The Early Years – Zero to 8
It is important as educators to understand and have current knowledge about children’s development and how they learn. We know that experiences during the early years lay the foundation for all future learning. A rapid rate of development during the early years, zero to 8 years of age, occurs in the physical, emotional, social and cognitive domains. During this time, the brain and body develop faster than at any other point in a child’s life. “Social development also takes shape in these early years as children are naturally inclined to explore, to discover, to play and to make connections between themselves, others and their entire surroundings” Rushton, Juola-Rushton 2010.
Research shows that if children are provided with high quality, creative experiences in their early years, the synapses that are predisposed to imagination, auditory, linguistic, physical or creative thinking skills will become more efficient and facilitate further learning. “We need to consider that children learn in quite different ways [than adults]. They learn by comparing physical experiences, by interactions with other people and by connecting their own feelings. And they learn an enormous amount through their imagination…Play is what pulls together the logical and creative parts of the brain” Professor Doris Fromberg.
Powered By Play – Prep to Year 2
We believe in the incredible capacity of all children and acknowledge that they have ‘100 languages’ from which to demonstrate their knowledge, creativity and curiosity.
Contrary to many of our own experiences of primary school, children in their first years of formal schooling bring with them considerable knowledge and our job is to build on that so that their experience of school is positive, encouraging and engaging. In order for this to happen, we have learned from ‘what works best’ in Early Childhood research by embedding targeted play based opportunities within the curriculum.
Play based and inquiry learning is the process during play when students inquire using their imagination to explore, experiment, discover, collaborate, improvise and create. Play based and inquiry learning has a positive influence on social, physical, emotional and cognitive development.
Using play as a conduit, our focus in the Early Years is on:
- Developing relationships
- Harnessing imagination, creativity and resilience through play
- Identifying and implementing point of need learning
Future Focused – Years 3 and 4
Learning across Years 3 and 4 sees a heightened focus on STEM principles. This sees students developing future focused skills particularly across the Sciences, Engineering and Technology spheres, played out for the most part through the Kitchen Garden Program.
In 2009, Mt Eliza Primary School became an early adopter of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program, embracing the Foundation’s philosophy of ‘Growing, Harvesting, Preparing and Sharing.’ Over the years, this program has provided our students with the capability and experience to grow their own foods and the skills and desire to create healthy and delicious meals from fresh seasonal produce.
With an end to our Stephanie Alexander funding in 2020, we sought to develop a purpose-built MEPS Kitchen Garden program at Years 3 and 4 that could be embedded in the curriculum and address the interests and needs of the specific cohorts. Hence, our Years 3 and 4 Kitchen Garden program was designed, led by our classroom teachers and assisted by our helpful community volunteers. In 2022, this program will expand to incorporate the OzHarvest Program, inspiring children to eat healthily, waste less and become change-makers in their local community. Like any good FEAST, it’s designed to be fun, engaging and filled with good food!
Coding, researching and design skills are being developed during these years to build a strong foundation for our BYOD program in our Senior School, Years 5 and 6.
Leaders of Today and Tomorrow – Years 5 and 6
In Years 5 and 6, students develop relationships, ethics, citizenship and resilience through a focus on leadership. This focus provides students with practical leadership skills that they can start enacting immediately. Across the two years, students are introduced to challenges while providing them with tools to overcome them. Some of the leadership skills include:
- Goal setting – Student leaders learn the power behind purposeful goal setting and expectations and how they impact our success.
- Time management skills – Student leaders learn to estimate the time required to complete a task, be assertive and negotiate time.
- Attitude to failure – Student leaders consider failure as an opportunity rather than an obstacle in their quest for a goal.
- Traits of a leader – Student leaders learn the character traits of a leader, the importance of courage, taking calculated risks. They also learn how persistence, resilience and acceptance affect their performance in a positive way.
- Public speaking skills – Student leaders learn ways to present their ideas in a confident, powerful and convincing way. They practise the most effective public speaking techniques and gain tools to express themselves in a positive and efficient way.
- Creative leadership – Student leaders learn to appreciate their own uniqueness and consider options in a creative way.
- Social skills – Student leaders learn about social skills and the importance of developing these skills in a variety of circumstances.
- Communication skills – Student leaders learn the power of language in communication and relationships. They learn to give and receive feedback in a productive and empowering way and are also given conversation tools to avoid conflict and enhance their group relationships.
The MEPS Difference
Our Dynamic Curriculum
Our programs are designed to tap into the natural curiosity of all students, develop strong core skills whilst also encouraging them to be thinkers, communicators and responsible citizens within the community. The curriculum across the school is informed by the Victorian Curriculum. Mt Eliza Primary School has developed a curriculum that places a strong focus on the explicit teaching and learning of literacy and numeracy. Our Inquiry Units are aligned with the Victorian Curriculum, and depth is added by drawing on a wide range of evidence-based resources and research to provide further detail and rigour.
We use a balance between teacher directed explicit instruction and more student directed inquiry. Our models for teaching are responsive to the situation and the desired outcomes. We do not have a ‘one size fits all’ approach to teaching and learning and, as such, recognise and implement a range of instructional practises that frame the learning across the school (see diagram).
In any unit of learning, you’ll find teachers developing plans for deliberate, explicit teaching where the teacher demonstrates or shows the children specific things they want the class to focus on. At other times, it’ll be more appropriate for the students to work collaboratively in developing hypotheses, thinking creatively and finding solutions to problems.
Our strong focus on literacy and numeracy is supported by whole school consistency in these subject areas. Our educators effectively use explicit teaching to provide instruction, demonstrate concepts and build learner knowledge and skills.
In explicit teaching practice, educators show students what to do and how to do it, and create opportunities in lessons for learners to demonstrate understanding and apply the learning. A feature of this model is that the teacher makes an informed decision about the specific learning intentions and success criteria, based on student and cohort data, and makes these transparent to students, demonstrating them by modelling. The teacher checks for understanding, and at the end of each lesson revisits what was covered and ties it all together (Hattie, 2009).
As a result, our MEPS Instructional Model focuses on what is called the Gradual Release of Responsibility approach, known for its staggered stages of ‘I do, We do; You do’.
As mentioned, learning does not occur the same way for all students; and as such, we need to use a broad range of techniques and approaches to engage and stimulate our vast array of learners. This is why we favour a balance between teacher directed learning and more student directed opportunities through our Inquiry Program.
Our Inquiry Program assists children to become curious, both in the classroom, and in the broader world. In addition to stand-alone core subjects, Inquiry Units seek to provide scope for students to apply their knowledge and skills ‘in action’. This takes into consideration students’ prior knowledge, interests and areas of conceptual learning that may still need development. An example of this is the Year 6 Inquiry Unit which places a focus on self-expression. In this unit, students and teachers develop understanding around how people express themselves in many different ways and forms. This led to:
- Unpacking different Art forms, including Music, Visual Arts, Performing Arts etc.
- Experimentation with poetry which resulted in a ‘slam poetry’ competition engaging the whole year level. This embedded the English curriculum within this unit.
- Developing band groups where every child was a part of a band. Each group had to develop a mission and organisational structure; decide on a musical style; select and rehearse a song to perform; develop a poster promoting their band; and finally perform at a school festival.
- Investigating how the School Houses express themselves. As part of the History and Geography curriculum, students realised that they didn’t know anything about how and why the Houses were named. This resulted in whole scale research into the Houses and their origins. Students then decided to design and develop House Mascots based on native fauna of the area, and leave these mascots to the school as their lasting legacy. A number of mascots were collaboratively designed and developed by each House, then presented to the whole school for voting. This strongly linked to the English curriculum with students incorporating persuasive skills as part of their marketing as well as making connections to an earlier unit on ‘Government’, as the voting process strictly followed the preferential voting system of the Australian Electoral Commission.
This is just one example of how we are able to ensure that the core skills are learned, as well as applied in real-life situations. Research shows that this multidisciplinarity has a greater impact on long term learning outcomes.
When they come to school, students at Mt Eliza Primary School visit a place that changes and adapts to different modes of learning. They have access to buildings and classrooms that are designed to create an experience rather than simply house a day-to-day activity. Where possible, we take students out of the classroom into the wider world and bring the wider community back into our schools.
The physical environment has an impact on the way people learn. High-quality teaching and learning must be matched with spaces that make our students willing and enthusiastic learners through high-quality design. Adventurous, fresh and modern design gives our students a feeling that learning is open, exciting and full of possibility. Spaces change and grow as students and groups use them in their own personal style. Informal learning happens as students and teachers connect socially and work together outside formal lessons.
Most of our classes are straight grades with composite classes being the exception, not the norm. Our classrooms are flexible enough to accommodate different types of learning depending on the learning outcomes. At MEPS, we have a rich variety of spaces in our school because students learn in different ways and need to access a range of activities. Our school designs encourage work that:
- is individual
- is team-based
- is reflective
- is creative
- incorporates technology
- is hands-on
Our teachers link their lessons into the space where they’re teaching as well as the individual needs of their students. Well-designed spaces make it easier for people to work together in small or larger groups.
Incorporating futurist David Thornberg’s three archetypal learning spaces – the campfire, cave, and watering hole – in both our physical and virtual spaces has encouraged collaboration, engagement and focus.
- The campfire is a space in the classroom for a community of learners to sit together, to listen to each other and learn from storytellers – either the teacher or each other.
- The watering hole is a place for small group learning; and
- The cave is an area to reflect or work independently, or in small groups, without distraction from others.
We should not forget how important technology has been as a tool to ensure that children could continue their learning during the COVID-19 period. A takeaway from this experience is that we can learn and work anywhere, and our students and teachers definitely showed incredible adaptability in flipping learning online from one minute to the next. Rest assured that anything that happens in the future, MEPS teachers and students will have the resilience and capacity to be successful.
Students better absorb skills when they’re using all their senses and connecting to their immediate environment. Our students don’t just learn inside the walls of the classroom. Lessons happen both indoors and outdoors. All sorts of activities take place in flexible outdoor spaces that connect students to the natural environment and to our community.
Teachers use assessment to understand how and what their students learn. Our approach to student assessment refers to the ongoing process of: gathering, analysing and interpreting evidence; reflecting on findings; and making informed and consistent judgements to improve student learning.
Assessment for improved student learning and deep understanding requires a range of assessment practices to be used with three overarching purposes:
- Assessment for learning: occurs when teachers use inferences about student progress to inform their teaching (formative assessment). This happens many times throughout the arc of a school day and is crucial in determining where a student is in the learning cycle.
- Assessment as learning: occurs when students reflect on and monitor their progress to inform their future learning goals (formative assessment). Depending on the task, students may be asked to reflect on their learning or work habits at different times in a lesson and/or as a way to determine ‘where to next’ in their learning. When students self-reflect, research shows that understanding is deepened.
- Assessment of learning: occurs when teachers use evidence of student learning to make judgements on student achievement against goals and standards (summative assessment). This may occur at the end of a unit of work or through more formalised assessments that are standardised, such as NAPLAN or the Progressive Achievement Tests (PAT).
Student reports are written at the end of Term 2 and Term 4 and provide a summary of achievement throughout Semesters 1 and 2. Monitoring student progress is on-going.
Continuous assessment allows for regular up-to-date information on student progress to be provided to parents throughout the year. At MEPS, we use Learning Ladders as our continuous assessment framework, aligning with the Victorian Curriculum.
Using the Learning Ladders, teachers assess pupil progress against a series of ‘I can’ statements (outcomes) that represent the skills and knowledge planned in the curriculum. Student attainment is determined by teacher professional judgement based on insightful data gathered in day-to-day formative assessments as well as summative assessments at the end of specific units of work.
All learning ladders are available for parents through our Sentral management system and are to be reported against after each unit or as decided by the PLC Year Level team.