At St Albans Secondary College, teachers and students have been collaborating in a student-learning action team in order to build stronger engagement and agency in education.
Principal Kerrie Dowsley explains that the school feels it has been important to actively engage its students to provide feedback and work in partnership with the student learning action team, in order to improve learning outcomes and make learning more relevant and approachable to students.
'Student voice has always been important at the school and probably for the last 15 to 17 years, it's been a strong and ongoing part of what we do to improve our practice,' Kerrie said.
The value of student voice, agency and leadership
Creating space for student voice, agency and leadership may feel like a challenge to the current focus on curriculum and assessment requirements. Research shows that teachers who empower students see improvements in student engagement and participation in the classroom, school and community. By helping students to 'own' their learning and development, schools create a positive climate for learning that benefits the health, wellbeing and learning outcomes of the whole school community.
Many teachers report that student voice, agency and leadership evolve as teachers create a learning partnership approach – for example, by including students in planning, setting goals and in the assessment process.
St Albans Year Level Coordinator and former Head of Maths Owen McIntyre explains below how their school has been able to build student voice, agency and leadership by employing some of the High Impact Teaching Strategies (HITS) – such as Feedback, Questioning and Metacognitive strategies – alongside the Student Learning Action Team.
A video case study exploring the impact and value of student voice, agency and leadership at St Albans explores some of the work this school has undertaken. Watch it below.
Student engagement strategies in action
Surveying and engaging students
Owen explains that a key starting point was harnessing information from student surveys, which canvassed the interests, thoughts and feelings of students in relation to their learning, giving teachers the data they needed to reflect on their teaching practice.
'It's been a huge push to engage students,' Owen said.
'We have the Student Attitudes to School Survey and the school has developed its own student-teacher feedback surveys that are done through Compass, our student management tool. The results are then collated and sent straight back to the teacher.'
One of the feedback pieces Owen received was that students wanted him to read instruction notes less and give them more time to practise. As a result, he cut down the whole-class instruction time and gave students more time to explore for themselves, and to seek differentiated support from him.
Taking a moment to see what the student sees
Teachers at St Albans have also been encouraged to collect student feedback and reflect on it to understand how students feel about the lessons they have just participated in or their individual learning outcomes.
'You definitely want to have those one-on-one conversations [with students],' Owen said.
'We also do things like the exit passes, where students have to answer a couple of questions before they leave the class, or have three questions stapled to the back of almost every assessment, which ask:
- Where are you now?
- Where are you going?
- How are you going to get there?
Creating a student learning action team
Two St Albans Secondary College students who attended a student agency conference in Adelaide in 2017, learned about the student learning action team approach and brought it back to their school leadership.
Both staff and students reflect that the first meeting was really about building trust between students and teachers to break down barriers between students and teachers. Kerrie remembers that while some staff were initially hesitant or uncomfortable when engaging with students about their teaching practice, the benefits and the support of their peers led them to be confident when employing student voice and agency practices.
Begin by using the same language between staff and students
Kerrie Dowsley talks through the steps they took with this process of student engagement and offers advice to other schools about how they can structure their initial conversations. At St Albans, they started by asking students what a good lesson looked like, and introducing students to the College's learning cycle.
'It seems funny now to think that the learning cycle was something that teachers knew about, but students didn't,' Kerrie said.
LATAR is an acronym which broadly explains the approach St Albans Secondary College teachers used to structure lessons. It stands for:
- Learning intention
- Activate prior knowledge
- Teach new information
- Apply the knowledge
- Review the learning intention
Through the Student Learning Action Team, staff were encouraged to consider what students needed to be doing and saying at each stage of the lesson, and to make students more aware of this learning cycle and their active role within it.
A visual explanation of this whole school learning cycle was then designed by the Student Learning Action Team and put up in every classroom. As a result students have become more aware of their learning intentions, and what they need to do to further strengthen their own learning.
Resources to support student voice, agency and leadership
The Department has developed a professional practice note to help teachers amplify literacy learning through student voice, agency and leadership.
Teachers can explore the note to see how schools can create the conditions, employ the practices and develop the behaviours, attitudes and learning environments that are conducive to student voice, agency and leadership.