Go EAST as classrooms embrace explicit teaching

The Effective and Systematic Teaching Network (EAST) has been supporting public schools across the state. Jim Griffiths reports.

A group of people posing for a photo. A group of people posing for a photo.
Image: NSW Department of Education Secretary Murat Dizdar with Elise Mountford, Deputy Principal, Glendore Public School; Simon Mulready, Principal, Kurri Kurri Public School; Belinda Bristol, Principal, Windsor South Public Schoo;l and Matt Carter, Principal, Grose View Public School.

As NSW public schools embrace explicit teaching across the system, one group of education experts is helping with its implementation.

The Effective and Systematic Teaching Network (EAST) has been supporting schools to understand the evidence base and engage with the practice for the past 18 months.

Damien Feneley, Principal in Residence with the Collaborative Support Unique Settings team, said the group recognised there were pockets of schools doing extraordinary things, and decided to bring this expertise together.

“What we know through the cognitive science that supports explicit teaching and how students learn best, is that it is consistent no matter the context, no matter your level of teaching experience and no matter what type of school or student you're supporting,” he said.

While schools frequently share best practice between their classrooms, the EAST network is ensuring it is shared between schools, with teachers from 30 schools participating, and more than 130 other schools benefiting.

The principal of Kurri Kuri Public School Simon Mulready said it was an effective system.

“Where you have a neighbouring school and they’re looking to undertake the same work in explicit teaching, engaging in that journey together becomes really empowering,” he said.

“Teachers and principals can learn from others within the network who have really high levels of expertise in different areas of explicit teaching, as well as people who have expertise in how to implement it in a school.”

For the team behind the EAST network, explicit teaching is not just a teaching strategy, but a methodology that can transform an entire school’s culture.

Mr Feneley said it was a way to help children feel successful and connected across their learning.

“We’re now applying our understanding of human cognitive science to how we teach, and it's like in elite sport – we're going to see the same developments,” he said.

Newly appointed Deputy Principal at Glendore Public School, Elise Mountford, said for some teachers understanding of explicit teaching changed when they visited schools that had fully embraced the practice.

“We took some people through Budgewoi Public School that were a few years into their journey, and they all came out and looked at me and said ‘wow, that’s different’,” she said.

“There's a whole culture with high expectations and a focus on excellence, and overwhelmingly the schools just feel like a really positive place to be.

“It’s not just something I do on Tuesdays at 12pm when I teach maths,” she said.

She said explicit teaching was strategically sequenced and carefully guided learning, that was transformative for student outcomes.

And it was applicable in all school settings, including high schools.

“Explicit teaching comes to the fore when learning is new or complex,” she said.

“My very firm belief from my experience is that if I get students do undertake inquiry before explicitly teaching important concepts and content, I’m setting them up to fail.”

Ms Mountford said in such circumstance, students started to feel like they were not capable or clever because they were unable find the answer on their own, reducing their confidence as learners.

“After explicitly teaching, students will have a deep understanding with things locked into their long-term memory,” she said.

“Then they’ve got things that they can draw on, and can undertake inquiry learning successfully, drawing new connections and doing wonderfully engaging rich activities."

Ms Mountford said the EAST network supported schools through the process.

Along with delivering professional development across a range of schools, the group has developed resources for teachers to use with their students.

As an example, the group’s mathematics units of work supporting the new curriculum can also be used as a stand-alone resource, or as a companion piece for other resources.

“Instead of one school developing resources and the school next door developing a similar set of resources, we’ve brought the best minds together from the highest performing schools to develop units of work which align with explicit teaching,” Mr Mulready said.

EAST has also been collaborating with the Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) contributing to resources and applying that national evidence into NSW classrooms.

A large group of people seated on chairs in a room. A large group of people seated on chairs in a room.
Image: Members of the EAST network met with Mr Dizdar at Yates Avenue Public School in March.
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