A Message from the Dean of Studies: Looking Forward to Term 1

Welcome back to the start of the new school year.

It was wonderful to see the students so excited and well-presented in their initial year meetings on their return to school last Wednesday. I remarked in my words of welcome at those meetings that schools are somewhat empty and soulless places without the presence of students. While much was achieved on the three staff planning days prior to arrival of the students, nothing excites teachers more than the many and varied interactions they enjoy with students both within and outside of the classroom. This enthusiasm was particularly evident in the words of a new member of staff who commented that he was “bursting at the seams to rip into both the teaching and my other roles”.

On the Staff Professional Learning Day on Monday 22 January, we were fortunate to have Dr. Jared Cooney-Horvath working with our Secondary teachers. Jared is a research fellow at the University of Melbourne and currently serves as Director of The Science of Learning Group. He is an expert in the field of educational neuroscience with a focus on translating brain research to enhance teaching and learning practices. Jared has conducted research and lectured at Harvard University, Harvard Medical School, the University of Melbourne, and over 40 schools around Australia. His work has been featured in numerous popular publications including The Economist, WIRED, The New Yorker and on the ABC’s Catalyst program.

Our initial contact with Jared was through an Association of Independent Schools NSW conference on assessment held in Sydney in September of last year. Peter Phillips, our Head of English and Robyn Gregory, Head of Mathematics both attended the conference where Jared was one of the keynote speakers.

In his work with the Secondary teaching staff, Jared drew on his own research on assessment practices and the importance of feedback to students. He explored the birth of modern assessment, the purpose it was meant to serve and the often-unrecognised impact it has on students and the broader society. Jared spoke of the power of “top-down” brain networks and the connections to thinking and learning. He alluded to the “learning trajectory”, the pathways people take through learning and the alignment of different feedback levels and strategies commonly used by teachers with their students. Jared emphasised that some of the most important learning occurs when mistakes are accompanied by feedback. Working within their different faculty groups, the teachers were able to dissect and compare their own approaches to providing effective feedback to students and engage in some initial discussion about how these approaches might be enhanced in light of the current research in the field.

Importantly, Jared did not impose any specific approaches to assessment and the provision of feedback that we as teachers must be using with our students. Rather, Jared presented us with the findings from the most up-to-date and exhaustive research in these domains with a view to challenging us to explore what works most effectively within our own AISHK context. This is work that will unfold over the course of the year as we continue to prioritise these two key areas as part of our collective professional learning journey.

For more on Dr. Jared Cooney-Horvath and the Science of Learning Group click here.

Chris McCorkell | Dean of Studies, Secondary