Ready for the Next Step
As 2020 draws to a close, we have an opportunity to imagine our senior students in their future lives at university and beyond. Throughout their Swot Vac and examination period, our Year 12 students are a constant, focussed presence on campus. In casual dress, and demonstrating that combination of independent decision-making and collaborative practice with both their peers and the teaching staff that they have been developing since their first day at Nossal, they are easy to mistake for university students! Despite the anxiety which the end of year examination period inevitably brings, this period is traditionally a time when our students, synthesising their learning and refining their understanding through conversations with their teachers and each other, come into their own as adult learners. The conversations they are having now are proper academic discussions, and their teachers will very commonly take a moment at this time of year to quietly rejoice over how far their students have come, and over the very real evidence of "a mind at work" that characterises so many of their interactions with our senior students as they prepare to jump the final hurdle and stride out along their next pathways.
First, though they and their peers in Year 11 who are undertaking one or more Unit 3 & 4 studies have to get through the exams. The main written examination period is well underway at the time of writing, and generally the mood of both students and staff is fairly calm. The exams are running smoothly, under the able and experienced management of our Director of VCE & Pathways (Ms Katherine Warriner) and the "vibe" so far from students seems to suggest they have been well prepared for each examination (as we expected they would be) and are coping quite well with the demands each paper is placing on them. Obviously, only time will tell what their individual results will be, but all of our students can be proud of their efforts during this challenging year.
End of Year Assessments
At this time, our Year 9 & 10 students are undertaking various end of year assessments (many of which will take the form of unit tests), and our Year 11 students are doing some formal end of year examinations.
While Nossal endorses (and practices) a philosophy which foreground progress over achievement, there are moments when "summative assessment" (i.e. the sort of assessment that requires students to gather their knowledge from a fairly long period of time together and demonstrate how much of it they have mastered) is both appropriate and useful. One such moment is at the transition from one year to the next. At this time, almost uniquely in the school year, we ask our students to undertake a more formal assessment regime so that they have an opportunity to practice synthesising a relatively large amount of content. This is also a moment for them to take stock of their progress across the whole year (something which can be difficult to assess from week to week) and consider what this might mean in terms of their approach to learning in 2021. For some, the result will be an endorsement of their current approaches. For others, it will be a moment which highlights a need to make some change to their learning strategies.
It's important that our younger students put an appropriate, but not an unreasonable amount of emphasis on the assessment tasks which they are doing at this time of the year. Sometimes our students seem concerned that they might face very serious consequences (e.g. being "kept down" or "kicked out") if they get a "bad mark" on their end of year work. It's important to remember that this is one task of many which their teachers have seen them working on across the course of the semester or year. It provides some important information, but it isn't the only source of knowledge we have about their learning, and it isn't the only source of knowledge we use when helping them to plan their future. Mainly, what it tells us (and them!) is how good they are at translating their knowledge & skills into a mark on a test or exam. It's true that, due to the current structure of the VCE, this is a thing they need to know how to do, but as anyone who has mastered something will affirm, that doesn't come close to capturing the whole picture of a learner's progress.
While we encourage them to take this moment seriously, they should also remember to maintain a sense of perspective about it. Our wellbeing team are always available to help with this (and with other forms of support) if they are finding the anxiety associated with the process overwhelming.
To celebrate their return to school, and to aid our Year 9 & 10 students in continuing to maintain an appropriate balance between their studies and their wellbeing, the Wellbeing team has recently run Wellbeing Days for each year level which included some physical activities and games, and some opportunities to spend time with their peers in a social setting. The groups for these days were specifically designed to help our students to re-establish relationships with students they may not have been in regular contact with during the remote learning period, thus helping them to achieve a great level of cohesion across the year level as a whole. It was also an opportunity to re-assert Nossal's ongoing commitment to the motto mens sana in corpore sano (a healthy mind in a healthy body). There is ample research to support the fact that our students need to look after their general wellbeing if they want their brains to be operating at their best. As we have recently reminded our students, time committed to developing the skills of self-care is never "wasted" - it is essential if they genuinely want to leave Nossal with ALL the skills they'll need to be successful in life.
At the time of writing, the Year 9 day was in the past, while the Year 10 day was yet to come. Feedback from the students of Year 9 - who have had a particularly extended period off campus this year - was strongly positive, and I trust that our Year 10 students will gain similar benefit from their experiences.
Closer to Normal
Since the return of all of our students to on-campus learning, we have seen the reinstatement of some activities which were postponed from earlier in the year. Our Year 10 students received immunisations, which was of course important if not particularly fun, and about half of the Year 10 cohort was able to walk up to Casey Tech and undertake a three day Enterprise workshop (which looked both fun and practical to those of us observing the program). Some of our Year 9 students have also been undertaking training (under the tutelage of their Year 10 peers) in how to be effective mentors to the students who will be joining us as new Year 9s next year. Without pre-empting either the Premier or the DET, we are beginning to be cautiously optimistic about being able to hold an informal celebration with our departing Year 12 students on December 4th that is closer to our usual rituals than we had previously expected, and we are in the process of finding a way to celebrate the end of the year with our other year levels that works within the current health and safety constraints but still honours the work they have done this year.
We are also starting to plan for 2021. As for everyone, this obviously represents something of a challenge, but one which we are happy to embrace. A delayed Valedictory Celebration is being organised for the Class of 2020, set to take place early next year, and we will soon be asking our current Year 9 & 10 students to nominate some preferences relating to the activities of Camps & Pathways Week 2021 (currently planned for the week beginning Monday 15th March). We have booked a camp for the Class of 2023 (the current Year 9 students) for early next year, to make up for the Year 9 camp which we had to cancel in Term 1, and we are continuing to reflect on (and modify) all of our programs for next year with an eye to filling some of the gaps which this year's disrupted program left behind it. While we cannot recreate everything that had to be cancelled or scaled back in 2020, our approach in 2021 will continue to place the needs of our students in the centre. I think I speak for all the staff when I say that we all look forward to being able to take part in a 2021 which (even if there are some constraints still in place) still gives our students to develop their relationships and skills in meaningful ways and in contexts that make this learning a joyful experience.