The Learning Group Approach: a principal’s perspective on shifting the paradigm regarding schooling organisation. Paul Richardson Principal Beaconsfield State School, Mackay.
This paper is about looking at the world of schooling differently. The presentation will outline to participants the processes, philosophy, and current findings of establishing a Developmentally Appropriate Programming (DAP) model for school delivery that has moved a school’s organisational structure away from graded year level classes to the use of student focused learning groups. The paper will present research being undertaken at the Beaconsfield primary school in Queensland that identifies the outcomes of DAP to date; the thinking behind the approach; the challenges of implementing such an approach; and the potential for using DAP in modern schooling environments. Influencing metaphors and the journey from grade classes to teacher moderated learning groups will be addressed. A framework for DAP will be presented. It identifies the need for identified teacher knowledge of the teaching learning process, effective teacher learner relationships, the identification of learner potential and the effective use of ICTs to support such organization. The aim of the paper is to raise the awareness of the work being undertaken at one school as presented by its principal so that fellow school leaders can consider their own practices in the context of this research. Key aspects from the Leadership Capability Framework addressed in this presentation include: - Culture and change - Setting vision and strategy - Excellence in pedagogy - Problem solving and judgment - Self awareness and renewal
In the field of education there are continuous and ongoing calls by educators to enhance, or even change, the way that schools deliver educational programs. As a practising principal, the somewhat rhetorical and theoretical nature of such calls can be difficult to achieve in the context of the bureaucratic and systemic expectations that are placed on the leader of a school. Through the collective of operational business, the range of accountabilities, and the compliance involved in maintaining the status quo in a modern school, a principal has limited opportunity to provide genuine alternatives to the practices that exist in schools. This paper is about a school community that is “having a go” at learner centred change and organisational reform in the context of the systemic constraints in which it operates. The aim of the paper is to present an alternate way of thinking about school organisation by providing the reader with an insight into the Developmentally Appropriate Programming (DAP) approach that is being applied to an Australian primary school setting. The presentation that 1
follows is derived from the influences, actions, and outcomes of the implementation of DAP as perceived by the author, the Principal of the school. The paper will discuss the application of DAP to Beaconsfield State School, Mackay, Australia. This will be done by setting the scene in which the school operates. An explanation of DAP and learning group organisation precedes a summary of a range of influencing metaphors that have impacted upon the decision making processes that have led to DAP. As well as identify the challenges to the delivery of DAP, discussion about the case study research being undertaken into the DAP approach will be presented. The paper will conclude by projecting possible futures for the DAP approach to schooling, especially in the context of the impact of Information Communications Technologies (ICTs) on contemporary educational constructs.
Setting the Scene
The section provides a background to the school in which the research is being undertaken, from a community, systemic, and Australian schooling perspective. The Beaconsfield Primary School community. Beaconsfield State School is a primary school situated in the northern suburbs of Mackay Queensland, Australia. Mackay has a population of approximately 80000 and is an agricultural centre for the sugar cane industry. In the past decade Mackay has also emerged as a service centre for the coal mining industry. The school was opened in 1999 with an enrolment of 220 students. Currently over 500 students attend. Being a primary school, students ages 5 to 12 participate in Preparatory, Special Education, and Primary programs. While the school services students from an urban regional community, many families have resided in other locations in Australia prior to moving to Mackay. There are a significant number of families where one or both parents commute up 300 kilometres to work in the coal mining industry. The school also has an indigenous population of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, and South Sea Islander families. This indigenous population averages 12 percent of the total student population annually. Beaconsfield State Primary School – An Education Queensland School Beaconsfield State School is a public school in the state of Queensland. This year Queensland is celebrating 150 years of self governance as a state of Australia. The school is part of the public schooling system provided by the state through its Department of Education, Training and the Arts known as Education Queensland. As an Education Queensland school, Beaconsfield is governed by legislative requirements and public education policies within the state of Queensland. Staffing allocations, teacher qualifications expectations, resourcing allocations, as examples, are generic to all Education Queensland schools. Compliance to “EQ” policy and procedure is integral to the decision making that has occurred locally and has impacted on the development of the DAP approach at Beaconsfield. As a systemic school, the teachers are appointed to the school via a state wide teacher transfer system. The principal, while able to request specific attributes of incoming teachers, has limited input into the placement of staff at the school. In order to support the staffing of all schools across Queensland, including those that are isolated and/or remote, the staffing of the school is undertaken from a systemic rather than a local perspective. This policy therefore has implications for the application of DAP at Beaconsfield School. Teachers with developed skills and attributes may be transferred from the school, and teachers with limited understanding of the DAP approach may be appointed to the school. The notion of orientation for new staff is prominent in the planning of strategic school directions. This adds to the challenges of implementing the DAP approach consistently from year to year. From another perspective, the system expectations of implementing Education Queensland curriculum and instructional policy impacts on the curriculum offered at Beaconsfield. As the
DAP approach is based on organisational difference, the adoption of the Queensland Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Framework (QCARF) (Education Queensland, 2007) and expectations that all Education Queensland schools will implement “The Essentials” (Education Queensland, 2007) of curriculum, as an example of systemic curriculum policy, is seen as supportive of the work being done by the staff of Beaconsfield school. The notion of essential curriculum offerings common to systemic norms across Queensland schools fits within the aims and directions of the DAP approach. Beaconsfield Primary School – an Australian School The history of European settlement in Australia has led to the development of state run education systems. Each state of Australia has developed approaches to public schooling. The move towards a national system of schooling (MCEETYA, 1999, DEST, 2008) has gained momentum over recent decades. Agreed National Key Learning Areas (subjects) have been adopted by state jurisdictions. Consecutive Australian governments have been moving towards the establishment of a centralised schooling system. Currently there are active negotiations occurring between state education departments and the Australian government to determine a common curriculum direction for all Australian schools. This decade, the Australian government established distinct links between funding and state responsiveness to a national agenda through the expectations of common reporting formats for student achievement across all schools (Department of Education Science and Training, 2007). Recently, the Australian government extended the concept of central accountability for state schooling further by introducing a national testing program. Through the National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) (DEST, 2008) the performance of students is being considered as a determinant of funding to the states. Beaconsfield school is a state school that operates within Education Queensland public schooling policy, and complies with nationally expected policy in relation to reporting and participation in NAPLAN standardised testing. This reality can be viewed positively and negatively in the context of the DAP approach being applied. The DAP approach does not challenge the need for consistent approaches to curriculum, pedagogy and accountability. Beaconsfield school uses the QCARF to underpin its programs and as a key component of the school‟s strategic planning of school based curriculum plans. The “Essentials” have been used to add credibility to the concept of program sequence and the developmental nature of student learning. The Essentials as published by Education Queensland have informed sequenced learning trackers used by teachers to assess learning progress and assist in the formulation of learning group cohorts. As a service provider to transient families of the coal industry the notion of a nationally aligned curriculum will support the ability of Beaconsfield staff to assess, place, and teach enrolling students in developmentally appropriate programs. National testing programs, based on “point in time” standards and chronological year levels, do impact on the work being done with DAP. The underlying premise of DAP is individual development and individual progression. While DAP does not challenge the need for accountability and measures of efficacy for school programs, standardised external measures of internal individual programs is a conflict that the DAP approach is contending with and is an integral aspect of the case study research being undertaken. There are aspects of DAP that challenge systemic influences on schools – especially in the area of resourcing, and the ability to offer locally thought out solutions to local problems. However, the need to work creatively to utilise resources that have been provided through allocative formulae creates enthusiasm and a sense of commitment amongst the school‟s staff to establish local accountabilities for DAP programs. Beaconsfield State School is an Australian school that is part
of Education Queensland, but is creating a local approach to school organisation that is supported by the local school community of teachers, parents and students.
The DAP Approach
The concept of a developmentally appropriate schooling structure has been applied to Beaconsfield as a response to the identified disparities in attainment that were being assessed by teachers. It evolved operationally in 2002 when the maintenance of year level grade classes would have resulted in a large number of composite grade classes. This situation prompted the staff to explore alternate structures to support the needs of the students (Gargett, 2005). The result of these explorations is the evolution of what is referred to as the DAP approach. What is DAP? The acronym “DAP” has been used in many social and scientific contexts to identify particular processes, procedures, and/or programs. In education DAP has been used to define a range of practices that have investigated the “developmental” nature of program delivery to students. Both Developmentally Appropriate Programs and Developmentally Appropriate Practices have been referred to as “DAP”. Notions of “developmentally appropriate” approaches to learning and development are not new, as demonstrated by the research of Goodlad (1963). Several programs and schools (see Addington & Hinton, 1993, Martin & Pavan, 1996, O‟Brien, 2000), have chosen to use DAP as an identifier for the educational programs they have offered. Dunn and Kontos (1997) used DAP to discuss the social, emotional, and cognitive development of the young child. The term DAP was described by Lopez (2007) when providing information about New Mexico Technical College (USA), as referring to strategies that had been used to develop self-esteem and social responsibility within the student cohort. Copple and Bredekamp (2006) used the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) (1997) in discussing the application of DAP as teacher –learner relational. In the examples of the uses of DAP identified above, there appears to be underlying assumptions that, despite the developmental nature of the DAP approach in each given context, graded year level structures were maintained. The use of DAP in the Beaconsfield context defines the organisational structures and cultures that emanate from acknowledging the developmental stages at which a student is engaged in learning. This acknowledgement determines the placement of that student. It also determines the programming required to support that student. Learning Groups At Beaconsfield grade classes have been replaced with learning groups. A learning group is a cohort of students that is at a similar stage of development and with similar levels of demonstrated ability at the time of formation. Learning groups are formed through a teacher moderation process. This process considers a range of factors that influence a student‟s ability to learn and progress in the school context. Student age is only considered as one facet of a learner. Other facets such as gender, prior learning, family circumstance, emotional development, nurturing, cultural background, and access to ICTS away from school, also influence decisions made about student placement and programming. In Beaconsfield‟s DAP, groups of students of similar chronological age, or year level, may engage in tailored programs that are relevant to their collective stages of development and
learning ability. Students of differing ages may also be working together in the same learning group because of similar demonstrated performance or stage of development. Learning groups of identified lower level achievers are usually smaller in size than groups of identified higher-level achievers. A learning group of higher-level achievers may typically have twenty five to thirty students in it. A group comprising of lower-level achievers may have between fifteen and twenty students in it. In this way children with highest support needs enjoy smaller teacher student ratios. Children who, during the course of a school year, move ahead or fall behind their peers in academic performance can be relocated to the next appropriate group. Teachers apply criteria to movement between groups. These criteria include literacy achievement, numeracy achievement, social and emotional development, and support from parents for the move to take place. As the program is learner centred, children can fit into a new learning group program that is based on their developmentally appropriate needs. These needs are common to the other members of the new learning group in which the child has been placed. The ability to make placements in programs that best suit the individual needs of the child has made the Beaconsfield DAP model somewhat different to other models of DAP used in other educational settings. In difference to the organisational construct referred to as “streaming” (Diaocopoulos, 2008), DAP at Beaconsfield goes beyond initial identification and placement of students of similar ability. DAP as an approach endeavours to capture all facets of the student and place that student in a tailored program that reflects a regular class program. DAP is a parallel programming model where each learning group has a non linear identifier. Instead of the year level ranking label such a 5B or 6C (or 9 S!), DAP learning groups use common identifiers. In 2009, for example, each group is identified by the name of a famous Australian. Through this organisational method each learning group has a similar means of identification regardless of ability. Each group is assigned a designated teacher; has a designated program of instruction that covers comparative content across all areas of the curriculum. Different groups may have different pedagogical approaches and resources applied as part of the tailored program design that is being implemented. Figures 1. and 2. represent a comparison between a learning group and a traditional year level class.
A “year level” class
Students who may be achieving above the expectations of a grade or year level
A typical “class”
Students who may be achieving at the expectations of a grade or year level
Students who may be achieving below the expectations of a grade or year level
Figure 1: A representation of the range of student achievements within a grade level class group.
Figure 1. represents the common make up of a year level class. Students are placed together based on chronological age. There is a spread of student abilities. Typically those below the level receive remediation support and those above the level are offered extension programs. Such programs commonly result in withdrawal from the class group and are often offered in isolation from the main class lessons. In many cases, those below the level may become frustrated and disengaged from the learning process, or become attention seeking and disruptive (Hartman, 2004). The students above the level may also disengage from learning because the program is most likely set for students at the middle level of the class, and they may become bored and frustrated.
A Developmentally Appropriate “learning group”
A Learning Group
Students at similar levels of achievement level 11 10 9 11 9 10 11 10
Representations of possible age
Figure 2. A representation of a range of students attains “like” or “common” learning achievement.
Figure 2. represents a learning group structure. It represents students who have been grouped according to the commonalties in their demonstrated abilities. Placing together students of common abilities allows the teacher to provide focused developmentally appropriate programs that are tailored to the cohort. Traditional graded schooling is based on segmented programming. Post program reporting of achievement rather than “point of accomplishment” reporting, is more likely to focus a school upon programming for the „what‟ that is to be learnt rather than the „who‟ who may be undertaking the learning. Under the DAP model, teachers become accountable for the placement of students into learning groups. The placement occurs according to the currency of that particular student‟s achievements, rate of progression and demonstrated ability. It is from such data that relevant student programming can be created. Theoretical perspectives of Learning Groups Learning Group design has evolved from a basic and concise theoretical framework. It is this:
If there is cohesion amongst a cohort of learners participating in a common course of stu dy, it enables the opportunity for complementary group dynamics to support the implementation of a successful learning program. Group cohesion can be enhanced by the formation of student learning groups that are academically, socially, and emotionally similar. The disparities between student abilities are reduced. Group dynamics are enhanced through the cohesive grouping. While the children are similar in ability they are not all the same, and the interactional and interrelational networks of a social group are possible. However with a reduction in the range of ability differences compared to the differences that are possible in a chronologically formed year level class group, the incidences of peer ridicule, distraction and/or disruption may be reduced. Learning programs, when offered to a cohesive group of students who have a range of positive social dynamics, can be designed specifically for that group. The pedagogical approaches can be aligned to the learning needs, learning styles, and potential learning achievements of students within the cohort. With a cohesive group, the program can be unique and tailored for delivery. It can be adjusted according to the progress of the group. Children working together at a higher level of learning may be able to progress through a course much more quickly than a traditional multi ability year level class group. For a group that may be performing at a lower level of ability, remediation may be offered as a core element of a program. In the learning group structure extensions and/or remediation may be offered across school programs as a process of inclusion. Support staff who may have traditionally undertaken withdrawal models of support become part of the whole group‟s learning programs. The challenge between theoretical perspectives and programs in practice are real in all schooling settings. The notion that placing children in developmentally appropriate programs reduce the range of distracters within the learning group does hold true. However there are student distractions that are brought to the learning programs that come from beyond the classroom and the school. Social and emotional impacts of classroom discipline are as real in DAP as they are in traditional classrooms. In DAP however flexibility in student placement enables a broader range of strategies to be applied to support students who bring disruptions to a school. The options of student relocation with a maintenance of a relevant learning program and alterations to programs to cater for student difference are possible in DAP due to the de-identification of ages and abilities and the parallel nature of programs that are being offered. A child, who is not coping in one learning group setting, may be able to relocate to an alternate group so that short term or long term management and modification processes may be applied. There are a range of alternate assumptions adopted by a school‟s staff through the application of DAP. The key assumption is the ability to place students in learning programs according to the individual needs of the student. Because of resourcing restraints on the allocation of teacher staffing, individual needs become cohortial through aligning common needs to particular learning groups. Programs offered are sequential, and teacher appointment to a group is completed after the identification of needs and expectations to support the students. Learning group programs, being parallel in nature, offer students similar learning experiences, albeit tailored to the specific needs of the group. In traditional schooling systems, staffing allocations and teacher appointments are finalised before classes are assigned to a teacher. The individual student is placed in a class based on numbers in that year level. In DAP thinking the needs of the students are prioritised prior to placement in a learning group. Teacher placement is made following assessment of the needs of all groups and consideration of the best match of teacher attributes.
To further inform the thinking of the Beaconsfield DAP approach a series of metaphors is presented. Each of these metaphors has contributed to the organisation that has emerged in the DAP approach. While each of the metaphors has an individual connotation in education and may be viewed as already existent in philosophies used to deliver schooling, their collectivity helps to provide a more holistic picture of the background, discussion, and beliefs of staff in relation to DAP.
If the Shoe Fits It is common for children of the same age to have different shoes sizes. Children do not progress from one shoe size to the next at exactly the same chronological age. Similarly, children do not all learn to walk, or learn to talk, at the same age. For most parents it is accepted that each of their children will develop aspects of physical and emotional growth at differing times – sometimes faster, sometimes slower than a sibling. For most it is considered normal to observe different stages of development and progression in young people. From a school system perspective however, such difference in development is not supported by the traditional year level or graded system that is offered. Schooling systems, acknowledge developmental differences through early years, preparatory, and/or preschool programs (Copple & Bredekamp, 2006; van Wagener, 2007), but through organisational structure, can dismiss the differences upon a child‟s entry into the first formal year of schooling. The first grade primary curriculum makes assumptions about what is to be taught and is generic to a perceived level of physical and cognitive development. This is an acceptable assumption if all students enter the program at the same level of development. In traditional schooling models, however, age is the determinant of entry into the formal years of schooling. In most schooling systems worldwide, there is a legislated entry age into formal schooling, and curriculum is based on this age. While there is debate into the appropriate age at which a children should/could commence formal schooling (National Literacy Trust, 2009, ABC Sydney, 2009), the debate does not often extend to modes in which schools cater for a common age cohort of children who bring to the classroom a diverse range of developmental readiness. DAP accepts that some children may not be developmentally ready for formal schooling. The approach is used to place students in learning groups according to common developmental attributes. In this way the early years of formal schooling are better aimed towards fitting the needs of the students rather than having the students made to fit the expectations of a program – regardless of shoe size
Tonka Truck Kids A common past time for young preschool aged children in Australia is playing outdoors. For most, they have the luxury of being able to play in the back yard of their own houses. For many, a boy in particular, a lot of self directed play time is in a sand pit playing with cars and trucks. An icon of the Australian back yard sand pit is the toy produced by the Tonka Toy Company (Hasbio, 2009). Tonka trucks are used for learning through play by children in many ways.
DAP as an approach to schooling accepts that many of the children entering the school program may still be very much “Tonka Truck” kids who like to be outdoors, creating scenarios, language, conversations, and problem solving through play. They are active, energetic, focussed and engaged in their pursuits. If children enter formal schooling with a range of learning styles, cognitive and emotional functioning, the schooling program offered needs to cater for this. In DAP, children who are ready and capable of sitting formally to engage in reading, writing ,and arithmetic should be offered this opportunity. But the children who are still addressing the learning of the 3Rs through active non formal methods should also be catered for. Grouping children to cater for developmental needs in the initial years of formal schooling is the foundation for what the DAP approach to schooling represents.
High Jump Practice There is a common metaphor used in schooling related to improving student performance. It is referred to as “Raising the Bar”. (Mackie, 2008) There are many references made to raising the bar that invoke a sense of enhancing standards and creating improvement through setting targets beyond existing performance levels. However, if this metaphor is analysed closely in the context of it‟s origins in the sport of high jump, it can be found that athletes actually lower the bar (Rosenbaum, 2009) to improve technique, before attempting to improve personal jump heights. Simply raising the bar on academic expectations in isolation to reinforcement and development of necessary skills will not necessarily improve student performance. DAP acknowledges that some students may need to lower the bar in order to find the level of competency. Lowering the bar and developing the confidence and competency in a given academic pursuit will build skills that a student may apply to new levels of progression as the bar begins to go back up. If schools continue to raise the bar and expect students to raise their skills to match without the training, practice, and development at lower levels, the distance to jump may become too high and, for some, the effort to achieve may be considered unachievable. If the bar is raised too high many will simply walk under it – not attempting to aim for heights that have been set beyond their reach Tiger and the Hacker Tiger Woods is a renowned golfer whose expertise and skills in this field are rarely questioned or challenged. Many golfers, professional and amateur, strive to emulate his level of competency in the sport. Most players can only imagine performing at the elite level of a Tiger Woods. Yet thousands and thousands of golfers continue to play the sport. Each of them has a goal for their performance. They seek to improve their handicap, or they seek to improve their putting, or they may even be a player who aims to get to the eighteenth hole with less lost balls than on the previous round they played. Despite not having the outstanding abilities of a Tiger Woods, each of these golfers is improving and learning - and achieving. The DAP approach assumes that just because you are not Tiger Woods it does not necessarily follow that you are a bad golfer. In fact you may a very competent golfer. DAP asks the question: If you are a 5 handicap amateur golfer who plays a round of golf against Tiger Woods, does that make you a poor golfer? Many schools promote themselves through academic performance. To do this they must ensure that their students achieve academically. The focus for such schools is “academic excellence”. Students who cannot produce at the highest of academic levels may undermine the school‟s ability
to promote this. DAP focuses its schooling organisation on programs that cater for all levels of ability – not just the elite. DAP aims to create a culture of improvement as a measure of achievement. The DAP approach assumes that students of all levels of ability are capable of improvement. Tiger Woods is more than welcome in a DAP school of golfing, but equally welcome is the amateur, and the hacker! The surgeon and the mechanic For most societies the issue of road accidents and the consequential impact of such accidents o n individuals and families is ever present. All member groups of the society continually endeavour to reduce the motor vehicle crash rates in their communities. Vehicle designers, road designers, traffic law enforcers and driving instructors alike continually strive to improve the outcomes of their work. It is the norm however for a driver of a non fatal motor vehicle crash to be supported by the medical profession. The accident victim is ferried rapidly to a hospital emergency centre where specialists work prodigiously to preserve life. Such an event raises the questions: In a car crash scenario who is the most important contributor to the preservation of the driver’s life? Is it the motor mechanic who ensures that the driver’s vehicle is in a roadworthy condition thus minimising the chances of crashing, or is it the surgeon who skilfully puts the crash victim back together again?” Similar comparative questions could be asked about groups such as motor vehicle designers, road rule enforcers, road designers, and medical instrument manufacturers. In terms of income earned for work performed, societies consider the surgeon more important. The surgeon attracts greater remuneration for the service provided than does the motor mechanic. However both have an equally important role in the preservation of the life of the potential crash victim. Elite professions attract elite standings in most societies through income and status – even though a society cannot function unless all work roles are performed with proficiency. The DAP approach, in catering for aspiring motor mechanics and surgeons alike, is focussed on all students being able to achieve their best regardless of inherent abilities. The “grade average” is a traditional measure of achievement and competency in a given field of study. The student who attains the grade is considered to pass. The student who does not attain the grade is considered to have failed. The DAP approach aims to develop success measures for all students. These success measures include the ability for a student to demonstrate improvement upon previously attained achievements. An ability to measure the improvement on individual performance augers well for a greater degree confidence than does exclusive measurement of performance against standards. A standard or set of competencies is essential to demonstrate an ability to perform a task. For example, to drive a car a set of competencies is required to “pass the test” and be able to join other competent drivers on public roadways. Likewise, one would expect to have mechanical repairs to a car, (or a surgical procedure) performed by a qualified and competent professional. The ability for a student to work towards such a competency from a position of inherent achievement offers more incentive to achieve the competency than does a student operating in an environment where that student comes from a position of constant failure. The DAP learning group approach is not about making everybody feel good about things. It is about developing an inherent sense of ability to self improve and develop as a learner. While not
all students will progress their learning to the highest levels of social standing, it is proposed through DAP that all students can progress to a level of competence at which they can be the best that they can possibly be – regardless of their station in life – as a mechanic, or as a surgeon.
Curriculum Connections Many schools as part of their promotion campaigns detail the many “extra curricula” activities that are offered. DAP thinking is that schooling is holistic and that all activities and learning in a school are curricula. The notion that only learning that occurs inside classrooms, under the formal direction of a teacher, is rejected by DAP. For many learners, the sports, the arts, and the social clubs are key centres for learning and should be valued as key curricula. At Beaconsfield the curriculum framework of the school emanates from a central “curriculum connections” approach to learning programs. The school has adopted a local environmental approach to learning organisation. Examples of this can be seen by listing some of the programs offered. Beaconsfield students are working directly with the local council in revegetation programs; the turtle watch group in conservation programs; the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in scientific research projects; and Araikiri school in Japan in an international learning connection. The school musical, the school elective learning program, and school sports are inclusive and considered part of the school curriculum. Under a “curriculum connections” approach all learners and all learning styles and interests are valued. Engagement in such a model enhances confidences and a desire to learn. Under the “curriculum connections” metaphor – the school approach is that while the traditional academic subjects are essential components of learning, they are in reality a vehicle that can connect individuals with the world around them. Through “curriculum connections” – life is the curriculum. Learning - a 3D Process In schooling, curriculum conversations continue to revolve around what it is that the student needs to learn through their courses of instructions. Learning theory of the learning process are continually researched discussed and debated (learningtheory.com., 2009). An influencing metaphor for the thinking of DAP delivery at Beaconsfield school has been the consideration of a “3D” approach to learning. The 3 “D”s are: Learning by “Default”; Learning by “Design”; and Learning by “Desire”. Default learning is essential for human survival. The instinctual sensations of hot, cold, and fear are examples of learning that occurs by default as one grows and develops. Learning in the early years of life is in the main default learning as a child learns the parameters of safety and wellbeing, both physically and emotionally. Default learning does not end at childhood. There are many examples of default learning in the adult world. One relevant example of default learning comes to mind when one thinks about the learning experiences of those amongst us commonly referred to as “digital immigrants” (Prensky, 2007). Many such people will have experienced the default learning of “pushing the wrong button” on an electronic device. While one strives to learn from such experience as to how to retrieve the information that has suddenly disappeared due to an inadvertent key stroke, or button push, the default learning from such an action is to be wary, and never to perform the action again without consultation or advice from a person with expertise in the field. Each of us experiences default learning as an ongoing phenomenon at all stages of life.
Design learning is the programs of instruction that are offered to a learner to develop the skills necessary to attain competency in a given field. In schools it is the curriculum. For schools and the societies in which they operate, the ongoing challenge is to ensure that the designed learning reflects the values of the society, the needs of the society, and the relevance of that learning design to the society. Political and theological influence (Thomas & Schubert, 2005) is most likely evident in the designed learning of a given social construct. At the school level the delivery of essential and relevant learning, and the assessment that such learning is being achieved, is the constant that engages educators in their roles. “Desired” learning is the direction for learning that evolves as an individual develops interests and personal pursuits in life. Beyond hobbies and interests, desired learning is what leads to a learner‟s engagement in a career. Both the surgeon and the mechanic study complex courses in order to gain the knowledge and the competencies to be able to participate in their chosen field. It is the challenge of schools to transform the young learner who has gained knowledge by default in the early years into an aspirational learner who has identified a field of endeavour that through desire may be studied further. The DAP approach considers all learners to have interests and desires for what it is they wish to learn. As the essential skills of literacy and numeracy are developed they can be applied to the learner‟s expansion of knowledge of an area of interest. As a primary school it is imperative that learners of all abilities are exposed to range of learning experiences so that they can further an interest through their secondary and tertiary studies. Not all students are academically oriented. Individuals have a broad range of individual talents and interests. It is important for the primary school environment to enable the foundation of desired learning to evolve. The students who may not be an accomplished mathematician, or may have limited skills in literacy, need to establish knowledge of the abilities they have – be it physical pursuits on the sporting field, creative skills with craft or music, or abilities in design and construction (as examples). Students cannot be made feel that they are inadequate simply because they don‟t fit the design of the school in which they are studying – that is, a school where the hierarchy of subjects (Robertson, 2007) does not enable them to engage with success. The designed learning of a school needs to cater for all learning and all contributors to the society for which it has been set the task of educating. Through the establishment of effective learning design, the school can create opportunity for effective learning by desire. Consideration of the metaphors outlined above has helped give breadth and depth to the delivery of DAP at Beaconsfield. They imbue a focus on the individual and the need to provide for each student enrolled at the school. Each learner develops at different rates and in different ways. The presentation of these metaphors helps to provides insights into the approach to schooling that is offered at Beaconsfield.
Research into DAP
Through doctoral studies, a case study is being undertaken to investigate the DAP being implemented at Beaconsfield. The aim of the research is to capture the perceptions of the participants (Yin, 1994) from within the context of the program as it has evolved. Key questions of the research are: How does DAP offer a more effective way of schooling?; What are the roles of teachers in DAP?;
What new forms of knowledge do teachers require to apply learning programs under DAP?; How do staff measure and report the efficacy of DAP?; What is parent opinion in relations to DAP; What is student opinion in relation to DAP?; and How can DAP support ICTs in learning any differently to a traditional schooling model?
Focus groups are being used as a data collection instrument. It is envisaged that through the use of focus groups, participant perceptions will be captured. The groups will be distinctive by aligning various sectors of the school to specified groups. Teaching staff and non teaching staff will participate in separate focus group discussions. A second tier of distinction between the groups will come from inviting participation according to experience of the program. The foundation staff members, the incoming staff, and the induction staff groups will each bring to the research different insights that will help to inform the research. Interviews with parents and students are also part of the research design and will be used in similar ways to collect a comprehensive range of perceptions of DAP at Beaconsfield. It is envisaged that both parents and students will offer insights into DAP according to their experiences of the programs. Experiences in previous schooling contexts will also influence their responses as comparatives are made. Some students will have been long term DAP participants. Some will be recent enrolees who have come to Beaconsfield for a range of reasons. The range of these reasons is likely to influence the responses given by parents and students. An overarching aspect of this research is the need to clarify the concept of “efficacy”. The notion of efficacy can only be based on the assumptions of the participants as to what they consider efficacy to be. Only through common assumptions of what efficacy is can efficacy be assessed. For some schools efficacy is considered to be quantitative student performance as measured against standardised testing programs. A diametric assumption of efficacy would be the qualitative measures of student wellbeing, growth and improvement. The assumptions of the participants in this research as to what is efficacy will influence the data collection. This needs to be considered by the researcher. Beyond the question of efficacy, the researcher aims to capture the many aspects of the DAP approach and how they relate to student learning and how they influence the delivery of programs at the school.
Challenges to DAP
All school communities can face challenges to the way that they offer services. As well as the common challenges to schools that derive from social and political expectations, a DAP approach can attract additional challenges. These include: The standardisation agenda: - Beaconsfield DAP is occurring in the midst of the emergence of a national testing and performance targets data collection climate in Australia. The emphasis of the learning group process is long term (life long) embedded achievement. This may take longer to achieve than an incremental year level testing program allows. School data may be impacted in terms of standardised expectations. Localised assumptions of the efficacy of schooling in supporting a learner perspective to reporting achievement are challenged in a context of systemic data collection regimes; Enrolment attraction: - With an emerging community perception that the Beaconsfield learning group model caters for students according to needs, there is a significant enrolment intake of students who have been performing below the norm of their current year level. In recent years the school has attracted students with learning support needs. An increased population of lower ability student impacts of the systemic data collection
processes and adds bureaucratic pressure to staff to perform to standards as anticipated by traditional schooling settings; Teacher Knowledge: - To offer student centred programs, teachers need to acquire knowledge and understanding of their students. To work within groups that may be at different stages of development, teachers need to acquire applicable knowledge of the curriculum. Teachers also need to acquire a sound knowledge of the teaching of their colleagues. Moderation of programs amongst colleagues is an essential aspect of working within a learning group paradigm. Under DAP teachers can no longer be a “grade teacher” teaching the same program year in and year out;
Transfer systems:- The Education Queensland transfer system sees staff changes occur at the school. This requires an ongoing induction and peer support program for incoming staff; Staffing ratios:- By design, learning groups comprising lower level learners are smaller than groups comprising higher level learners. A challenge is the intake of students throughout a school year. This may increase numbers in particular groups reducing the support models established.
ICTs and DAP
The concept of learner centredness in the Beaconsfield DAP is a platform for the use of ICTs. ICTs enable teachers to provide programs that are relevant to each student‟s point in learning and enable students to extend personal knowledge and understanding. Through opportunities for teachers to personalise learning programs through ICTs, and via the use of networks, and on line learning there is greater opportunity for children of like ability to connect with each other and learn together. Students can join learning networks. They can undertake on line courses in many subjects as a part of their existing school courses. Sound teacher knowledge of the teaching-learning process, and understanding the potential for ICTs, may now enable teachers to provide the opportunity for students to self pace their learning and negotiate learning programs. Management of „online‟ security, and the appropriate use of the technology for learning, are considerations in the administration of all schooling approaches. While DAP proposes individual learning as an option, the notion of student supervision and the application of acceptable use policies of technological applications needs to be integral. Teachers now need to be able to identify meaningful and appropriate resources from around the world. Understanding the relativity of both content and process is becoming an integral aspect of teaching. Learning groups in the DAP approach consisting of children with higher than average abilities are given the opportunity through the use of ICTs to work both collaboratively and independently, depending on the course of learning being undertaken. Lower level ability learning groups can also work collaboratively but rely more on the expertise of their teacher. It must also be noted that there is opportunity in DAP as in other schooling models for students to extend the notion of like ability and like interest in learning beyond the physical boundaries of a traditional classroom. Students can work in connected discussion groups either at school or outside of school. Teachers can become part of such learning arrangements as supervisors, mentors, and critical friends. The notion of learning groups being a cohort of students virtually anywhere in the world is now emerging. The combination of ICTs and DAP as an educational construct proposes the potential to open up new opportunities for learning. It suggests a new paradigm in which teachers can operate.
A consideration for the research into the efficacy of the DAP approach to ICTs in learning needs to include an investigation into the barriers into computer technology integration that may be encountered in a DAP school in relation to ICTs. Such barriers could be considered generic to most educational settings. They may include: ongoing budgeting costs for ICTs; ongoing maintenance and technical support; access to connectivity in the school environments; monitoring acceptable use policies; and ongoing professional development for teachers.
The Future of DAP
Change is an accepted phenomenon in all aspects of social life. Institutional change is accepted as reflective of the societal changes in most sectors of society. Businesses, professions, and organisations continue to try new ways of offering their services. Schools need to be part of this change, by offering programs that reflect the societies in which they exist. The ICTs agenda is impacting on the way that education services are offered, and the way that school‟s function. With the ability to personalise learning programs through using ICTs, contexts such as the classroom, the teacher, the textbook, and the course of instruction are undergoing rapid change. DAP is about tailoring programs. While far from being a program of individuality at this stage, the notion of curriculum design beyond standardised year level graded courses augers well for DAP to evolve into an institutional response to changing educational environments.
This paper has addressed many aspect of the implementation of DAP at Beaconsfield State School. The reader has been given an insight into the thinking behind DAP, the learning group structure, and a range of influencing metaphors on DAP. While DAP has been proposed as an alternate approach to school organisation, it is acknowledged that there are many challenges to applying the program. Research being undertaken into DAP will provide a range of findings about the approach that can be used to enhance the program. The aim of the paper has been to offer an alternate approach to schooling as a project in practice. The author invites responses to this paper. Comments, questions and opinions will offer the opportunity to respond to the “what about?” factor that comes from reading such a paper. Responses provided via email to the author (firstname.lastname@example.org) will be used to enhance, modify, and improve the practices being implemented as Developmentally Appropriate Programming continues to evolve at Beaconsfield primary school.
Addington, B., & Hinton, S. (1993). Developmentally appropriate practices in the primary school: A survey of teachers. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Mid-South Educational Research Association (New Orleans LA. 10 -12 November 1993. retrieved October 17, 2007, from www.eric.ed.gov. Australian Broadcasting Commission, Sydney. (2009). Research ignites debate over right age to start school. Retrieved from www.abc.net.au on 22 April 2009. Copple, C., & Bredekamp, S. (2006). Developmentally appropriate practice. Washington: The National Association for the Education of Young Children. Diaocopoulos, J. (2008). Streaming the curriculum: Online Opinion. Australian e-Journal of Social and Political Debate. Retrieved from www.onlineopinion.com.au on 26 April 2009. DEST. (2007) Department of employment science and training: Departmental policies and issues. Retrieved 28 November, 2008, from www.dest.gov.au DEST. (2008) Department of employment science and training: Departmental policies and issues. Retrieved 28 November, 2008, from www.dest.gov.au Dunn, L. Kontos, S. (1997). Developmentally appropriate practice: What does research tell us? Young Children 52 (5). 4-13. Retrieved 23 July, 2007 from www.ericdigests.com Education Queensland, (2007). QCAR: Queensland curriculum assessment and reporting framework. The State of Queensland (Department of Education Training and the Arts) 2007. Gargett, P. (2005). Climbing the ladder of learning Snapshots: The Specialist Schools Trust Journal of Innovation in Education-primary. 2 (10). .9-10. Goodlad, J. (1963). The non-graded elementary school. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World. Hartman, D. 2004 Teaching boys with heart. in The Professional Educator, October 2004, 3(4). 13-16. Hasbio.com (2009). Tonka Products. Retrieved from www.hasbio.com on 25 April, 2009. learningtheory.com ( 2009). Index of Learning Theories and Models: knowledge base and webliography. Retrieved from www.leanringtheory.com on 28 April 2009 Lopez, D. (2007). A Letter from the NMT President. New Mexico Tech: Children‟s Centre. Retrieved 27 September, 2007, from, http://externalweb.nmt.edu
Macbeath, J., Schratz, M., Meuret, D., & Jakobsen, L. (2000). Self education in European schools: a story of change. London : Routlege Falmer. Mackie, I. (2008). Maximising Potential: Raising the Bar. Keynote speech: Dare to Lead Conference, Bardon Centre, Brisbane. August 2008. Retrieved from www.daretolead.com on 26 April 2009 Martin, l., & Pavan, B (1996). Current research on open space, non grading, vertical grouping, and team teacching. Phi Delta Kappan 57 (5). 310 – 315. MCEETYA. (1999). The Adelaide declaration on national goals for schooling in the twenty-first century Retrieved on 2 December, 2007 fromhttp://www.mceetya.edu.au/mceetya/nationalgoals Mills, K. (2008) Will large-scale assessments raise literacy standards in Australian schools? Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 31(3). National Association for the Education of the Young Child (NAEYC). (1997). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth though age 8: A position statement of the association for the education of young children. Washington: The National Association for the Education of Young Children. Retrieved on 4 November, 2007, from www.naeyc.org National Literacy Trust (2009). School Starting Age – formal teaching versus play-based learning. Retrieved from www.literacytrsust.org.uk on 23 April 2009. O‟Brien, L. (2000) Engaged pedagogy: One alternative to "indoctrination" into DAP. Education Summer (2000) 1-9. Association for Childhood Education International. Retrieved on 30 November, 2007, from www.acei.org Prensky, M. 2007. Engage Me or Enrage Me. Paper presented at the Leading Edge: 8 th World Convention of the International Confederation of Principals, Auckland. 30 March – 4 April 2007. Robertson, K 2007. Out of Our Minds: Paper presented at the Leading Edge: 8th World Convention of the International Confederation of Principals, Auckland. 30 March – 4 April 2007. Rosenbaum, M. (2009). High Jump Drills: Coaching Beginning High Jumpers. Retrieved from trackandfield.about.com on 27 April 2009. Thomas, T., & Schubert, W. ( 2005). Recent Curriculum Theory: Proposal for understanding critical praxis, inquiry and expansion of conversation. Educational Theory. 47(2). 261-285. (published on line). Retrieved form www3.interscience.wiley.com on 20 April 2009. van Wagner, K. 2007. Child Development Theories. Retrieved 6 June, 2007, from http://psychology.about.com Yin, R. 1994. Case study research: design and methods. Thousand Oaks: Sage.