A final message from John Hamey as Moriah moves into 2019

As I consider my final message to the Moriah community, my thoughts zero in on the notion that all too often, we prioritise achievement at the expense of effort and growth. We set our sites on an end goal – perhaps a perfect exam mark, a distinction for an assignment, or a high ATAR – and forget to focus on the effort and growth that’s required to reach that goal.

Genuine achievement really only comes through effort and a commitment to continual growth. Finding the balance between achievement, growth, and effort is the key to creating an environment where learners will feel that anything is possible.

In her work on praising effort versus achievement, motivational psychologist Carol Dweck reveals that when we tell our children that they are “smart” and reward their behaviour based on achievement, we discourage them to step outside their comfort zone and attempt tasks that stretch and challenge. Alternately, if we praise effort, we create learners who approach difficult tasks with the idea that it is hard work, and not a natural ability that will help them to succeed.

Taking that idea further, internationally acclaimed author and human behaviour expert Daniel Pink maintains that rewarding effort concurrently rewards “autonomy, mastery, and purpose,” the three major elements of success and what he believes are the key motivators for individuals to keep pushing themselves to get better results.

Applying this growth mindset way of thinking to a school community focused on academic achievement, it is vital that the learning frameworks and programs that we put into place, value and prioritise the acknowledgement of effort and growth in a child’s journey towards excellence. If we require a student to focus on effort and growth, achievement and excellence will follow.

How do we measure effort and growth?

In his 2018 report, David Gonski AC, Chair of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools, recommended that “teachers be given practical support by creating an online, formative assessment tool to help diagnose a student’s current level of knowledge, skill, and understanding, to identify the next steps in learning to achieve the next stage in growth, and to track student progress over time against a typical development trajectory.”

Developing reporting and assessment tools to effectively measure effort
and growth is a critical component for success, and one of the biggest
challenges for educators. At Moriah College, our commitment to continuous,
online rubrics-based assessment and reporting is all about identifying and
finding mechanisms by which we can measure growth, and by which students can identify and reflect on their next steps in learning.

Technological innovations in this area, such as computerised adaptive testing (CAT), play a significant role in offering ways to assess students’ ability level and understanding. One example of this is the Maths Pathways program that our Primary School students are using to personalise learning in Maths. This program offers individualised tests to help gauge students’ mastery and growth over time, and to inform their next-steps learning.

Students complete individual work using their devices and workbooks.
Based on the accuracy of their answers, the program will take each student to the next level of learning, and where it identifies that a student has a lack of knowledge or understanding about a concept, it takes the student back for review. This also provides the teacher with data around a student/s need and provides an opportunity for explicit and targeted instruction to further support the mathematical development of each student.

Ultimately, student-centred work and student self-reflection are what the Gonski Review and the NSW Education Standards Authority’s (NESA) new curriculum framework is leading us towards.

It is vital that we recognise the importance of building learning environments to motivate our students to be leaders of their own learning. A school can only measure effort and growth in partnership with students and parents, and it is ultimately our students’ responsibility, with help from their teachers, to identify next steps in learning and how to improve outcomes.

In their work on inquiry-based pedagogy and how to make gains in student literacy achievement, Lyn Sharratt and Michael Fullan advocate that learners should ask themselves five critical questions to help them identify their progress in growth and learning:

  1. What are you learning?
  2. How are you doing?
  3. How do you know?
  4. How can you improve?
  5. Where do you go for help?

Students who can accurately describe their learning, and how to improve, close the “achievement gap.” This kind of self-reflection from students, needs to be a key element of any school assessment and reporting regime, as comments from students are equally as important as comments from teachers.

When parents see alignment, parallels and an understanding between students and teachers about what is working and what is not, it helps to reduce the anxiety they have around their children’s progress and growth.

Equipping our students for success

Not only has praise for effort and growth been linked to an increase in excellence and achievement, it also acts to create more resilient students who develop the 21st century transferrable skills that are desirable for employment in a wide range of industries.

Students who are encouraged to selfreflect develop metacognition. They are then able to identify their next steps in learning so as to become creative in their thinking, think more laterally about achievement and what they are
working towards, and actively seek out the resources they require to achieve their goals. They develop persistence and display more grit when faced with adversity.

I look forward to hearing about the many achievements of Moriah College students over the coming years.

About the Author

John Hamey served Moriah College with distinction and exemplary educational vision as College Principal from 2011-2018, and prior to that, as Deputy Principal, Head of High School, and Acting College Principal. 

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