Spotlight On: Smart Study

24 March 2023


This article first appeared in Queenwood Weekly News on Friday 24 March 2023.

Teaching is becoming an increasingly technical field. Gone are the days when a teacher could prepare what’s known in the trade as a ‘threshold lesson’ – a lesson conceived as they walk through the door of the classroom. Many readers will be old enough to remember the handwritten report card, stating a simple, “Gavin needs to make more effort in Mathematics.” Times have indeed changed.

Now, research into what works best is abundant, with effective teaching strategies codified and freely available. But the research-practice gap has been slow to close. In medicine, the lag between research to industry adoption is around 17 years. Considering that Emeritus Professor John Sweller’s cognitive load theory, a cognitive model which is absolutely foundational to effective teaching practice, has been around for decades and is only now gaining traction, I would estimate the research-practice gap in education to be at least as long.

Queenwood is well-known for providing a liberal education that does not rely on the latest fad – of which there any many in education. Working alongside universities and conducting school-based research ensures that we can back our practices with more than just intuition. Our latest long-term research project is designed to measure the potential links between capability in study skills, student self-efficacy and wellbeing. Queenwood’s Smart Study program, which is about to launch for Year 9 and 10 students, is a partnership with the Evidence Institute at the Association of Independent Schools NSW, and the University of New South Wales.

The aim of the study is to improve student wellbeing, but the opportunities for teachers are as important and long-ranging. Our research team, Ms Harvey, Mrs Kerr, Mrs Macey, Ms Younan, Ms Story, Ms Stone and I, have already felt the benefits, even in the project’s infancy. Our school-based research and development team members have become subject-matter experts in their domains of motivation, goal-setting and high-utility study strategies, delivering high quality professional learning to their teacher peers.

The project also enables us to draw on external expertise through our partnership with Associate Professor Paul Evans of the University of New South Wales. His guidance has been instrumental in ensuring that our research methodology is fit for purpose. Director of Strategic Innovation, Mrs Macey, notes that by standing on the shoulders of the giants of educational psychology, we can use “the right tools for the job.” It is notoriously difficult to measure what is happening in classrooms or, indeed, inside students' heads. Our critical friendship with Professor Evans helps us to give the tools to identify and measure the impact of these initiatives with precision.

Ms Macey rightly notes that despite the increasing interest in and visibility of wellbeing in educational offerings, there has been little progress in ensuring that school wellbeing programs are based on valid and reliable evidence. We know that good study skills will benefit our students’ learning, and we are looking to verify our hypothesis that when our girls feel greater control over their learning, their wellbeing will also improve. By drawing on the best research, practice and expertise, we hope to affirm the idea that education is a truly holistic endeavour.