Knowing learners and their needs.
In partnership with The Learner First, schools across Queensland, Australia have experienced tremendous shifts in culture, mindset, practice, and outcomes.
The Learner First and Queensland Schools
The Learner First has partnered with Queensland schools since 2019. Beginning with a small number of schools the work expanded across the region in 2020, and also included additional clusters of schools in the South East Region under the leadership of an Assistant Regional Director. At the heart of the learning journeys of those engaged with The Learner First is a deeper understanding of who learners really are, not just as students, but as diverse individuals. By developing relationships built on trust and belonging, embedding new knowledge of their students in learning, and embracing the development of learners’ well-being as the true and real purpose of teaching and learning, schools are successfully guiding their students to improved academic and lifelong success.
Curricular Learning + SEL = Well-Being
It’s traditional for teachers to design their teaching and learning programs by aligning the achievement standards, content descriptors, and capabilities into a series of lesson plans to make up a unit of work. The fundamental element missing here is the child—the student for whom the learning is designed. The single most foundational practice for enabling learning and wellbeing is understanding and valuing who learners really are—not just as students, but as unique individuals with varying interests, passions, cultures, goals and paths to achieving success in their lives. With that missing (and most important) element in place, teachers can design curricular learning that’s relevant to learners’ lives, interests and needs, and that develops the social-emotional outcomes that complete the full picture of what it means to succeed.
Mini-Case: Teaching as Learning
During a one-on-one interview, Tamara learned that her student, Analyn, preferred hands-on learning rather than having concepts explained to her from the front of a classroom. Since English was her second language, it was sometimes hard for her to keep up with the pace of the lessons. So Tamara started inviting Analyn to work through maths problems on the whiteboard, deliberately working through the steps and offering guidance where necessary. Analyn took to the learning style so much that she asked if she could start showing her classmates how to work through certain problems. From then on, Tamara regularly invited Analyn and anyone else who was interested to work through problems on the whiteboard in front of the class, explaining to the others what they were doing as they went. At the time of their one-on-one interview, Analyn wasn’t sure what she wanted to do after school. But by the end of the term, not only had Analyn achieved more progress than in any other term before it, but she also discovered a newfound purpose. After school, she told Tamara, she’d become a teacher, too.
“This term was my ‘WOW.’ Student engagement throughout the term was exceptional… For the first time, not just [Analyn] but four students in my class, through the work that we did, actually achieved beyond just a C level which was amazing… And those students provided the evidence for those Bs. I do think their understanding was a lot deeper… That was really quite exciting.”
—High School Teacher
Mini-Case: Choose Your Own Assessment
Hannah noticed that Nathan struggled with written assessments. He was an excellent verbal communicator but, try as he might, he had a difficult time communicating his thoughts and learning in writing. When Hannah sat down to talk with him one-on-one and asked him about his preferred learning styles, Nathan expressed a lack of confidence with writing, saying that whenever he had to write something down he always felt like he was going to ‘mess up.’ In the past, the final assessment in Hannah’s Agriculture class was always a written assessment. But this term, after learning more about Nathan, Hannah gave her students a choice about how they’d like to perform their final assessment task. For Nathan, the choice was easy. He shared a slideshow presentation with the rest of the class and achieved at a higher level than ever before. And it wasn’t just Nathan who benefitted from the change—everyone loved the opportunity to choose.
Graphic created by Dakabin State High School to describe the Learner First process.