Student progress and PCAM

The Product, Criterion, Action, Method (PCAM) approach to managing learning is a strategy for measuring each students' progress over time. 
PCAM is structured to enable teachers to collect assessment data on criterion-linked assessable student actions within and between products, topics, units of work and subject areas. In PCAM, a topic is a factor in a cause and effect chain, and the criterion-linked assessable student actions are called Criterion Action Teaching Steps (CATS). Every CATS is assessable because it results in an assessable division (part) of a product.


Student progress is measured over time by collecting statistically reliable assessment data on each student. PCAM makes the assessment data statistically reliable because CATS are individual, assessable critical thinking steps and skills steps that students demonstrate multiple times across multiple products within each unit of work. This means that teachers can monitor learning to ensure that students' results for each CATS are similar across all topics relevant to the big idea(s) for the unit of work, which is a reliable indication that each student understands the big ideas being taught in the unit.  

As well, the PCAM base set of eight CATS are a learning progression for thinking critically about information. Student progress from the low order CATS 1 to the high order CATS 8 is a demonstration of progress in learning about a topic. Every CATS results in an assessable division or part of a product, therefore, teachers may collect assessment data on each students' level of understanding for each topic using the base set of eight CATS. 

Students apply this progression to a factor in a cause and effect chain in each product and repeat this progression in multiple products within each unit of work, to create reliable assessment data on each students' level of understanding of the big idea(s). The PCAM base set of eight CATS, and therefore records of student understanding, are based on each students' competence at turning information in each topic into causes, effects and data. 

In the PCAM base set of eight CATS, 'data' is 'known information' that is used to reason conclusions. In PCAM, 'known information' is (mostly) information that is supplied by the teacher or that students recall from prior learning, however, may involve students reasoning the relevance of information from research. Similarly, the teacher may supply some of the relationships for CATS 3 and CATS 5. Students may reason additional relationships for CATS 3 and CATS 5 in the base set of eight CATS.   

Beyond the base set of eight CATS, teachers may also set up their own learning progressions; groups of low order CATS to high order CATS for skills and critical thinking; and collect assessment data on student progress through the learning progression in each topic. Teachers may collate the assessment data for multiple topics in a unit of work to collect reliable assessment data on each students' level of competency for various types of skills and critical thought. 

As well, assessment data on student achievement of individual CATS and groups of CATS across units of work and subject areas provides a statistically reliable indication of each students' success at school. This assessment data on student progress may support teachers to identify if a student's level of understanding is consistently high over time and whether demonstrated low levels of understanding in a small number of units of work are outliers. This assessment data may also identify areas where each student is gradually improving and where improvements in critical thinking and skills have stalled.   

CATS are supported by methods that teach students how to carry out the action, e.g., the PCAM base set of eight CATS are supported by methods that teach students how to develop their understanding of any topic and how to demonstrate understanding of any topic. Methods for the PCAM set of eight CATS instruct students on how to think critically about information in order to turn it into something worth learning, i.e., turn it into causes, effects and data. To put this another way, PCAM recognises that information is worth learning if it is a factor in a cause and effect chain.

In PCAM, every area of content is learnt as a factor in a cause and effect chain. Students learn that all of the information in curriculum content has significance in studies of societies and environments because it is caused, has effects and is data for causes and effects. PCAM recognises that decisions within all subject areas, industries and areas of government are primarily influenced by data that relates to causes and effects.

The PCAM base set of eight CATS are assessed in all products. The methods for the PCAM base set of eight CATS teach students how to learn in a way that results in students producing assessable products that demonstrate knowledge and understanding. Students use student-specific, differentiated methods for the PCAM base set of eight CATS to learn how to learn any topic on Earth or beyond. 

Students demonstrate learning by demonstrating why each piece of information in the curriculum, or in a novel scenario, is important. Demonstrating the significance of any piece of information requires students to process the information and since the reasons for its significance are the same for all information on Earth and beyond (i.e., information is significant because it is a cause, an effect and data), then students can apply the same process to every piece of information that they are expected to know and understand. 

This means that students need to learn how to process information in a way that demonstrates understanding. The PCAM set of eight CATS are a process that students may apply to information to learn about the information and to demonstrate understanding of the information, however, students must first learn how to apply this process to information, which is the role of methods. 

Methods instruct students on how to complete CATS. CATS are actions linked to performance criteria for thinking critically about information and for applying skills. Teachers manage learning by designing and differentiating methods that teach students how to complete actions (CATS).

PCAM is a structure that provides students with a purpose for participating in learning activities. The purpose is to learn how to accomplish actions required to learn and demonstrate learning throughout life.

Learning is managed when instructions are detailed enough to inform students what to do for every action that they need to accomplish to learn and to demonstrate learning, which means that learning is managed efficiently when the learning is also a type of assessment. Learning is a type of assessment when students turn the information into data at the time of learning. In PCAM, the products that result from the base set of eight CATS are therefore a type of assessment because students turn 'known information' into data to reason about causes and effects at the time of learning. 

Methods teach students 'how', recognising that 'how' includes 'where', 'when' and 'who'. Methods may teach students how to interpret expectations from instructional materials, models and feedback. Alternatively, methods may provide students with a precise set of instructions for a limited set of actions that may be applied to all learning. The time that teachers put into developing and perfecting each method for each student reflects how often students will need to apply the action (CATS) across products, units of work and subject areas.

Information texts and explanation texts vary in the way in which they organise information. PCAM provides students with a process for learning that enables students to reorganise texts in the same way for every text and every topic. As well, since student understanding is assessed on each students’ capacity to generate products that relate causes, effects and data, then this reorganisation is also a means of comprehending texts and demonstrating understanding of topics.

Precise methods can only be interpreted in one way and produce a single correct answer that is a consequence of the phrases and individual words used in the secondary source. There can be only one correct answer to each instruction for each text, meaning that incorrect answers signal misunderstanding. The same method applied to a different body of text will produce a different correct answer.

For example, a precise method for CATS 1 in the PCAM set of eight CATS informs students how to extract known information about a factor in a cause and effect chain from any text. The 'known information' may be a type of phrase that students extract from texts. This requires students to be taught how to find particular types of information and for precise observations to be written into methods. For example, one instruction may relate to adjectives only.
Not all instructions in methods relate to all texts, however, students will only extract types of information that appear in a text. Importantly, methods are so precise that students recognise them as instructions for ‘how’ to accomplish something that is valuable to their progress in all topics. 

Teachers recognise methods for actions as ways of producing a correct answer during learning that indicates understanding of a text. Groups of students who apply the method to the same text should produce almost exactly the same answer because the method for each action will require students to structure their own writing in a set way (e.g., linked to the PCAM base set of eight CATS) and to annotate the text and their own writing in a way that matches phrases and words in the text with a single instruction in the method and to their own writing.    


Learning has to include the internet, or it just isn’t 21st century learning

If the definition of 21st century learning was turned into a set of standards for teaching, then learning would almost have to include the internet. This is because the internet is a good medium within which to apply 21st century ways of thinking. One reason for this is that the internet contains a myriad of sources of information that vary in reliability, unlike 20th century sets of encyclopedias, which were sold door to door and accepted as reliable sources.

Twenty-first century learners may be taught that the internet is a very large database of secondary sources that relies on new first-hand data to stay current. Twenty-first century curriculums teach students how organisations, such as universities, manufacturers, farmers, etc., validate their first-hand data. Valid procedures for generating research and development (R&D) data are reliable and accurate, i.e., reliable information is generated using valid procedures. These procedures need to be understood by students as ways that knowledge is generated in each discipline to produce subject area content that ends up on the internet.

Students learn which organisations are reliable sources of knowledge in each subject area and why they are reliable sources. Reliable sources publish information on the internet that responds to first-hand data generated using valid procedures.

In industry, literature and the arts, subject area knowledge is applied to specific contexts using procedures that are characteristic of the subject area. Added to this, teachers of subject area knowledge need to determine how these procedures will be taught to students, so that students may also engage in the same types of thinking.

One common factor in these procedures is that existing knowledge and the results of new R&D are used to reason causes and effects. This is useful for teachers because it means that when students learn the fundamentals of any subject area, they have a structure on which to base their extraction of information. 

If the structure for extracting information is the same as the structure for then working with the information to find meaning in its existence, then students also have a way of making the information a construction. If the structure can also be applied to all subject areas, as the definitions of cause and effect can, then students may apply any information to any relevant discipline because the information is only there because, at some point, somebody identified the information as a cause / effect. 

The Product, Criterion, Action, Method (PCAM) learning management system is therefore a foundational structure for learning in any subject area, particularly in the 21st century when the procedures for generating knowledge are just as important as the knowledge itself. PCAM is founded on students turning information into causes, effects and data because that is the way in which R&D is conducted in industry. As well, any discussion on the nuances in literature will include causes, effects and references to the information being used in the reasoning (i.e., the data).


A case for whole-school data collation systems

Educational data is data that teachers use to reason about how to teach. Sources of educational data include academic research papers, students’ products and performances and observations of students interacting with classroom resources, communication strategies, etc. This blog post is suggesting that schools combine information from individual students’ products and performances with information from teaching programs, to inform planning on how each student will progress.

Student products, whether they be a paragraph on a page, a diagram or a painting, all contain information that may be turned into whole-school data, so that all teachers in the school have the opportunity to reason together about the same information. This means that teachers have access to systems that collect the same type of information from each students’ products and performances to enable teachers to collaborate on programming and to collaborate on planning for individuals where necessary (e.g., identify which students would benefit from differentiation of particular strategies in a range of subject areas).

Linked spreadsheets may be set up as in the example below. Teachers record their observations of students, such as the observation that a student has turned a piece of content into a cause for a novel scenario, and combine every instance of a teacher observing this action across topics, units of work and subject areas, for each student. The linked spreadsheets are also set up to identify the characteristics of the teaching for topics in which a student achieves the action (note that Action 1 is the same for all topics, units of work and subject areas; Action 2 is the same for all topics, units of work and subject areas, etc.). Characteristics of the teaching may include the types of products and performances that students need to participate in to demonstrate the action in that topic, teaching strategies used by that teacher to teach the topic and the resources available to students in the topic. The characteristics would be transferred to the spreadsheet from each teachers’ teaching programs as a whole-school function. 

The actions that schools are using as evidence of learning are the same, even though the products and methods may be quite different within and between classrooms. With PCAM, the actions are called CATS. The set of eight critical thinking CATS instruct students to turn content into a cause, an effect and into data. If a student can turn a piece of information into a cause, an effect and data, a teacher may be confident that the student understands the information. 


Online learning systems and automation of teaching strategies

Online learning systems provide a good service to students and teachers, however, more needs to be achieved in the field of automated learning. Online learning systems would benefit teachers if they also provided a service that teachers cannot replicate in the classroom without developing their own encyclopedia of sentence starters, transition words and phrases; directions for constructing sentences, paragraphs and extended responses for each text type; and allowed sentences, paragraphs, and written responses for all text types; applied to all topics that students study at school.

If, however, an online learning system were to contain such a database, and student access to this database was automated in a way that the software used the database to assess students’ writing, then this learning system may be used to produce a new activity, not yet available to any student in the world, that provides teachers with an additional exercise to add to their repertoire of teaching strategies. 

If this aspect of online learning systems was based on turning everything that students need to learn into a cause, an effect and into data, with processes that inform students what to do to achieve this, then students could learn how to construct sentences, paragraphs and extended responses. 

If the processes were the same for every topic, then students would learn how to build sentences and learn that the parameters for making sentences, paragraphs and extended responses are the same for every topic. This is proven by the existence of grammar, punctuation and text-types. 

Methods also teach students how to turn information into causes, effects and data. Combined with methods for each text type, methods that focus on why information is useful enable students to see that all information is useful for the same reasons, with reasoning being the reason. 

Information is put into a sentence to demonstrate a purpose for the existence of the information, and once there is a purpose for the sentence, the information is purposeful. Information may only be purposeful if it is a cause, an effect or data. A stated fact without a context is useless and it is not fair to expect a student to remember the fact. 

This means that sentences show how information connects to contexts and contexts are understood in terms of its causes and effects. This requires reasoning, which turns the information into data. 

Software needs to make one or more sentences and paragraphs the possible answers for each stage of each method. The sentences and paragraphs will also only fit together in predetermined ways to form an extended response. 


PCAM as a foundation for feedback flowcharts

Students constantly receive personalised feedback on their learning, and this is often the basis for teachers moving students forward as students complete multiple drafts of products (e.g., essays and other extended responses). First, second and, if necessary, third draft responses or attempts at each product are also one way that students are able to respond themselves to teacher feedback.

Teachers may increase the efficacy of the time that they spend on feedback if students are able to compare the feedback to their original interpretation of what was expected of them on the task. Tasks that match the published expectations on the fourth attempt then become a model for students to use each time they are asked to generate that product in other topics and units of work. For example, a final attempt at an essay that asks students to explore the effects of a decision (e.g., a government decision) will have critical thinking performances common to many topics that students study throughout school. 

Students may build their skills by working with increasingly sophisticated rubrics across topics for what students see as foundationally the same product (task). As long as students understand the trajectory of the increase in complexity of the critical thinking, students will be able to grow in this way throughout school. 

Teachers may also illustrate expectations written into rubrics. Since illustrations involve shapes and locations, the expectations may be illustrated as flowcharts of the steps for dominant methods that students employ to complete one or more types of analysis (e.g., an investigation).

Feedback may then be illustrated on flowcharts of dominant methods that have been personalised by the teacher. A teacher may annotate flowcharts as part of the feedback on each successive draft. Annotations may include additional steps that a single student must take to achieve the main task (e.g., paraphrase a paragraph that the teacher has stapled to the student’s draft).

If the main task is to turn information into a cause, an effect and data, then the type of analysis (e.g., discussion, justification, etc.) will be an addition to the flowchart, so that students learn how causes, effects and data relate to each type of analysis that students must learn to perform.
As well, the foundational thinking for all types of analysis may be presented as a single flowchart and representation of a progressive model of where each student is going throughout school. For example, a graphic of the way in which critical thinking shapes an idea.

Critical thinking shapes an idea when a piece of information is turned into a cause, an effect and into data through reasoning. If the reasoning uses the information, then the information is automatically turned into data. If the reasoning leads to a cause for the information (e.g., a cause for a profitable business) then the information has been turned into an effect. Similarly, if the reasoning leads to a student identifying an effect of the information (e.g., an effect of a profitable business) then the information has been turned into a cause. The process of how to turn information into a cause, an effect and data may be illustrated as a flowchart that students may refer to throughout school, at university and in the workplace. 


A case for changing the role of universities

The COVID pandemic has presented challenges for Australia’s universities. International enrolments have declined due to travel bans and this is placing pressure on some research funding. In my opinion, a radical change in government policy on the role of universities may facilitate increased links between universities and other organisations in the public and private sectors. 

I think that universities should employ business and public sector organisations to teach and conduct research, so that academics work for organisations within their industry, rather than being directly employed by a university; and research and teaching is conducted by academics employed by businesses and other employers that generate and manage products and services related to the research. In this way, private and public employers would have three types of consumers, to include universities and university students.

Businesses and government funded employers who work for universities may compact the teaching so that university students may study courses through more than one industry employer, and teaching conducted on contract (i.e., between the private / public sector and universities) would smooth the way for these organisations to provide internships for students.

My idea stems from my own reading of research, which makes me believe that academics work with schools to conduct research, and my experience working with universities to provide professional experience to pre-service teachers. So, if the idea that I am outlining in this blog post was applied to school education, universities would employ these organisations to deliver coursework and classroom experience to pre-service teachers. The coursework would be facilitated by academics, who also conduct education research in schools, and the teaching of preservice teachers may be shared between teachers and academics.

The scenario that I am advocating in this blog post makes business and government organisations answerable to universities. At the moment, universities publish research which business and governments respond to in order to improve practice. In my alternative scenario, responses to research would be governed and supported by universities who write standards for each industry. 

Each industry may pay a levy for universities to set the standard for everything that employers are paid to do for their three types of consumers. Staff employed directly by universities would include standards writers who consult with industry and guide processes that enable research, development and innovation to influence updates to standards. It may mean that partnered universities manage the standards for a specific industry. 

The main advantage of this scenario should be that it makes business and government more dependent on universities because it puts universities in a position to be able to mandate standards for goods and services, even if government organisations are the ones who enforce standards. Therefore, universities share responsibility for quality assurance with business and the public sector, however, universities are ultimately responsible for making sure the industry standards respond to research, development, innovation and the interests of all stakeholders.


Certification at Highly Accomplished Teacher / Lead Teacher

The job descriptions of Highly Accomplished (HA) and Lead teachers are published in the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. In my experience, descriptors published in the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers contribute to planning by school principals who align jobs in schools for HA teachers and Lead teachers with the school plan. 

HA and Lead teachers must maintain roles in supporting teaching and leading learning respectively, to maintain their certification. Whereas other teachers, head teachers, deputy principals, principals and directors may delegate responsibilities, staff employed in schools who are also a HA or Lead teacher do not have this luxury.

I call on school systems to make the duties of HA and Lead teachers (HALTs) a feature of school procedures, so that all teachers receive a record of the duties of the HALTs in the school. This ensures that the expectations of HALTs are documented and published across the school.

In my experience, this works to guide the way in which teachers interact with school procedures. In this way, the expectations of HALTs meet the requirements for maintenance of certification, and school procedures serve to streamline the way in which HALTs interact with teachers. As a Lead teacher, I worked in this way across two schools in NSW, Australia, and found that formulation and formalisation of interactions meant that the benefits for all teachers in the school were also documented. As well, formalisation of interactions within procedures and job descriptions led staff to seek assistance with programming and short-term planning in ways that met the requirements of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers