1.2 Understand how students learn.

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What does this descriptor look like at different levels?

Physical, social and intellectual development and characteristics of students is the second descriptor of the first standard of the APST.

This descriptor expects teachers to understand how learning works. Where as descriptor 1.1 is more focused on how individual students and young people’s brains work, this descriptor is more about learning itself.

The science of learning is always developing, and if you’ve been in a school for any period of time, you will know that there is always something new that educators are focusing on. Whether it’s a new way of teaching reading skills to strategies for building student capacity as independent learners, teachers need to make sure that they are up-to-date with current research.

If you are a classroom teacher in a school, it will be a lot easier to keep up-to-date than if you are a relief teacher. Schools are always having conversations and trying to implement change to keep on top of recent research and trends in learning, and as a Lead Teacher you would be helping to implement these school-wide strategies yourself.

See more: Australian Professional Standards for Teachers Terminology Explained


What does it look like?

At the Graduate level, teachers are expected to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of research into how students learn and the implications for teaching.

As you need to reach this level before you can graduate your teaching degree, there isn’t an expectation to actually apply your understanding of learning to your teaching at this stage. You will need to be able to describe evidence-based teaching strategies and how you could implement them, but you don’t need to actually do it per-se until you get to the Proficient level.

What evidence can I collect?

You will need to have evidence that you understand current educational research, which could come in the form of your written uni assignments. You will also need to show that you can apply this to teaching which could also be included in your assignments or demonstrated by annotating some lesson plans.

If you’re going to annotate some lesson plans, look at what teaching strategies you intend to use and back up your decision with research. Providing a reference list for where you are getting you pedagogy from will give you strong evidence for meeting this descriptor at this level.


What does it look like?

At the Proficient level, teachers are expected to structure teaching programs using research and collegial advice about how students learn.

This level is where you’re actually teaching in a school, so you need to actually apply what you know to benefit your students. It’s interesting to note that this descriptor doesn’t just expect you to use research on learning to inform your teaching but also collegial advice. Sometimes the best PD is the teacher down the hall, and this descriptor recognises that.

What evidence can I collect?

Annotated lesson plans are another great way to gather evidence for this standard. The difference at the Proficient level is that you will be actually teaching the lesson. This means that you can add a reflection after the lesson to discuss how well different strategies worked and what you would try differently next time.

As collegial advice is another way to learn and develop your practice, you could also grab evidence for this. Emails with colleagues or minutes of meetings discussing practice can be great evidence, especially if you annotate them with how you implemented that advice in your classroom.

You may also have a small group of teachers that you work with (commonly called a Professional Learning Community) where you are given time each week to discuss your teaching practice. These groups are a great way to develop your teaching and any notes that you take and strategies that you use are great evidence for this standard.

See more: How to Present a Great Professional Learning Workshop

Highly Accomplished

What does it look like?

At the Highly Accomplished level, teachers are expected to expand understanding of how students learn using research and workplace knowledge.

This level of the descriptor is very vague, which makes it difficult to distinguish from the Proficient level. Similar descriptors at the Highly Accomplished level expect a higher degree of flexibility in what strategies you use, so it is likely that this is what you need to do to reach this level of this descriptor as well.

What evidence can I collect?

The evidence for this level will be very similar to the Proficient level but with greater variety and depth in the strategies that you are using. You will want to have some annotated lesson plans again, but you will want to have a greater range of lessons with more evidence-based teaching strategies used.

Your reflection on your lessons should also be more in-depth. If something didn’t work, do you know why? Can you suggest improvements with reference to current research? Including these in your notes will help prove that you are working at the Highly Accomplished level.


What does it look like?

At the Lead level, teachers are expected to lead processes to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching programs using research and workplace knowledge about how students learn.

At this level, teachers don’t necessarily need to implement change with a team of colleagues like they do with some other descriptors. In this case, it’s about looking at these school-wide initiatives and pedagogical changes and see how effective they have been. This descriptor does mention building processes though, which means that other teachers should be supported by your actions to do the same.

Lead teachers can even do this with their own classes. When implementing new school-wide teaching agreements, how have your students responded? How well has it worked for your students?

What evidence can I collect?

Data will be very valuable for providing evidence for this descriptor at this level. If you can collect data from your students to show how effective particular teaching strategies are, you can begin to rigorously evaluate these strategies.

Evidence of processes will come from meeting minutes and any resources that you make to support teachers in understanding the impact that they are having on their own students. As usual, annotating these documents with your reasoning will provide evidence that your decisions and analysis is based on current educational research.

Learn about the other focus areas and descriptors for Standard 1:

1.1 Physical, social and intellectual development and characteristics of students

1.3 Students with diverse linguistic, cultural, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds

1.4 Strategies for teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students

1.5 Differentiate teaching to meet the specific learning needs of students across the full range of abilities

1.6 Strategies to support full participation of students with disability

Elise is an enthusiastic and passionate Australian teacher who is on a mission to inspire and support fellow educators. With over a decade of experience in the classroom, Elise leverages her expertise and creativity to provide valuable insights and resources through her blog. Whether you're looking for innovative lesson ideas, effective teaching strategies, or just a dose of inspiration, Elise has got you covered.

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