What is the Academic Learning Suite?
This article details the school leadership philosophical origins and the practical function, and applications, of the Dulwich College Suzhou (DCSZ) Academic Learning Suite (ALS). The simple description of the ALS is that it is a document that defines “the Dulwich Difference”. It provides information on how the curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, and reporting cycle is developed, administered, and supervised at the College.
As a school leader for twenty years, I have developed a firm belief that it is the responsibility for all school leadership teams to “scaffold teachers’ understanding of, and access to, the expectations placed upon them”. This should be done in the same way that a teacher scaffolds student access to the learning experiences of the classroom. This means that clear, transparent, digestible chunks of information should be provided to teachers so that they understand exactly what is expected of them as they deliver the curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, and reporting cycles of the school. The ALS provides this.
Families too have an obvious and deeply committed interest in their children’s learning. The ALS, and its associated documents, provide parents with the same level of understanding and access to the learning experience of their children. Trust and confidence between key stakeholders in the community can be built through transparency with the documented delivery of the core function of the school – excellent curriculum, innovative but consistent pedagogy, valid and reliable assessment, and accurate and timely reporting of progress.
Curriculum and Pedagogy
Curriculum refers to what students are taught. It refers to the knowledge and skills that students must acquire to successfully progress through their schooling, and whilst at DCSZ, a bespoke curriculum is enacted, it is devised from:
- Dulwich College International’s (DCI) Engaging Spaces
- Scaffolded Inquiry
- International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE)
- International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP)
- English National Curriculum (ENC)
- The DCI Mandarin programme
The DCSZ pedagogy is designed so that students engage with learning that is purposeful, applied, personalised and relational. This philosophy is grounded on meaningful student-teacher relationships, active learning interactions, and engaging environments. We believe that:
· Learning is effective when it has a clear purpose
· Learning is effective when it is adapted and applied
· Learning is effective when it is personalised
· Learning is effective when it is relational
We seek two core outcomes for our students from their learning experiences:
· The long-term retention of valuable knowledge, concepts and skills
· The ability to transfer what has been retained into different contexts and situations
At DCSZ, teachers design lessons within a scaffolded inquiry framework. To achieve this, and to strive for consistency of quality of instruction across all classes in the College, DCSZ teachers deliver lessons using a learning approach in which students take responsibility for their own learning, and where they have opportunities to explore their individual interests.
The explicit instruction model has been chosen to provide a scaffold for the skills, content, cognitions, and knowledge DCSZ students require to engage actively and competently in inquiry learning. Page 8 and 9 of the ALS details in diagram and tabular form the design structure of DCSZ lessons.
Assessment and Reporting
Assessment is a systematic part of teaching and learning. Teachers must know how well a student has progressed and students must understand how well they are doing, and what they must learn to help them improve. Two core requirements of assessment tasks (the work students complete to demonstrate their progress) is that they must satisfy the requirement of being both a valid and also reliable tool to assess student progress.
To ensure validity and reliability of all assessment, each task that students at DCSZ undertake must be endorsed prior to it being administered to students. Endorsement (see page 19-20 of the ALS) occurs following submission of the task to the College Academic Board which is a cross-College organ whose function is to quality assure the curriculum, assessment and reporting for all DCSZ students. Pedagogy is quality assured by line managers within each school and across the College.
To ensure that families are aware of their child’s progress, and for students to know the areas in which they can improve in their studies, DCSZ applies traditional key juncture methods of reporting (parent-teacher conferencing, end of term report cards), alongside a process of “live time reporting”. This is a continuous reporting model which gives students, teachers, and parents the information they need to action change in students’ education at a point when it is still current and useful. In DUCKS and Junior School, teachers use the SeeSaw platform to publish learning stories, and the Everest gradebook to inform parents of progress. In Senior School, teachers use the Everest gradebook exclusively to publish student work samples and provide feedback on learning progress at key points in time (see page 22-23 of the ALS).
Community access to the ALS and Parent Academy
As stated, the ALS along with all College strategy, policy and documentation are openly available for the DCSZ community. As such, it can be located here. The DCSZ Leadership Team will continue to inform College families about the strategies in place to support student learning. Publishing the ALS is the first in a series of strategies that will be shared with the community through both written modes and the College Parent Academy. Parent Academy sessions will be advertised so that families may attend to learn more about important functions within the College.