Principles of Teaching, Learning and Assessment Mandated Materials

The Principles of Teaching, Learning and Assessment focus on the provision of a school and class environment that is intellectually, socially and physically supportive of learning. The principles assist whole-school planning and individual classroom practice. It is essential, therefore, to ensure that there is a shared understanding of them within particular school communities and a collaborative effort to implement these principles in ways appropriate to individual schools.

Principles of Teaching and Learning

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Learning experiences should enable students to observe and practise the actual processes, products, skills and values that are expected of them.

Students should have the opportunity to engage fully with the concepts they are expected to develop; observe people engaged in the processes which they are to learn; and encounter examples of high-quality products of those processes, so they can see what it is they are aiming to achieve. For example, students are more likely to understand and make sense of mathematical, scientific or social science ideas if the information and experiences they engage with are inherently meaningful. They are more likely to write, perform or design well if they see the writing, performing or designing processes modelled and encounter examples of 'good' writing, 'good' performance or 'good' design. They are more likely to learn to respect and value the views of others if the school environment models such behaviours.

Students should have the opportunity to engage as fully as possible in the processes they are expected to learn about or through. For example, if they are expected to learn to plan, investigate and make choices, then they must practise these skills, rather than carry out the plans, investigations and choices of others. Where skills need to be developed to a high level of proficiency, appropriate practice of the actual skill is needed in settings that approximate those in which the skill is to be used.

Learning experiences should connect with students' existing knowledge, skills and values while extending and challenging their current ways of thinking and acting.

Learning should endeavour to ensure fresh challenges to students' existing knowledge, skills and understanding and new ideas are realistic. Sometimes existing conceptual frameworks and capabilities can be readily extended to incorporate new learning; at other times they need to be exposed (and possibly discarded) in order for new learning to occur. Either way, learners need to be able to connect new experiences to what they already know and can do, while at the same time reconstructing what they know and can do to take account of the challenge provided by their new experience.

Learning experiences should encourage both action and reflection on the part of the student.

Learning is likely to be enhanced when students engage actively with the task at hand. They should be encouraged to think of learning as an active process on their part, involving a conscious intention to make sense of new ideas or experiences and improve their own knowledge and capabilities, rather than simply to reproduce or remember. This means that learning experiences should be meaningful and involve students in both doing and reflecting. Students should learn to carry out relevant actions (do, imitate, plan, experiment, test, create, rehearse, make, choose, try alternatives) and reflect upon and make sense of the results of those actions (What does this mean? Why did that happen? Am I surprised by this answer? Does it make sense? How is this problem like others I have seen before? What worked? Why? How does this connect with other learning? Are these ideas related?). Language plays a major role in connecting doing and reflecting, and students need to learn to use language as a tool for their own learning.

As part of the reflective process, students should be helped to make connections between apparently unrelated ideas and experiences and different areas of knowledge. Teachers should emphasise the interconnectedness of knowledge, skills and values, both within and across different learning areas. Schools should provide an environment in which knowledge, skills and values are seen as an integrated whole, and their development as a lifelong endeavour.

Learning experiences should be motivating and their purpose clear to the student.

Students should be provided with purposeful and relevant activities that stimulate thought, inquiry and enjoyment. They may regard such activities as purposeful and relevant if they have an immediate practical goal (I need to know what happened in the story, we need to reduce harassment at school, we need to work out how much money we have collected) or if they relate to some longer-term goal which the student values (I need to practise my serve so my overall game will improve). Activities should be consistent with students' maturity and should endeavour to engage both their interest and challenge them to succeed. Students should be clear about what is expected of them, what they are trying to learn and why. Teachers can enhance motivation and purposeful learning by making clear to students the long-term outcomes expected from their learning.

Learning experiences should respect and accommodate differences between learners.

Students have a variety of past experiences shaped by their language, culture, health, location, values, abilities and disabilities, and previous education. Thus, teaching must be highly adaptive, acknowledging, respecting and accommodating the diverse background experiences students bring to the classroom. The extent to which a student can benefit from an experience will depend on the extent to which it connects and challenges that student's knowledge.

Students develop at different rates and also learn new ideas more or less quickly. They should be provided with the time, conditions and encouragement they need to learn in stimulating ways, and be discouraged from superficial learning that gives the impression of keeping pace at the expense of long-term and sustained learning. Students may differ in the extent to which they prefer to work independently or collaboratively, through pictures or words, orally or in writing, laterally or in a linear fashion, cautiously or adventurously. The same student may successfully use certain approaches in one learning situation and other approaches in a different learning situation.

Students should be provided with a rich variety of learning opportunities that enable them to build on their existing experiences and personal strengths and work in preferred ways. Ideally, the experiences should also broaden students' horizons by extending the range of contexts in which they can function and the learning strategies that are available to them as individuals.

Learning experiences should encourage students to learn both independently and from and with others.

If students are to become autonomous learners, they need to experience regular opportunities for both individual and collaborative learning. Working individually is necessary and can help to ensure a personal grasp of concepts, processes and skills. Working with peers enables students to be challenged by the views of others, clarify ideas and interpret and use appropriate language. Often discussion will involve students in explaining ideas to others and, in doing so, clarifying these ideas for themselves.

Learning experiences should be structured so that students can learn not only from their immediate peers and teachers but also from family and community members and people from other parts of the world. This will help them to appreciate that all people can contribute to learning and that life experiences are to be valued, together with books and other sources of information. It will also enable them to see things from different perspectives, to stand outside their own culture and their own society, to value and respect diversity, and to be critical of and able to analyse different points of view.

Teachers should plan learning experiences that enable students, whether working individually or in groups, to become increasingly autonomous. Students should be assisted to reflect on their own learning, thinking about how they learn and the conditions that help them to learn. Classroom processes should give students some flexibility in choosing ways of working and encourage them to take responsibility for their own learning.

The school and classroom setting should be safe and conducive to effective learning.

A supportive learning environment provides the intellectual, social and physical conditions in which effective learning can occur. School and classroom policies and practices should be designed to foster in students the knowledge that they can be successful autonomous learners. They should support the development of a confident approach to learning and a desire to achieve well. For example, this means that students should feel challenged and able to take sensible risks in their learning in the knowledge that the errors that may result will be regarded as a necessary, acceptable and often a helpful part of learning.

Further, the school and classroom should provide a cooperative atmosphere, free from harassment such as teasing, sarcasm or remarks that stereotype or denigrate students or their efforts. Difference and diversity should be respected and sensitivity shown to matters of gender, cultural difference, social class, ability and disability, family circumstance and individual difference. A supportive learning environment also provides sufficient, fair, safe and ethical access to a suitable and varied range of resources, including space and equipment, print and other materials and useful technology. This does not imply a need for the same environment for all. Indeed, special provision may often be necessary to ensure that all students are given the opportunity to learn.

Principles of Assessment

Assessments should arise naturally out of the teaching and intended learning of the curriculum. They should be carefully constructed to enable judgements to be made about students' progress in ways that contribute to ongoing learning.

To do this, assessments should provide information about fine changes in student learning related to specific aspects of that learning. They should help teachers understand where students are in their learning, what they need to learn next as well as identify any misunderstandings or misconceptions that the students have. It is this fine-grained information that enables teachers to plan programs that challenge students to go beyond what they already know, understand or can do in order to build new knowledge, understandings and skills.

There are myriad ways that teachers can find out where students are in their learning including one-to-one conferencing with individual students, the range of formative assessment strategies that allow teachers to check students' understandings during the course of the lesson, from learning journals, exhibitions, portfolios and teacher-devised tests and standardised assessments. All the information teachers collect about their students should become an integral part of the planning of instructional activities.

Teachers need to give careful consideration to planning for assessment as well as planning for teaching. This preparation should include planning how they will draw on their own observations and planning for summative assessments. Teachers also need to consider how they will refine their teaching programs based on the information they collect.

Assessment practices should be educationally sound and contribute to learning. Assessments may do this in a number of ways. Firstly, assessment activities should encourage in-depth and long-term learning. Secondly, assessments should provide feedback that assists students in learning and informs teachers' planning. Thirdly, where appropriate, assessment criteria should be made explicit to students to focus their attention on what they have to achieve and provide students with feedback about their progress.

Assessment needs to be comprehensive and balanced across various domains of learning and assess knowledge and higher order cognitive skills such as problem solving and critical thinking. Assessments need to be aligned with the curriculum and use a variety of assessment strategies on the basis of their relevance to the knowledge, skills and understanding to be assessed and the purpose of the assessment.

Students need to be included in the assessment process. With expert support, students can learn to assess and evaluate their own learning in a way that further extends that learning. It is important that teachers are responsive to the unexpected ways students reveal their thinking. These opportunities can be used to extend or redirect teaching.

Assessment needs to take account of the diverse needs of students, to be equitable with regard to gender, disability, background language and socio-economic status and not discriminate on grounds that are irrelevant to learning.

If assessments are to be fair they should provide valid information on the actual ideas, processes, products and values expected of students. A valid assessment is one that assesses what it is supposed to assess. For example, recall of facts should not be assessed if the primary purpose of the assessment is to collect information about problem solving skills.

Assessments should also provide reliable indications of students' knowledge, understandings and skills and should be based on the integration of a range of types and sources of evidence.

Information collected to establish where students are in their learning can be used for summative purposes (assessment of learning) and for formative purposes (assessment for learning) because it is used to inform subsequent teaching. The principles of assessment apply to all forms of assessments.

Summative assessment involves assessment procedures that aim to determine students' learning at a particular time, for example when reporting against the achievement standards, after completion of a unit of work or at the end of a term or semester. The aim of the assessment is to identify students' achievement at that point in time and it is particularly important that the assessments are fair and that teacher judgements are reliable.

Formative assessment involves a range of informal and formal assessment procedures used by teachers during the learning process in order to improve student attainment and to guide teaching and learning activities. It often involves qualitative feedback (rather than scores) for both students and teachers that focuses on the details of specific knowledge and skills that are being learnt. Therefore it is essential that the assessments provide fine-grained information about student performance that supports teachers to plan learning that challenges students to go beyond what they already know, understand or can do in order to build new knowledge, understandings and skills.

Reporting happens at the end of a teaching cycle and should provide an accurate summary of the formative and summative assessment information collected for each student. The purpose of reporting is to provide feedback to students, parents, and teachers. The information is also valuable for school and system-wide planning. It is important that, in addition to providing an accurate synopsis of student performance, the judgements of student achievement are reliable.

Highly effective schools pay particular attention to teachers' qualitative and quantitative data and standardised test data. Teachers and school leaders need to understand current and past student achievement levels, be explicit about targets for improvement and be explicit about how progress towards those targets will be monitored. School leaders need to plan for how they will evaluate the effectiveness of school initiatives and programs. Teachers should plan for how they will reflect on and evaluate their teaching practices. This implies that schools and teachers need to be willing to identify and evaluate both the intended and unintended consequences of any initiative or program.