Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Course Counselling and Mathematics

The current Mathematics course is not my favourite of the past few editions.  

It has four main courses: 
- Foundations (for students that require basic numeracy)
- Essentials (for students to develop their basic numeracy to a TAFE level)
- Applications (for students to develop skills for higher learning)
- Methods (for students seeking maths skills for tertiary math/science courses)

and a fifth course Specialist that can be taken in addition to Methods (for those seeking tom complete Engineering or Mathematics courses at University without additional courses to bridge to the level required)

Unfortunately WACE and University entrance is the main reason why the majority of students take Mathematics courses.  I would suggest that seeing Mathematics as only a pathway to higher learning or graduating high school is a very limited view as it does not consider the requirements after entry to a learning institution and for lifelong learning.  

The difficulty gap between Applications and Methods is large, much larger than in the previous iteration of ATAR courses (2AB/2CD 2CD/3AB 3AB/3D) as the option to do 2CD/3AB no longer exists.  The mean for Applications is 55, which results in half of the students sitting the course not having scores that is conducive to a university entrance score.   Given this is the case, half of these students end in TAFE or using other courses to build their ATAR score.  Getting a 1st or 2nd ATAR score with Applications is unlikely (and when done, tends to be students that drop in from Methods in Year 12.  Given this, as a counsellor, if I was unsure about whether a student should do Methods in Year 11, I would counsel them into Methods and parachute them into Applications if they were unsuccessful in Year 12).  This makes choosing Applications a problematic choice for many students (why do it if there are other subjects that I am more likely to gain a score with).

The mean for Methods is 65 with a SD of 12, with 3/4 of students getting a scaled score above 55, indicating that this is a course to build a reasonable ATAR score around. If students have the ability to do Methods, they should.  If they wish to do a Science based course, this is the only option to gain the thinking and capacity required for Science courses.  They may not use all of the Maths, but they will gain skills invaluable for learning new content beyond their current understanding.

The difficulty of Specialist has reduced its importance over time for maximising ATAR scores as the effort required is often better put to ATAR English, Chemistry, History or Physics and is only done by those with a passion for Mathematics.

My frustration with the current counselling thinking is that because many university courses do not have Mathematics pre-requisites, that it is better to do Applications (and pass) than Methods and potentially fail or that if students have C's or D's in Maths they should bypass Essentials or Applications and do other subjects instead.

To this I would simply say - Mathematics is about lifelong learning.  It is more than just entry to tertiary education.  There is no point gaining entry to higher learning, to only fail (or have to do bridging courses without the assistance available in school when you get there).

Doing Specialist puts you in an elite group of people able to do something that the majority of people cannot do.  Putting yourself in an elite is never a bad thing if you have the ability to do so.
Doing Methods takes effort, but is an opportunity to stretch yourself and truly learn how to learn. It will help a student get to university in the majority of cases if they have shown the aptitude in previous years.  If you complete Methods, you are likely to be a competent Mathematics student at university.
Doing Applications will develop your mathematical skills to a level that will mean in the majority of cases you will not need to learn more mathematics in later life but is unlikely (in many cases) to assist with University entry.
Doing Essentials will help you reach the next level in Mathematical understanding.  You will better understand the world in which you live from a basic numeracy, financial, measurement and statistical perspective.
Doing Foundations will raise your basic understanding of numeracy to allow you to function in society.

From a school point of view Mathematics provides opportunities in senior school to exploit 4 years of learning in lower school and has a course for any student - more so than any other subject (I'm looking at you English and HASS!!).  It is cheaper, more flexible and easier to run a full Mathematics course than 5 elective subjects trying to cater to various needs and ability levels under-subscribed.  A lesson learned by a few schools I dare to think.  Not making Mathematics compulsory results in significant bloat in school offerings.

To get students to choose Mathematics willingly requires many years of work.  Students must have an understanding that they will be supported, will pass and that there is an option tailored and available for them.  This is especially true for students with Ds and Es in lower school.  For the first time, in Senior school these students have courses that are designed for them (Foundations and Essentials) and there is a clear path to find success.


Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Relooking at education and the society in which we live.

Today we have this odd situation.

We are weighing up the needs of a child to be educated vs their wellness.

The proposition is that kids are better off in the home with a parent than in fulltime schooling.

Many years ago I stated that the measure of a good government is the improvement of the standard of living.  To achieve a higher standard of living families have forgone their responsibility of educating their children and left it to  the education system and digital technologies such as TV and internet.

Over time, rather than increasing the standard of living, it has become the norm for both parents to work and parents live just to pay mortgages and buy food.  They are not getting ahead, they are getting by.  The ability of hard graft getting your family ahead has seriously diminished, the ability of working hard alone to pay off your house is apparently gone with the rise of the information age and automation.

We now have widespread unemployment.

We need a reset.  Parents do not have to work.  Banks and miners do not need to make large profits.  Superannuation benefits are now eradicated with the failure of the stockmarket.  The political left has the opportunity to propose something bold.

We have again become an isolated island that still has the ability to feed itself, produce most goods and become a net exporter.  At the moment families are together and exercising supported by a government that has supported their wellbeing first and the economy second (albeit buoyed by the knowledge that widespread death will result in poor polling and election losses).

Take a sec to think about resetting the economy around the nuclear family.  It doesn't matter if mum or dad works - but let's have one parent responsible for raising our children and driving the family home.  In more affluent areas this is more common as it is easy to recognise the pressures families are put under to raise children whilst both parents work.

Children, well cared for, have fewer mental health issues, are better supported in education, are more healthy, can do more exercise.  Our future is brighter when a proportion of our kids aren't narcissistic and apathetic blobs.  Many can't see a future that is beyond being cared for into their 30's.  With half the workforce at home doing a job that needs doing, these children would be needed in the workforce.

Let's have a think tank actually support an idea that is currently being modelled during the Covid 19 cleanup that might work for the benefit of all.

Would that parent supported by a school be able to educate a child for part or all of the week and be part of the education solution too?

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Collegiality, Resource Sharing and Collaboration.


It was posed to me that by not insisting that staff share resources that I was not effectively leading my team.

I refuse to insist that anyone share anything other than what was mutually agreed to at the start of the year.  In this instance, staff had been allocated courses of work prior to my arrival that they were responsible for and had to provide all assessments and programmes for those courses.  Given that the distribution was initially uneven due to staff turnover, I evened it out and gained agreement that the assessment allocation method would change in 2020.

My argument was (and is) that if someone else sets the assessment for my class, it is unlikely to test what I have taught with the same emphasis. My class may have strengths based on prior learning, gender bias, teacher competency, ability composition... that would make it unfair to compare them using a test entirely constructed by another teacher (for the entire year). It diminishes the responsibility of the teacher teaching the class that is not in charge of the course.  To my mind, all teachers need to be in charge of their own classroom!

The argument against was that it was difficult to rank students if they did not do exactly the same coursework and exactly the same assessment - that courses should be kept in lockstep.  I was, and am worried that by keeping classes in lockstep through strict streaming in lower school, students that would be able to complete work by the end of the year, would become disheartened if they continued to fail by being presented with assessments that they could not do.  I understand that there are legitimate reasons why this is required in senior school.

What then happened was interesting.  Staff that did not wish to share additional resources they developed, now stopped sharing with some staff.  This is where my leadership differs from my predecessor as I refused to insist that they share resources.  Forcing someone to do something (like resource sharing) causes resentment and de-motivation to develop resources if they are forced to share.  It stifles innovation.  What I prefer to see is friendly competition, collaboration and collegiality. When I didn't insist that they share their resources it caused significant concern.  Anyone that did not make reasonable effort to establish a collegiate, collaborative relationship, would have to do the work themselves.  At the heart of every teaching contract, is the understanding that you are responsible for teaching and resourcing your classroom, I struggle with the notion that creating resources for your class is a workload issue.

Definitions of resource sharing, collaboration, collegiality and professionalism are listed below:

- Resource sharing is giving a portion of (something) to another or others.
- Collaboration is the action of working with someone to produce something.
- Collegiality by definition is companionship and cooperation between colleagues who share responsibility.
- Professionalism is the ability to learn, conscientiousness, interpersonal skills, adaptability and integrity.

If  staff members are in conflict, resource sharing could be forced (and resented thus restricting future resource development), Collaboration and Collegiality are less likely to occur (as staff are being managed rather than developing collegiate relationships) and their Professionalism may be compromised. I imagine this is why the first two levels of AITSL standards relate to personal competency and the latter two to collegiality and community involvement.

Certain actions are likely to prevent collaboration and collegiality:

1. Criticising the work of others.
2. Questioning others competency.
3. Refusing to contribute.
4. Contributing substandard resources.
5. Avoiding opportunities to contribute.
6. Being unable to keep to agreed timelines.
7. Negotiating to do less work.
8. Complaining that workload is too great to contribute.
9. Being prickly, rude or unreasonable.
10. Expecting others to do your work.
11. Resisting accountability

I think that at the heart of Collegiality and Collaboration is mutual respect and being nice - not a patsy or pushover, but following the golden rule - don't do anything that you wouldn't want done to you. At the heart of professionalism is competence and a growth mindset that says there is always something to learn (and learn from others even if you privately question their practices).  If someone is not wanting to share with you, why and how can I turn it around.  This type of thinking is freeing as it removes resentment (it's not fair that I have to work harder) and gives you back control of the situation.  There are actions you can make to develop trust and encourage others to work with you (and not have a feeling of working "for" you).

There cannot be an expectation that everyone is able to collaborate effectively and be collegial with everyone on a team all of the time (it cannot be insisted for under professionalism's interpersonal skills as people interact unreasonably regularly for many reasons outside of the other party's control, everyone is at a different stage of their learning journey).  The larger the team, the less likely a fully collegiate environment will occur.  A little bit of friendly rivalry also has the potential to drive progression in a team.  Creating an environment where challenging beliefs is ok and requires more than just saying the right things - takes time and requires modelling of the skills required.

Next steps are setting the groundwork for collaboration in 2021, creating the most even playing field that I can and hopefully, the further development of collaboration and collegiality within the team.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Remediation of NCCD students in Mathematics

Students marked at risk on the NCCD list are the forgotten students in Mathematics today.  Typically students on the NCCD list have an imputed disability and due to this disability/risk factors are more than 2 years behind other students in a class.  Often the remediation required is assumed to be resourced under differentiation by a teacher within a classroom.

A good rule of thumb is if a student is beyond two years above, or two years below the syllabus, a typical teacher utilising DOTT and planning time effectively will find it difficult to cater to the needs of these students without additional assistance, resourcing and planning.

Where there are a group of four or more in one class (typical of low ability streaming) this results in students not progressing their mathematical understanding when in Years 7-10. This is frustrating for parents and students and cause for concern (and is a workload issue) for teaching staff.  It is also easily measurable using NAPLAN7 to NAPLAN9 progress data.

To properly address this issue requires analysis of assistance, resourcing and planning available.

ISSUE

1. Assistance
  • Identifying the help required is a difficult proposition as students on the NCCD list may have undiagnosed IDs, mental health, DV, FASD, family dsyfunction and typically requires a multi-disciplinary approach. 
  • Providing "just in time" intervention to students when in the proximal zone of development requires teachers to understand the needs of NCCD students who are typically not in the proficiency area of high school teachers and support staff.  
  • Teachers are committed to teach the year level curriculum from the syllabus to the majority of students in the class. 
  • Many of these students attract no extra funding from external agencies as the disability is either not covered, require an extended period of observation and/or are too expensive for parents to receive a formal diagnosis.
2. Resourcing
  • To teach year levels beyond a year either side of the year level achievement standard will reduce the effectiveness of teaching the majority of students in the class.  Where more than two groups of students are in a class that require instruction outside the year level achievement standard, students will not get optimal instruction from their teacher alone.
  • Typically resources available at developmental level are not developmentally appropriate (when teaching Year 4 material, resources are pitched at 8-9 years olds, is not appropriate for  13-15 year olds).
  • Assistance by support staff is typically unavailable through current FTE model which requires an IQ and EQ diagnosis.
3. Planning
  • For every student in the class that requires teaching from another year level in the syllabus, requires the equivalent of an extra class of planning to be completed by the teacher.
  • Additional planning time is not available even if content could be delivered with sufficient preparation.

SOLUTION

1. Make it someone's problem
  • Identify someone with a passion for the problem, a champion that can relate to these students and has a rapport with students services, parents of students and HOLAs of each learning area.  This person becomes responsible for driving solutions and becomes the Learning Support Coordinator (LSC).
  • Acceptance of a student into a remediation group must be linked to resourcing being available.
  • Make the solution a team effort with shared responsibility by support staff and Learning Areas.
2. Communicate with parents and create a shared understanding
  • Create IEP / Documented plans
  • Develop MHRMPs/RMPs/BMPs
  • Have meetings with parents and create measurable attendance/behaviour/academic goals for each term
3. Adequately resource the programme
  • Resource the programme based on number of support groups required (eg. where indicated by class composition) not by resourcing allocated through support staff FTE.
  • Develop resources that can be reused with minimal customisation.
4. Measure the results
  • Research project / Masters or PHD level support
  • SEN reporting
  • Standardised testing (PAT Testing/ NAPLAN)
  • Attendance
  • Behaviour
5. Keep expectations reasonable
  • Expectations set in IEPs must be achievable and modified when found to exceed ability of intervention programme to achieve.
6. Celebrate wins / analyse challenges
  • Make time to analyse progress of intervention programme.
7. Communicate with stakeholders regularly
  • Connect
  • SEN reporting