Academic Focus | Growing Into Our Intellectual Lives

Writing about human learning, twentieth century learning theorist Lev Vygotsky said that ‘children grow into the intellectual life of those around them.’ Vygotsky believed, as do we at Trinity, that learning is social, and collectively we can achieve so much more in our intellectual lives than when we work in isolation.

Lev Vygotsky is a learning theorist I often quote. Throughout the term I have attempted to reflect his perspective of effective learning taking place within a rich community by considering the various ways in which learning is relational. We learn with our peers; we learn with our teachers; and we reflect upon our learning with our families. In this last article of the term, I’d like to frame the experience of receiving Semester Learning Progress Reports as yet another aspect of ‘growing into’ the intellectual life around us.

During the second week of the holiday break students in Years 8 – 10 will receive Reports, and students in Years 12, 11 and 7 will receive theirs early in the new term. The information curated in these documents is based upon a broad range of learning evidence. Both the tasks completed by all students in a cohort, and class-based tasks, are used to determine the specific learning focus grades assigned to students, as well as the overall A+ to E- grade. Learning Focus grades assist students and parents to understand the relative strengths a boy has demonstrated in each of his courses. Overall grades, and the grade distribution tables, meet the NESA requirement for schools to provide a summary of how a student is going in relation to the range of syllabus outcomes set for study in a particular stage of learning. In addition to this assessment of how a boy is travelling with the academic outcomes, the Report provides feedback about his academic engagement: how he is managing the skills and dispositions we know underlie academic growth. At Trinity, we define academic engagement in terms of a particular set of behaviours that indicate skills in self-management, task management, learning focus and persistence.

My first encouragement to families is that as they peruse the Reports together, they focus upon the notion of learning progress. What has changed from the last Report? What is most pleasing about this Report? What are the best parts of the Report – where are the strengths? What might boys do differently next semester to accelerate progress?

My second encouragement is that families value above all else the engagement behaviour feedback: what is happening to the Engagement Point Average (EPA)? If it’s going up – celebrate! If a boy is looking for improvement in his GPA, he must first look to his EPA … is there a pattern in the feedback? Could he be more persistent? Does it seem he needs to develop his skills of managing the tasks he is set?

My final encouragement is to always, always, play the long game … the intellectual life of a Trinity student is indeed rich and varied. We know our boys do incredibly well by the time they complete Year 12 … but the journey is not always smooth. The long game is graduating students who know what it is they want to learn and have the skills to go and learn it. The long game is graduating students who will make a strong and significant contribution to any sphere into which they choose to step. The long game is personal growth in the learning habits that support a rigorous and satisfying intellectual life – both at and beyond school. Receiving a semester Report demands we reflect upon ourselves, that we wholeheartedly celebrate the positives, and, sometimes, that we determine how we might change things moving forward. It’s not always easy … but it is part of growing into an intellectual life that wants our very best – and gives us the feedback we need to achieve it!  

Thank you for reading about learning at Trinity over this term. I wish each of you a blessed, rich and thoughtful Easter, and a wonderful holiday period.

Deborah Williams | Academic Dean

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