Saturday, November 21, 2020

OLNA preparation

OLNA diagnostics and group diagnostics are found in SIRS and assist in identifying parts of the course that students don't understand well.  I've spent the last week collating data for my class and identifying what needs to be learned.

The main ideas so far have been in Money/Percentages and Proportion:

Money, Proportion and Percentages (Number topics)

    Profit/Loss: Percentage increase decrease
    Discount/Markup: Percentages of amounts
    Finding quantities in an amount: Multiplication / Partitioning
    Providing change: The difference in two amounts / Subtraction
    Changing quantities in a recipe
    Pie charts

This has been consistent over many years of teaching that these concepts are poorly understood.  With the increased understanding of how to teach Linear Algebra among teachers through the efforts of Pam Sherrard, proportion and specifically percentages are the new frontier.

There were some other topics: Volume, Elapsed Time but Percentages and Money topics comprised the majority of issues faced by students, particularly when calculators are not allowed to be used.

Something to consider as we design the new programmes, particularly in the lower ability classes.

The biggest tip so far is not to learn rote methods without context.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Developing Assessment for use across multiple classes

Developing assessment for use across multiple classes is problematic.  Each teacher and text interprets the syllabus a little different and each class enters with different prior knowledge and horsepower. There is a sweet spot where courses can cater to students and minimise work for teachers.  It is not always possible to bring all teachers together to co-write assessment, typically it is assigned to a teacher to complete.

Conflict can occur if the following occurs:

  • Teacher that writes the assessment is inflexible (or unable to take constructive criticism)
  • Teachers that read the assessment are overly critical
  • The teacher writing the assessment has not had enough/spent enough time developing the assessment. 
  • Grade related descriptors and exemplars are not consulted (or been used over prescriptively)
  • The assessment is too broad or narrow in scope
  • Syllabus has not been taught fully in one or more classes
  • Corners of the course have been emphasized in one class (particularly skills based work)
  • If an assessment is written below or beyond the capabilities of a class
  • Time is not given to consider the assessment before the requirement to present it to students


To solve these issues requires patience and developing a collegiate approach.  Teachers need to feel safe when developing assessments that if they have done their best, the college will improve it, not "correct it" because they have done it wrong.  It's a mindset developing growth in the team.


In some cases it's a case of developing a shared language:

"I understand what you are saying but in this case..."

"Given the Syllabus dot point identifies this behaviour/concept/idea perhaps we could modify it to..."

"This question may be beyond the scope identified through this grade related descriptor and may be more suitable for year x".

"Here is an alternative problem that might be substituted."

"I might have to think on that some more and will come back to you.."


Using past assessments as an item bank where this process has already been navigated might help as long as the syllabus is used as a basis for identifying appropriate questions.


Anger, aggression, threats, forcing an opinion, getting personal in criticism, going rogue, white anting and undermining, are not ok, professional or appropriate.


Where a difference of opinion exists, ensuring there is time to investigate a solution or involving a HOLA to mediate helps.  Sometimes having slightly different tests or a supplementary tests for different classes are ok as long as the difficulty level is maintained (to assist with consistent judgements and class ranking).

A collegiate approach requires those more experienced to work with those less experienced to develop a shared understanding (which requires investigating why the views are different and considering all opinions until a mutual or adjudicated position is found).

Similarly a reflective approach requires all of us to consider new ideas, especially if our experience or understanding indicates otherwise.  Being right all the time is an irritating and frustrating trait that will draw ire from colleagues.

Friday, November 6, 2020

HOLA - Is this it?

 A career often leads to different areas than the one you start in.  I was asked earlier in the year if I would consider a change in position to a role in another government department related to my IT management skills rather than my teaching skills.  With my wife not working and kids in school, although exciting, it was not something that my risk averse family could contemplate.

Often, I think, am I doing the right thing?  I was an expert in my field, respected for what I could do and could create new stuff at will.  The field of teaching is much larger and more difficult to reach the same level of expertise.  I would have thought that those in IT have well and truly forgotten who I am and what I did during my ICT career and that it was behind me.

Again it has been raised, do I want to jump back to ICT?  Do I want to engage in the higher risk/reward that is IT compared to teaching?  Do I want the absolute highs (and lows) of running an IT team with insane deadlines compared to the relatively simple and benign role of a HOLA in a school.

There's always that little voice in the back that says... :-)

Last night I had a vivid dream (unusual in itself), I was jumping off a cargo ship just offshore with my family.  I'm swimming well (I can't swim) and initially have my child on my back.  She gets off and starts to swim to shore.  I start racing another person and get to shore first but my child and the rest of my family is nowhere to be seen.  I woke up and needless to say I was quite shaken and took awhile to get back to sleep.  The dream repeated multiple times.

I'm not a hippy sort but I do like to reflect on what my subconscious may be trying to tell me - even random events can lead to insights as it breaks patterns of thinking.

In this case was it warning me that I am doing this in my classes?  Do I get carried away with what I am thinking and sometimes leave students behind?  In my "I'm a HOLA and know what I am doing", started to believe my own BS and forgotten what made me able to give students that aha moment every class.

Could I be considering a change in occupation because I am (again) doubting my ability to teach and lead others and running away when I need to dig deep and make this work?

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The meaning of full participation

Full participation is the emerging buzzword in education.  What is it and why do we need it?

79.1% of students were engaged in full time education as at the 2016 Census.  That means 20.9% had dropped out of full time education.  One would expect that full participation would mean 100% but every teacher knows that the percentage is lower than this.

In every school, there are a number of students either passively not participating in classes or actively seeking to disrupt classes.  Different sectors are able to deal with these students in different ways.  One of the clear inequities of the public/private is the ability of private schools to encourage students to leave (either through the cost/return argument or simply by not renewing their enrolment) resulting in a disproportionate numbers of these students in public schools.  Full participation is engaging these students.

Since the implementation of compulsory education the public system has developed a number of measures to minimise disruption of low participation students in schools (and their disruption in local communities).  These students are the most at risk socio-economically and for mental health; typically with poor role models, have a low value of education and foresee few job prospects.

These students lower the actual participation rate in schools and consume a significant amount of time initially for teachers, then student services and later for administration requiring alternative pathways to education or employment, or increasingly in extreme cases being passed between schools via section A exclusions.

They are currently in the spotlight for the amount of time they consume - and the new focus for classroom teachers to attempt to prevent them becoming issues for the department, admin and student services.  They are the students that typically know that discipline and BMIS is a bluff - if they say no, there's not much schools can do.

It is one thing to say full participation is required - another thing to make it happen, the levers are below and this is far from an exhaustive list.

a) establishment of rapport

You don't want to be their least favourite teacher - if you are, you are in for a hard time.  For a traditional teacher, where consequence (detention/suspension) is the only remediating measure in a teacher's kitbag, these are the teachers most at risk.  A positive approach is needed (and is wearying), each day, every day. 

b) positive re-inforcement

These students typically are low performing and have low self esteem.  Ensuring success is encountered and encountered frequently, is essential for engagement.  

c) syllabus delivered at developmental level

Students that have not found success, particularly in Maths get accumulated in secondary school.  The current syllabus is an issue as it is "one size fits all" and with students 4-6 years below syllabus, this is not conducive to success, requiring other strategies.  Where they could hide in multiple primary schools getting extra assistance as the bottom two students in classes across the suburb, they now get put together and are expected to learn in a standard learning environment without the additional support and attention they have previously been given.  Not being equipped for independent learning, all too often this results in poor learning environments.  To get them to achieve at level, requires identification of where they are at, and devising a learning programme that caters to their needs.  This is time consuming, expensive and rarely implemented well.

d) students services support

These students have issues and lots of them.  It often feels like whack-a-mole in these classrooms.  As one student settles, another looks for attention.  This is a lifelong pattern by students to gain attention (good or bad) not gained elsewhere.    Typically to address these issues requires an holistic approach, with student services monitoring student and family wellbeing and communicating this to classrooms such that teachers understand the source of issues faced.  It can be as simple as giving a kid a pen and paper to reduce anxiety for a student with a family underemployed and struggling to keep a roof overhead. Effective student services and timely information is critical to establishing and maintaining establishment of teacher rapport. A case management approach is critical to success.

e) environmental supports

Students in this category can have limited social skills and may not respond to measures that work in other classes.  Low key measures may not work (proximity in particular may raise anxiety levels), their focus on social equity creates friction(attention given for poor behaviour is seen as unfairly distributed),  poor social skills (seating plans become problematic, peer conflict more frequent), homework creates friction (few study skills, no environment that supports homework, little IT access at home).  These classes have high levels of conflict and these levels of high stimulation can undermine students ability to function particularly where autism and ADHD is mixed in.  A shouty teacher with an anxious or traumatised student completely undermines any ability to learn.  They need a caring, supportive environment, hard to supply when they evidence little care of themselves.

f) instructional techniques

Instructional techniques are more limited as students find it difficult to work independently - especially as class sizes rise to 26-30 students.  This results in highly structured lessons, teacher directed lessons, with fewer opportunities to engage with investigative approaches to cater to multiple levels of ability.  With higher levels of impulsive behaviour, lessons that are not highly structured can quickly become unworkable.  I'm not sure what the answer is here and my feeling is that the problem is significantly different in Year 7 (where there is still hope for connection with education) to Year 10 and beyond (where external influences and antisocial behaviours may exceed the ability of schools to engage them). 

g) parental involvement

These students have had constant negative feedback given to parents whilst in formal schooling and often parents have disengaged.  Families can often too be classified as at risk themselves, being possibly broken, abusive, helpless and highly resistant to engagement.  Developing a team approach can be difficult and requires a deft touch.

h) community involvement

Community involvement - Smith family, Rotary, Lions, Police, Juvenile Justice, Focus First, AustismWest, EdConnect, Mercycare, Clontarf, RMLA, Headspace provide a range of supports that can improve the home situation for students and promote full participation.  A pair of shoes, pen, calculator, exercise book or a strong mentor can help a student engage in a classroom in class and supplements what student services can do.

i) classroom structures

Low participation students are typically put in the same classes as students with disability as both are academically struggling and the supports (such as EA's or small class sizes) are with other low functioning students.  Many of the issues above are shared with students that have a disability but attract no funding to rectify. The management of these students is completely different - putting them together creates a more complex classroom (typical of streamed environments) than not doing so and is not desirable. 


Now all this for a relative few, which diverts attention from core business of schools - delivery of the syllabus.   The obvious statement is that this is what schools do, and they care, but it should not be just assumed it will happen - because it won't and hasn't in many instances despite best intentions - to do it requires a clear understanding of the issues faced and addressing them with due consideration of the cost/benefit.