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Students and their learning at the centre

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Rebecca Logan from Wellington East Girls' College discusses how she centres her lessons around her students with group work and time for inquiry. This allows her to have conversations with them about how they are learning. The result is that the students are much more able to reflect on and grow their learning capacity. The capturing of student voice in this story gives a valuable insight into how students see effective teaching.

Professional learning conversations

These questions and suggested actions encourage you to reflect on your own school context.

Creating a supportive learning environment

The NZC (p9) states that:

"Learning is inseparable from its social and cultural context. Students learn best when they feel accepted, when they enjoy positive relationships with their fellow students and teachers, and when they are able to be active, visible members of the learning community. Effective teachers foster positive relationships within environments that are caring, inclusive, non-discriminatory, and cohesive." 

  • How do you make time to have explicit learning conversations with your students?
  • How could you find out how students evaluate their own learning and learning behaviours?
  • Ask your students about their ideal teacher. Which of their responses could you put into practice?


An ideal teacher to me, is probably one that has a sense of humour, and makes the class fun makes learning fun. Just engages with their work - they enjoy what they're teaching to us.

When I started teaching I really taught in a more traditional way and it was harder to find the time to talk explicitly to students about not only what they're learning but how they're learning. So what I found recently is that I centre my lessons much more around the student - so a lot more group work and time for inquiry. This has really allowed me to go around and talk to the students about why they're doing something and how it might help them learn. I've found that it's been actually just a total change in the way that I teach. 

So, in year nine science, we do investigations where students choose to work on their own or in small groups. These are focused around a set of skills that are based on the nature of science but they're really closely aligned with the key competencies. They really get students to think about what skills they're developing. What we do is we look at the skills at the start and think about what this might look like and then throughout that investigation (particularly near the end) they do a self evaluation so we're really getting them to think about what they could do well, what they need to work on and they provide themselves some next steps. As a teacher I have a conversation with them and give them some written feedback about where they're at and next steps as well. So really getting them to think about learning and how they're progressing. 

So it can be quite tricky with something as broad as that idea of ‘what do students understand about their own learning?’ to kind of have evidence for that. So what I've found is basically through conversations with students and how easily they're able to self evaluate throughout the year, you really notice a shift in that ability. So at the start of the year they find it quite hard to have conversations about how they learn and find it hard to evaluate themselves. But as they practice that, not only in science but in social studies they do a lot of self reflection as well. By the end of year nine, and certainly into year ten we've found that they just can do it quite naturally - which is pretty good evidence I think that they can self-reflect and think about skills as well as just what they know. 

Well, teachers help me to learn as they help the rest of the class. Also friends are there for you when you're stuck, or when you need help. They know how to break a question down so that you can understand it more. 

Along with students being better at self-evaluating, they also get much better at talking to each other about their progress. So allowing them to work in groups a lot of the time I’ve noticed has really improved their ability to do peer evaluations and also just to look to each other as a source of help rather than just thinking of me as the teacher as the one that has all the answers and can help them. They really have developed those more independent and group work skills to allow themselves to tackle any problems they might come across.

One way that I like to learn is when my parents help me because I guess when you're in a classroom the teacher is trying to teach a whole class and they don't exactly have time just your needs and things. When you're at home, parents can talk to you one on one, and know your needs and stuff, and then they can also teach you their experiences.

Published on: 04 Feb 2013