Transcript of Episode 9

[upbeat music]

Julia Brennan:

Hi, everybody and welcome back to chatting creative arts podcasts. It's really great to have you all here again today. And today I am talking to the incredible Ananda Horton. Hi, Ananda.

Ananda Horton:

Hi Julia.

Julia Brennan:

Ananda is a PEO [principal education officer] with the primary curriculum team here at curriculum early years and primary learners and she is an absolute expert in formative assessment, plus, a self-confessed Dylan William fan girl. [both laugh] So, we’re super excited to hear Ananda’s thoughts all about assessment. Now, obviously, our focus is creative arts, but Ananda’s focus is definitely on formative assessment just all round, so it would be really interesting to get her perspective and then we can use that to shape some of our thinking about assessment in creative arts. So, Ananda, welcome.

Ananda Horton:

Thank you.

Julia Brennan:

Lovely to have you today. Now, I think maybe if we could just start are you telling us a little bit about your interest in the arts and arts education first and foremost, because obviously that's why we’re here. And just tell us a little bit about your opinion of the arts and why it means so much to you as well.

Ananda Horton:

Okay, thanks, Julia. So creative arts is a real passion area for me. And, interestingly enough, spending a lot of time on formative assessment with my class practise and with school leadership and then coming into a team that was very curriculum focused was quite an interesting pathway for me. Curriculum, what I love, there's a sentiment of our curriculum and a really rich curriculum and what it provides for students. What I love about that is this notion of providing students with an opportunity to view the world in different ways, through different lenses and through those disciplines. And for me, what the creative arts offers our children is such a rich and unique way of looking at the world. My husband is a really established sculptor and so, for many years, I've listened, you know, to him talking with colleagues and…

Julia Brennan:

Are you talking about the famous Dave Horton here?

Ananda Horton:

I am! [both laugh] And I find it a privilege to hear conversations and explorations of life and the world through the art, through the eyes of artists. And I think it's a really important element of our society, to view things and to talk about things in different ways. And I was incredibly proud when my son chose three, drama art and music for HSC. I couldn't have been more delighted. I just find the value of the arts is just so important and particularly now when we have so much happening with technology. And, oh, you know, just changing workforces, changing technologies, changing social medias. The arts more and more has its place to shine, I think.

Julia Brennan:

Absolutely. And, you know, you're really focusing there on a lot of, well being aspects that the arts does so, so well. That's great, thank you.

So, I guess you've sort of explained, really why the arts does mean so much to you. But how do you feel like it's influenced your life? You've talked about your family, but not so much about you. So tell us a bit about you and how the arts has influenced you.

Ananda Horton:

Um, well, like for me, for me as a teacher it brought much joy. I just loved exploring with students through visual arts and music and dance and drama, so it brought a lot of joy for me, working with students. But for me, who I am as an individual, I think it's been, it's been a really powerful component of my life. Some of my earliest memories were going to the art gallery with my parents and some of the earliest memories I have of my dad, you know, reading me verses out of really rich, like War and Peace. He used to read me these fragments from war and peace and just really encouraged this behaviour to stop and think and listen and observe what's around you. And I think it was Elliott Gruner’s painting of the cows on the very fresh meadow that's hanging at the Art Gallery of New South Wales was one of those pause moments, you know. Look at this. Really look at this and really look at how fresh this is and what the artist has been able to capture here. So, it's been a very nourishing part of my life. Music in particular, huge. You know, most of my life could be characterised, like most people, around what music you’re listening to at what time and how it helped you get through, you know.

Julia Brennan:

It's amazing, isn't it? And it can send you back in time and place to where you were when you first heard that. You know, it's amazing, really

Ananda Horton:

Yeah, I had a strong, a strong, you know, I was fed strongly with The Beatles from before. I can even have a memory.

Julia Brennan:

Well, it's a great place to start. Their lyrics are just incredible. Every time I hear them, I hear something new and amazing and the fact that you still remember those melodies.

Ananda Horton:

Absolutely. And I think you know, a routine that I have with my family is before covid, The Bootleg Beatles come out each year and we go with my sons and with my parents. So it's this beautiful intergenerational experience of live music and the joy of the Beatles, and I think that's what the arts can bring. You know, this kind of real connection and real joy.

Julia Brennan:

Yeah, thank you for sharing those intimate little stories that's lovely. So well, we now know that you're really passionate about the arts, but I also you happen to know that you're very passionate about formative assessment. So, can you explain why you think formative assessment is so important?

Ananda Horton:

I will do my best. [Julia laughs] Formative assessment, I think when I really came across it and really started to understand it. It was like a huge light bulb went off for me. And I think every teacher makes decisions and works incredibly hard to do the best that they can for their students. And coming across formative assessment, it just really energised me because I could see how challenging my practise and really adopting these new strategies and understandings about learning was really pushing me more and more into a really authentic look at what students could do. It was just taking me, it was just taking me so much closer to really feeling like I could see what my students, and all of my students, could do, yeah.

Julia Brennan:

Thank you. Well, you've just told everybody that formative assessment changed your life and you told me that, I don't know, a couple of months ago I guess. And I found that really intriguing. So, what can you tell me about that experience and the ways in which you were guided through this process?

Ananda Horton:

Yeah, sure. So, for me, when I mean, I was leading a maths initiative at school and we really wanted to dive into differentiation, and I reached out and was talking with an advisor at the time, and she said, “look, it's really hard to point you into really rich examples of differentiation,” she said. “But I'm going to give you a book to read.” And she gave me, she told me to read Dylan William’s Embedded Formative Assessment, and I was like at the time, thanks.

[both laugh] It’s not quite what I was asking for.

Julia Brennan:

I believe you did that to me as well, so there you go.

Ananda Horton:

I like to spread, I do like to spread the experience. But it was palpable, the change it had on me particularly, like obviously, as a teacher to begin with. And it was really, it was the cognitive shift that took place. Teaching became more tiring, because I was looking for these opportunities throughout my day in a way that I never had before.

These opportunities to really understand the evidence of learning. What could I elicit from my students? How did I know? I didn't really understand before I engaged with this. I didn't know that standing up with my intentions for their learning was different on how they were receiving it, so I could think that I was being clear and explicit and that my lesson was very clear, but formative assessment gave me this lens where it was, it was, let's look more carefully. Let's listen more carefully. Let's provide the students with a different opportunity to engage with me and to share their learning. And through that process of learning about formative assessment, it became a honed skill of then knowing, well, where's their next learning going to.

And so it made me unpack, learning on another level, as well. And it was interesting insights, like how powerful language is and the terminology, you know, equipping students with the language for their learning was a critical element for them to be able to share with me their learning in their own words and what they were really taking from the process and from the experiences that I was giving them.

Julia Brennan:

Can you give me an example of that? Just unpack that a tiny little bit further.

Ananda Horton:

So, I guess on a practical level, I think maths comes to mind in the math syllabus and in particularly stage one has particular terminology. And I always found that interesting working with beginning students because it was always something that you had to kind of draw people's attention into, the breaking down of the language, so that young children were beginning, you know, at an entry point with their understanding and then the terminology in maths changes over time as their sophistication with those concepts changes. And so, you know, it’s, formative assessment is very much around language. So, when you're talking about learning intentions with these, I mean kindergarten was a joy for me, talking about learning intentions with kindergarten, you had to make sure that you were drawing on the right terminology from the syllabus. But then you also, it was a skill in breaking it down with the students so that they could really understand it, and then they could say, it was honestly the most joyful thing, we created a video to share with schools in our area around formative assessment, and I had some little people in my class that I was talking to, to kind of illustrate, you know, the learning intentions and the learning, and it was beautiful timing. When we're videoing, one of the little people said to me, “Mrs Horton, I got my learning goal. I can say you know, six different ways.” You know, and they could just clearly naturally explain it to me and the sense of joy that they had achieved it. So, it was a real indication to me that they understood what it was that they were pushing for. And they were pushing themselves inside to be able to achieve that and then they had that language to then explain to me what it was that they had learnt and what they were getting joy from.

Julia Brennan:

Interesting. Very, very interesting. So, your eyes are just lighting up when you, you know, when you talk about Dylan William, when you just talked about that beautiful kindergarten child then, I mean our listeners can't see your face, but your face was aglow and I just got so excited hearing about what you were talking about then. So, take us back a little step further about Dylan William. So why is he so important to you? And what should we all know about his work? So, you've given us a beautiful mathematics example. Can you give us a few more perhaps?

Ananda Horton:

So, well, Dylan William is, it was, he was the original researcher that I engaged with and as I said to you, it was a light bulb moment. It was a real shift in my teaching practise. And to be honest, it's actually changed the way I am professionally, because I, over time I look for these opportunities for growth and I look more carefully and listen more carefully to try and find the evidence of what's around me and what's happening and then try and bring that into my next directions and things. It's very much become a way of being for me. But he just, he pushes my thinking. I've seen him, I will take any opportunity I can to go and see him present. He pushes my thinking, and I just feel a lot of confidence in the research that he does and the research that he draws upon. And so that's why I have really enjoyed taking the journey with him and like obviously with his work. [Ananda laughs]

Julia Brennan:

Yeah, he did actually point out recently, when I heard him talking, that drama was possibly the most important key learning area. [inaudible]

Ananda Horton:

Yeah, it was fascinating research that he was drawing upon where they backward mapped the skills that employers were looking for from students leaving you 12 and the subject that mapped to most of those skills was actually drama. And so, it's engaging with his work, he also does fantastic work about leadership in education, and leading for real change with students and so I find it very challenge, it challenges me. But the main, the joy of what it unlocked for me was profound and really, at a very basic level, it unlocked my understanding of how to work with and teach children. It gave me confidence to really feel that I understood what was happening for those students. And I mean, one of the most beautiful phrases I’ve heard from Dylan William is that formative assessment is really essentially about making the students voices louder and the teachers listening stronger and in a really simple way, that's what it is.

Julia Brennan:

Yeah, that’s beautiful.

Ananda Horton:

I love it. To me, it just captures it at its essence, it's not about a checklist. It's not about keeping all of those responses that the children might give you. It's about drawing what you can out of what you're looking and listening to and experiencing with your students and then having a deep understanding of your curriculum, your syllabus and the understanding of how those skills build. To then know what to do with that. And I think it was that power, like it was the strength that it gave me, because I felt at any point in time a teacher, a parent could come to me and they could, they could ask me something, and I knew. I knew I had extensive processes in place, that even if I couldn't speak to it right at that point in time, I could lift out my anecdotal notes and all of my processes that I had and the moments of pause that I had in their workbooks. I felt so connected to the students learning that I felt any parent that came to me, I could draw upon something and tell them exactly what that student was doing at that time. And it really, really helped me unlock the celebration and the small wins for the little people in my class who were taking [inaudible] to learn because I can actually see that granular level, you know.

Julia Brennan:

Yeah, that's great. And you actually have described to me in the past those incredible changes that you've experienced in your students results, but also in the relationships with parents and school leaders. So, I think you’ve answered that a little bit there. So, is there anything else that you could add to that or?

Ananda Horton:

No, I just found with staff that I worked with, with formative assessment, I think it really resonated for people that it was about their personal teaching journey and investing in the time and reflecting on their practise and chipping away at these automated behaviours that we have as teachers and challenging in small steps people. It resonated for teachers that it was, it was building and strengthening their long-term teaching practise. It wasn't something that was going to be pushed around with a change of syllabus or with a change of strategic school plans. It was really investing in your time as a teacher and the impact that you have with your students, and that really resonated for people. That kind of, it's an investment into something that, you know, travels across educational change, and it sits at the very heart of our students, and that's why I think people really, really resonated for people.

Julia Brennan:

Absolutely. That's fantastic. Thank you. So, I think I'm just going to bring it back a little bit to the arts in a sort of a way. Can you give us a visual image? I've got one in my mind that I think of when I think informative assessment. But have you got something in your mind that could drive our thinking about, you know, formative assessment over the years, that sort of thing, something that might help people out there to remember what formative assessment is, how it works, that kind of stuff.

Ananda Horton:

That is very challenging because, I guess, for me it's that sentiment around it makes the students voices louder. I know that's not visual, but for me, that really cuts to the heart of what formative assessment is. And I think it keeps us focused on one of the critical, one of the critical, changes for me, or observations where, I know this isn't a visual. Or maybe it could be a visual. Before my formative assessment journey really took hold, once I started to open up that understanding of formative assessment and really start to think about, hey I thought I was being explicit, but in actual fact, I think I was just clearly telling the students something. But I wasn't really digging deeper into something that was explicit. And I wasn't checking if their understanding was matching my understanding. And I really felt like before I was working so hard. I was trying so hard. But in some ways, I was a little bit more like a circus master. I was more of an activities. [inaudible] It was more that I was delivering, and they were fabulous activities like honestly, some of the most joyful things that I've done were done with the best interest, with, I was addressing the syllabus. For me, formative assessment moved me from that kind of curation of activities and learning sequences and it just took me to a whole other level where I could just go that little bit deeper and it was really reaching into that student voice and their connectivity to the learning that we were doing. So, it really shift me from a kind of activities focus. And as I said, it wasn't educationally bankrupt or anything. Just, you know, it was I was working hard. [Ananda laughs]

Julia Brennan:

No, I don't think anybody would go in there thinking that they're doing the wrong thing, but it's just shifting that focus a little bit. I mean, a few people have said a few little things and I've captured those quotes, like everything we teach is assessable or is assessing and then the imagery of an aeroplane flight where an aeroplane can't go all the way around the world without doing a few stopovers on the way. Check ins, that sort of thing.

Ananda Horton:

Yeah. Yeah,

Julia Brennan:

Those sort of images have always really helped me [both laugh] I’m a very visual person. Alright, look Ananda, we're going to wrap it up now, but I'm going to finish with one little, last little question. So, the two worlds have collided. Firstly, why the arts are so important for our students. And then with that in mind, what we can take away from what you've shared with us about formative assessment. So, is there anything else that you'd like to share with us just as a parting thought before you go?

Ananda Horton:

Well, I mean, I kind of, I find the challenge of formative assessment in the arts is a really interesting challenge because we’re not, we're talking, we're talking about that engagement with the learning while students are progressing through the process and it's not the end product. And the end product can give you evidence of learning, but it's all of those little moments along the way that help us to understand. Like if you're lifting out the student voice throughout their learning, if you're making observations, you are watching the students as they are engaging through the process and building the language, and it gives. That's a rich source for your understanding of how the students are going through their creative arts lessons. And I guess that's the challenge because quite often our engagement with creative arts is seeing an end product. You know it's going to a play or it's seeing music on a stage or it's seeing an artwork. It's finished. But it's that powerful stuff that's happening as people are in the throes of that creation.

Julia Brennan:

Yep, and you’ve absolutely summed it up. And that's something that we've talked about in other podcasts actually. The product versus process thing with the arts is huge and a lot of people will rely on that end product as being their assessable item without sort of thinking about that whole process along the way. Lifting out the student voice, I love that, that's beautiful. And getting back to that aeroplane, it's all those little things that are going on along the way. All those little stopovers. It's not about that end destination. It's about all the little stopovers in between and that whole process, not just the product. Thank you for explicitly pointing that out. If we get nothing else out of this, that's [inaudible]

Ananda Horton:

Well, what a shame people have to get to the end to hear it. [both laugh]

Julia Brennan:

Everything else they've learned along the way is also magnificent. On that note, speaking of fantastic things and finishing up, thank you so much for sharing your journey on formative assessment with us, Ananda. It's been fabulous to chat with you today.

Ananda Horton:

You are welcome. Any chance I get to talk about formative assessment, and when I get to talk about the arts, it's just a happy place for me.

Julia Brennan:

[Julia laughs] Fantastic. And anybody listening today, please make sure you subscribe to these podcasts, so chatting creative arts, you can find us on Spotify and they’re super so keep listening and there will be more coming about formative assessment and assessment in the arts in general and just the arts in general. So, thank you again Ananda Horton, it's been lovely to chat with you today.

Ananda Horton:

Absolute pleasure, Julia. Thank you so much.

[upbeat music]

[End of transcript]

Return to top of page Back to top