NSW Curriculum Changes – a good move

Thursday, 25 Jun 2020

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NSW Curriculum Changes – a good move

The changes announced this week to curriculum reform are a good move. There has been wide consultation and for some time, teachers have been telling policy makers that the curriculum is overcrowded leading to surface learning.

I reprint here from the New South Wales Education Standards Authority GUIDANCE FROM LEARNING RESEARCH - the philosophical core beliefs that have ushered in this change. In recent decades, significant research has been undertaken into human learning and the conditions that promote successful learning. This research has spanned a range of disciplines, including neuroscience, cognitive science, educational psychology, educational research and sociology, and has resulted in a relatively new interdisciplinary field of inquiry commonly referred to as the ‘science of learning’ or the ‘learning sciences’. 

Several major reviews have summarised the state of knowledge in this field. Many of the field’s research findings have implications for learning in schools. (The full research can be found here)

There are 6 main topics (Deep Understanding, Motivation, Progress in Learning, Variability in Student Attainment, Learning Environments, Metacognition) which I will deal with each week.

Deep Understanding 

One group of research studies has explored the characteristics of ‘experts’ in various fields such as mathematics, chess, science, medicine and history in an effort to identify what develops as people become more expert in their fields and so to establish what distinguishes experts from novices. A general conclusion from these studies is that experts have a great deal of knowledge in their fields. 


A second body of research has explored the role of motivation in learning. These studies have investigated different ways of motivating learning; learners’ varying reasons for engaging in learning; beliefs about personal capacity to learn; and conditions and teaching practices that enhance motivation to learn. The findings of these studies demonstrate the powerful impact motivation has on student engagement, persistence and learning outcomes. Studies of different ways of motivating learning show that praise, recognition, rewards and reprimands (often referred to as ‘extrinsic’ forms of motivation) are all capable of encouraging learning. However, external motivators of these kinds often are less powerful than internal (‘intrinsic’) motivators of learning such as the desire to learn something because it is interesting, enjoyable or inherently useful, or because it relates to personal long-term goals. Research suggests that intrinsic motivation often is related to the desire to be in control of one’s own life, to become more competent or to be connected with or care for others.

Progress in learning 

A third body of research has explored the developmental nature of learning, addressing questions of how expertise typically unfolds in particular fields, including how new learning builds on prior learning and lays foundations for future learning; common sequences in the development of competence; the impacts of prerequisite knowledge, preconceptions and misconceptions on learning success; and the teaching implications of learners’ pre-existing understandings, beliefs and backgrounds. Underpinning this research is recognition that most human learning does not involve learning discrete, isolated and more or less equivalent facts and skills. Learning is the process through which increasingly interconnected and sophisticated knowledge, skills and understandings in an area of learning are developed over time. The development of expertise involves more than mastering a growing number of facts and skills; it also involves increasingly deep understandings of the principles, ideas and ways of working at the heart of the field.

Variability in student attainment 

A fourth body of research has explored variability in students’ levels of attainment in particular areas of learning and strategies for addressing the varying points learners have reached in their learning. This research has been made possible by advances in educational and psychological measurement and, in particular, by advances that have allowed the construction of measurement scales along which variability in learners’ levels of attainment can be mapped and studied.

Learning environments 

A fifth body of research has explored the role of learning environments in successful learning. These studies have highlighted the importance of inclusive, supportive environments in which all learners’ backgrounds, strengths and starting points are recognised and welcomed, strong relationships are built, and collaborative learning (including project-based and problem-based learning) is encouraged.


A sixth body of research has explored the importance of metacognition to learning. This research includes studies of learners’ conceptions of, and knowledge about, learning itself; awareness of personal strengths and weaknesses in relation to the demands of tasks and challenges; and ‘self-regulation’ skills in planning, monitoring, revising and reflecting on learning progress. Researchers define metacognition as awareness and understanding of one’s own thinking and learning processes. This includes a learner’s knowledge about themselves – their current levels of attainment, strengths, weaknesses and ways of learning. Learners with higher levels of metacognition have greater control over their learning.


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