Education talks | Listening to students makes better reforms

What inspired you
to make changes to your curriculum? The first thing is we engaged
in some national research and that research showed us that students, in particular at
the lower-end of post-primary education were lacking in motivation, they were lacking
in engagement, in the learning process. We have a sort of a high-stakes exam system
which was dominating what was happening in teaching and learning in the classroom
from the 12 to 15 year old bracket. With also recognition that
students needed a set of skills to engage in their
learning currently in schools, to engage in learning beyond school,
to engage in a working life, and a set of skills
that they need in the future, to face new and unpredictable challenges
that may come their way beyond their schooling life. Which skills are
at the centre of the new curriculum? So we identified a suite of 8 key skills. These skills include being literate,
being numerate, being creative, communicating, working with others, managing their information
and thinking, managing themselves and staying well. So what we perceive has been
really important in our curriculum design to make sure there was a balance
between those sets of skills that would be developed across
all subjects with all students and then the content that
they also needed to engage with. Assessment framework in the new curriculum In order to provide a meaningful
assessment framework for these students, what we decided to do is embark
on a dual approach to assessment where we have still
the written terminal exam that takes place at the end of
third year when students are 15 but we also have on a parallel track
with us two classroom-based assessments that are undertaken
by every student within every subject. So these classroom-based assessments
allow students to showcase their skills development in something like for example,
in English, we have an oral presentation where students can showcase
their development in this area and this assessment is put forward and put on their Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement
along with their other classroom-based assessment and with their written terminal
exam results as well. Teachers can now embark on
collaborative activities with their students so students can take part
in some collaborative events that can be put forward as part of
their classroom-based assessment so for the first time, we can use these key skills
explicitly in the way we assess our students. What supports for schools and teachers
will be necessary to introduce these changes? We currently have a suite of resources
and supports available for teachers. The first thing that we do is
we are currently preparing and polishing examples of student work that would go online so students, parents and teachers
can all see samples of real-life student work to be able to understand
standards and expectations for students. That is the first thing we have. We also publish and we will be
publishing a set of assessment guidelines. That goes with every subject,
to complement the subject specification. The second support is that
following on from a classroom-based assessment, teachers are to engage in what we call
the subject, learning and assessment review meeting. So this is in essence
a moderation process where teachers will bring samples
of their work, of students’ work to this meeting and have
a professional dialogue, a conversation around why they made
particular judgments on students’ work and open up the conversation
to try to get teachers to have a common understanding
of standards and expectations. How have you involved students
as part of these changes? When we write a new curriculum specification,
we precede that with a background paper. That background paper looks
at the states of development of that subject in national and international terms. It looks at the kind of research
that talks about those developments in that particular subject,
across different domains and part of that background paper,
we go to talk to students to ask them their views about
how they have engaged with the subject, why they didn’t engage with the subject, and what they think might be important
to include in a subject specification going forward.

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