Putting FACES on the DATA to FACE up to Literacy Issues

How to put faces on the data, that make teachers face up to literacy issues?

 During this term all staff have participated in a collaborative focus on unpacking and implementing the Literacy Continuum. Our primary aim of this PLT focus was to provide staff the opportunity to develop a greater awareness and ownership of our data wall. 

However, what we discovered was more than just an issue with putting faces on the data.

We discovered the following issues:

1. Assessing literacy is difficult

As an example, many pre-service teachers find it difficult to make judgements regarding student assessments in specific subject areas, unless they are using a very structured marking scheme. This is often due to lack of experience and subject knowledge.  

Interestingly, during this PLT many experienced teachers found it difficult to make judgements on student work against the continuum. Comments were often made that they were ‘guessing’ student levels. As a result, the continuum was often identified as the scapegoat for the confusion, rather than an opportunity for teachers to improve their knowledge and skill set in literacy learning. Just like pre-service teachers this confusion or guessing highlights a lack of depth in understanding of key literacy aspects that definitely impacts on the learning of students at our school.

2. The WHY is often lost with the WHAT

Considerable time at the start of the PLT was spent on explaining to staff that aim of this PLT was to allow staff to own a living data wall for students in yrs 7-10 throughout 2016. However, in the process of collecting, judging and discussing student work, many staff lost sight of the WHY and become fixated on WHAT we were doing. 

This also may have been the root cause for many of the collegial discussions on literacy learning to be sidetracked regarding house keeping and logistical issues.

3. What happens after diagnosis?

Many staff were able to diagnose literacy weaknesses by the end of the PLT. However, the development of appropriate intervention strategies was not easy for many staff. Especially, in the context of PBL, staff have found it difficult to implement appropriate literacy interventions imbedded into the project work that students are undertaking. 

This issue highlights a disconnect between the use of the data wall as an ongoing instrument to improve student learning and the implementation of appropriate intervention strategies. The video below gives a good insight into the need to have an ongoing personal measure of assessment:



This PLT was confronting for many staff, however it has definitely opened a can of worms regarding their own literacy skills and ability to deliver effective literacy intervention. The next step is to ensure that the work undertaken in this PLT becomes part of teacher daily practices. The way forward should include:

1. At the start of every project, look at the level of students in your classes.

2. Plan appropriate literacy intervention activities to extend students at specific cluster levels. These may include small focused structures in a workshop environment.

3. At the end of every term discuss with your teaching team members the students in your classes and look at moving the students along the continuum.

Overall, I think this has been an excellent PLT that will improve the literacy learning of students in our school and continue to improve our outstanding academic results.

Using the Literacy Continuum in a STEM class

During our current Professional Learning Focus my school Parramatta Marist is looking at how we can use the Literacy Continuum to formatively assess where students are at and inform teacher practices for future teaching and learning. It is anticipated that this will provide staff with a common language in terms ‘what literacy looks like’ and make our collection of student data more relevant to everyday practices.

What is the Literacy Continuum?

The Literacy continuum K–10 identifies the literacy skills and understandings regarded as critical to literacy success. It assists teachers to map student skills sets through years of schooling by identifying the key markers expected by a student in that year cluster. Furthermore, the continuum captures and connects the key aspects critical to literacy success across all key learning areas.

Below is a snapshot of the 7-10 Literacy Continuum and also our targeted area of aspects of writing.


Literacy Continuum Snapshot

Aspects of Writing

How might it benefit your students?

The fact this will be a school-wide focus will ensure that all students will be impacted by the professional learning undertaken by teachers. Furthermore, it will provide teachers who are not familiar with literacy domains with a strong foundation to impact on student learning.

It will also allow teachers to take ownership of their assigned classes and populate our data wall. Because the continuum focuses on assessment for learning can revisit their classes throughout the year and move students along the continuum.

Parramatta Marist Data Wall

What are the potential challenges?

The potential challenges involves communicating to teachers a common understanding of how the continuum is interpreted. Also, ensuring that teachers revisit the continuum throughout the year to inform practice and not just during term 1.

Below is a snap shot of our school admin system which has an interactive continuum built into student data.  We will collect and synthesis this data over time to target student and teacher practices. This is also a potential challenge because you will need the data to be current in order to make appropriate judgements.

Student Record with Literacy Continuum Markers

What do you plan to do with classes?

My plan for the use of this literacy continuum is to target my year 9 STEM class. At present students are working on an Engineering Fundamentals unit and a research report looking at the history of engineered devices would be appropriate.

Students from my class last year commented that like to be challenged as shown by the video diary entry below:


Therefore, I would like my research task to target the following aspects:

  • Use of problematic knowledge
  • Incorporate coherent structure
  • Use a sophisticated vocabulary of engineering related words.
  • Appropriate use of referencing.

Finally, I will share my student scripts with my Professional Learning Team and have conversations on student learning to hopefully help improve my teaching of literacy aspects and learning that takes place in my classroom.

Is our education system ‘Finnish’?

Recently, we were given the opportunity to travel to Finland to participate in the ‘Global Education Community’ conference facilitated by the Innokas Network within the University of Helsinki. The conference focus was to provide the opportunity to make global connections with teachers in Finland, China and the USA. Additionally, we were able to visit Saunalahti School, Mantymaki Elementary School and Helsingin Normaalilyseo High School to see the sense of community and personalised learning that is in alignment with the national objectives for Education in Finland. Finally, we were given a first hand insight into the reasons for the success of the Finnish Education System by Jari Lavonen (Head of the Department of Teacher Education) and Paula Mattila (Counselor of Education).


Diagram 1 – Foyer of  Saunalahti School

Upon reflection and constant discussion we identified THREE key lessons to learn from the Finnish Education system that are driven by the ‘input’ model shown below in Diagram 2, which is the pillar of their education system.

Diagram 2 – The differences between ‘outcome’ and ‘input’

The Finnish system focuses on a core curriculum developed by the government that is then interpreted and implemented by the districts and schools at a local level. Teachers are given the autonomy to craft their curriculum like an artist would craft a painting. Furthermore, assessment is mostly formative designed at diagnosing student deficiencies, to focus on the teaching and learning process rather the product.


Lesson 1

“Broad aims cannot be achieved without a high degree of teacher quality and professionalism”

Both Jari Lavonen and the principals of the schools we visited expressed constantly that one of the key factors why the Finnish system trumps all others is the huge investment that is made in developing high quality teachers. The key reasons include:

  • Recruiting the best of the best – a teacher is a highly desirable profession amongst Finnish people. The number of places for teaching nationally in Finland is regulated by the government, so there is never an oversupply of teachers. Around 800 places are offered for education students nationally. Over 8,000 applicants apply for these positions. Higher results in the high school exit examination are needed to enter teaching than for engineering or medicine and interestingly the salary for teachers is in alignment with the national average.

  • Teachers with expert knowledge – teachers are six year trained and complete a Masters Degree prior to commencing their teaching career. There are no alternative ways to receive a teaching credential. Diagram 3 shows the educational pathway for teachers who by the end of their training, will have completed three theses, a thesis in their undergraduate degree, a masters thesis and a thesis related to their pedagogical studies.

Diagram 3 – Educational Pathway for Teachers

The high quality of teachers equates to a high level of professionalism and teacher effectiveness. This leads to a high level of trust from the administrative bodies and less of a need to focus on teacher accountability.


Lesson 2

“Decentralisation of the classroom, promoting local decisions on assessment and curriculum planning”

In recent years, Finland has made a significant shift in transferring the decision making and assessment to schools at the local level. This is in complete contrast to many other OECD countries who are favouring increased standardisation of curriculum, continual inspection and national testing. As a result, this shift has placed greater emphasis on teachers as professionals who are required to make important judgements on the length, breadth and depth of the curriculum that they teach, given the changing nature of their students. In each classroom that we visited, we witnessed teachers constantly formatively assessing students either by questions; online games, projects, rich tasks or online quizzes. This highlighted the shift in the role of the teacher as shown in Diagram 4, where the overarching aim of all teachers is to improve learning.

Diagram 4 – Shift in Educational Assessment

The decentralisation of the classroom is not an easy task to undertake. However, the Finnish education system is based on ‘educational equality’, where they aim to minimise the influence of the social and economic backgrounds of the schools. This is highlighted below by Diagram 5, which shows the ranking of OECD countries according to the variation of results within a school (Blue) and between schools (Orange). This graph demonstrates that Finnish schools are highly comprehensive; however, they have minimal variations between the schools. This shows that standardised testing of schools and subsequent rankings are not needed as schools and teachers are professionals focusing on the learning of all students.

Diagram 5 – Ranking of countries based on variations between and within schools


Lesson 3

‘Trusting the professionalism of teachers to ensure that the process of teaching and learning is valued.’

The excellent results achieved by Finland on the PISA assessment are remarkable and are a result of the autonomy and trust that teachers are given. As many countries move towards increased accountability of teachers through standards, inspections and appraisals, Finland have moved away from these trends.

Diagram 6 – Assessment of Teachers

The above diagram shows the disparity between professionalism and bureaucracy. In Finland they place trust in their teachers to know their students through collaboration, networking and partnerships. In contrast, many other countries are allocating resources to generate increased competition, nation-wide testing of students and subsequent school rankings. Furthermore, they do not rely on test-based accountability. Their system relies on the expertise and professionalism of the teachers who are committed to educating all students.  As a result, the output of their system is trust and autonomy from quality teachers who undertake rigorous courses.

Consequently, in Finland, there are no ‘standards’ for teachers to demonstrate, no external appraisals of teachers, no inspections of classes and no national testing of students. This is in alignment with the values and aims of a Finnish school shown below in Diagram 7. The removal of check measures in teaching has promoted a goal-orientated and quality focused culture within schools who are in the position to promote innovation through the building of networks locally and global partnerships. Whether it is coding, robotics, project based learning or other innovations, all teachers have the professional knowledge, trust and autonomy to adapt the way they teach to cater for the needs of 21st Century learners in a global world.

Diagram 7 – Values and Aims of a Finnish School

To conclude, it is sometimes best to highlight what we did not see in the Finnish schools, rather than what we did see. We did not see:

  • bureaucracy

  • ad hoc ideas coming from politicians

  • standardisation, inspection and national testing

  • test based accountability

  • competition and rankings

  • investment just in technology

We definitely have a lot to learn; however, it is all doom and gloom for the Australian education system. There is a growing movement of schools taking ownership at a local level to interpret how we teach, rather than focusing just on what we teach. Schools are attempting to move away from teacher-centered learning environments, to student-centred collaborative environments supported by appropriate technology. However, our professionalism needs to meet the needs of the 21st century, especially in terms of the graduates coming from university. Teaching is a profession, not a job and we need professionals to ensure that we gain trust-based responsibility from all stakeholders to make appropriate decisions at what is ‘best practice’ in teaching and learning. This will ensure that there is equality in the education of Australian students, especially in comparison to other students around the world.


Kiitos Finland

Gavin Hays and Kurt Challinor (@kchals)


FabLearn – Engaging Gen WiFi in Stem

Lauriston Girls High School hosted the first Australian Fablearn conference on Friday 3rd July 2015. The conference was similar to event hosted by Stanford Graduate School of Education and showcased a range of engaging keynote speakers and practical workshops by educators pioneering the STEM movement in Australia. 

The Principal of Lauriston Girls High School – Susan Just has been influential in setting up Australia’s first Fablab and provided a good insight into the key attributes in creating a Fablab, they include:

  • Make mistakes, but learn from them
  • Be persistent
  • Take risks
  • The ‘A’ in STEAM stands for ‘Any Subject’ – promote integration of disciplines
Lauriston Girls’ School’s FabLab@School officially opened in April 2014. In a collaborative partnership with Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, Lauriston is the first school in Australia to launch its own Fabrication Laboratory (FabLab) and one of only six in the world.

The keynote presentation was given by Chief Scientist for Australia – Professor Ian Chubb on The Future of Stem. Professor Chub outlined that science is a tool to change the world for the better, however it is not about learning the periodic table but about thinking scientifically and applying scientific knowledge. Furthermore, Professor Chubb also discussed the declining student numbers in Advanced Mathematics and high level Sciences such as Physics and Chemistry across Australia. He posed the question that maybe STEM is a great opportunity to change this trend?

The continuing decline in science and mathematics students in Australian High Schools

Dr Genevieve Bell who is an Australian-born anthropologist and researcher followed Professor Chubb with a presentation on The intersection of culture and technology in. Dr Bell is employed by Intel Labs and leads a research team of social scientists focusing on the audience and impact of new technology. Dr Bell gave a great insight into the impact of new technology on a social and cultural level. She also discussed the need for humans to be disconnected from the technology that is always connected and reflected on the scope of our digital footprint over the next 20 years.

New technology presents not just technical problems but also social and cultural problems – Genevieve Bell

Session 1 – 3D Fabricated Watch

My first session in the conference examined how a 3D printer coupled with the software inventor could be used to design and manufacture a watch. This gave a great insight into how small projects in design can produce big results. Too often we undertake large scale projects that are not feasible and often we fail to recognise the impact of small quality projects in the learning continuum.


The key takeaway’s of this session included:

  • providing students with an authentic design problem
  • allow students to use industry tools to construct the product
  • allow students to create beautiful work

Session 2 – Aerodynamics Workshop

This session was presented by myself and Jarryd Cook. Our aim was to expose the participants to the different ways fabrication tools such as the laser cutter could be used in an aerodynamics project.

We presented them with the problem:

Which force has the greatest effect on flying objects?

Constructing a need to know list

In groups, participants connected existing knowledge via a Carousel Brainstorm Protocol. This exposed them to the four forces in aerodynamics and other knowledge such as Bernoulli’s principle and Newtown’s Laws. The next task required participants to construct a paper plane and test how the different forces effect its ability to fly over distances.

Paper Plane being tested

The final task required the groups to construct and test a rubber band aeroplane that was designed and cut from the laser cutter. Each group discussed their findings at the end of the session.

Constructing their rubber band aeroplane

The final part of the conference was a tour of Swinbourne Universities purpose built ‘Factory of the Future’. The aim of the learning space is to connect design students with contemporary fabrication tools and businesses in order to design and manufacture innovative products for the future. The technology on show gave me a very good insight into the types of projects that students will be creating in STEM in the future.

3D printed  prosthetic limb

Overall, the first fablearn Australian was a great success. Congratulations to the staff at Lauriston Girls High School for their work in pioneering this great work I can’t wait for the 2016 showcase.

Some examples of student work from Lauriston can be seen below: