Casuarina Street Primary School is home to around 400 students in the beautiful town of Katherine, 300 kilometres south of Darwin in the Northern Territory (NT). The school is one of 13 Independent Public schools in the NT and is currently leading the Northern Territory Learning Commission. An initiative placing students at the centre of leading research and providing evidence informed recommendations alongside their teachers and school leadership teams to improve practice within their own school and across the region.
There are seven schools participating in the Commission covering a distance of over 800,000 square kilometres and both Teacher and Principal Commissioners from the school had connected with Evidence for Learning at the national Highly Accomplished and Lead Teacher (HALT) summit in Sydney. The school had been invited to share their improvement journey with the network.
Following some energetic and excited discussion during the car journey from Darwin to Katherine, we had set aside time to collaboratively plan for the workshop we would be co-facilitating the next day. A key focus of this work was to help Year 6 students in designing a research study to implement and evaluate their trial programs to help encourage improved confidence and subsequent achievement in reading. The project and the work of ‘Learning Commissioners’ partners directly with the outcomes of research undertaken by teaching teams and work to collect evidence to inform project design, which is both authored and completed by the students themselves.
Evidence for Learning worked with School Leaders from Casuarina Street Primary School and Keilor Views Primary School to co-design a workshop to build primary students’ evaluation capacity. We looked at what activities would best build students’ ability to analyse and categorise evidence. In the end we designed a workshop that used our Impact Evaluation Cycle (Evidence for Learning, 2017) to help the students to frame their thinking. We designed a hands-on activity where the students would categorise their teachers’ evidence of learning in reading according to if it was qualitative and quantitative and the strength of the evidence. We adopted the lock rating system that we use on our Teaching & Learning Toolkit for the students to rate the security of the evidence.
The day of the workshop arrived, we had our co-developed materials ready. We had discussed who would talk when and what were the key points for each of us. We had started this with a discussion of what were the key learning outcomes we wanted for the students. Where they were at within their learning journey and what blocks they were currently facing. This had been elucidated through discussion between the three of us, so each of us now understood how this group of students had progressed in their learning.
One of the key areas highlighted that we needed to focus on was to ensure that the students had not jumped to the solution of the ‘problem’ before thinking through all the various steps involved. Evidence for Learning and Learning First recently wrote a blog about this in which we used the term ‘solutionitis’ (Vaughan & Roberts-Hull, 2017). Unlike that blog which talks about ‘solutionitis’ in the context of teachers; in this case, it was the students jumping to the potential solution without first analysing the problem.
The next day we were in the room waiting for the students to arrive. Co-facilitating the workshop, we acted agilely, as if we were members of a jazz trio jumping in and helping to make each other’s high notes clear and ensure a consistent melody was found throughout the workshop.
This experience was new to our team and we identified it as group flow. Group flow can be defined as “improvising team (which) creates a novel, emergent product…more suitable to the problem than any one team member could have developed alone” (Sawyer, 2011, p. 245).
What this experience enlightened was - what if our schools were places that encouraged group flow amongst our teachers from the efforts they were putting into co-constructing and co-teaching?
What if students experienced flow regularly within their classrooms, what kind of conditions would need to be in place to encourage this?
To experience flow there needs to be a large amount of effort expended by each individual, there needs to be a suspension of the self to a focus with all energy to 'accomplish something difficult and worthwhile' (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, p. 3).
Working in such a space with students was a developing process for all of us. Opening up teacher data and practice to the students that it affected, created a space for learning and acknowledged the power of ‘letting students in to the secrets’ (Sadler, 1998). Handing the locus of control over to the student commissioners created a synergy that was both unexpected and electrifying as they went through the Impact Evaluation Cycle discussing the nature, quality and validity of the data presented.
By the end of the workshop we had created and experienced something worthwhile in the process of the flow with the students, and ultimately for the students.
By broadening the notion of collective efficacy to include the voice of the students, it created a combined effect that made us wonder … to what extent can this be replicated;
To change the nature in which the discourse between students and leaders and teachers talk about the data, evidence, practice and learning in our schools? As one of the Year 6 Commissioners commented on the day, ‘Instead of just saying you feel or think you need to change your guided reading, you need to look at your data and think my students are not making any growth in their reading, or not enough growth - I know we need to change our guided reading.’
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper Perennial.
Evidence for Learning. (2017). Impact Evaluation Cycle. Retrieved from http://evidenceforlearning.org.au/evidence-informed-educators/impact-evaluation-cycle/
Sadler, R. (1998). Letting students into the secret: Further steps in making criteria and standards work to improve learning. Paper presented at the Board of Queensland Senior Secondary Studies annual conference for state review panel chairs.
Sawyer, R. K. (2011). Explaining creativity: The science of human innovation: Oxford University Press.
Vaughan, T., & Roberts-Hull, K. (2017). Four issues schools face when using evidence for improvement. Retrieved from http://evidenceforlearning.org.au/news/four-issues-schools-face-when-using-evidence-for-improvement/