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Formative assessment and staff development at a small rural school.

In New South Wales, the Priority Schools Program supports government schools that have a high concentration of low socioeconomic families. As part of this project, the Aligning Quality Teaching and Assessment initiative was implemented at Wamoon Public School, a small rural school in the Riverina district of New South Wales. The foci of the project were formative assessment and the professional learning of teachers within the school.


The Wamoon Public School professional learning team began in 2005 and comprised Chris George, the principal and K-2 teacher, Kerry George his able supporter, and Anne Morshead and Elizabeth Barnhill who shared the 3-6 class. The team set out to develop a deep knowledge of the Quality Teaching Framework that is being used in New South Wales (State of NSW Department of Education and Training Professional Support and Curriculum Directorate, 2006), to establish formative assessment processes that would support and encourage a real change to their daily teaching, and to make changes to a culture of poor oral communication, little individual student responsibility for standard of work, and low levels of student motivation and engagement. Since the project started, the team have deepened their knowledge of the Quality Teaching Framework and this has provided a vehicle and language which helps drive the learning of the members of the team.

Learning processes for the team

The team agreed to allow for individual differences by encouraging each teacher to work from their position on a novice-expert continuum and to choose which Key Learning Areas they would work on. The team encouraged professional discourse and support for and with each other and accessed off-site expert knowledge when they could.

The team have realised the benefit and need to revisit the framework regularly. Through persistent reading (e.g. Black & William, 1998; Boston, 2002), analysis, discussion and debate of the dimensions and elements of the framework, the team have become conscious and self-conscious users of the framework's language. Professional development days enhanced the team's knowledge base. The team worked through a 10-step plan. They:

1. Established a professional learning community;

2. Became professional learners--raised their expectations of students; shared and discussed their successes and failures; provided constructive feedback for each other, and solved problems together;

3. Worked at developing a deep understanding of the Quality Teaching Framework;

4. Gathered data by conducting a teacher survey and a student survey;

5. Engaged in relevant professional readings to help deepen their knowledge of formative assessment;

6. Accessed off-site expertise;

7. Used four questions as the basis of a common process to support formative assessment in their classrooms:

* What will you learn?

* Why is it important?

* What will you produce?

* How well will it be done?

Two additional questions were added to encourage reflective student voices to guide their teaching:

* How well did you learn it?

* What is your next learning goal?

8. Changed what they did in the classroom. The team gathered ideas and structured classroom activities and action (individually and as a group); consciously built in time for student feedback on their learning, and brought their own reflections to the next professional learning and sharing session;

9. Asked the students what they thought of the process and used the students' feedback to facilitate changes to classroom activity and action, and

10. Trained the students to engage in substantive oral communication, to judge their work against success criteria, to deconstruct exemplars, and to use self and peer assessment.

Through these steps, the team is changing the culture of the classroom. Even though team members acknowledge that it is 'early days' with the students' reflective engagement in authentic learning, feedback from students is positive. Students' comments include:

* My work got better and I understand the work easier. I think about the work better each time I check it. (Blake, Year 5)

* I kind of understand but I need a bit more learning with it. (Lachlan, Year 4)

* It helps and I think everyone can use it. Everyone today has used the success criteria. There is no reason why we shouldn't have it. (Sharna, Year 5)

* I think that it is a good idea. I think it will help heaps. (Jaslyn, Year 3)

* I am getting better at it every time I do it. I think we should keep it because it helps me a lot with my learning. (Annie, Year 5)

* It is a great idea to use this product. As we use this it gets easier and it will become automatic. (Josh, Year 4)

The teachers argue that the project has had quite an impact on their teaching practices and it has helped them to reflect seriously on what they do. It has also helped them to engage with structured professional learning with a strong focus. It has not only improved the focus on quality learning in the classroom; it has also greatly increased the value of student voice.

Because each member of the team started from a different point, they have ended in the same fashion. All have been encouraged by the progress to date.


Black, B. & Wiliam, D. (1998). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 80 (2), 139-148.

Boston, C. (2002). The concept of formative assessment. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 8 (9). Available from

State of New South Wales Department of Education and Training Professional Support and Curriculum Directorate. (2006). Quality teaching in NSW public schools: A classroom practice guide. Sydney: Author.

Anne Morshead | Wamoon Public School
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Title Annotation:teacher education and training program
Author:Morshead, Anne
Publication:Literacy Learning: The Middle Years
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Oct 1, 2008
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