Educating Girls

15 November 2021

Having a positive impact on student engagement and learning

Having a positive impact on student engagement and learning

Know thy impact.
This has become a well-known phrase for educators across the world, through the work of Professor John Hattie. Hattie is a global authority on education effectiveness and his extensive research is the world’s largest evidence base on what works best in schools to improve student learning. To have a positive impact on student engagement, growth, motivation and agency is to teach well.
Earlier this year Hattie presented the paper An Ode to Expertise: What have we learnt from COVID and how can we apply our new learning?. The paper explored the research evidence about the emerging impact of COVID teaching, referencing seven studies relating to academic effects and seven studies relating to social and emotional learning. In our Powerful Parenting presentation earlier this month, we referred to the paper as we reviewed the learnings from our own distance learning research here at Ruyton.
Victoria produced impressive reviews of learning in the long lockdown in 2020, with data collected from over 60 schools. Students claimed benefits such as flexibility to work at their own pace, own their schedule, deeper learning, and shorter days, while noting some of the negative effects such as missing seeing their friends in person, not having the teacher in person, and staying motivated.
In the 2020 Victorian VCE exams, performance was noted as relatively stable in terms of exam and study score outcomes compared to VCE performances in 2019 and previous years. For the VCE English exam (the largest VCE study) the mean percentage scores were approximately 55% in 2017, 55% in 2018, 53% in 2019 and 56% in 2020.
Marginally decreased levels of wellbeing, anxiety and depression were noted during the Victorian 2020 lockdown, but these snapped back to pre-COVID levels once schools returned to face-to-face learning. What we actually saw were remarkable levels of resilience, coping strategies, and teacher expertise to minimise the harm.
Hattie observed that teachers were truly pivoting, as the ‘Old Grammar of Schooling’ just didn’t work online. Teachers had to release responsibility, slow down on teaching and speed up on learning. This enabled them to hear more student error and mistakes and see these as opportunities to learn, integrating social and emotional learning into every lesson. Students gained greater independence and responsibility for their own learning.
Just like teachers, parents have faced the unknown terrain of COVID lockdowns and wondered about their own impact. Lisa Damour has been a voice of reason and reassurance for many educators and parents during this time. Her podcast Ask Lisa: The Psychology of Parenting is a treasure trove of helpful hints, anecdotes and reality.
Episode 50 How Do I Build My Kid's Confidence and Self Esteem explores where confidence and self-esteem come from, what contributes to confidence highs and lows and how parents help their children to build a sturdy sense of self-esteem. Damour describes the age at which self-esteem tends to drop off, the impact of gender, and what psychologists mean when they talk about ‘unconditional positive regard.’
In this talk Damour refers to self-esteem as being like a lake; it needs a lot of tributaries to remain buoyant. She gives the example that if you are good at sport and then get injured and can’t play, you are left feeling vulnerable. It is ideal for our young people to diversify and have choice so they can benefit from the variety of these tributaries and what they have to offer. This is a philosophy that we embrace at Ruyton with our richness of co-curricular programs, and it is something our girls have missed dearly in recent months. We look forward to the girls re-engaging in the range of activities available over the coming weeks. While it may not be the full range at this stage it does no harm to ease back in slowly, become ‘match fit’ and rediscover equilibrium, joy, connection and self-esteem.

Linda Douglas

Principal, Ruyton Girls’ School
November 2021