Teacher Staffroom Episode 55: Meeting students at their point of need

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Thanks for tuning in to this episode of Teacher Staffroom, where we catch you up on the latest evidence, insight, and action in education. I'm Dominique Russell.

If you listened to the final episode in our recent miniseries with ACER CEO Professor Geoff Masters, you will have heard him discuss how 5 high-performing education systems are improving student outcomes. They’re doing this by understanding where students are at in terms of their learning and wellbeing and ensuring they’re meeting them at their point of need.

How teachers and schools implement this in practice is an important discussion to have and, while it’s something we’re always talking about at Teacher, it’s something we’ve focused on particularly this past month. So, in this episode of Teacher Staffroom I’ll be bringing you up to speed on our latest content on this topic. And, like all episodes of Teacher Staffroom, I’ll also be posing some questions throughout this podcast, so feel free to pause the audio as you go, gather some colleagues, and discuss together how these stories might be relevant to your school context. Let's jump in.

So, let’s kick off this episode by taking a look at that podcast episode with Professor Geoff Masters I just mentioned. It’s such an insightful discussion where Professor Masters expands on his multi-year study, giving insights into the 5 jurisdictions he focused on – which, by the way, those are British Columbia, Estonia, Finland, Hong Kong and South Korea. For instance, in the episode he delves into how Finland is seeing success through their processes for monitoring student progress; he shares a little bit about the role of out-of-school learning in Estonia; and he speaks about the community support for schools in Hong Kong.

Here though, I’d like to share with you a clip where Professor Masters is describing in what ways all of these jurisdictions are meeting students at their individual points of need:

… When I say that, I mean, yes, what they know, what they understand, what they can do, but I also mean where they're coming from, in terms of what interests them and motivates them and their backgrounds, their cultural backgrounds, language backgrounds and so on, anything that might influence their starting point for learning. So, what's common across these jurisdictions, these 5 jurisdictions, is that they go to quite considerable lengths to do that, to understand where students are, to meet them where they are, to challenge and extend and stretch every student, and to expect every student to make good, ongoing progress in their learning.

That was Professor Geoff Masters there. I’d love to take you now to an example from Australia of how one school is approaching the importance of meeting individual student needs. It’s from the latest episode in our School Assembly series – which, if you’re not familiar, is the podcast exploring what it takes to build a school from the ground up. This season we’re following Jo Camozzato who is Principal at Bemin Secondary College in Melbourne, which just opened this year.

In the episode, Jo spoke about how she and her staff and working to meet individual student needs in their school setting, and she shares her insights on everything from tackling the area of elective subjects to supporting all students to be challenged academically. On extending students in the classroom that might be cruising along, here’s what she had to say:

So, I suppose the challenge for all of us in this space in schools is to go, ‘well, what's in our curriculum documentation? Are we actively discussing and planning for stretch?’ So that's got to be there, even in a physical format in the documentation, stretch, nearly underlined, at above level. Even at level, what's the stretch for at level?

Discussing it is very important. And then I suppose being aware that in a staged response – because you can't do all this all at once when you're building teacher capacity and building the school culture, helping your leaders become leaders, really – but in a staged, planned response, how do we tackle building teacher skills in this area, and identifying and supporting the students to identify they can do more?

So, this discussion brings me to a question for you to think about. In this episode, Jo Camozzato discusses meeting individual student needs academically. An important starting point is teachers knowing where their students are in their learning. So, how do you establish where students are in their own learning? How often are you updating this information? How does that feed into your planning and next steps in teaching?

After the break, I’ll share with you the details of a new teaching resource that unpacks explicit teaching, and new research findings shedding light on why some students don’t complete year 12.

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In our most recent annual Teacher reader survey, many of you asked for more content and support in the area of explicit instruction. A new suite of teaching guides has been published by the Australian Educational Research Organisation and one of them delves into explicit teaching.

I spoke with Nuella Flynn, a Principal Policy Analyst at the organisation, about the guide and I also put to her some common questions on explicit teaching. In the article, she spoke about what explicit instruction actually is, the importance of ‘chunking’ information when teaching explicitly, and she also gave a great example of how a classroom task might look when a teacher is utilising explicit instruction.

I really encourage you to read the full article, but what I’d like to share with you now, is her response to our question of: ‘Does teaching explicitly mean I have to follow a script?’ Nuella said that while some teachers might use a script, utilising explicit instruction doesn't mean teachers have to follow a script. What it does mean, she explained, is that you’re using a set of instructional practices such as clearly stating learning goals, chunking information, giving clear explanations, modelling, guiding practice and offering feedback throughout the learning process. Here’s a quote from Nuella:

I think some of the reasoning behind that question is also because teachers are wondering about the nature of explicit teaching and whether it is one-directional from teacher to student. But what we know from the research is that effective explicit instruction is a really dynamic and responsive set of practices.

So, in response to that last point, here’s something to reflect on. As a teacher, would you describe your own approach to classroom instruction as dynamic and responsive? Or does it lean more towards being a one-dimensional approach from teacher to student?

Now, if you are a secondary teacher or leader, what is the average year 12 completion rate for students in your school? Do you know the reasoning behind why some students decide to leave early? How could you best support these students? A new report we’ve covered at Teacher has offered answers to these questions.

It’s the latest report from The Smith Family’s Pathways, Engagement and Transitions study which examines the post-school pathways of young people experiencing disadvantage. The report reveals that 68% of their survey participants completed year 12 and 28% left school early. The survey participants were in years 10-12, so 4% of them were still in school when they completed the final survey for the study.

This also means that researchers were able to conclude that 92% of students who didn’t complete year 12, actually said they intended to finish school when they were in year 11. In response to this, The Smith Family say it’s crucial for schools to better use data and more individualised assistance to support students who might be at-risk of leaving school early, in the 3 areas the research uncovered as being relevant to their likelihood to complete year 12.

These 3 areas are attendance, academic achievement and careers advice. Something I found really interesting from the research is that of those who left school early, 39% did not recall careers advice in school. This compares to only 13% of those who left school early that did recall careers advice. On the flipside, 87% of young people who did complete year 12 could recall careers advice.

Another area I’d like to highlight with you is the impact of attendance, because The Smith Family call this out as something that can be an early warning sign for schools. Over half of the young people surveyed who didn’t complete year 12 had low attendance (which is considered to be 70% or less), compared to just 19% who had attendance of over 90%.

So, in response to The Smith Family saying rates of attendance can be an early flag for identifying young people needing additional support to complete year 12, I have a question for you to think about. How often do you collect and review attendance data in your own school? How are you using data collected to inform the supports you provide to students?

That's all for this episode. Thanks for listening. You’re now all caught up on the latest evidence, insight and action. I’ll leave all the links to the full articles and podcast episodes I mentioned today in the transcript of this podcast episode, which you can find under the podcast tab at our website. Don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast channel wherever you get your podcasts from, so you can be notified of any new episodes as soon as they land.

Are you currently subscribed to the weekly Teacher bulletin? It’s a free weekly wrap up of our latest content straight to your inbox. Join our community by clicking on the sign-up button at our website, teachermagazine.com.