Posts Tagged ‘intuyu consulting’

We recently finished a month of running workshops around Australia on “Practical Steps to STEAM” and “You Can Teach Coding” and we learnt quite a few lessons that are worth considering as you prepare to implement the Technologies Curriculum.


  • The future we are preparing our students for should not be based on the way we prepared students in the past. Mike Lloyd (the international STEAM expert we brought in to deliver the workshops) showed a range of current examples of how the automation of human effort has been going on for millennia and how it is now replacing knowledge and expertise in a range of areas (rather than just human effort). It then begs the question “What are schools for?” A piece in Medium by Scott Santens titled Deep Learning Is Going to Teach Us All the Lesson of Our Lives: Jobs Are For Machines challenges us to ponder what would thus be the role of humanity in the future. Our perspective is that creativity, problem solving and innovative thinking is going to be a critical aspect of the future lives of our students and children.


  • There are some great challenges for schools that have nothing to do with the technology. Firstly, as recently pointed out, teachers lack confidence and competence in their own digital skills and thus feel unable to deliver the curriculum. The workshops we provided went some way to addressing the basics of digital competence and building teacher confidence but there is a long way to go. The teachers we presented to are the early adopters in schools – there will be a large percentage of teachers out there who struggle with ICT skills let alone what is required in the Technologies Curriculum. This will be quite a challenge given that schools are mandated to be implementing the Technologies curriculum by 2017. This is why we will be running many more of the introductory workshops through the remainder of the year and beyond.


  • ChallengeA second challenge arises from how teachers perceive the Technologies Curriculum. What we gleaned from the sessions was that teachers saw the Technologies Curriculum as “yet another thing to do on top of an already packed timetable and curriculum”. If this viewpoint is not addressed then it will be a long arduous journey to implement the technologies curriculum. The point we made in the workshops is that the Technologies Curriculum works best when it is infused into the already existing curriculum. It can replace already existing activities and “ways of producing” without necessarily requiring extra time or effort. In fact, over time, a school can begin to build a bank of learning activities and approaches that have been designed by its own students. Our expectation is that it will take schools between 4 – 5 years to develop teachers, as well as strategically implement and resource the Technologies Curriculum well.


  • The Digital Technologies curriculum is different than ICT curriculum (a general capability). The ICT aspect of the Australian Curriculum involves the consumption and use of already existing software for the purpose of enhancing outputs – whether they are presentations, graphing, documents, or whatever. The Technologies Curriculum’s focus is on creativity, critical thinking and problem solving. Both the Design and Technologies Curriculum and the Digital Technologies Curriculum focus on developing a framework for learners to think from – whether it is Algorithmic Thinking or Design Thinking. Exploring and enacting the Technologies Curriculum from this perspective will be transformative for schools. It will literally shift the way that schooling is thought about let alone done in that there will be a much greater focus on metacognition and learning rather than covering content.


  • old thinking resultsSchools need to spend more professional learning time developing teacher capacity to effectively backward plan curriculum. It is a critical piece missing within schools as many teachers are not trained in Design Thinking as a process and the importance of planning with the end goal in mind. Approaching planning this way will allow teachers and schools to not only figure out together HOW to meet the curriculum but also allow for the long term development of learner centred learning. If this is not done then what can occur over time are teachers and schools focused on the delivery of content rather than the development of learning and life-long learners. If students are not leaving their schools as flexible adaptive learners who can identify problems and/or opportunities, research and problem solve, and create their own solutions then they are not being prepared for the future. I can honestly say that most schools are NOT structured and oriented towards achieving this. This is why a large percentage of our consulting work is focused on develop teacher capacity around rigorous evidence-based planning.


  • Finally, one of our biggest challenges we found was working with technology to teach teachers about how to enact the Technologies Curriculum. Each state and each school has an entirely “innovative” and often restrictive way in which they set up their technology. Some States lock down the laptops provided to their state school teachers so nothing can be added. Some States restrict access to cloud based collaborative services such as Dropbox and Google Drive as well as a broad range of websites that have fabulous digital technologies software and curricula. Some schools have challenging Wi-Fi access paths for visiting guests. Given the requirements of the Digital Technologies Curriculum the technological policy barrier for many schools – particularly government schools – is going to become a major hurdle – NBN or no NBN. Whilst this is being sorted out Mike will be creating a complete offline solution for us so we can provide all the schools with a simple way to address the Technologies Curriculum.

What Next

If you are interested in finding out more about our future Practical Steps to STEAM and Teaching Coding workshops that we will be delivering around the country, we are now taking expressions of interest from teachers and schools. Email us at for more information.

 “Change begins with a culture where everyone is elevated to the status of learner”

 Sarah Brown Wessling

frustrated_teacherIn the last blog I shared about the research that David Gurr and Lawrie Davidson from Melbourne University have been doing around successful leadership in Australian Schools. Since I wrote that piece I have been discussing their research (and my interpretation of it) with a number of schools and their staff. The discussions have been fascinating to say the least!

Over the next few blogs I am going to dig a little deeper into what each level of leadership needs and wants to empower them to be effective in delivering student outcomes. My assertion is that schools that are successful over a long period of time have certain structures that not only provide what each level of leadership needs and wants but builds a particular empowering culture.  In this newsletter I am focusing on Teachers. Please feel free to challenge or add to my thinking!


Level 1 Impact

Classroom teachers have a direct impact on student learning. They are directly interacting with students each day and create the experience of learning and the school for each and every student. As Hattie pointed out in his 2003 paper Teachers make a difference – what is the research evidence?

 “It is what teachers know, do, and care about which is very powerful in this learning equation.”

“Teachers can and usually do have positive effects, but they must have exceptional effects. We need to direct attention at higher quality teaching, and higher expectations that students can meet appropriate challenges”

Hattie and Jaeger reviewed all the literature and identified five major dimensions of excellent teachers.

“Expert teachers

  • can identify essential representations of their subject,
  • can guide learning through classroom interactions,
  • can monitor learning and provide feedback,
  • can attend to affective attributes, and
  • can influence student outcomes”

We know that pre-service teaching does not create expert teachers – they are often just beginning their teaching journey. Where teachers develop their expertise is through practice and professional learning in their school environment. So what structures and processes would teachers require within a school to support them to progressively develop their capacity to become “expert teachers”? The following are some of my thoughts:

  • A spiral curriculum that outlines the progressive development of concepts, skills, understandings, and affective attributes across subjects through the years of schooling at the school. The aim is to provide a clear progression for teachers so they not only know the expected levels but also the connection across and within subjects. It also allows for a coherent and consistent approach to scaffolding and gradual release of responsibility over the year and through the years.
  • A clear instructional model so teachers know what to focus upon and what works best in curriculum planning, pedagogy and whole school affective and general capability development. Given the amount of evidence based research now available schools can articulate a model which captures what works best. This would include clear planning templates and planning and reflection processes.
  • Time for teaching teams to plan curriculum using a backward planning model (e.g. UbD). Petra Leitz in her 2009 ACER report pointed out that there is more variance in performance within Australian schools than between schools. My assertion is that a big part of this is because teachers do not have a shared common understanding of the “essential representations of their subject”. Time to plan and collaborate together on developing the written, enacted and assessed curriculum is critical to creating an aligned team and each and every teacher being clear about the learning goals and success criteria. In countries where there is significant teacher planning and discussion time (e.g. Finland) there is minimal variance within schools.
  • A well thought out framework for teachers to collaborate Team meetings often can devolve into administrivia rather than focussing on the core aspects of influencing student outcomes. Having clear structures for meetings and how teachers can work together to influence all the students is an important facet. This goes beyond cooperation and into teachers being data informed and working together to address each and every student.
  • Well thought out and progressive development processes for teacher capacity building (e.g. structured self-reflection, Individual Learning Plans, instructional and cognitive coaching, professional learning – individual and whole school). I find that most professional development within schools is piecemeal. Once a school has articulated a spiral curriculum and a clear instructional model then the school strategic plan should lay out how, over the coming years, the teachers will be building their expertise from their current level of expertise. This plan answers the question “How are we developing expert teachers that reflect the vision, values and foci we want for the school?”
  • An induction program for teachers new to the school so that over time the teachers are mentored / instructionally coached into thinking from and operating from the articulated school approach. A lot of focus has been recently been put on pre-service teacher training. Whilst I dislike the “Teach for Australia” approach in principal I believe one of the things they got right was the strong coaching structure embedded into their processes. A structured instructional coaching approach that progressively develops teachers new to the school will ensure that expert teachers and leaders are being grown
  • A school culture that values learning from mistakes and encourages teachers to experiment and evaluate their initiatives. We all learn by trial and error and this is critical for teachers to adapt to the varied needs and level of competence, knowledge, skills and dispositions in their classes. Unless everyone is working within a developmental mindset and are, at heart considered learners, then progress will be slow.


I would love to hear your thoughts about what I can add or change to the above at the level of teachers. Next time we will look at what is needed and wanted at the level of middle leadership.

a-belief-is-not-merely-an-idea-the-mind-possessesHow much change has been occurring in your school of late? What is your experience of the change?

If we asked those questions of teachers in your school what do you think their responses might indicate? Would they respond in a joyful and empowered way or perhaps respond “yep yet another change”? I suspect for many teachers and leaders in schools there always seem to be some change initiative or another going on. Education appears to be undergoing a period of constant change, as it has for many years, and I don’t believe that this is going to be different for many years yet to come.

Given the constant changes occurring in our schools – whether they are driven by political, curriculum or pedagogical drivers – it is surprising to me that we consistently find that one of the biggest areas that schools seem to struggle with is managing the change that is occurring. Most school reforms or change initiatives fail because we don’t examine the underlying context or beliefs that exist within a school.

Let me give you some examples from our experience:

  1. A school has experienced a high turnover of senior leadership members in the past five years and have experienced “micromanagement from above”. The staff teachers indicate they have “change fatigue” and have little faith or trust in leadership at this point. Embedding new initiatives to improve student learning outcomes has been extraordinarily slow.
  2. A school has recently changed its senior leadership after a long period of stability and the new team wants to bring in a raft of much needed curricula and pedagogical change given the significant drop in student numbers at the school. However, there is a lot of “baggage” and resistance due to the “wrongs of the past”. Unless staff members have the opportunity to address and complete past issues again change will be slow.
  3. A school has a large number of teachers who have been at the school, and only that school, for decades. Whilst many of them are good to excellent teachers they aren’t necessarily interested in changing the way they teach or assess.

I could go on with a variety of examples but my point is that each and every school has individual challenges that need to be addressed to empower and enable positive change to occur. Some schools occur as fortresses against change, others are beginning to take down their walls, and others are flowing rivers where change has teachers meander from one initiative to the next and nothing gets embedded.

There is a wonderful old Sufi tale that tells of a man whose neighbors come upon him on his hands and knees under a street lamp. The man explains that he is searching for his lost keys. The neighbors immediately join in the search, but without success. When they ask the man if he’s sure this is where he lost the keys, he replies, “No. I lost them outside my door—but there’s more light here!”

Schools need to stop looking where the light is and start strategically searching in the most likely areas. They must uncover the invisible actors at play within a school – whether they are school structures, policies, past practices, teacher beliefs, parental beliefs, student beliefs, etc.  What are the causes of the way things are? What are the teacher beliefs about their students? What are the parental beliefs about their children? What are the staff beliefs about leadership? The more a school makes visible the underlying beliefs and context the more it can actually enact change appropriately within the school.

Case in point, Judith Lloyd Yeo in her book “Teaching in Mind: How Teacher Thinking Shapes Education” pointed out the following specifically about teacher beliefs:

  • Teacher’s beliefs profoundly influence their understanding of attempted reforms
  • The same words or phrases might signal quite different things to different teachers
  • Each teacher operates from a set of unexamined beliefs about the nature of teaching and learning, about knowledge, and about the purpose of education itself.
  • Teachers base their thinking and behaviour on unconscious values – personal, professional and those of the culture in which they live and were raised. Often personal values conflict with values of the school, school leadership, and even with a teacher’s own values regarding students.
  • Some practices never take root or cannot be sustained because the underlying beliefs have not changed.

For those of you who have worked with us before this is why we often start our professional learning workshops with inquiries that unpack teacher beliefs and habits. If you are interested in further reading here are some great articles for you to explore!

Cultivating Teachers’ Beliefs, Knowledge and Skills for Leading Change in Schools

Teacher Beliefs

How Teacher Thinking Shapes Education

Teaching Practices, Teachers’ Beliefs and Attitudes

The Beliefs-Behavior Connection: Leading Teachers Toward Change

Leading Change – Why Transformation Efforts Fail

I don’t know about you but the break over summer is always a time of reading and often a time of reflection.  Whilst most of my reading is fictional (a summer habit that I have had since I was a kid when I read an average of 5 books a week) my work year normally starts with clearing out my email in-boxes of all the RSS feeds I get from the educational websites I follow – ASCD, David Didau, Teach Thought, New York Times Education, etc. My normal process is to have a brief read of each one and if I find it valuable and related to the areas that we as a consulting business are interested in then I curate it to one of our our Scoop.It pages. In this way I can keep track of a wide range of thinking and discussion about educational research and ideas. The most impactful articles I print out for possible use in future themed newsletters (like this one) or pass it on to schools as we work with them.

Two recent articles had me reflect deeply about failure, the mindset we could develop in our students, and how we as educators could empower effort in the learners around us.

The first article was written by Ron Friedman titled If you’re not failing, you’re not growing. Friedman begins his article telling the story of how Sara Blakely overcame remarkable obstacles to create the multimillion dollar Spanx underwear business. The key paragraphs for me were;

“Some parents are content asking their children, “Did you have a good day?” or “What did you learn at school?” Not at the Blakely household. The question Sara and her brother had to answer night after night was this: “What did you fail at today?” When there was no failure to report, Blakely’s father would express disappointment.

 “What he did was redefine failure for my brother and me,” Blakely told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “And instead of failure being the outcome, failure became not trying. And it forced me at a young age to want to push myself so much further out of my comfort zone.””

My parents didn’t ask me or my two brothers such questions but my experience was that they never stopped any of us from taking things on. They expected us to contribute around the house, to the family, and be responsible for our actions. This is not to say we weren’t rat bags and never got into trouble – we were 3 boys remember – and our health insurance did get quite a workout over the years. Somewhere along the line I developed a strong growth mindset about the academic side of things and thus was the first member of the family to go to University and then go on to get a PhD.

The second article How to engage students in their own learning process is by Nina Smith, a Finnish teacher who blogs about her experience within the Finnish school system, student centred learning and developing intrinsic motivation within students. The paragraph that stood out for me was;

“One main problem is that “students are typically presented as the customers of engagement, rather than coauthors of their learning”.[1] It is really, really hard to be intrinsically interested and very engaged with things you cannot control, or in activities that are mandated by someone else.”

If I look at my own life experience I am intrinsically engaged in those things I have control over. I suspect that if you look at your own experience you will find the same thing. One of the reasons I struck out to create my own consulting business, despite the challenges that faced us at the time and since, was that there was always some point where I became frustrated with the “mandated” hoops and side work I had to do to maintain my position in the organisations I worked for. Now that I am creating what I do each day and 100% responsible for how my days go I have no problem with engagement. It doesn’t mean that I don’t get stressed or anxious about certain things or that I am always successful, it just means I have no questions about what I am doing and why I am doing it. I find myself often taking on opportunities that I, on first look, haven’t got a clue how to do. I have learnt to figure it out – mainly in collaboration and discussion with others.

This leads me to my takeaway for learning within a school environment from the two articles. If we honestly want the students to be engaged in what they are learning, and to develop their capacity and skill to be lifelong learners, then it is critical to create the environment where they experience being, as Nina put it, the co-authors of their learning. This includes learning that failure is a stepping stone to success and developing strategies and process to deal with “non-success”.

I can hear the echoes from teachers and people in positions of leadership telling me “that’s all nice and good but how could we do that given we have a curriculum to cover?” I am not sugar coating it when I say that it is quite a big challenge. It is big because most schools I see are not structured culturally to create that type of learning environment. Just look around you now, does your school allow you as a teacher the freedom to be the co-author of your professional learning and development and to fail and then learn? Are you even given significant time to collaborate with your peers and develop new learning? I am not talking about the 2 hours you get once per week in meetings I am talking about the time you would get if you were studying a course at university. Are you told by school leadership about school-wide pedagogical initiatives (e.g. embedding formative assessment), have a couple of PD’s and then expected to implement the ideas? Or does the school take its time (sometimes years) to engage staff in a new pedagogical initiative and the teachers are supported with time, group and one-on-one discussions, peer feedback, etc to have the initiative embedded? Research does show that this is what works in schools.

One of the contracts I have been working on involves teachers from a range of secondary colleges taking on an 18 month action-research project in something that mattered to them and the school. The teachers had to build a case for action about the need for an initiative, get it vetted by the school leadership as well as by a university team, before articulating a plan for how they will go about it. It has been fascinating to watch and see the growth in thinking and practice of these teachers. This project for me, as a critical friend, has highlighted the importance of developing great change management processes within schools if we really want to change the nature of the learning environment for ALL learners within the school.

The bottom line, if you as a teacher or school leader, are ACTUALLY interested in developing a strong community of learners and learning within your school then there is work to do. It begins with saying “yes” and then figuring out how. To get you started I have included some articles that could spark some ideas and discussions with your colleagues.

How Beliefs Shape the Effort Effect

STEM Teaches Failure as an Opportunity to Learn

How to Motivate Students to Work Harder

Why Motivating Others Starts with Using the Right Language

Motivating Young Adolescents

Motivated to Learn

COMPASS Learning

12 Things I Want To Hear My Students Say

Grit Plus Talent Equals Student Success

Have a great start to 2015!

A class begins, something is taught, hopefully something is learnt, the bell rings and then the next class begins. A unit of learning is begun, there are a range of activities occuring across days – weeks – months, hopefully something is learnt, then the unit ends and the next unit begins. A school year begins, a wide range of activities occur, assignments – possibly tests – are done, culminating projects are run with varying success, hopefully something is learnt, the year ends.

When one thinks about the flow of most of the learning that occurs within schools there is a particular pattern that arises – there is a beginning, a middle and an end. Sometimes the beginning, middle and end occur in one session. Sometimes it stretches across a few weeks and sometimes across the whole year. However, the habitual pattern is that there is a beginning, middle and end. So does it surprise you that over the years of schooling a learner could naturally develop the perception that learning is linear?

I had this insight recently during a conversation with a group of teachers at a primary school. The predominant unconcious context, and thus the subsequent habitual practices, within the school indicate that learning is perceived as linear by the students AND teachers. I then started exploring if that was the case in other schools, both primary and secondary, and found the same pattern. When I brought up my thinking with the teachers they all agreed. The way they often operate as educators could certainly develop a perception in their learners that learning is linear – start topic, do activities, end topic, next topic.

Learning, by its nature, is non-linear. The gaining of knowledge, whether by the individual or by humanity as a whole, is non-linear. Vygotsky coined the term “zone of proximal development” as a way of indicating that an individual learnt in a non-linear way. Piece by piece we gain knowledge and build a mental model through which we perceive the world. We begin with an incomplete model, given by our personal observations, the opinions and beliefs we grew up with. It is filled with misconceptions and misunderstandings. As we learn we slowly come to a more organised and consistent perception and interpretation of our world and how it works. The learning is non-linear but the explanations and ordering stem from an organised viewpoint . What often happens in schools though is that we “teach” in a linear fashion without honouring the non-linear nature of learning and thus engender a linear way of thinking about learning.


Context is Critical

“So what!” you may say – isn’t that the way schools have to operate?

Well, no.

As the saying goes, our context will eat our strategies every day of the week.This underlying context within the way that we teach will undermine any and all good evidence based initiatives because it stems from and leads to a particular mindset. How we as educators think abut learning influences our habits, our practices, and the way we create learning for others.

Let’s look at some of the common issues and complaints in schools that we could infer stem from this context:

All of these definitely have a range of underlying causes to why they occur but one of the common features is the way that teachers think about learning and thus operate as educators.

If we take the case that teachers have a big say in how learning is perceived by learners, then by shifting the context of the teachers implies we can shift the way learners perceive learning. Look around you at the dominant habits and practices of the teachers within the school.

  • What do they tell you about the context they hold about learning?
  • Do their habitual practices show that they are linking learning across lessons, classes, subjects, days, weeks, years?
  • Do they have anchor contexts and visible displays (which are constantly referred to) where students consistently and coherent develop the perception that they are exploring and building upon their understanding of the world?

If you think not then then the teacher context needs to shift to enable good pedagogical practices to occur.

If we begin by focusing on developing teachers to think from the context that learning is a spiral of increasing understanding and richness then I assert that these issues will start to shift. From this focus context teachers can begin to build habitual practices that are consistent with this context.

In Part II we will discuss what I mean by Spiral Learning and also give some simple HOWs teachers could use to go about shifting their context so as to develop a spiral learning context with the students.

In Part I I argued that we can’t actually measure learning, the best we can do is infer learning from behaviour demonstrated over time. I pointed out that most of the measurement approaches I have seen used by teachers and schools are poor quality or are based on anecdotal observation that does not allow students to be CLEAR about what is being measured and thus not be responsible for their learning (they become passive rather than active learners).

If we are to develop students to be active learners then our systems and processes should be designed to encourage and empower a learner centred or learner driven approach. As pointed out at learning looks different at different stages from teacher centred to learner centred to learner driven. Active learners take responsibility for their own learners and are able to become highly skilled in what is now known as 21st century skills.

In this blog I want to focus on using rubrics as one tool to assist in formative assessment and developing learner centred learning.

If we are to move students to a learner centred mindset then a rubric becomes a formative tool first and foremost (and can be used as a summative tool by the teacher). The purpose of the rubric is to distinguish a skill / concept or product so that it becomes distinct for the learner.

Distinct (adj): “recognizably different in nature from something else of a similar type”

So what makes something recognizably different from something else?

You need to be able to articulate what it looks like as well what it is NOT like.

Human beings do this all the time unconsciously as we grow up. It is part of how we come to understand language. This is a chair. This is not a chair but a couch. This is the colour blue. This is not the colour blue – we call that red.

What something looks like or NOT like also grows in depth as you develop your capacity and gain mastery to make something distinct.  This colour is not blue but sky blue, or aqua or royal blue. This is foot stool that can be used as a chair.

Finally, to be able to make something distinct for someone you need to be able to communicate the nature of the distinction in language they would understand and is appropriate to their level of knowledge and understanding. You wouldn’t start talking about colours as master artists would to children with little or no background knowledge of colour. So the language one would use is always appropriate to the people you are communicating with.


What this means in designing rubrics and formative assessment

Given the above discussion let’s make formative rubrics and formative assessment distinct.

  1. A strong formative rubric progressively unpacks and makes distinct what the skill, concept or product looks like to the learner

I have found that teachers know anecdotally and from personal experience of interacting with learners what the different levels of a skill, concept or product look like – it is in many respects how they come up with a marking schema. In the rubric on questioning below I worked with teachers from Foundation through to year 3 to come up with a rubric that would capture – as concretely as possible – what they identify as the progressive stages of development in their learners ability to ask questions. This rubric is by no means complete but you can quickly see that the statements are all concrete aspects that one can hear or see happening as learning is occurring.


Aspects of Questioning Beginning 1 2 3 4 5
RelevancyQuestion or notOpen or ClosedFat or Thin

Ability to respond to questions



Can make comments with teacher prompting Is able to form a question but sometimes may not be relevantMakes relevant comments with teacher prompting  Asks relevant questionsUses questions to get more information 

Makes relevant comments and concrete suggestions

Asks open-ended questionsUses prior knowledge in asking a new question  Uses vocabulary of topicUses questions to clarify understanding 



Asks fat questionsAsks questions that expand the conversation 



  1. A rubric by itself is insufficient – it must be supported by discussions and examples which model the different levels

A strong rubric is supported by examples which model the different levels and continue to make the skill, concept or product distinction. In the above rubric a teacher would need to define what an open (and closed) question is, what makes a comment or question relevant,  what is a fat or thin question, how to ask questions that clarify understanding, etc. If the learners are producing a magazine then you would need to have a range of different magazines available and shown to the learners to discuss how the rubric relates to different aspects of the magazine. .

In the process of identifying what, in reality, the skill – concept – product would look like or NOT look like the teachers would be articulating the possible approaches and strategies they would be using to progressively develop the learners.

For example, some of the ways identified by the teachers I worked with on the above rubric were:

  • Encourage learner questions that begin with – who, what, when, where, why?
  • Highlight different and interesting questions asked by learners
  • Prompt questions – what do you want to know?
  • The learners only get to ask 2 questions in a session (so need to think about them)
  • 5 Whys
  • Use a Wonder-wall
  • Saying the information you have heard as forming next question
  • Explicit teaching of open ended questions
  • Reference the rubric in class as learners ask questions


  1. A rubric is a tool to enable students to drive their learning and develop their capacity and mindsets such that they see learning as a progression towards mastery

Notice how the rubric above is written in positive language applicable to the age group. Rubrics develop the mindset that learners think from. I am interested in developing learners to be meta-cognitive and intrinsically motivated not extrinsically motivated by marks. We want to develop a personal best culture, or in other words, a learning culture that encourages students to put in effort and “compete against themselves” to develop and grow.

As Jim Knight pointed out:

“The trouble with deep learning is that it messes with our identity. In their book, Difficult Conversations (Penguin, 1999), Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen define identity as “the story we tell ourselves about who we are and what the future holds for us” (p. 112). It’s a lot to ask to change the story we tell ourselves about who we are. That kind of learning is often painful, and frankly, we’d usually rather avoid it.”

The more we take away the conversations of good vs bad, better vs worse, and right vs wrong and focus on learners demonstrating their progress in a skill, concept or understanding the more we will build the growth mindsets that Carol Dweck and others identify as critical to developing life-long learners and performers.

The next two steps along the path of mastery are to co-construct rubrics with the learners and finally have the learners construct the rubrics themselves. These are demonstrations of the learners reflecting on what constitutes progression of skills and how they could demonstrate evidence of progression.

With regard to progressive formative assessment, the rubric can become a tool which the learners use to see how they are progressing and they can now self-assess and reflect more effectively. Teachers can use the rubric as part of learner observations. If the teachers have a class list with the specific skill statements across the page they can tick off each time they see a student demonstrate the skill. This approach stems from – we can only get an indication that learning has occurred if the behaviours are demonstrated over time.

For other interesting reading:

How do we know that a learner has learnt something?

Is it from one off tests? Is it from their performance in rich learning tasks? Is it from reflection at the end of term as you do your reports? Is it from keep a track of what your students submit?

How do YOU measure if learning has occurred?

In most school systems reporting processes require teachers to assign grades or some number measure to indicate children have reached particular knowledge, understandings, or skill standards.

But does it REALLY indicate that the learner has understood the concepts, has the skills, or even can use the knowledge they have gained?

My opinion is that you can’t actually measure whether or not learning has occurred. Not until we have the technology to measure the changes in the pattern of neurons and their linkage to one another in each and every individual can we have any definitive idea of whether learning has occurred – and it still may not represent the learning WE want them to learn!

In reality, we are guessing whether or not a learner has “learnt” something. Some teachers may better than others at guessing. Some teachers and schools have more rigorous approaches to guessing and some don’t. The best we can do is, as an indicator that learning has occurred, is if the student demonstrates a particular behaviour OVER TIME. We then can say that that behaviour indicates they have reached a particular stage of development in that skill or understanding of the material that was covered. This assigning of an interpretation to particular demonstrable behaviour is the BEST we can do at assessing learning.

This is consistent with what Jim Knight in a recent ASCD post pointed out:

“We can experience learning in two ways: as surface learning or deep learning. When we experience surface learning, we make minor adjustments or try something out for a while, but we don’t take significant steps forward. Deep learning, on the other hand, is learning that changes our assumptions about how we do what we do. Deep learning gets to the core of who we are, and because deep learning leads to profound change, it really does make a difference.”

But let’s get real here … are you as a teacher or your school set up to work out whether a student has demonstrated a particular behaviour over time? I have found in working across 300 schools around Australia that very few schools are even thinking from that place – let alone have organised their systems and processes to be able to measure learner behaviour over time. Fewer still have the unpacked what particular behaviour around the attainment of specific learning goals could look like at progressive stages.

I am writing this to challenge an underlying assumption I have seen held in many schools and by many teachers about what their assessment is telling them. I am NOT saying that you are doing it all wrong – but it is worth exploring the underlying assumptions we hold as educators and educational organisations about what and why we assess. In many ways this line of thought has been sparked by a recent discussion that Dylan Wiliams and David Didau have been having about Formative Assessment. You can read more here, here and here about what they have been debating. It is worth reading just to start thinking.

You may notice that I am having a little rant in the process of writing – part of this stems from several discussions I have had with different teachers at different schools recently and in the past (Why do we have Grades).

In my view, if we are to assess for learning we first need to have a clear articulation of what that skill, knowledge or understanding would look like when the learner demonstrates it. In many cases teachers have a fair idea of what it looks like anecdotally. The more experienced and expert a teacher the more they know – by seeing it. Yet I don’t find that this ‘anecdotal knowing’ is converted into clear statements that are available to other learners (whether they are teachers or students).

What I do find mostly are summative rubrics with generalized broad statements being used as “formative rubrics” with the hope that the students (and any on lookers) will understand what is meant. For example this aspect of a rubric a teacher created to assess a magazine produced by Grade 3-4 students:


Needs Improvement Good Excellent
Labelled and Formatted images were included in each section Appropriate, labelled and formatted images were included in each section. Appropriate, well-labelled and well-formatted images were included in each section.

If I was a student looking at those rubric statements above I would be confused as to what would be “appropriate”, “well-labelled” and “well-formatted” images. What is written does not make anything distinct for me.

I spent a little time with the teacher who wrote the above statements to actually get clear about what she saw – physically on the page – in the magazines her students created that would have her rate the student at the level of  needs improvement, good and excellent. The revised rubric now looks like:


Needs Improvement Good Excellent
Labelled and Formatted images were included in each section Plus/

  • Chosen images are appropriate to the material in each section

  • Labels on image described the image and elaborate on a point in the text of that section
  • Image is formatted on the page in a way that makes the page esthetically pleasing.

Notice that we have unpacked what the higher levels of labelled and formatted means in a more accessible way. Appropriate now refers to the subject of the material in each section. The teacher would still have to distinguish particular words used in the rubric, she would still have to model and have examples of what each stage would look like during her classes but the rubric is developmental and much clearer to someone who is not that particular teacher.

As a piece of homework for you …questioning is one of the critical thinking skills that is key to the development of 21st century learners (or independent learners). If you are a primary / elementary teacher I invite you to unpack what questioning would look like at different levels from Foundation (Prep) through to Grade 6. If you are a high school or secondary teacher unpack what Questioning looks like from Year 7 to 12.

In the next  blog I will get more into how good formative rubrics can be used as one tool in the process of supporting student learning as well as how teachers can unpack what a skill or understanding looks like for the purpose of formative assessment (or assessment for learning) – I will use Questioning as an example for this.

Further readings:

A student’s performance is mostly impacted by three communitiesSchool Students Parents

  1. The School Learning Environment
  2. The Student’s Peer Community and their own beliefs about learning
  3. The Parental / Family Community

Schools tend to spend most of their time, money and energy working on the School-Student leg. Most of the professional development done in schools is based on pedagogy, curriculum or elements of student well-being and engagement. This is understandable as the people who are employed within the school need to be within a professional learning community that has a major focus on developing their capacity to do their job.

However there is a high leverage aspect leg of a student learning community that I believe that schools don’t do enough to empower and develop – the parental / family community. As a parent of two school aged children – one at primary school and one at high school – and an educational consultant who works with schools to improve their planning and learning environments, I find myself quite challenged by the way that parents are related to by schools. I find that there is, quite often, very little guidance from the school to be able to support my children in their learning.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – the organisers of the PISA tests used to compare education across countries – performed in-depth research on the factors underlying student performance within each country. What they found was the power of parental involvement in a child’s achievement.

“even when comparing students of similar socioeconomic backgrounds, those students whose parents regularly read books to them when they were in the first year of primary school score 14 points higher, on average, than students whose parents did not.”

As Franklin Schargel, a noted educator and expert in the area of school engagement, pointed out … it is the little things that parents do that makes a difference to student achievement. For example:

  • Parents reading to and with their children
  • Parents asking their child how their school day was and showing genuine interest in the learning that they are doing can have the same impact as hours of private tutoring
  • Parents telling stories to their children (not from books but from the life of the parent)
  • Parents sharing about their day
  • Monitoring homework
  • Making sure children get to school
  • Rewarding their efforts and talking up the idea of going to university

As Franklin reports, the OECD study found that “getting parents involved with their children’s learning at home is a more powerful driver of achievement than parents attending school board meetings, volunteering in classrooms, participating in fund-raising, and showing up at back-to-school nights. “

As teachers have shared with me, their experience shows that the mindset that a child has to learning is driven by the parents. If a parent had a poor experience of school as they grew up then it is likely they will pass on that mindset to their children. If the parents’ value education as a tool for learning and development then it is likely the norm that the child will come to develop will value education. It isn’t surprising that the higher the educational level the parents have attained the greater they value education.


So how can you support and encourage parental involvement in their child’s learning at home? Perhaps asking yourself that question as a teacher community within your school is the first stage. If you are aware of each child’s stage of development then there might be suggestions you can make to the parents on how they can support their child best. Perhaps:

  • When / if you send homework home with the child you put a short couple of paragraphs to the parent on how they can support their child best to achieve the goals of the homework.
  • Recommend that the parents not do the homework themselves (helicopter parents tend to do this) but what could be the factors and suggestions that might make the biggest difference to the child moving forward and grappling with the learning themselves.
  • Provide clear learning intentions, success criteria and formative rubrics in work sent home for the child to do
  • In the school newsletters continually provide short informative articles or guides for parents about learning. The default understanding about schools and learning for most parents is what they experienced. The more you can provide something for parents to read and grow as learners themselves the more it will make a difference.
  • Invite parents to their child’s culminating events for rich learning tasks within the school
  • Organise experts to come and talk to parents about aspects of child development or even recommend to parents to subscribe to the newsletters of people like Michael Grose (positive parenting), Barry McDonald (mentoring boys), Kathy Walker (play based and personalised learning), or even Intuyu Consulting amongst the many other educational providers.
  • I have seen one school in a low socioeconomic area even organise sponsorship from a large book provider (e.g. Scholastic) so that they can send books home with children that they can keep and build up a library at home.

For more reading and research on this topic:

I know that it is unlikely that the majority of parents have a similar attitude to learning as we do but I believe it is worth schools paying attention to how they can support parents better to be their own children’s learning partners. The more that schools build strong, learning partner relationships with parents the more they become involved. If we are to create a society that values life-long learning and encourages human beings who connect, and grow, and adapt to an every changing world, then we do need to spend the effort and time to empower everyone involved.


One of the sports I reintroduced myself to when I first began university was track and field. I was a reasonable athlete as a junior, nothing special, but I wanted to get involved in something that would challenge me personally. I had played team sports for years, and still did at the time, but I wanted an activity where I could compete against myself and challenge my personal bests.

In some ways it wasn’t a good time to be in the Athletics team when we went to the Australian University Games. The team happened to have quite a number of Commonwealth Games Athletes and future Olympians and I couldn’t compare to them in any event apart from the 5 km walk (which no one wanted to do)! So I learnt to race walk and in the meantime trained for a range of other events.

Over the years, as I kept training and getting better I started to be able to compete relatively well at a few events. I ended up finding that I could be a decent competitor in the Decathlon … and that is what I did during my university years (12 years including the PhD and post-doctorate). I had a number of top six finishes in the Australian University Games and was even able to compete in A Grade competition in the Discus. In the meantime I won academic awards, made it to a State Training squad for Mixed Netball, competed in indoor cricket at a decent level, won a Sport Award at my university, and so on.

In reflecting back on my sporting career, and its links to my academic and job career, one of the facets I noticed is somewhere along the line I realised that I would always be learning and developing. Not because there was something wrong, but because I enjoyed developing mastery over myself. It isn’t surprising that I became involved in a personal development program for a number of years. I wanted to know myself better so I could be more effective at making the difference I was passionate about.

Mastery is not an end point but a journey and a mindset. It never ends.

When we don’t challenge ourselves we don’t grow. It is in overcoming our struggles and challenges that we can expand our capacity. That has always been the case in our lives. In fact, it is how are brains are wired.

If we want to develop life-long learners then the way our schools are structured, the pedagogy, the learning environment, the habitual practices all need to be aligned to develop each student to have the mindset and practices to become masterful. As Daniel Pink pointed out in Drive, mastery is one of the big three intrinsic motivators for human beings.

There are many hindrances in schools, including (and not limited to):

  • Teacher mindset – we need to be on the journey of mastery,  continually developing and reflecting upon our skills and capacities to support ALL our students to journey towards mastery
  • A lack of a scope and sequence progression of skills, attitudes, understandings and knowledge across the year levels. How can we continually challenge students to grow and develop if we aren’t clear about the developmental stages of learning ourselves?
  • A lack of a spiral curriculum that allows for the building and transfer of learning across many years. Often there is variance within a year level let alone the progressive building of skills, knowledge and understanding through the years.
  • Poor assessment practices that don’t reward the development of mastery (quite often grades don’t reflect that a student has developed competency in something but it is used to rank them)
  • Not allowing students to grapple with and struggle with learning whilst encouraging them to persist.
  • Using extrinsic rewards to motivate students rather supporting them to develop intrinsic motivation
  • Timetables that limit learning
  • Teacher centred learning

What mastery learning requires is for learning to be personalised to meet the points of need for each individual, in the same way that we as educators need to have our professional learning addressing our points of need to become more masterful in our profession. It also requires that a school pay attention to the mindset and norms that it is developing within its students, teachers and parental community.

Both of these elements do take time (many years) to develop and grow within a school. To kick start the thinking about the possibilities, practicalities and discussions of mastery learning I have linked a range of articles about mastery learning.

The Case for Mastery Learning

The Grand Unified Theory of Mastery

Knowing your Learning Target

Five Musts for Mastery

Combining Intrinsic Motivation and Student Autonomy for Sustained Success

Creating Flow-Friendly Learning Environments

Beyond the Comfort Zone: 6 Ways to Build Independent Thinking

What are the seven mind frames of learning?

A Day in a Mastery-Centred Classroom

Better Learning through Structured Teaching: A Framework for the Gradual Release of Responsibility

If you want to find out more about how Intuyu Consulting could possibly support your school on its journey check out the Scope of Works documents on our website or feel free to contact us at

Welcome to all of our new and old subscribers! As most of you probably realise by now – after all of our informative and resourceful newsletters – the team at Intuyu Consulting spends much of their time working in long term learning partnerships with schools. We love it because we get the chance to build relationships, we see teachers grow and develop their capacity as learners and educators, and we witness shifts in the mindset and thinking of staff, students and all who come in contact with the school.Why I am writing this note to you is to share the expanded descriptions of what we offer and to introduce some of the new areas we are now touching upon in our professional learning offerings. From 2014 we have four broad areas of professional learning offerings that we have described in four “Scope of Works” documents. Our intention is that we address the key areas the schools need support in as they build the best learning culture aligned with the vision of the school.

1. Developing a Powerful and Engaging Spiral Curriculum

In this Scope of Works we have articulated the steps that Dr Adrian Bertolini and Narelle Wood have found works best in schools designing and planning to create a consistent and coherent approach to developing skills, understanding and knowledge across a school. Our work addresses both the state curricula and the Australian Curriculum and our coaching addresses creating the rigor and discipline of planning powerful and engaging units. In the process of our consulting we have gathered a wide range of resources, coaching materials, and examples from the schools we have worked with that can be found on our Resource CD.

2. Frameworks for Effective Learning

Cathryn Stephens not only is a secondary teacher, a teaching and learning coach at a Victorian primary school, and a mad Collingwood supporter, she is currently half way through her Masters of Instructional Leadership with John Hattie, Stephen Dinham, Patrick Griffiths, and other leading educational experts. She has had many years of hands-on practice in implementing the findings from the latest evidence-based research of what works best with supporting students to be independent and effective learners. This Scope of Works identifies the process she has found works with introducing and embedding the thinking and structures to ensure a strong framework for effective learning. One of the extensions that Cathryn is offering this year is longitudinal coaching.

3. Developing a High Performing Professional Learning Culture

One of the clear issues we have been noticing in schools, and a number of principals and system leaders have acknowledged, is that school culture can hamper the embedding of pedagogy and performance. We’d go even further than that and say … Culture eats strategy every day of the week. Given that schools are increasingly being publically measured for performance it is important that schools explore and develop high performance professional learning cultures. This Scope of Works shares the range of workshops and facilitated conversations that we have found makes a profound difference to school cultures. The offerings range from being a critical friend supporting the leadership team to create effective strategic plans and annual implementation plans, through to leadership coaching, and one off sessions on building trust, tribal leadership, situational leadership and more.

4. Empowering Student Performance – Programs for Students, Teachers and Parents

These are a completely new set of offerings for 2014. The intent of the workshops is to provide expert coaching so as to empower students to have the habits and structures that will allow them to perform in specific domains. Not only are there student programs but sessions specifically design to empower parents so they can support their children. Workshops cover topics such as student skills, student leadership, writing, catering to talented and gifted students, junior science, and growth mindsets. Narelle Wood, who is leading this initiative, is working on her PhD in the area of teaching and assessing creativity, and she has been teaching both at the Monash University Education Faculty and in specialised Gifted Primary Education Programs around Australia.
If you are interested in discussing:
  • building a powerful learning culture in your school,
  • developing leadership for staff with positions of responsibility,
  • the issues pertinent to your school,
  • tailored options specific to your school,
  • contacting one of the schools we have worked with,
  • costing and dates,
  • benefits of what we can provide, or
  • even what it could look like
Please email me at or call on 0413 036 382.
Adrian BertoliniAdrian Bertolini

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