Knowing What’s Best For Students’ Learning

By Charles Neave, College Director of Pedagogy

Education is an odd fish. In medicine, a new procedure or treatment is tested and goes through a proper process of clinical trials. After a statistical analysis of results, reports are published and if real success is shown the new treatment is adopted. From the simple introduction of washing your hands by Ignaz Semmelweis, to the amazing process of developing the brand new MRNA Vector vaccines for COVID, medicine uses the scientific method to develop and improve.

Education is different. Whilst Professor John Hattie has revolutionised educational research by using a meta-data approach, crunching the results of thousands of educational studies to produce meta-analysis of the most effective education changes and initiatives, it’s still a moveable feast. What works for one child; their background, prior learning, experiences, likes and dislikes; may not work for another. At St Leonard’s we say we want to ‘know, nurture and love’ our students. If we focus on the ‘know’, a teacher who knows their students knows what works best for their learning. So teachers are constantly adapting their techniques and strategies to ensure the best possible learning for each student. We will never find a ‘finished formula’ – don’t listen to education fads or government proclamations about what works best in education. We need to always think about what works best for the students in front of us.

Taking an ‘evidence-based approach’ is the real buzz-phrase in education at the moment. But unlike medicine, evidence doesn’t have to be produced in massive statistical studies. We use evidence from individual students and the classes in front of us to make good decisions about designing their learning. In light of this, all teachers at the College attended a series of fascinating and targeted ‘teach-meets’ produced by their colleagues in the January Conference prior to the start of school. These included sessions on Generative AI, workshops on assessment and feedback, critical thinking and digital literacy, educational leadership, dialogic learning, and technology in the classroom. The workshops were designed around our students and what works best for them, and they were an inspirational way for our teachers to start the year.

We continue to partner with Harvard University and Monash University and use their ideas on metacognition, assessment and pedagogy. We’re also informed by John Hattie’s effective ‘High Impact Teaching strategies’. But St Leonard’s is privileged to have so many in-house experts producing day-to-day evidence which continuously informs our teaching and learning.