Move from ‘chalk and talk’ to facilitation of student learning

Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI) welcomes the publication of the Introductory Report on the Junior Cycle. This report is the first of four that have been commissioned by the NCCA. Conducted by a team of UL Researchers, the four reports, considered in their collective form will offer a full and comprehensive picture of the positive impact that the revised Junior Cycle Framework is having on student learning in ETB schools and beyond. The cumulative picture emerging from the combined reports will report on the views of teachers’, principals’, students’, parents’, and wider educational stakeholders on the Framework for Junior Cycle. It will identify areas where successes are emerging and clearly identifiable, as well as placing a focus on aspects of the Framework that may need further development and implementation.

There are many areas identified in the report that show the positive and significant impact that the Junior Cycle Framework has had on student learning. Speaking at the ETBI Further Education and Training Conference in Athlone, its General Secretary, Mr Paddy Lavelle stated that he saw many strongpoints in the emerging evidence contained in the report, that are worthy of note and praise, ranging from student voice, to inclusion, to placing students at the centre of their own learning journey, and to greater teacher agency and teacher collaborative professional language and engagements.

“Since the introduction of the Junior Cycle Framework, we have seen strong evidence in our schools of greater teacher collaboration among, and with, their own teacher peers. ETB schools were always strong on teacher collaboration, but the evidence emerging in this report shows that the collaborative structures provided for in the Framework has encouraged greater teacher professional collaborative engagement, resulting in deeper professional conversations among our teachers”, he said. “We notice this in our engagements with teachers where we hear of many examples of teachers working together in setting assessment tasks, engaging in critical reflection, using professional collaborative language, by sharing with each other the assessment standards they require of their students. This increased and deeper collaborative culture and use of professional language, that has grown and developed under the Junior Cycle Framework, can only help raise standards of teacher professionalism and agency, but also benefit students who have become clearer in what standards are expected of them”, Mr Lavelle said.

The Chief Executive of Donegal ETB, Ms Anne McHugh, who is also a member of the NCCA Council, observed how the Framework has placed the student at the centre of their own learning at school. “The framework and calendar of assessments, provided by the Classroom Based Assessments (CBAs) is something that has encouraged a move towards students taking more control over their own learning options and how they present this personalised learning in a format for assessment. The report, just published, recognises that we have more work to do in ensuring a balance of Classroom Based Assessments, but the core value of placing the student at the centre of the learning has been placed in a prominent position. If we are to fully embrace how students learn best at Senior Cycle, that is reflective of student learning in a modern setting, many of the seeds of an adaptive learning style have been sown in the Junior Cycle Framework. This will prove to be a significant land bridge into Senior Cycle, when we move formally into that process in the not-too-distant future”, she said.

Looking at the Introductory report, the Director of Schools for ETBI, Mr Paul Fields, noted how, “the report recognises that formative assessment methods have become more widely used in classroom practices. The initial findings reported suggest that teachers’ classroom practices had moved to a more facilitative approach in student learning, and away from being the chalk and talk, from the traditional ‘font of knowledge’ at the front of the classroom. The focus in now clearly on facilitating a more student-centred learning and the report seems to show evidence that formative assessment is now more widely used, focusing on where the student is at in their learning journey, and using this as a starting point for the next step in their learning process and journey”, he said.

ETBI welcomes this introductory report and greatly looks forward to the publication of second interim report, as it will cite examples and case studies from schools, including student focus groups and teacher and principal interviews. Capturing and reporting on the experiences from such a wide range of students and teachers/principals will add significant insights to the emerging evidence of the positive impact that the changes that the Junior Cycle has had and continues to have.