What does learning look like in the Senior School at Danebank, both in and outside the classroom?

I want to make clear to you what learning looks like at Danebank in the Senior School. What learning looks like both in and outside the classroom. In a word I want to share with you our culture.

At Danebank we believe that every single student can learn to be a powerful learner

  1. We believe that learning and wellbeing are intrinsically linked
  2. We believe that every student is unique, known and enriched
  3. We believe that learning goes beyond what happens in the confines of a classroom

Each of these beliefs guides us as a senior school but they only mean something if they are woven into the fabric of everything we do. If they are embedded and part of our culture. Our beliefs flow into everything that we do, forming our culture.

When a girl walks into our green gates, they are walking into more than just beautiful grounds, buildings, a philosophy of learning. They are walking into our culture and what happens when you enter an environment with a strong, exciting and compelling culture? It rubs off on you and you begin to adopt it as your own and I think, even more beautifully, you begin to contribute and rub off on the culture as well. Therefore, we work very hard at maintaining and developing our culture into something that we love and we know that your girls will love too.

So let’s explore this culture a little more.

Students are brought into a culture of learning, where they are directly and indirectly modelled on how to be the best learner they can be. We know that aspiration, the desire to learn, is one of the best indicators of success.

Our culture grows a confidence and aspiration among our students that

  • mistakes are part of the learning process
  • everyone is capable of learning and improving
  • everyone can learn to be an excellent learner
  • It is not about being smart, but about developing the mindset of a learner

Students are explicitly taught and modelled how to develop and use the characteristics of a learner, for example:

  • How to collaborate with others and be interdependent
  • How to plan and how to distil big ideas into small, transferable ones.
  • How to use reasoning and to have a curious mind
  • Our Year 7’s develop a digital Discovery Diary to record their learning journey throughout the year, reflecting on the highs, the lows and the growth moments.

We call these things “dispositions” or “learning muscles” … the characteristics that make someone a good learner.

Why is this important? Because we know that:

  • Students experience less stress because they know how to learn
  • Students leave Danebank with skills and abilities that are flexible and adaptable to every context
  • Students who know how to learn and are in a culture of learning do better in exams
  • Students are more employable as they have more initiative, resourcefulness and fluid intelligence

Our learning culture focuses on both looking inward and outward. We believe that learning not only happens inside the classroom but also outside of it. Our girls learn through a range of opportunities to apply their learning to the outside world. What happens in the classroom is extended and connected outside of it.

So let’s start by considering what goes on in the classroom. Key to who we are is that every girl is known, we have small class sizes meaning every teacher knows how each girl is progressing in her learning, knowing if she needs additional support, more encouragement or further extension.

  1. Why and how are our girls’ study skills being developed

    One of the most obvious ways that we do this is through our comprehensive study skills program which runs from Year 7-12. Every girl is explicitly taught how to study effectively. Why is this important?

    Well, a 2022 research study examined the impact of highlighting text whilst reading it on student learning. When students highlight as they are reading, what do you think it did for their memory?

    1. Helped them remember a little bit more, but understand nothing more
    2. Helped them remember a lot more and improved understanding
    3. Helped them remember a little bit more but improved understanding a lot
    4. Helped them remember a lot more but did not improve understanding

    The answer is: Helped them remember a little bit more, but understand nothing more.

    It’s interesting isn’t it, students simply highlighting doesn’t seem to do much.

    However, what the study also found was that with an hour or so of explicit instruction from a teacher on how to identify and highlight the main ideas instead of just supporting information, student memory and comprehension improved significantly.

    Here's another one for you, in an experiment involving students in Year 7 which compared two study techniques, either cramming in a single session or dividing their study across three short sessions spaced 1 week apart. What did they find?

    1. The cramming and the spaced revision had equal impact on memory
    2. The cramming resulted in better test scores, but had little impact on long term learning
    3. The spaced revision resulted in better test scores, and had a significant impact on long term learning
    4. The cramming resulted in worse test scores, but had a significant impact on long term learning

    The answer is: The spaced revision resulted in better test scores, and had a significant impact on long term learning.

    In both experiments, spaced revision not only produced higher test scores than did cramming, but it also improved long term memory for those students.

    We do explicit study skill development. For three weeks of every term, students in Year 7-12 are explicitly taught how to be organised, how to study effectively and how to prepare for exams.

    They learn how to:

    • Set up folders on Google drive
    • Organise their time and plan for assignments
    • Look at research-based study techniques like revising in small, regular increments over time as opposed to cramming the night before
    • Take notes in class and make notes at home

    This builds even more deeply our culture of being reflective learners who have the skills they need to thrive. We also know that this reduces stress and anxiety in our young people who can often find school work too much to handle.

  2. Extension at Danebank

    Knowing every student means knowing when they need a little extra help and when they need stretching. Our classes have built into them high quality differentiated instruction, ensuring that every student is growing and engaged in rich learning experiences.

    Our existing Gifted and Talented programs provide:

    • Targeted support for gifted and talented students knowing they have unique learning needs
    • Extension and enrichment opportunities throughout the day in our ability grouped classes
      • We run Extension classes and High Achievement classes through Year 7 to 10.
    • We offer accelerated class options in Mathematics from Year 7 to 12 and we currently are exploring possibilities for acceleration in other areas.
    • Our exceptional teachers are provided professional learning through the UNSW GERRIC program, to support effective differentiation specific to our student needs

    We also offer a wide array of Co-Curricular opportunities to stretch our gifted and talented students like:

    • The DaVinci Decathlon
    • Gateway 8
    • The Mathematics Challenge
    • The UNSW English, Maths and Science competitions
    • Mock Trial
    • Debating and Public Speaking
    • We also offer a wealth of clubs that extend students in a range of areas including
      • Robotics Club
      • Philosophy Club
      • Student Initiative Program
      • Ceramics Club

    These opportunities all offer different ways for our girls to strengthen their learning muscles, to build confidence, resilience in the face of challenges and a growth mindset.

    We are also currently laying the groundwork to launch a targeted Gifted and Talented program at Danebank in the Senior School. This will follow the model of our Podium Ready Program created for our elite athletes.

    This new Gifted and Talented program will further enrich the learning of our highly able students who will be supported and nurtured in their personal growth.

  3. International tours and excursions

    While we know that learning comes from inside our green gates, we also know that they need cultural, academic, social and political experiences that can only be found out in the world to help them see that their world is a big place, filled with diversity. That diversity of experience is crucial to their development. Students are offered a diverse suite of learning opportunities outside of the classroom that help them to look outward, to be servant hearted, community minded and to find and grow their voice.

    We want our girls to be insightful and sophisticated, understanding the grey areas in life found only in real world experiences. This helps to shape their voice and find confidence in what they have to say, knowing that what they have to say is valuable and can influence our world for the better.

    So we offer these experiences:

    • We have regular international trips to build community, an understanding of service, breadth and depth to the curriculum and an enhanced understanding of her place in the world
      • Europe History Study Tour
      • Duke of Edinburgh program
      • Japanese Language and Food Technology Tour
      • New York Art Tour
      • French Language Tour to Paris
    • Have many curriculum excursions which offer a rich experience of the classroom curriculum
      • History
        • Sydney Jewish Museum
        • Mediaeval Incursion
      • English
        • Visit the theatre
        • Speak with published authors
      • Science and Geography
        • Taronga Zoo
        • Visit Barangaroo to examine its sustainability
      • Creative and performing Arts
        • Battle of the Bands
        • Visit the Opera House for Orchestral Performances
      • Studies of Religion
        • Visit different religious buildings and listen to the experiences of others.

    These all culminate to foster a broad and complex understanding of the world.

  4. Student leadership

    Finally, student leadership is a core aspect of learning at Danebank. If you remember when I said that our learning looks not just inward, but also outward? We emphasise developing young women not only with a voice but with the skillset to use it to influence others. Learning to influence and apply their learning outside themselves to the benefit of others is core to our Christian foundations.

    Some of the ways that the girls can be and grow as leaders includes:

    • SRC
    • Running assemblies
    • Year group initiatives like a weekly rave of the pave
    • House Leadership
      • Termly inter house events
      • House Festival Day
    • Prefects running whole school initiatives like
      • Harmony Day
      • International women’s day
      • And set our culture of kindness, inclusivity and respect
    • Year 11 leaders
      • Year 11 buddying up with year 7 to show them the ropes of high school
      • and to be a friendly face around the place
    • Connect group initiatives
      • Ut Prosim days
    • Ut Prosim leadership team (that I may serve)
      • Our leaders who promote service learning
      • Run our charity initiatives
      • Serve the wider community

    There really is so much that happens in the Senior School and I could go on, but I won’t. I want to leave you with something a bit more personal to me about what I love about this place.

It wasn’t long after arriving at Danebank a little over four years ago that I experienced what makes this place special. And ultimately what sold it to me was seeing the young women this school helps to produce. It was upon speaking to articulate, thoughtful, kind, thankful and inspirational young women that my wife and I decided to send our own daughter here. It is a place with an exciting and hope filled culture where learning in all its varieties is valued and developed.