Is technology the answer to maximise individualised learning? How can teachers and school systems collaborate to enhance professional learning opportunities to build teacher skills in this area?
Discussions in government reports and online posts have again raised the challenge of individualised learning in classrooms. The Report of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools, Through Growth to Achievement (the Gonski Report), was released in March this year. A major recommendation of this report was to tailor the curriculum to individual learning needs to better enable individual student learning growth. The report recommended that rather than prescribing yearly targets, the curriculum should be used as “a roadmap of long-term learning progress”, commenting that “learning progressions that enable teachers to focus on the learning readiness and individual progress of students need to become the new benchmark for monitoring success”.
Teachers’ responses to these suggestions range from “I am doing this” to “How? I am already so busy!”. Technology is often seen as a way to multiply the number of “teachers” in the classroom! However, simply adding devices to classrooms does not individualise learning. Technology doesn’t replace teaching. It can, however, be an important pedagogical tool in project-based learning, formative assessments and reviewing student data, providing a powerful asset to support data-driven learning. In an earlier blog, I emphasised the potential for AI as a teaching assistant.
In a recent LinkedIn post, Anna Kinnane, Manager (Digital Strategies) at the QCT, commented that “Too often the conversation regarding technology use in teaching and learning centres on technology. What is central to the conversation is teacher quality”. The post attracted many responses, each of which emphasised that technology on its own does not make the difference, what is vital are the pedagogical skills of teachers and their expertise in using technology effectively for teaching and learning.
Integrating technology into a pedagogy designed to maximise the learning growth of every student every year, as recommended in the Gonski Report, represents a significant shift in thinking about the teaching-learning process, including planning and assessment. Specific changes required include starting with each student and creating multi-streamed lessons for each class. Effective interventions for each student need to be developed and regular formative assessment needs to be conducted and plans nuanced on the basis of the data. The Gonski Report refers to this process as tailored teaching.
The challenge for teachers, schools and systems is to ensure appropriate, and sustained, professional learning is available and that teachers are freed to access it. The shift required in order to realise the outcomes outlined in the Gonski Report requires all partners in the student’s learning to be working collaboratively. The Report emphasises the following strategies as necessary to support this change: “
- embedding professional collaboration as a necessity in everyday teaching practice;
- developing a formative assessment tool that measures individual student growth and enables teachers to assess where individual students are on the various learning progressions, monitor student progress against expected outcomes and tailor teaching practices to maximise student learning growth; and
- providing a professional learning environment to enable, support and improve teaching practice that promotes individual student learning growth.”
Systems need to develop appropriate professional learning opportunities and ensure that teachers have access to these – free from the demands of day-to-day practice. The Gonski Report cited research from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) indicating that on average, Australian teachers spend less time on professional learning than teachers across other OECD countries. The responsibility to change this rests with systems and with teachers. Reflective practice and professional learning need to become a priority, so facilitating time for engaging in this practice will need to occur.
Many teachers have expressed the view that these suggestions are fine in theory but difficult in practice. Certainly, individual schools will encourage the approach more than others. It must be a priority that new approaches to professional learning enhance the pedagogical skills of teachers to ensure all students are maximally ready for our ever-changing world. As teachers, we too need to continue to enhance our own skills and performance.