Monday, January 18, 2021

2021 New Year excitement

Hi,

It's a new year.  All that preparation done last year and over the holidays is about to bear fruit.  Graduates are getting ready for their first classes, students are entering high school for the first time, students are preparing for their first run at Year 12 ATAR.

For us it is a year of firsts.  New programmes in all year groups, teachers have their own classrooms, expectations of what teachers need to do have been clearly developed, feedback to students through Connect, SENN, SEQTA and Reporting to parents has been reimplemented and refined over the last year.  Kids have been placed into classes where they can perform and things should come together nicely.

Every so often things fall nicely into place and you can make a push for improvement.  This never comes without a good deal of hard work and last year was surely a year of hard work to put the building blocks in place.  If teachers follow the grading guidance given, participate in streaming processes actively, engage with the new BMIS, instructional model and business plan and actively communicate well with each other there is a huge potential for improvement.

I put my preliminary work on Connect and can see 15 of the 20 ATAR Methods students looking at content and preparing for the fast paced start in a course that doesn't let up until second semester.  I'm really interested to hear from students about what they thought about the preliminary videos, how to make them more interesting and whether the time and effort of producing them was worthwhile.  The great thing is that I only have to do them once, now is just identifying errors and re-recording them when required.  It's really interesting watching students through analytics and the time that they put into preparation.

I also released the teaching videos for the first six weeks of term and some students have engaged with these too.  This is a continuation of my "Just in time" approach to teaching - giving students information when they need it, in a form they readily consume, with access to help to avoid frustration.  If they're a little ahead - this will help them adjust to the additional work requirements of ATAR 11 classes and hopefully reduce the Exam anxiety and typical low performance in Semester 1.

It's great to see teachers actively working together to develop courses of work.  We have some strong teams developing courses that cater to student needs and move away from it's what's in the text, to a student centric, syllabus and engagement approach to instruction.

Our kids and parents are a little blame happy, some look to who to blame before reflecting on what they could have done to rectify the situation.  This is something we have to target in earlier years to give students back a 'locus of control' and get them to realise there is a lot they can do to improve their results before starting the blame game.  Revision, study, work ethic, work practices, attendance, engagement, ICT usage all impact on results in addition to instructional techniques.  These other things do not happen overnight - students have to be shown these to do well by parents and teaching staff.

Here's to a great year!


Friday, January 8, 2021

Locus of control

My daughter does Karate.  She was finding some of it a bit hard, and I didn't have enough knowledge to help her. So I signed up.  Immediately I was put into a position where I had to follow instruction and do as I was told.  It was weird and uncomfortable.  Thankfully I injured my achilles tendon walking on soft sand and have had to stop for now as the cardio was killing me.  I'm an old, unfit Maths teacher.. What was I thinking?

A child returning to school after a prolonged absence is in this position.  They have had a locus of control at home - they might be looking after siblings, roaming the streets with friends, getting into minor mischief, defying their parents/experiencing poor parenting/with high levels of conflict, be from a refugee background, have a culture where students take responsibility from a young age, lack support for education from home.  All of a sudden they are placed into a role where they have to do as they are told.  They can't get help when they want it and it's all your fault that they are misbehaving, bored, late to class, have irregular attendance, mental health issues and can't do the work.

If this is not acted upon, this can go very badly and instantly create an oppositional environment.  There are a number of ways that this can be dealt with.

1. Give the child responsibility

This is commonly the "go to" response. It doesn't address the problem and leaves the student with the feeling that they are still in control.  In their mind, "I'll do this for you as it fulfils my need to be in control".  The "Why should I?" comes out and the child has little reason to cooperate.  It tends to work with low level cases. 

2. Retrain the behaviour (when are behaviours occurring, what is needed to change)

Explicitly identify the behaviours that are undesirable, provide encouragement for changing the behaviours and consequences when the behaviours occur.  This requires a contract with the child, contact with the parent and a level of consistency across classes.  This is time consuming, allowing the child to increase their influence, creates an oppositional environment, but works eventually, especially if paired with someone (like the HOLA or Deputy) that can step in when they overstep the mark.

3. Understand who they are (who are they)

Seek to understand the environment from which they come.  Talk to student services and get an understanding of their background.  Have a talk with their parents.  Talk to them about how they feel.  Talk to them about their impact in the classroom.  This is an adult conversation so it will be awkward and filled with silences.

3. Develop a rapport (why is change required)

Talk about what you need from them as a student. How would a class perform if students could do whatever they want, whenever they want?  With 30 students, that's two minutes per student during an hour lesson.  When they are late, they miss the 7 minutes of instruction that results in them not being able to work.  Being absent leaves holes in their education.  No one has a right to disrupt another's education - it's the role of a teacher to ensure that this does not happen. When the time is right, they will be able to take an instruction and give up control - and it's ok.  Add in some positive reinforcement (implicit/explicit depending on developmental level). They have a lifetime to be in charge, it's a release to let someone else do it for a change.  

4. Success (how to make into ongoing success)

Get them to success as soon as possible.  Something needs to replace the need for control.  If it is success you are on the road to ongoing improvement in behaviour.  Suggest strategies that you think will work (moving them away from disruptive peers, give them resources (pens, paper, calculator), a high five for being on time etc) and create a lesson where they will be able to do the work and explicitly make a direct connection with the change in locus of control.  Gradually the change in behaviour through rapport needs to be a change in behaviour through desire for success.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Past students and dementia

As a teacher you forget stuff, over 1000 students over 13 years and they all start to blend into each other.  To students though, they saw you every day (out of their ten or so teachers) and remember you for the right and wrong reasons as if it was yesterday. 

I was walking through the shops and a young man stopped me.  He asked if I remembered him (I didn't) and then gave me his name.. and I went Ohhh... He went on to explain that he was now a plumber and I was one of the teachers that he really liked.

Now I've told the story of this student lots over the years but never connected the name with the student.  He came to my class on his last legs - any more trouble and he would be expelled.  I don't think it was the dreaded 10C class that was the most difficult of my career (and one of two classes I couldn't win over) but was around that time about 8 years ago.  The conversation was - make this work or they will encourage you to leave, held just outside SS1.  He turned himself around and I was proud of him (I wish I had told him today as I didn't make the connection until afterwards).  He did his apprenticeship and now has his own business in plumbing. He is one of those students that was always going to do better once he left school - without the confines of discipline, where his jokes would be taken well.  If (as a student) you see this post, know that I'm not a heartless bastard, I did greatly appreciate you taking a few moments to say you liked my class and that you were now successful (and I'd like to think I had a little part in that).  I'll let other teachers know of your success too.

I saw another student going down an escalator whilst I was going up from this year.  We had a few heartaches over probability throughout Methods, but he has been accepted into engineering.  He says the others in his class have done well too.

We don't often get to reflect on the success our students achieve - many times it is long after students leave.  These are the things that keep you in the profession - if you don't believe in the good that you do, it becomes a drudge rather than a privilege.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

The student interest test.

The student interest test is a test I try to use whenever I make a decision as a HOLA.  It's a pretty simple test as it asks the question, "Is this in the best interests of students?". If it fails this test, I am opposed to it or non committal if it is obvious it will take time to change the view of the majority.

In education we lose the majority of our graduate teachers in the first five years.  The main reason is the sink or swim approach used in most schools and by most HOLAs.  A compromise is generally made to prevent turnover of experienced teachers and prevent complaints by parents while graduate teachers are learning their craft - they are generally given classes difficult for experienced teachers: low ability classes and/or classes with behavioural challenges many of these in remote areas away from family support.

To my mind this fails the student interest test.  These are our most enthusiastic staff that bring modern techniques, are closest in age (relate) to students, understand modern issues/pop culture and bring technological capability to the classroom. It is in students interests for teachers and HOLAs to support graduate teachers such that they can perform at a level acceptable to parents and provide them with classes they are most likely to find success in.  Counter intuitively these are the students most able to learn, are good students with the fewest behavioural problems.

During the last term of the year, Year 11 and 12's are off campus leaving teachers without classes until the end of the year.  Schools reduce their relief budget by using these teachers.  There are not enough relief classes, which results in teachers having unallocated time.  Given that this is not DOTT time, I allocated tasks and deliverables to to those that preferred not to do relief, gained approval from admin and teachers commenced these tasks (with the intent to use unallocated teachers to do the relief).  Other faculties complained when they had to do Math relief whilst Maths teachers completed tasks to improve student performance.  The relief coordinator complained that she was required to give reliefs to teachers that had previously had increased non teaching time, was fielding complaints and increasingly put pressure on Math to do the tasks and provide the relief required for Maths classes.  To prevent conflict, I ceased providing tasks to teachers and Maths teachers became part of the relief pool.  This response failed the student interest test as teachers were available to do the relief, it was in the interest of students for course improvement tasks to be completed but a willingness to overcome the conflict was not present.

Mathspace cost each parent $18 per year, was used by less than half of the student group, has had no effect on standardised testing results over four years, classes of equal ability did not perform higher when using Mathspace than classes that did not, there is no research basis that ICT practice based initiatives are effective in Maths, the diagnostic information available through Mathspace was available using other means, it deskilled teachers ability to diagnose issues within a class, was being used to replace good teaching practices and was demotivating for a large number of students.  It failed the student interest test, even if it made teacher's lives easier, particularly at the end of term.  Although unpopular with teaching staff, it was removed and is set to be replaced with a tool targeting OLNA performance that has a record of assisting students with numeracy issues relating to ACSF.

Assigning assessments in Pathways by one teacher to all classes in a Pathway without a proper feedback mechanism for other teachers fails the student interest test as it provides an advantage to the teacher creating assessment, especially where there are communication issues within the faculty.  Workload arguments (such as I am writing more assessments than other teachers) fail the student interest test, as the assessments written are likely to advantage students in class of the assessment writer and result in poorer assessment outcomes than if assessment was written by all. It also limits development of teaching staff and students by not being exposed to a range of question and marking construction strategies.

Student centred learning uses evidence to improve student outcomes.  It is not always in the interest of the teacher (that have a teacher centric approach) to implement these strategies and in these cases it is important to drive the message through teacher management. A "sell", "collaborate" or "collegiate" solution is unlikely to develop as often they result in more work and disrupt the status quo.