A whole-school early commencement program

Keeping students engaged in the last few weeks of the school year can be a challenge. At Ivanhoe Grammar School, their long-standing Early Commencement Program involves each year level in the secondary school, and has worked to keep all students switched on and learning.

It's the final four weeks of Term 4 that are fully dedicated to the Early Commencement Program, with the start of the program coordinated in line with Victoria's Melbourne Cup Public Holiday that falls on the first Tuesday in November. This gives students a logical time for a mid-term break before beginning work for the new school year, and provides time for staff to finalise reporting before rolling over academic programs.

Deputy Principal and Head of Plenty Campus, Daniel Brown, says it's a useful program on a number of levels, including supporting the transition process. ‘The four weeks is really nice, because it's a bit of a reset and refresh at that end of the year. Students are excited about moving into the next year level, starting the courses, new teachers [and] new programs,' he says.

‘And it also means we are assessing students right up until the end of the year. For example, I teach a Year 11 class and I have an assessment with them next Wednesday, which is their second-last lesson. So students are really working and engaged right up until the end of that period.'

The program was implemented with the ultimate aim to provide extra support for Year 12 students, because it would enable them to begin revision for all classes at the same time, instead of finding themselves in a situation where they had started revising for examinations for a few classes, but were still working towards school assessment for others.

But by extending this end-of-year arrangement to implement at all year levels, Brown says younger students are being systematically prepared for that experience, too, while getting a head start on understanding next year's expectations. There is usually enough time to complete one topic unit of work for the subject they'll be learning the following year.

Although the program has been embedded into the school's culture for many years, Brown says student feedback is still sought regularly. ‘Our principal meets with each of our Year 12 students in small groups throughout the year and he always asks about [the program] and how they find it. Is it long enough? Has it been beneficial? [For] our students, it's always been very positive. They think that the four weeks is the right amount of time.'

As for staff perception, he acknowledges it's a busy time for teachers, but says feedback shows they too enjoy the change at that time of year and the opportunity to have fresh classes and new students.

Think about a program running at your school: how often are you seeking student and staff feedback to ensure it is being well-received? Do you act on this feedback? How does it inform your future planning?

As a teacher, what techniques do you employ to work towards keeping students engaged and equipped with meaningful learning as the end of the year approaches?