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Assessing three capabilities

October 19, 2020

Having started the ACER Assessing skills for 21st century learners masterclass last week, I have been calling into question my working definitions of three capabilities – critical thinking, creative thinking and collaboration.

Definitions are tricky. And how can planning for assessment of these skills begin without measurable criteria?

There is also an underlying problem of inconsistency when addressing the teaching and assessment of general capabilities:

Teachers are expected to teach and assess general capabilities to the extent that they are incorporated within each learning area. State and territory school authorities will determine whether and how student learning of the general capabilities will be further assessed and reported.

(ACARA, 2013).

In the search for clarity, there are a range of models to draw on, and our first virtual lecture hat-tipped the research.

Different frameworks “showcase a particular agenda and vision”, but don’t speak of practicalities.

A change imperative is underway (Weldon, 2019). While policies, models and priorities may shift, rather than mere focus on general capabilities as a dimension of the curriculum, it is the rising interest in their assessment as specific, current and marketable skills that is of greatest significance.

For those of us teaching in Western Australia, the seven general capabilities in the 3D curriculum cube are described as encompassing “the knowledge, skills, behaviours and dispositions that will assist students to live and work successfully in the twenty-first century” (SCSA, 2014). 

As explained in a National Curriculum Framing Paper, the general capabilities were to be considered “emphases for learning” across the curriculum (NCB, 2008). In other words, learning that is outside of subject specific knowledge but “portable, flexible, and broadly consolidated knowledge” (p. 8).  Elsewhere, they have been described as “a comprehensive set of knowledge, skills and dispositions” (ACARA, 2010).

Lamb and colleagues argue that the various skills that make up general competencies:

form a dense conceptual web, that is, the constructs are related in complex ways and sometimes overlap one another. It is difficult to establish a clear distinction between knowledge, skills and dispositions based on student behaviours

(Lamb, Maire & Doecke, 2017, p. 3).

Recommendations of the second Gonski review include:

  • a shift away from the year level curriculum;
  • new reporting arrangements that not only focus on attainment, but also highlight “learning gain”; and
  • learning areas and general capabilities presented as “learning progressions” (Australian Government, Department of Education and Training, 2018).

The review panel cautioned that “Despite the attention and importance given to the general capabilities, teachers and schools are insufficiently supported to teach and assess them” (Australian Government, Department of Education and Training, 2018, p. 39).

How relevant, then, that ACER’s new metric project investigates “ways of assessing the 21st-century skills of critical thinking, creative thinking and collaboration” (ACER, 2020).

I am particularly interested in critical thinking, and the updates to this mindset:

Three distinctions were made in relation to critical thinking:

Keycap digit one Information – Fact vs information (question existing knowledge) and conceptual relationships eg patterns, inferences, links, predictions

Keycap digit two Deduction, interests, biases and anticipation of rebuttal

Keycap digit three Judge options and outcomes

(Scoular, 2020).

Important reasons why creative thinking rather than creativity is the focus of exploration: thinking underpins creative output; thinking strategies can be taught; and focus on thinking as the crucial element avoids confusion with “a hybrid set of skills” ie creativity.

A final clarification: Collaboration “goes beyond group work”; there needs to be a joint goal; and there ought to be a reason and clear benefits for working with others. I would suggest that the same clarity is needed in relation to the general capabilities, and teachers’ problematic work while planning to teach, measure and assess these intangible skills.

Selected references

ACARA (2010). Report on trial school consultation, Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority accessed October 2020 at

ACARA (2013). General capabilities in the Australian Curriculum, accessed October 2020 at

ACARA (2019). Program of Research: Key Findings from Four International Comparative Studies, accessed October 2020 at

ACER (2020). Assessment of general capabilities, accessed October 2020 at

Australian Government, Department of Education and Training (2018). Through growth to achievement: Report of the review to achieve educational excellence in Australian schools. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. Accessed October 2020 at:

Lamb, S., Maire, Q., & Doecke, E. (2017). Key skills for the 21st Century: an evidence-based review. Sydney: NSW Department of Education. Accessed October 2020

NCB (2008). National English curriculum: framing paper for consultation – November 2008 to 28 February 2009, National Curriculum Board, accessed 2 October 2020 at FramingEnglishFINAL_011208.pdf

Scoular, C. (2020). Assessing skills for 21st century learners masterclass. Australian Council for Educational Research. Accessed October 2020 at

SCSA (2014). General capabilities in the Western Australian Curriculum, accessed October 2020 at

Weldon, P. (2019) Changing priorities? The role of general capabilities in the curriculum. ACER. Accessed October 2020

Suggested references

Heard J., Scoular, C., Duckworth, D., Ramalingam, D., & Teo, I. (2020). Critical thinking: Definition and structure. Australian Council for Educational Research. Accessed October 2020 at

Mockler, N. (2018). Curriculum integration in the twenty-first century: some reflections in the light of the Australian Curriculum. Curriculum Perspectives, 39(2). Accessed October 2020

Scramble (changes ahead)

April 4, 2020

Here in Perth, Western Australia there has been a seasonal shift into Djeran with deciduous leaves falling and cooler starts to each day. I walk around 5am. Thirty minutes down still-dark streets near the Swan River, and I cut across the football oval where fenced turnstiles have been opened to the public. Magpies carol.

Calm prelude to this global sense of scramble.

34E87256-BC95-4A4D-BDAF-FE1B9097451B453 Squadron RAAF Buffalo fighters scrambling

My own COVID-19 lockdown was prompted by an immune-suppressed husband, and the shift to online functionality came as an enabler of change. I feel safer with the distancing allowance – a pandemic risk reduced.  From a single-day trial to one week notched. My study is equipped with devices and WiFi. Teaching online? No problem, I thought. Reality is in the logistics, it seems.

I should clarify that my systems have been in place since November with our 2020 Anzac Tour program loaded to Padlet, students signed up for Edmodo, blogging underway via KidBlog, and our private Facebook group sharing events and updates with a community of teachers and family members. The Instagram feed is available here.   Image flow appears abruptly stalled.

Here we are gathered from across the State at Lake Monger for a briefing in February:

Lake Monger walk

Business interrupted.

Along with other educators in the surge towards online shores, learning and working at home has forced an adaptive impetus.

Learning at home - Tips for Students

After working through this Canva-inspired infographic solution, I realised that Smiling Mind was an oversight for my “Emotional Wellbeing” tip; their app is free, and aims to relieve tension in 10 minute bursts.

From the mind to the body: Disco Funk dance class has me clearing the lounge for an afternoon release of energy in front of a bigger screen. What are you using?

Connectives for comprehension

In the week-that-was, I collaborated on English resources for this Learning at home repository:

3 levels of reading

And, to round off this applause for adaptive practices, an important component of each day was the check-in chat afforded by Microsoft Teams meetings, part of the Office 365 suite. I am grateful to a colleague for the introduction to Robert Wood and his “A Time for Small Fish”:

What does that mean? It means a few different things. Firstly, it is to treat the minor details with as much respect as the broader picture… Second, it is to consider how we go about our habits with a sense of calm purpose… what is my small fish?  What is my daily practice that gives me faith? How can I stay balanced, safe, positive? … stay at home, read, listen, reflect. That’s what we are up to and it gives us hope. You will be better off for it and the world will thank you as well.


When is that point?

January 25, 2020

Selected reference

Braungart, M. & McDonough, W. (2008). Cradle to cradle: Remaking the way we make things. London: Vintage.

an early test case

December 29, 2019


Selected reference

Wallace-Wells, D. (2019). The uninhabitable earth: A story of the future. UK: Penguin Random House.

Suggested references

Burke, M. & Tanutama, V. (2019).
Climatic constraints on aggregate economic output. NBER Working Paper Series retrieved 29 December 2019.

Wainwright, J. & Mann, G. (2012). Climate leviathan. Antipode, pp 1-22.

Wallace-Wells, D. (2017). The uninhabitable earth, annotated edition. New York magazine, retrieved online 16 December 2019.

This might seem perverse

December 20, 2019

Selected reference

Bloom, P. (2016). Against empathy: the case for rational compassion. London: Vintage.

The quality of life

December 19, 2019

Selected reference

Merchant, C. (1989). The death of nature: Women, ecology and the scientific revolution. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.  

Poverty of spirit

December 1, 2019

Selected reference

Wilkinson, R. & Pickett, K. (2019). The inner level: How more equal societies reduce stress, restore sanity and improve everyone’s well-being. UK: Penguin.

Moving on track

November 9, 2019

Selected reference

Solnit, R. (2005). A field guide to getting lost. Edinburgh: Canongate Books.

Mortality is lonely

October 19, 2019


Selected reference

Laing, O. (2016). The lonely city: Adventures in the art of being alone. Edinburgh: Canongate.

Driven by processes

October 17, 2019
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Selected reference

Williams, R.J. (2019). Why cities look the way they do.  Cambridge: Polity Press.

Suggested references

Cooper, J (Director). (1972). Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles [Documentary]. Retrieved via Vimeo 10 October 2019.

Pawley, M. (1998). Terminal architecture. Retrieved via Scribd 10 October 2019.