SWANs research

SWANs research 2007 – 2009

The purpose of the SWANs research (2007 – 2009) was to develop and validate an integrated program of assessment, reporting, planning, and teaching advice that teachers could draw on to support the learning of students with additional needs. These students are sometimes characterised as 'untestable' because of the difficulty of assessing their skills and abilities using conventional forms of testing. Some of these students may have a form or severity of disability that makes it difficult for them to take part in tests. Others may alter their behaviour to a significant extent in the stressful or unfamiliar context of testing.

Teachers can also find it professionally challenging to develop an appropriately adjusted or individualised learning program for these students in the absence of clear information about expected pathways of learning or specific curriculum advice.

The first questions for teachers, then, are:
  • What does this student already know? What can s/he do? What is the starting point for teaching and learning?
  • And what is the student ready to learn next?

The SWANs research aimed to design and validate observation-based measures that teachers could use to describe and monitor learning across foundational or enabling skills for their students. It adopted a strengths-based, skills-referenced, and developmental approach to describing learning in foundational domains such as communication, literacy, interpersonal processes, personal learning skills (i.e., attention, memory, and executive functioning) and emotional self-management. These were described as the sorts of skills students need to develop to enable or support their participation in education across multiple curriculum domains.

This phase of the SWANs research worked with experienced teachers of students with additional needs to design and then trial assessment items that drew on the sorts of behaviours teachers could observe in everyday classroom interactions with their students.

The process is described in a paper by Woods and Griffin (2013), and the broader background to the research is set out in a paper published by Griffin (2007).

  • Woods, K., & Griffin, P., (2013). Judgement-based performance measures of literacy for students with additional needs: Seeing students through the eyes of experienced special education teachers. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 20(3), 325-348.
  • Griffin (2007)
The outcome of the first phase of the research was an online assessment and reporting program that teachers could use to answer these questions:
  • Based on the things I observe my student do, say, make, write, or draw, what judgments can I make about the things s/he knows and can do?
  • What are the student's current skills in communication, literacy, interpersonal development, personal learning, and emotional self-management?
  • What are the skills and knowledge that other similar students learned next?
  • How can I use this information to set specific and individually relevant learning goals for my student?
Read more about the SWANs (2007 – 2009) research.