Susan Lovett

This study tracked the learning journeys of eight teachers as they endeavoured to improve their assessment practices by studying NEMP reports (sent to all New Zealand schools) within the structure of a quality learning circle (QLC). The QLC provides teachers with opportunity to share professional conversations around a common theme and to work together to improve their work practices.

The eight teachers were selected for the study because they expressed interest in this in a questionnaire sent to schools in 1998 (repeated in 2000) to gauge the impact of NEMP reports in schools over a two-year period. The teachers, who between them taught Years 2 to 8 classes in different schools, came together fortnightly during 2000 for QLC meetings in school time to explore the NEMP reports, with payments made for their teacher release and travel over

  the year. Data sources included observations of QLC and school-based meetings, document analyses, and interviews with the teachers throughout the year. As a condition of participation in the study, the teachers reported during QLC meetings on their trials of NEMP assessment tasks in their classrooms. They also visited one another’s classrooms as observers.

• The teachers liked the regular opportunities to talk with one another about how they were using the NEMP assessment tasks.

• They appreciated spending time in one another’s classrooms and sharing samples of children’s work.

• They liked that the QLC provided dedicated time for professional development during the school day and were amazed at the difference this timing made to their energy and information-absorption levels.

  • They welcomed the opportunity to teach each other and pass on their learning to other teachers at their schools and found classroom application helped them to become more enthusiastic learners.

Diane said:
‘I think being able to share with each other the things we were doing . . . has prodded us into, “Oh, that looks all right. Oh, I think I can handle that one,” and I’ll have a go at it.’

Mavis said: ‘Here we are having to do an equal amount . . . because we are all helping each other…I think the QLC is good in that . . . we have some sort of ownership in it.’

Katrina said:
‘When you know you have another meeting coming, you think, “Oh I must remember to do something for that,” so you get the books out . . . It’s not fair [to the group] unless I have done preparation or follow up.’

The study showed that teachers relish opportunities to focus together on issues of classroom practice within a small, collegial group in school time. According to the teachers, when learning is structured in this way and is accompanied with visits to colleagues’ classrooms, it is more effective than learning undertaken during conventional whole-staff professional development sessions.
The experience of the eight QLC teachers also suggests a need to divert energies away from issues of content and coverage during
  professional development and to concentrate on how teachers can establish effective reciprocal learning relationships with their colleagues. While such learning takes time and deserves meeting time with paid teacher release within the school day, teachers’ learning is too important to keep in the ‘tired slots’ at the end of the day. If teachers are to be active and effective learners, then schools must provide the conditions to make this a reality. The QLC provides them with one possible way of doing so.
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The full report of this probe study will be available on this website by Jan 2004 or can be obtained from USEE.