Sunday, April 4, 2021

The bucket

Alan Hughes (Level 9 HOLA) introduced me to the idea of the bucket.  The bucket represents the resilience of a student.  Each time a student offers an answer and gets a negative response (laughing, teasing, being wrong) they lose a little of themselves out of the bucket.  If they get a positive response, the bucket starts to fill again.

As the bucket gets more and more depleted, they get more unwilling to put themselves out there.  When it is near the bottom, they will protect what is left by refusing to answer, refusing to try, being defiant and protective of what little self esteem they have left in the bucket.  Adolescence is a difficult time, between hormones, increasing academic ability, fragile confidence, peer issues, seeking independence and protective parents, a lot is drawing out of the bucket.

It is important to ensure that students never reach the point of protecting themselves.  The bucket should be overflowing with enthusiasm with opportunities to build self confidence - not everyone outside of the classroom will understand that this is important or why you are working with this student.  It starts with a welcome, hello and something positive that they can contribute.  

When a child has little in the bucket it is important to provide opportunities to refill it before it reaches the point of self protection.

When a child is at the point of self protection, a caring person will let them know it is ok and help them refill the bucket - preferably assisting with diminishing demands on the bucket from outside the classroom.

Since it was first introduced to me, I have appreciated the bucket analogy and it assists in understanding why Alan is such a great person and teacher.  He lives the analogy and has assisted many students refill the bucket.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Performance Anxiety

Anxiety is a two edged sword.  Can't perform without it, can't perform with too much of it.

Understanding how success impacts anxiety is an important part of the performance anxiety picture.  Where we set the bar for students is important as it provides them with what sort of performance constitutes success.

One measure of success is achievement - this is where a student is able to do something expected at a prescribed point in time.  A student that can write their name consistently is an achievement in pre-primary, but an area of concern if they were still trying to do this in Year 4.

Another measure of success is progress - this is where a student is able to do something later that they could not do at a previous point in time.  A student that could not tell the time in Year 6, but can do so in Year 7 is an indicator of progress.

A third measure of success is a normalised ranking.  With normalised ranking, a student doing better compared to their peers longitudinally over a period of time.  A student was 5th in the class for spelling in test 1 but was 1st in test 2 and consistently in the top 10 for the year.  Achievement is measured for each test, progress is monitored as they move up and down the class ranking.

Traditionally schools have used normalised ranking to give students feedback as to how they are progressing towards year level achievement standards.  This allows students to feel successful as they measure themselves against peers and do better or worse dependent on effort (something that they can control).  Whether a child is meeting the Year level achievement standard is irrelevant as long as they are making progress with their peers. 

Movement to a national achievement standard changed this to having an achievement focus, and as consequence a large group of students would now encounter constant failure with D/E grades.  In extreme circumstances, students would also face failing assessment after assessment being measured against grading standards that they had no ability to reach to support the awarding of D/E grades.

This focus on achievement rather than progress increased performance anxiety and is currently at epidemic levels in schools.  Success lowers performance anxiety and anxiousness caused by the fear of failure.  If students only face constant failure then anxiety will rise to unbearable levels preventing progress.  It needs an outlet for anxiety to be released.  This is where we are today and it will take academics to prove this true with the benefit of hindsight.  

Should we set student success to be:

- achievement of excellence (eg. through a focus on Year level Achievement Standards);
- progress (eg. improvement in a skills over time); or
- ranking (eg. position in a class of similar students).

Should we frame this within and understanding of:

- Constantly seeking excellence (with an understanding that the bar moves with the definition of developmental "excellence");
- Always doing your best (with an understanding that continuous effort is required); or
- Putting in the effort where required (with an understanding that you can only do what you can do and develop reserves where possible).

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Closing the gap in student performance


The blue graph represents a learning curve of an average student
The red graph represents a learning curve of a student that has fallen behind
The gap between A and B / C and D represents how the gap grows between two students over time.

If nothing is done, the red student falls further and further behind the blue student.

To bridge students from A to B or from C to D requires a level of intervention - doing something beyond classroom teaching. Either focus on blue students and allow red students to fall further behind, focus on red students and slow the curve of blue students or differentiate and allow both to progress.
  • Students need to do more (not less) work to catch up
  • It needs to be focused on developing current skills required and addressing gaps in skills
  • Intervention available needs to be targeted to where formative assessment identifies issues and pre-prepared resources are available to address common issues outside of classtime
Streaming and Differentiation (typically applied as mutually exclusive strategies) attempt to address the issues faced by a teacher of students with different learning requirements.

One method of addressing the needs of both groups is to ability stream, putting students together of like abilities.  It can reduce the load for a teacher in a classroom by reducing what needs to be taught to a narrower band.  One issue with this approach is the low expectation/low ability bias - students that are behind have lower abilities so we should have lower expectations - thus learning is slower and below ability levels.  Overcoming this bias is difficult but can be done.  

Deficits of streaming
  • Tendency for lower expectations
  • Fewer positive role models/peer support
  • Re-inforcement of the difficulties faced rather than successes
  • Normalising absences/poor behaviour/low effort
  • Lower classes typically given to less able teachers
  • Transition between streams can be problematic (difficultly leap, unsupported during transition, infrequent restreaming)
  • Typically delivers to the bottom/middle of the class
  • Individualised support is not a focus (the focus is identifying work at level for the class) thus bridging the gap is less likely to address issues at a student level
  • Little/No support in Research to support an increase in learning for streamed students in average schools (Hattie)
Differentiation is a possible alternative where students are covering same topic in class but at different levels.  Rather than a structural/environmental change, this is a change in approach of the teacher.  This requires a higher level of teacher skill, organsation and discipline to do effectively.  Signs that this is being done:
  • Strong communication between teacher/student/parent.
  • Diagnostic assessment completed prior to each topic
  • Identification of gaps and remedies identified for gaps
  • Students completing different work based on ability
  • Assessment provided at multiple levels
  • Addressing students that have gaps with clear measurable strategies typically outside of the classroom
  • Requires advanced knowledge of scope and sequence of topics beyond year level
  • Safe learning environment where all students are confident to ask questions
  • Results of the group as a whole are increasing (fewer failing students)
It is possible to do both at the same time, but needs recognition that streaming alone does not address closing the gap between students - to do this requires going further than teaching bottom/middle of the class given and that differentiation when the gap is large in Mathematics is load intensive. That is streaming requires less work (class instruction is more targeted as there is smaller variation between students) and differentiation more work (increased variation between students decreases the effectiveness of traditional class based instruction).  Given class based instruction is the preferred delivery mode in schools, reluctance to differentiate can be considerable.

Intervention is the process of moving a student from the bottom curve to the top curve through action at a group or individual level (eg. from B to A or from D to C). This could include:
  • Pastoral support to assist in managing issues at home or incidental mental health needs
  • Tutoring outside of class time
  • Addressing individual needs within the classroom to increase learning beyond the average speed in the class
  • Catch up classes over the holidays
  • Work sent home to parents aimed at addressing gaps in learning
  • Acceleration of programmes of work
  • Changing focus of existing programmes to address student needs
  • ICT applications aimed to assist particular types of students
  • Withdrawal from options classes or creation of options classes to focus on Literacy and Numeracy or Extension (eg Period 25, Period 6)
  • After school classes
A major feature of intervention is that it is above what is done for the average student and is able to be stopped once the student has caught up.  This allows catch up (rather than falling behind) as students are still progressing to a greater or lesser degree with the rest of the class (as opposed to a withdrawal/differentiated/streamed model.  Students are doing more in order to catch up and once on the curve are able to stay on the curve as the reason for learning more slowly than the rest of the class is overcome and the intervention is able to stop and be redirected to another student.   Where it can't end with the student on the leaning curve without ongoing intervention to prevent falling behind again, the strategy I think it should be defined as differentiation as it is an ongoing need of the student.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

If I can't succeed, why try?

Where a child has not found success they will lose motivation.  This will result in loss of self esteem, reduce effort and create a cycle of failure.

This is true of adults too.

It is important that a student believes that they can succeed.  There are many levers that can be used to get a student to develop the understanding that they can succeed.

1. Provide work at level

2. Provide extrinsic motivation to seek success (such as rewards for effort during learning)

3. Develop an appreciation for intrinsic rewards (such as earned praise)

4. Provide a focus for learning (such as developing a career focus)

5. Place students at a similar level that are also seeking to understand a concept

6. Chunk contents into smaller and more easily understood concepts

7. Space practice to encourage retention

8. Provide formative assessment to focus learning on concepts found difficult

9. Develop an appreciation for revision practices (establish cause (study) and effect (do better))

10. Use environmental print (posters etc)

11. Present and repackage information multimodally (visually, aurally, written, orally)

12. Use ICT effectively (this is a topic in itself)

13. Scaffold well (understanding their prior learning)

14. Provide access to practice work

15. Develop an understanding that they have control over what they can learn - they control the effort that they put into learning and the result of that learning.

16. Overcome test anxiety through overlearning 

17. Explicitly teaching how to use a text (how to use a worked example, checking answers, getting to the assessment level questions at the end of exercises, reading ahead, using an index, reading the glossary, identifying hints to worked examples)

18. Developing the confidence to ask questions

19. Checking understanding

20. Using a calm and constructive approach to teaching (especially for trauma, Autism, PTSD, anxious students)

21. Reduce load, focus exposure to practice work (to prevent tiredness and fatigue) - this appears counterintuitive, but a student undergoing high levels of learning will tire quickly overcoming high levels of anxiety - driving them to continue doing pratice work is counterintuitive to a positive learning environment. The trick is to identify when overcoming loafing and when genuine fatigue is being encountered (the student may not know!).

Often, if queried about why a child is not succeeding, the answer given is a lack of resilience.  To my mind this is the effect rather than the cause.  Where "resilience" is the issue, often the steps to allieviating the effect need further examination.