?