As the Northern Territory Learning Commission (NTLC) wraps up for another year, we spoke with the Teacher Commissioners at Wagaman Primary School about what they’ve learned on their NTLC journey this year including, what makes for effective data collection and the trust required to activate student agency and leadership.
What is the theme of your NTLC work this year and how did you choose this direction?
The theme of our NTLC this year is feedback in Writing.
At the beginning of the school year, our Teacher Commissioners brought a range of data from 2020 and previous years to our first meeting for review – everything from school survey data to PAT and NAPLAN results.
We sorted the data based on how we interpreted its topic or theme, and we noticed that the data we reviewed had aspects that we deemed both positive and negative. We spent a number of weeks dissecting what we had found and voting on elements of our school’s data story that we felt we could change.
The puzzle piece that concerned us the most was our NAPLAN Writing data. The data showed a two year decline in Writing results, and students reported feeling that their teachers were doing less in the feedback and effective goal setting space in Writing lessons. From here, we decided to conduct a Term 1, Week 7 book study.
For the book study, Student Commissioners across seven classes from Years 3-6 brought their Writing books to their weekly Commission meeting and noticed that only two classes had any written feedback in their books. This prompted a discussion around:
- how students know if they’re successful in their writing
- how teachers can help students identify how to improve their writing
- what other resources were present in our classrooms to assist students to become good writers.
This initial Term 1 investigation, prompted us to decide that further investigation was necessary within our school to find out what was happening with writing and feedback.
How did you shape the investigation for your NTLC focus?
After our shared NTLC online session with all of the other NTLC schools, we worked in conjunction with Amanda Bickerstaff, the CEO of Pivot Professional Learning, to write five questions about feedback in Writing lessons that would help us to find out more about our focus area. The questions we came up with were:
- What does feedback mean to you?
- Do you get verbal feedback on your writing?
- Do you get written feedback on your writing?
- Do you believe that regular feedback would help you to improve your writing?
- If you do get feedback on your writing, explain briefly how your teacher does this.
What has NTLC taught you about effective data collection?
Our first survey was distributed to 141 students in paper form. For this first survey, our Teacher Commissioner gave a response scale that was difficult for students to understand. We fed this back to our Teacher Commissioner and we worked together to correct this.
We also discovered with this first survey that although many students stated they had received written and verbal feedback (77% and 84% respectively), around 77% of students couldn’t articulate what they understood feedback to be. This prompted us to think about other ways we could ask students about how their teachers were helping them to improve their writing.
This resulted in Student Commissioners taking the word ‘feedback’ out of their second set of survey questions and interviewing students via face to face interviews. The data from this second survey t gave us a clear idea of what students felt their teachers were doing to provide feedback and what suggestions they had for improving the feedback culture at our school.
What have been the biggest challenges in your NTLC this year?
Diving into data was a big challenge for our Learning Commissioners early in the year. As our Commission is made up of students from Years 3-6, there was a great difference in the understanding and interpretation of our data sets. It took us an entire term to learn how to interpret and discuss a variety of data sets and decide on what information to investigate. This part of the journey was also a little less engaging for student commissioners.
We have also found that there have been varied responses (positive and negative) from teachers within our school once they learned that we were ‘investigating’ teacher practice. This was valuable for student commissioners to see and understand because it helped us be more respectful of the perspectives of all stakeholders.
What have been your greatest learnings in your NTLC this year?
Students have learned a valuable lesson about how teachers feel within their roles as educators. Students had the opportunity to ‘hot seat’ teachers to find out what mattered to them when planning for a change to the feedback processes at our school. This taught students about how teachers’ value their input.
Teacher Commissioners have learnt a valuable lesson in the power of when to step forward and when to step back. Moving from student agency to student leadership requires more trust and time than teachers are used to in their own classrooms, so this has been a powerful year for fostering a true student/teacher commissioner partnership.
It has been brilliant to see our student commissioners develop their confidence and ability to lead and organise themselves, their teachers and their peers.