Critique of Unit of Work

Syllabus Outcomes and Indicators

The unit aims to address the following outcomes: 

CCS3.1 Explains the significance of particular people, groups, places, actions and events in the past in developing Australian identities and heritage. 
CCS3.2 Explains the development of the principles of Australian democracy. 
ENS3.6 Explains how various beliefs and practices influence the ways in which people interact with, change and value their environment.

The unit of work addresses the first of these outcomes (CCS3.1) fairly well, providing learning experiences that allow students to explore the significance of places and actions in particular. However, one indicator for this outcome suggests that students will outline “the effect that events from the past have had on a particular issue of significance” (BOS NSW, 1999, p. 116) but fails to outline any examples of significant issues. 

Learning experiences designed to fulfil the second outcome (CCS3.2) do not address the supplied indicator: “examines issues that have influenced the development of Australian democracy” (BOS NSW, 1999, p. 116). Additionally, the learning sequence does not include opportunities for metalanguage, required for discussions about “democracy”, to be explicitly taught and analysed (Quality Teaching, NSW DET, 2003, p. 11).  

One indicator for achieving the third outcome (ENS3.6) is “expresses a personal point of view on an environmental issue and provides supporting evidence” (BOS NSW, 1999, p. 116). This is primarily a historical issue, and therefore lacks significance for students living in contemporary society, especially in urban areas.  

Indicators should provide a guide to teachers that students have met some of the requirements of an outcome. However, as the indicators provided for this unit are highly ambiguous, the unit lacks explicit quality criteria with which to assess students’ progress (Quality Teaching, NSW DET, 2003, p. 13). 

Learning Experiences

The learning experiences provided in this unit of work are broken up into five separate learning sequences: 

Learning Sequence 1: Discovery of Gold – a Significant Event 

Learning Sequence 2: Effects of the Discovery of Gold 

Learning Sequence 3: Influences on Australian Identity and Heritage 

Learning Sequence 4: Way of Life 

Learning Sequence 5: Influences on the Environment

Early in the learning sequence there is a lack of activities which stimulate and engage students in the learning process and encourage students to draw links between their existing background knowledge and the topic to be investigated (Quality Teaching, NSW DET, 2003, p. 15).  

Students are not provided opportunities in the learning sequence to identify key issues which define the purpose of investigation (Inquiry Process, BOS NSW, 2006, p. 12), nor are they involved in planning the direction of the investigation (Quality Teaching, NSW DET, 2003, p. 13).  

The sequencing of learning activities is at times illogical. For example the first suggested activity, which involves categorising known information under suitable headings, is not a suitable introductory activity and should occur later in the investigation process, after students have had opportunities to explore and analyse a range of sources (Inquiry Process, BOS NSW, 2006, p. 12). Likewise, the twelfth activity in the sequence involves locating on a map of Australia “significant places associated with gold discoveries” (BOS NSW, 1999, p. 117).  

Throughout the learning experiences, students are not provided with opportunities to examine the process of selecting “relevant sources of information” (Inquiry Process, BOS NSW, 2006, p. 12). Yet, analytical and higher-order thinking (Quality Teaching, NSW DET, 2003, p. 11) is employed when students are asked to “discuss the possibility of bias in the collection/ recording/reporting process” of population statistics. 

The learning experiences do well to include opportunities for students to “organise…information through a variety of methods” including flowcharts, maps, charts, journal entries, lists, and written discussions (Inquiry Process, BOS NSW, 2006, p. 12). However in many cases, information is explored or discussed but not recorded, organised, or communicated. In particular, throughout all nine stages in Learning Sequences 3 and 4, there is only one opportunity where the method for students to “communicate information gained” (ibid.) is detailed, when it is suggested that students “give a written or oral presentation” (BOS NSW, 1999, p. 117).  

One activity in Learning Sequence 3 asks students to “explore the religious beliefs and practices and cultural traditions of different migrant groups” (BOS NSW, 1999, p. 117). This would address the subject matter of the Stage 3 Cultures outcomes (HSIE K-6 Syllabus, BOS NSW, 2006, p. 61) which is not listed in the outcomes for this unit of work. On the other hand, Learning Sequence 5: Influences on the Environment, does not address the Environment outcome (ENS3.6) listed. 

The unit of work does not include learning experiences that identify “the implications of their learning for future action”, which has the follow on effect of not including any learning experiences that involve “plan[ning] and implement[ing] action” (Inquiry Process, BOS NSW, 2006, p. 12). Nor does the unit of work encourage students to “reflect on their learning” (ibid.).