School Improvement and Governance Network

Four Key Areas

2.1 Personalised learning

What is it?

Personalisation in students’ learning is the process by which school leaders, teachers, students, parents, mentors, community members and others all help to strengthen the match between:

  • The many different kinds of learning content, resources and learning opportunities and types of support located across classrooms, schools, families, the community and workplaces and
  • The learner as a whole person with particular needs, interests, aspirations, strengths and preferences and with a specific socio-economic, linguistic and cultural background and skills set.

Personalisation is not new – teachers have long developed personalised learning – but the opportunities to advance it are. These include partnerships and technologies to bring personalised learning to scale.

What can I do?

Your school may want to appoint a personalised learning coordinator. And create a team involving teachers, parents and students to develop personalised learning policies and plans. Circulate inforrmation via the school newsletter about personalised learning. Get involved in your school's education sub-committee (or policy or curriculum committee). Be part of the discussion about how you and others can make a difference. See the Great Schools Checklist - Part 4: Teaching and Learning - for practical questions about learning, and how you can help improve students' learning outcomes.

Useful links and reading

  • See the personalised learning report to identify possible practical strategies
  • The UK National College for School Leadership discussion of personalised learning
  • See our earlier discussion of personalised learning
  • Personalised learning: teaching and learning research programme
  • Personalisation: lessons from social care
  • Innovating pedagogy 2012
  • Finland Study Tour 2012, Sharon Saitlik, Principal, Mont Albert Primary School
  • Let's talk about pedagogy, Learning and Teaching Scotland
  • IDEAS - Innovative Designs for Enhancing Achievements in Schools - improvement strategy
  • Three-dimensional pedagogy, Dorothy Andrews and Frank Crowther
  • What's pedagogy anyway?
  • Innovate to Educate: [Re]Design for Personalized Learning, SIIA
  • Pathways to school improvement
  • The Impact of Collaborative, Scaffolded Learning in K-12 Schools: A Meta-Analysis, Cisco
  • Cisco education website
  • Young people negotiating risk and opportunity: post-school transitions 2005-2008, Johanna Wyn and others
  • Pedagogy strategy: learning in an online world
  • Rethinking Skills in Vocational Education and Training: From Competencies to Capabilities, Leesa Wheelahan
  • Touching the future: Building skills for life and work, Johanna Wyn

Examples of great practice

School councils and boards help promote the understanding that students 'learn everywhere' and that there are important overlaps between home, school and the community. They can also help spread responsibility for personalisation throughout the whole school community. Key initiatives include:

  • Using meetings, school gatherings and newsletters as opportunities to emphasise the importance of the shared role of teachers, parents and students in personalised learning
  • Developing shared school-family-community goals such as the better use of learning technologies to personalise learning 
  • Creating a learning compact that defines the shared goals and contributions to personalised learning of the school, students, parents and community groups.

Some school councils develop their own policy framework for personalised learning. This shapes broad agreement within a school community. Some of the most impressive frameworks link three things:

  1. Teaching practice
  2. Curriculum content
  3. Learning technologies.

Punya Mishra and Matthew Koehler and others are researching this mix. They use the term ‘TPACK’ or Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge to describe it. It is a useful model that can be the basis of a school's policy framework. Frameworks that schools develop include powerful learning, personalised learning, etc. Whatever the name, the best frameworks that we have seen are:

  • Collaborative - built around the shared ideas and insights of teachers, parents and students, reflecting the cultural and social mix of the school community
  • Credible - based on evidence and informed by good research
  • Coherent - the pieces are not a 'to do' list but rather fit together
  • Compelling - it paints a vivid picture of what could be in education.

2.2 Curriculum development

What is it?

A curriculum is a course of studies, which makes clear what students should learn as they progress through school and which students must fulfill in order to pass a certain level of education. It includes:

  • Content - what students are meant to learn as specified in formal curriculum guidelines, which raises the question of which knowledge and skills are of most worth and who decides this
  • Teacher's role - what teachers choose to teach and how they facilitate students' learning given the needs, interests, backgrounds, experiences and prior knowledge of students
  • Materials and resources
  • Learning activities and partners - how and with whom students learn within the classroom, at home and in the community and workplaces
  • Assessment and reporting.

What can I do?

Hold a curriculum conversation on your school council or board. Develop a working party or action team around a specific curriculum topic or project such as connecting the curriculum to community-based learning. Join your school's curriculum committee. See the Great Schools Checklist - Part 5: Curriculum - for practical questions about improving the curriculum and planning the curriculum to respond to local needs and priorities. 

Useful links and reading

  • Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA)
  • Comments from Professor Peter O'Toole on a national curiculum
  • The connected curriculum, David Perkins
  • Royal Society for the Arts, Manufacture and Commerce (RSA) discussion of an Area Based Curriculum
  • The RSA Area Based Curriculum: Engaging the Local
  • Towards a New Primary Curriculum briefing paper
  • See our analysis of a 21st century curriculum
  • Useful links at the Aussie Educator website
  • Developing a twenty-first century school curriculum for all Australian students

Examples of great practice

The UK Cambridge Primary Review proposes a 'community curriculum'. It differentiates the national and community curriculum, and suggests that time be divided between them on the basis of 70/30 per cent of the yearly teaching total. The UK Royal Society for the Arts, Manufacture and Commerce (RSA) advocates an ‘area based curriculum’ to enhance the educational experiences of young people by:

"a curriculum that is co-owned by schools and the community that surrounds them, and that uses the surrounding area and its resources as a framework for curriculum development".

Schools and community stakeholders (together with broader local partnerships) develop three kinds of great practice to create a more community-based curriculum:

  1. Engaging students in learning through community-based learning, including community service, civics and citizenship, environmental education, student action teams, and work-based learning. These strategies help students acquire, practice and apply curriculum knowledge and skills. Students also develop knowledge and skills for effective citizenship by identifying and acting on issues and concerns that affect their communities. This kind of curriculum narrows the gap between knowledge and action, and between what students learn and what they can contribute.
  2. Involving students, parents and other partners in curriculum making. When reviewing the curriculum, some schools organise forums to not only engage those traditionally well-represented in curriculum conversations, but to also to involve community members and parents whose voices may be less frequently heard. The curriculum projects that emerge may use the locality as subject matter to illustrate the content of the curriculum, making the latter more relevant and engaging to young people, as well as use locations and local knowledge and skills to support learning.
  3. Building links with organisational partners to develop the curriculum. These partners include other schools such as a small cluster of primary and secondary schools developing a P-12 curriculum model, community and health services, business and industry, cultural organisations and local government. Schools and community partners build a network within which they are able to co-design curriculum initiatives that take the priorities, resources and context of the community as their starting point. They discuss and develop criteria for a coherent community curriculum.

In developing a community curriculum, among the questions that schools and communities ask are:

  • What are the features and criteria for shaping a local community curriculum?
  • How do we best develop a continuing K-12 learning trajectory in the curriculum?
  • Who do we involve in curriculum making, both within and outside the school?

The nature of community is changing. Associated with the shift to an on-line world is the emergence of personalised communities, prompting new thinking and practices about community curricula. Virtual communities promoting social networking are increasingly significant for curriculum making. Students develop personal learning networks (PLN). A PLN is specific to the learner’s needs and interests and comprises people a student learns with via both face-to-face (f2f) and virtual connections. Personalised learning plans, as a record of the goals, needs and progress of individual students, support students to specify life and learning goals and the activities that may enable the attainment of these goals, and assist students to link learning in school, at home, and in their local and on-line communities.

A school and/or a broader community team can plan for, and build, curriculum partnerships over time. The team identifies current and potential partners in community curriculum making such as:

  • Teachers, families, parents, students and community members
  • Other schools – including being part of a P-12 cluster of primary and secondary schools
  • Universities, colleges and kindergartens
  • Local and regional businesses and business organisations
  • Local government
  • LLENs
  • Health agencies
  • Student support services
  • Libraries and museums
  • Community organisations
  • Sporting, recreation and outdoor activities groups
  • Cultural and community languages groups
  • Educational non-profit organisations
  • Government departments and agencies
  • Service organisations
  • Environmental groups
  • Arts organisations.

Using the shared information, the partners may begin to create a shared vision and to develop shared goals. They explore further what they want to focus on. Someone may write a brief paper that begins to work out what will be worked on together. It may be a set of ‘talking points’ or a draft action plan. To further identify the issues and options for action as well as other partners, they may host a forum or roundtable discussion that draws participants from as many parts of the community as possible.

A plan may culminate in a school community partnership agreement, involving schools, community organisations and other stakeholders in a cluster or across a municipality, which formalises:

  • Collaborative curriculum development co-created by schools and community organisations
  • Embedding community and cultural perspectives in curriculum programs and classroom materials
  • Shared use of school and community facilities including issues such as an agreed rental rate
  • Linking school classroom learning and the learning taking place at home and in the community.

2.3 Technology and communication

What is it?

Information and communication technology (ICT) comprises technologies that are used for accessing, gathering, manipulating and presenting or communicating knowledge and information, and includes:

  • Hardware (e.g., computers and other devices)
  • Software applications
  • Connectivity (e.g., access to the Internet and local networking infrastructure).

The use of ICT to improve schooling supports teachers to teach and students to learn in new, improved ways. It is also an enabling tool in terms of the impact ICT can have on the whole school environment including administrative and ‘back office’ work and how teachers, parents and students communicate.

How are technologies changing learning? 24/7 access to technologies is further opening up the learning experience for students beyond the formal school context. The results are greater personalisation in learning and stronger learning partnerships between the home, school and community.

What can I do?

Hold an ICT conversation on your school council or board. If it doesn't already exist, develop a technology action team comprising teachers, parents and students. See the Great Schools Checklist - Part 6: Technology and Communication - for practical questions about improving ICT use. Key questions: does your school have shared school-family-community goals in its technology policy and eLearning plan, and is there a practical plan to improve school communication?

Useful links and reading

  • Department of Education and Early Childhood Development eLearning documents, support and services
  • Bring Your Own Technology: the BYOT Guide for Schools and Families
  • Collaboration in Learning: Transcending the Classroom Walls
  • Matthew Flinders Girls Secondary College computing program
  • Sample e-learning plans from schools
  • Blended learning: Creating Learning Opportunities for Language Learners, Debra Marsh
  • What's happening in schools?
  • The Ultranet online learning system
  • Talking to learn: Dialogue in the classroom
  • Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology, Allan Collins and Richard Halverson

Examples of great practice

The experience of schools shows that positive outcomes are more likely to occur when ICT is
introduced within the context of a well-considered technology plan that reflects the ideas of a whole school community and unites teachers, parents and students. A practical plan may include:

  • Our school community’s vision and goals for ICT
  • How we are building the links between learning, the curriculum and ICT
  • ICT in the context of family and community partnerships
  • Improving school communication
  • Infrastructure, support and PD
  • Action plan by year
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Budget and funding strategies
  • Evaluation and review.

ICT or eLearning policies and plans can be created by a school council team involving teachers, parents and students. The whole community may provide input, including through the partnership and planning work of the school council. A broadly-owned eLearning plan may serve to further link students' ICT-supported personalised learning across the school, home and community. See the useful eLearning ideas and resources as part of ePotential on the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development website. Includes sample eLearning plans from primary and secondary schools.