Academic Focus Article: What do we mean by student growth?

This week has offered me two opportunities to reflect upon the importance of growth and what that means in the context of Trinity Grammar School.

On Tuesday I was fortunate in attending and presenting at the NSW Association of Independent Schools’ ICT Leadership conference. With Mark Thompson, the School’s Business Analyst, I outlined the collaborative journey between Academic and ICT teams over the last three years to reform the way we spoke about, assessed and reported on student learning. At the heart of this presentation was Trinity’s explicit focus on growth and our desire to communicate explicitly about the individual, or personal growth, each student makes in a range of domains, from one semester to the next.

At Trinity, we are interested in a student’s growth in four areas:

  • His capacity for deliberate engagement
  • His skills to manage deep learning
  • His disposition to embrace challenge
  • His expanding repertoire of knowledge, understanding and discipline specific skills

Therefore, our curriculum is designed to teach not only content, but also skills such as reflection and self-assessment; our reporting is designed to provide consistent feedback not only upon mastery of knowledge, but also upon engagement behaviours; and we encourage a student’s responsibility for his own learning progress by giving him precise next steps.    

This morning, I was prompted to again reflect upon the value of individual growth rather than comparison to others, when Joshua Butler (12 St) delivered a timely address on the Quad assembly about the value of challenge as a mechanism for growth. Joshua emphasised the importance of deliberate choices to step into carefully selected challenges. He explained the way in which managing initial hardship leads to resilience and confidence: when we choose to take on specific challenges, we learn how to master our minds when they sometimes tell us we can’t do something. Joshua offered the perspective that we don’t have to be the best at what we choose to take on, but we will benefit by tackling challenge.

At Trinity, we seek to normalise a culture of learning from mistakes as an opportunity for personal growth. This means we encourage boys to embrace challenging opportunities, to choose the more difficult options, to seek feedback for improvement, and to identify what they can do today that they could not do yesterday. This approach to learning is grounded in the seminal work on Growth Mindset by Carol Dweck (Stanford University). Dweck’s work proved that students with an orientation towards learning through mistakes could achieve superior results on a range of cognitive tests, including Mathematics. She summarises her research like this: a mindset for challenge and effort plus a willingness to embrace feedback equals ongoing academic improvement.

Our approach is further supported by the work of Professor Andrew Martin (University of New South Wales), whose research indicates that external engagement behaviours often precede internal or intrinsic motivation: that is, we can choose to behave in ways that promote engagement regardless of the way we feel.

Term 2 provides many opportunities for students selecting academic pathways to focus upon personal growth and to embrace challenge. I am delighted by the evidence of deliberate engagement and the disposition to embrace challenge. I am delighted by boys stepping into the demands of Language learning, new ways of learning through our Year 9 inquiry courses, the demands of Extension HSC courses, and the expectations of the IB Diploma curriculum.

I often write about the concept of growth and how growth is defined at Trinity Grammar School – because it is the foundation of robust education and lifelong learning. I congratulate every student who is able to identify personal areas of growth in his learning over the course of this term – and encourage every student to set clear goals for personal growth next term!

Deborah Williams | Academic Dean  


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