Rigorous Alignment to Enhance Retained Learning – Landing the Plane

Teaching personnel have always spent many hours designing learning for those in their care. Most of the time they hit the mark. Unfortunately, other times they do not. This is ok because FAILing is always a First Attempt In Learning, as long as there is development, and we encourage this through valid risk-taking.

With an increase and a more focused approach to Standards-based professional development for staff occurring these days, the time spent designing learning hasn’t changed. If anything it has probably increased with higher demands. The continued and accountable focus of differentiating learning to suit all learners with the theory of ‘one years learning equals one years growth’ no matter where the student academically lays is also big on the agenda. This is the case at St Mel’s and our staff work above and beyond to deliver quality learning programs to cater for the needs of all of our students, and just like all schools, the needs are challenging and diverse, sometimes more.

Through the excitement, consolidation and success we are experiencing through our Organic Learning programs, we discovered the need to ensure that there was rigour tied to our Hexagonal Curriculum Mapping and learning in general. Cross-curricular student outcomes that are connected to create Outcome clusters show authenticity and relevance in student learning. We need to ensure that we are hitting the mark every time and remaining true to the process, true to the mandated Syllabus Outcomes and Standards and true to ensuring our students are learning at the expected rate.

We felt the need to further investigate curriculum alignment in order to ensure that our practices and processes were on point. Research revealed the following two definitions:

Alignment: The extent to which and how well curricular categories and the elements within them (e.g., content standards, instructional content, and assessment practices) work together to guide instruction and, ultimately, facilitate and enhance student learning (Webb, 1997).
Curriculum: Can be divided into four categories: intended, enacted, assessed, and learned curricula (Porter, 2006)

Further thought drew us to believe that alignment is a prerequisite condition for making valid inferences about learners’ attainment of objectives based upon assessment. Because alignment is a property of the relationship between retained learning and a set of standards, if alignment is found to be less than desired, then alignment can be improved by changing one of or a combination of the planned, enacted and assessment areas.

In regards to using the word ‘curriculum’, we felt compelled in light of our Organic Learning work and beliefs behind it that curriculum could be seen as just one part of the learning scope, related to mandated syllabus outcomes for students. In true sense, there is so much more that occurs in terms of learning for students, as well as for teachers, parents and leaders so a bigger and braver term was required. This being said, it was decided to change the term ‘Curriculum’ to ‘Learning’, because as we already know, learning is learning, whether you are 5, 25 or 65.

Below is the model we formulated that we use at St Mel’s to ensure in the light of the work of Covey, that we remain aware and ‘keep the main thing the main thing’.

Rigorous Learning Alignment

Intended Learning (What are we planning to do?): Learning always derives from a need, more or less when we become aware that we are consciously incompetent in an area. For students this requires a teacher to map out a scope of work based upon the syllabus and use relevant Learning Intentions and co-constructed Success Criteria to express to students what is required of them. For teachers it is about refining their practice against Teacher Standards or about learning how to teach the relevant content this is forever evolving. For parents, it is about developing their skills and awareness in terms of contemporary learning. For leaders it is about developing the required knowledge and keeping up with recent directives from governing bodies as well as building their own skills in leadership.

Enacted Learning (What are we actually doing?): After careful and creative construction of intended learning, how often is it actually enacted how it was intended? How good are we at keeping the main thing the main thing and ensuring we hit the target? We often witness through observations and learning walks that teachers fail to deliver what they initially planned (which was really great planned learning), leaving students at a deficit. Are teachers ensuring that they know the required content themselves before teaching it and using research based methods to deliver learning? Do students know how to go about learning a new concept through investigation and application? Are they even taught the relevant skills in order to do that? Is parent education timely and meaningful? Is it delivered through creative avenues to maximise uptake? Are leaders self-directed in their learning to ensure that they are participating in relevant learning that is going to benefit the whole school community? Are they fostering relational trust in their staff and being transparent in their decisions? Sure, this all being said, we need to adjust things along the way but is learning facilitated in the way that it should be for all stakeholders?

Assessed Learning (What are we assessing?): When we hear this term, we straight away we jump to summative and standardised testing, but should we? Assessment opportunities as we know can be both qualitative and quantitive, opportunities to assess learning are all around us and are often way more powerful. Data needs to be relevant and must be able to be used – if not, what is the point of it sitting on a spreadsheet or data wall somewhere? Data needs to inform further and future learning. We also need to remember the relevance and power of self and peer assessment, no matter how old the learner is. Not only summative but the value of assessment for and as learning. How often do we stop and take a check of where things are at? How often do we ask for critique and feedback from others? Finally, are we assessing our intended learning? All of this can be applied by all stakeholders.

Retained Learning (What is actually learned?): This element is pretty self-explanatory but is highly valuable, but unfortunately gets put in the too hard basket. What is the point of planning, teaching and assessing if learners do not retain the information a week, a month or a year later? Fail. There is growing research in the area of information retention, particularly in the field of psychology and how the brain works. Are we tapping in and learning about this research and findings? Are we trialling new ways or just doing what do because we’ve always done it? Are we reiterating our teaching methods, scope of work and how we enact learning so that learners build their knowledge and skills – and remember it! Are we assessing what was initially intended?

We need to make explicit that this model is not a linear process, hence the double headed arrow. Good practitioners and learners continually jump back and forwards at the point of learning to further ensure that they are hitting the mark.

In application of our model, staff use the model to assist in their pitch and critique sessions around their units of work. This is what we intend..? This is how we plan to enact..? This is how/what we will assess..? This is what we really hope is retained..? Then then have this as a visual reminder in their Bunker to continually remind them throughout a unit of work. To put it bluntly, the model creates a clear and concise way to articulate learning. It helps us land the plane.



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