For my final year placement, I worked in a co-ed Catholic school located in a low socioeconomic area of South Australia. By analysing school policies and procedures, I was able to ensure I was across the ethical and legislative requirements expected of me before my arrival (FA: 7.1, 7.2: Appendix 1). For this evidence set, I explore the importance of the teaching and learning cycle in the context of a six-week unit I planned, taught, and assessed for a Year 11 (Stage One) English class on Nineteenth Century Narrative Poetry.
Full class details are outlined in Appendix 1. Although none of the students in the class had a formal learning plan, there were several high needs students, including an accelerated Year 10 student, a gifted student, two students for whom English was a second language, one student from a NESB, and one student with undiagnosed learning difficulties (FA: 1.1, 1.3, 1.5). In addition, most of the class were disengaged from their learning and saw little value in English studies generally, and poetry studies in particular, and there were a number of highly disruptive students in the class (FA: 4.1, 4.3). It was clear from the outset that my main focus would be on improving student engagement in classroom activities.
Given the complexity of the class dynamics, I knew I would need to plan the unit well in advance to ensure I could differentiate the unit by both readiness and interest (Sousa and Tomlinson, 2018) to ensure all students could participate equally in the unit (FA: 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.5). As this was a SACE subject, and the assessment were pre-set in the LAP, I used Wiggins and Tighe’s (2005) Backwards Design process to plan out the content of the unit (FA: 2.1, 2.2, 2.5, 3.2, 3.4; Appendix 2) and then had many conversations with my mentor about how best to proceed with planning, particularly in relation to differentiation (FA: 6.3, 6.4; see Appendix 3). After planning the unit and lessons, and preparing classroom materials and resources, I commenced the unit with a diagnostic assessment task (Readman and Allen, 2013) that enabled me to gauge where the students’ knowledge and understanding essential for progressing successfully through the unit (FA: 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 5.1; see Appendix 4).
The data from this diagnostic assessment activity allowed me to refine my plans and tailor the learning experience (FA: 5.2) to help keep students within their zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, cited in Duchesne and McMaugh, 2016). I ensured I used teaching strategies that would be effective for this cohort of students, which, as per my mentor’s advice, involved a lot of modelling (FA: 3.2, 3.3, 6.3, 6.4; Appendices 3, 4, and 5).
For example, after discussions with Mentor 1 (FA: 6.3; Appendix 3) and building on my preassessment of learning, I prepared a lesson on Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” to introduce students to the topic of Nineteenth Century Narrative Poetry (Appendix 5). “The Raven” was chosen because it has a clearly defined narrator, pronounced themes, and uses many of the poetic devices that students needed to be able to identify to understand how Poe communicates those themes, which forms the basis of the curriculum requirements for the unit (FA: 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.5, 3.1). It is also a text referenced often in popular culture, and this was used as a bridge between students’ contemporary experience and interests and the poetic conventions of the 1800s (3.3, 3.4, 4.1). To ensure all students could participate in the class, I provided a template that would help scaffold their learning (FA: 3.3, 3.4, 3.5, 4.1, 4.2, ; Appendix 6) and a modified version for students requiring additional support (FA: 1.5; Appendix 7), which was designed to help students who had not already developed the prerequisite knowledge of poetic devices needed to successfully complete the unit.
In addition to the diagnostic assessment outlined above, formative assessment was used to monitor student progress in their learning (Readman and Allen, 2013). This took the form of in class observations and feedback given directly to students, as well as email correspondence (FA: 5.1, 5.2; Appendix 8), especially where students had been absent. Feedback was also provided on drafts of students’ summative work, and though many students faced the same issues with their drafts, I ensured I tailored my feedback to suit the individual needs of each student (FA: 5.1, 5.2, 5.4; Appendix 9); however, for the practice exam conducted during the unit, I instead provided general feedback to the entire class by analysing trends in their exam responses and condensing the information into a single presentation (FA: 5.1, 5.2, 5.4; Appendix 10).
The unit included two summative assessment tasks that were predesigned in line with the LAP for the subject: one halfway through the unit and one at the end of the unit. After analysing the data gathered from the first summative assessment task (FA: 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4, 5.5; Appendix 11), I was able to alter my plans for the second half of the unit to ensure I was correcting student misconceptions and helping them better engage with the learning outcomes.
Review is a constant part of my process and important to ensure continual improvement throughout the teaching and learning cycle (Whitton, et al., 2016). As stated above, I revised my plans constantly throughout the unit based on analysis of diagnostic, formative, and summative assessments, personal reflection, and feedback from my mentors on how each lesson went (FA: 5.4, 6.3, 6.4; Appendix 4). This led me to changing my approach for the second assessment task, as reflected in Appendix 12 (FA: 1.2, 2.1, 2.3, 3.2, 3.6, 5.1, 5.4, 6.4). I also discussed particular students’ progress with parents and implemented additional supports based on these discussions, for example, by providing more one-on-one support to Student 2 after class during Homework Club (FA: 3.7, 7.3; Appendix 13).
I also reviewed the unit as a whole, and after analysing student data provided feedback to my mentors that I considered the unit was two short to given students sufficient time to complete both summative assessment tasks successfully (FA: 1.2, 2.1, 2.3, 3.2, 3.6, 5.4, 6.3; see Appendices 2, 11, and 12).
Finally, I reviewed my own teaching practice by recording myself, watching the video back, reflecting on my practice, and discussing my performance with my mentor. This particularly helped me understand how to better manage student behaviour and implement effective teaching strategies in the classroom, for example, acting on poor behaviour earlier, thinking more about where I position myself in the room, and reconfiguring certain elements into more interactive activities. (FA: 1.2, 3.3, 3.5, 4.1, 4.2, 4.3, 6.2, 6.3, 6.4; Appendix 14).
It was clear that the teaching and learning cycle positively impacted student learning. This is most evident in the raw data. As can be seen in Appendix 15, student grades improved for most students between the first and second summative assessment tasks (FA: 5.1, 5.3, 5.4, 5.5). In some cases, this improvement was marked. While some of this may be explained by differences in student interest between both tasks (both involved analysing a poem, but the final task included a creative component), some of this can be attributed to the changes I made in the second half of the unit based on analysing student data from the first assessment task, ongoing in class observations, and feedback from my mentors.
These grade improvements may be indicative of an increase in student engagement as well, though this is harder to measure due to the number of absences in the latter half of the unit due to illness, excursions, and sports and community days. Anecdotally, student engagement increased the more I was able to relate content to student experience, provide group work opportunities, and increase interactive components of lessons, and this was particularly apparent in the lesson I combined strategies from Indigenous Yarning Circles and Learning Circles (Burrows, 2007) to help analyse a poem (FA: 1.2, 2.1, 2.4, 3.3, 3.5, 4.1, 4.2; Appendix 16). However, measuring student engagement objectively is difficult, and this highlights the need to develop a process for collecting data on student engagement that moves beyond anecdotal observations (FA: 6.1).
The planning, preassessment, and diagnostic assessment processes were essential to give me a firm understanding of where my students were at (FA: 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.5), where they needed to be (FA: 2.3, 3.1), and how I was going to get them there (FA: 2.1, 2.2, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 3.5, 4.3), while ongoing assessment provided significant data that helped me shape their learning experiences (FA: 5.1, 5.2, 5.4). One of the things that this experience has highlighted is that the learning and teaching cycle is just that—a cycle of continual improvement (Whitton, et al., 2016). There are several things I would like to try to do differently were I to teach this unit again. First, my knowledge of the students, even after my observation days, was still limited, and his meant that the diagnostic assessment came later than I would like, even though it occurred at the very beginning of my teaching unit. This mean I was processing this data in real time, and I would have liked more time to incorporate that data into the planning stage. When I teach my own class, and particularly if I can teach the same students over multiple years, I will develop much richer knowledge of their learning needs and be able to better plan my teaching accordingly (FA: 1.2, 1.5).
To enhance student learning in future, I need to develop more strategies for engaging students in class, managing behavioural issues, and structuring learning programs (FA: 6.1). It would also be good to work on a unit over multiple years so that I can assess the impact of continual teaching and learning cycles on student learning outcomes.
• Burrows, L. (2007). Recreating the circle of wellbeing. Post Pressed.
• Duchesne, S., and McMaugh, A. (2016). Educational Psychology for Learning and Teaching (5th ed.). Victoria, Australia: Cengage Learning Australia Pty Limited.
• Readman, K. & Allen, B. (2013). Practical Planning and Assessment. Australia: Oxford University Press.
• Sousa, D., and Tomlinson, C. (2018). Differentiation and the Brain: How Neuroscience Supports the Learner-Friendly Classroom (Use Brain-Based Learning and Neuroeducation to Differentiate Instruction). Solution Tree.
• Whitton, D., Barker, K., Nosworthy, M., Humphries, J., Catherine, S. (2016). Learning for Teaching, Teaching for Learning (3rd ed.). South Melbourne, Victoria: Cengage Learning Australia.
• Wiggins, G. P., and McTighe, J. (2005) Understanding by Design (2nd ed.) Alexandria, Virginia: ASCD.