Grattan Institute’s Adaptive Education Report

We welcome the Grattan Institute’s recent report, “Towards an adaptive education system in Australia.”  In it, researcher Peter Goss argues that “our current education system is not fit for purpose given the complex challenges it faces.”  These challenges are familiar to anyone interested in Australian education: the flat or backwards performance on important tests, the number of students not finding success after high school and inequality between schools.  Goss rightly identifies the two key aspects to addressing these are that changes to education must be systemic and based on real evidence.

“The status quo is not working”, says Goss.  We see this in NAPLAN Band ranges

Many have been arguing this case for years and championed specific pedagogical approaches such as Problem-based Learning, Understanding by Design and STEM to name only a few.  In fact, I have been involved in many of these initiatives – and saw them fail to make the systemic change required and advocated for by Goss.  We are past the era of needing “new ideas,” but instead need to put these (and many other) ideas to the test.  The “Adaptive Educational” model put forth by Goss will be familiar to those who have pursued a “closed-loop” or “continuous improvement” process.  But like Goss, we find few such efforts used in ways that effect whole-school or sector change.  This is not for lack of trying on the part of schools and teachers, but from a lack of good data.

Fortunately, the ability to use data as evidence is more possible today than it was a decade ago.  The main reason for this readiness is twofold: a growing cultural appreciation of “Big Data” and as well as the sophistication of the tools required to make these data insights available to schools and their communities.

For over four years, Literatu has been developing powerful analytical software for schools and we can confirm a general “flat or backward” direction of student performance in NAPLAN scores.  But we are seeing something very powerful as well.  School leadership teams and whole staff rooms are excited and energised to engage in just the targeted type of teaching identified as essential by the Grattan Institute’s report.  At issue was not an unwillingness of schools to take such action, but the fact that students’ learning gaps were buried in spreadsheets and hard-to-use software.  What seems to be a dawning realisation by schools that “there must be a better way” has happily led to a boom in schools’ use of Literatu’s NAPLAN Explorer.  This diagnostic tool provides easy access to detailed information in a friendly dashboard so that classroom teachers – not just school leaders – can quickly gain insights that naturally lead to targeted teaching and differentiation.  What’s even better is that these teacher actions generate new data on student performance which feeds-back to validate or challenge the effectiveness of the interventions trialled.  This is such an exciting time to be an educator because after decades of working “in the dark,” real evidence is at our fingertips and a single-click away.  To repeat a very apt phrase, data-inspired teaching “is like what you’ve always done, but unlike anything you’ve done before.”

We encourage schools interested in seeing how easily teachers can grow an adaptive educational system to contact us for a friendly online demonstration.



Essay Contest: Thinking Routine – CSIRO

Thinking Routines are a great way for students to engage with new topics and to develop their critical thinking skills.  As part of the “Advance Australia… THERE!” Essay Contest, you might use this activity to help students “Look to Learn.”

CSIRO’s Australian National Outlook

Claim Support Question

1. Make a claim about the topic

2. Identify support for your claim

3. Ask a question related to your claim

World Champ Astros and Analytics

Part of the Washington Post’s coverage of the Houston Astro’s World Series triumph is especially interesting.  In spite of the foreboding title:

Astros’ World Series win may be remembered as the moment analytics conquered MLB for good

much of the article focuses on the importance of the human – in concert with data analytics.

I suggest two main elements are developed in the article, both of which are worthwhile for education to consider.  First, this statement:

“Our game has evolved to the point to where everyone has to choose to what extent they apply” analytics, Hinch said. “We all have them — really smart people that are working behind the scenes to provide that kind of information. How you use them is going to be the competitive advantage. If we think we have different ways to maximize performance, we’re going to use them.”

What I like about this is the double insight that it’s a “given” that data analytics are important and that we all need to use them, but also, that the real trick is what you do with the insights. This goes to an idea I’ve talked about for a while, “schools should take a ‘Big Mother’ not a ‘Big Brother’ approach to collecting student data.  Caring for, and trying to make the most significant contribution, is what drives schools – leveraging data to better reach these goals should drive use of data analytics.

The second aspect that stood out in the article was the import role Astros’ coach A.J. Hinch played as the very human communications link between the “Decision” scientists and the players.  Similarly, school leaders need to inform, but not overwhelm teachers (and students and parents) with the role and use of data without losing sight of the “main game.”

Fantastic Resource Page on Assessment of PBL

Andrew Miller’s gathered a great resource list of links to help teachers interested strategies for assessing students engaged in Problem-based Learning.

What strategies have you found useful? How often do you use PBL?

The Twofold Importance of Evidence

Every school has a vision for student success – sometimes this is clearly defined and supported with learning principles and at others it’s less defined but clearly part of the school’s “ethos” or values that inspire teachers every day.  This shared sense of purpose is essential so that everyone’s working toward the same goal.

Once a rich vision for student achievement is shared by all staff, students and parents, I see “evidence” as the next important step. This is two main reasons.  First, in the spirit of “backward design,” we should develop measures that capture evidence of what we’re after before we consider teaching to strategies to achieve it.  This way, what we do in the classroom won’t just be “good strategies,” but good strategies chosen to produce the desired results.  In other words, if the measures for evidence are well-designed, their fulfilment provides validation that the vision has been achieved.

Another reason for setting “evidence” as the second step is that “testing” communicates what “really matters.”  Within the last month, approximately one million students in Australia sat the NAPLAN tests for Literacy and Numeracy. I use NAPLAN now, however, to illustrate a fundamental truth: the very act of assessing defines what’s important.  Literacy and Numeracy are two of the seven General Capabilities meant to underpin the Australian Curriculum, but how often do we target success in the other five.  How many parents or students could name even one? Yet few would deny the importance of the other five: ICT capability, Critical and creative thinking, Personal and social capability, Ethical understanding and Intercultural understanding.  Thus, even though all seven apparently warranted inclusion in the Australian Curriculum, it’s clear which two “matter.”

My point is not to downgrade the importance of being literate or developing mathematical capabilities, but to illustrate that the very act of testing something makes it import.  And important not only to teachers, but then, clearly to students, parents and ultimately the wider community.

For this reason I suggest that schools consider developing a few richer assessments and build these into the curriculum. Consider setting such performances across the year levels so students can demonstrate their achievements with increasing sophistication as they mature and develop their abilities.  Many schools use such an approach to encourage student wellness and “21st Century” skills.

What are you doing at your school?  Please share your experiences and insights.

gavel graphic from