Competent Learners research project: How important it is to know the learner
Today I had the privilege to listen to Cathy Wylie, Chief researcher at NZCER, talk about the Competent Learners research project. My key take-away from the session was how important it is to know the learner. And, for me, this was not just the individual learner in the classroom, but the entire facet of learners that we meet.
The competent learners project allows you see the issues involved for learners from the age of 5 right up to the age of 20.
So what does this mean for us as educators?
The research shows: quality early childhood education has an effect beyond socio-economic environment
This longitudinal study started in 1993. The initial research asked what impact early childhood education had for children, what were the aspects that mattered, and was there more impact for some children than others.
Cathy told us that they found quality early childhood education was still having an impact on learners at the age of 16, and that it had more of an impact than the education level of the child’s mother, or their financial situation.
What mattered was the interaction between the teacher and the child, how much the teacher knew the child and designed activities that engaged their interests. It was also found that print-rich environments were a key, and that language was crucial to learning.
The effect of early competency levels in later education
Now that the research has continued until the participants were age 20, further questions were explored looking at the pathways to NCEA. They wanted to find out how determinative are early competency levels, and what role do school and out-of-school experiences play in this pathway.
They found that students who left school with less than NCEA level 2 or equivalent qualifications were vulnerable.
Low early performance can be improved
Cathy reassured us that low early performance can be improved, and listed the following factors as being ones that make a difference:
- Enjoyment of reading
- Having leisure interests
- No bullying/victim experience
- Family income moderate or more
- No adverse events
- Positive family relationships
- Friends in adolescence who are not engaging in risky activities
Factors that make a difference in shifting early low performance
She shared factors making a difference in shifting early low performance:
- Shifts upwards start between ages 8-10
- Attitudinal competencies higher than cognitive competencies at age 8
- Good engagement in learning
- Positive about their class learning opportunities
- Satisfaction with school subject mix
- Staying at school past age 16
Key risk age is around 10–14 years
Cathy told us that the key risk age was around 10—14 years, which when students are at particular risk for disengagement, and is a time when ‘high’ performers are also vulnerable. What really stood out for me was the role of the key competencies. “Attitudinal competencies higher than cognitive competencies at age 8”: the key competencies play a vital role in shifting early low performance.
The teacher’s role is critical
So the critical statement from all of this is that teachers play a key role. Teachers can make a difference by knowing their learners and focusing on the quality of learning opportunities.
The summary and reports from the Competent Learners project will be available soon on http://www.educationcounts.govt.nz
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