Does a change in pedagogy improve results?

Schools are being challenged to provide students with a more authentic, relevant and student centred learning opportunity. However, the yard stick for school success in NSW at the moment is achievement on a standarised examination. So can we prepare students for the challenges of the 21st century and achieve success in the HSC?

The answer is ‘YES’. The reason why I know the answer is because I have witnessed it first hand at Parramatta Marist High School. To give some perspective, “it is the oldest Catholic school in the country, but Parramatta Marist High is a model of modern education.” Through the implementation of Project and Problem Based Learning the school has been able to focus on key skills such critical thinking, problem solving, presentation skills and social development and also navigate a crowded curriculum. Students at Parramatta Marist now have an increased confidence to collaborate with other students in solving authentic and rigorous problems.

But that is only part of the story. Parramatta Marist has been consistently in the top 100 schools in NSW over the last seven years, with the 2014 cohort achieving our best results so far. 

The remarkable improvement saw the comprehensive low-fee Catholic school jump from 73rd in the state to 42nd on a list of the state’s top-performing HSC schools, outperforming private schools such as The King’s School, Scots College and Trinity Grammar.

 The 2014 cohort achieved some outstanding individual student success as highlighted on the infographic below. But the statistics that highlight the success of our focus on a student centred pedagogy is the fact that 90% of all students achieved a band 4, 5 and 6. This  shows that students who work together can learn from each other and improve the overall results of a cohort.

Any change is challenging and results are always expected. But many schools will be reassured that such a feat is possible. It requires the confidence of school leadership to manage the change, especially by a dedicated investment in the human capital of teachers. It is imperative that teachers are given the skills to navigate the change and are confident that a focus on skills will always result in academic improvements.

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.