2017 marked a significant anniversary for those of us who educate young people in the Marist tradition. On the 2nd of January 1817 a young priest named Marcellin Champagnat rented a small house in a village on a hill in France called La Valla. Champagnat recruited two young men, who became the first Marist Brothers, to assist him in spreading the Good News of Jesus to young people in the way of Mary. Thus, the Marist Institute was born. Fast forward 200 years and here in Bulleen a group of similarly committed Marists (the staff of Marcellin College) continue the traditions and methods of evangelisation and education promulgated by Champagnat all those year ago.
To say that education is a dynamic and ever evolving environment is both obvious and an understatement. Schools therefore are by extension places where reflection, review and change are vital threads in the fabric of our faith/learning community. As a Catholic Marist school we are acutely aware of the challenge of harmonising faith, culture and life through an approach to education which is authentic, socially and culturally relevant. It is therefore part of the moral imperative of Marcelin College that we constantly analyse and evaluate our approach to supporting the young men to grow to become that which Saint Marcellin Champagnat himself would describe, as Good Christians and Good Citizens.
One of the reasons for the long term success of any school is its ability to find the right balance between evidence based innovation in teaching and learning, and preservation of the values that underpin it. How is this best done? Perhaps we could use the metaphor of the supermarket. When we scan the shelves of our local supermarket, we are sometimes looking for the loyal and trusted products and brands that we know are good value and have always served us well. But at other times we are looking for the latest and best products – the ones that can potentially have the greatest impact on our lives. In the same way, it is crucial for schools to visit the educational supermarket of ideas regularly and pay particular attention to the ‘Top Shelf’. What is the latest research and data telling us about how to have the biggest impact on learning growth and the overall development of each young person in our care? Then pick from the top shelf and adapt it to your local environment. That is exactly what Marcellin College has done.
In the area of education there has been much debate over the years about which pedagogy is best. Is it student-led, problem-based approaches, direct instruction, project-based learning or – the list goes on…
In a new study, cognitive scientist Tina Grotzer found evidence of the effectiveness of structured problem-based learning in which teachers can support students moving from novice to expert. The research team noticed that as the problem-based curriculum progressed, students changed the way they approached problems. Rather than waiting for the teacher to give them answers, they made hypotheses based on existing knowledge, discussed their thoughts with their teams, and took risks — all signs of deeper-level learning.
“We know that experts pay attention to a very different set of patterns than novices often do. Novices get caught up in the surface features and can’t necessarily see the deep principles,” Grotzer says. “It’s really important to think what kind of scaffolding helps people take steps towards greater expertise in their thinking and reasoning.”
In 2020, the College launched our new learning framework in Years 9 and 10, the Depth Stage. This innovative educational framework embraces current technology and the needs of today’s students, while honouring the Marist reputation for challenging academics.
Though further impacts from the global pandemic were felt throughout 2021, the College continued to work towards developing a renewed learning and teaching framework. The evaluation process included initial feedback and working parties to identify recommendations for renewing and improving practice in areas including pedagogy.
There was a focus on assessment and feedback processes throughout the year, including the introduction of the Marcellin learning cycle.
The staff pedagogy working group presented its recommendations in the latter part of the year. Based on the educational theories of John Hattie, the team highlighted the inclusion of visible learning practices. The staff working group looking at characteristics of a high performing teacher, also delivered their recommendations. This discussion group endeavoured to set the foundations for teacher considerations in the classroom. The recommendations from both working groups have provided a basis for planning and implementation in 2022.
The College’s focus on literacy continued throughout 2021. Staff engaged in several workshops presented by literacy consultant Kirsten Bourne. The focus was on explicit teaching and evaluation of vocabulary, and learning teams developed vocabulary lists and assessment tools, including a feedback rubric around literacy expectations, for implementation in 2022.