Sunday, December 27, 2009

Entering 4th year of teaching

In my first year I focused on improving my teaching practices. I am now comfortable that I can teach in difficult circumstances.

In my second year, I sought to better understand the curriculum and create something to measure my growing understanding against. I now have an understanding of the 8-12 curriculum.

In my third year I attempted to analyse and manipulate the learning environment to promote achievement and success by my students. I now understand how students fit into student pathways and have some ideas on how to increase student efficiency through an active learning environment.

In my fourth year, my plan is to further develop my understanding of effective curriculum and teaching practices used to motivate low socio-economic students throughout secondary school. I've applied to start my masters with the aim to complete it part time over the next couple of years. It's a great excuse to research best practices.

I had originally planned this to be a consolidation year, learning the remainder of the year 12 curriculum (the pointy end) and guiding my students through to year 12 before starting further study. When the opportunity to pursue my masters arose, I had to consider that having my wife at home with Mackenzie would provide a level of support I wouldn't be able to get if she was working.

Yet, this is the biggest risk I have made thus far of overstretching myself again. I do have a tendency to delve actively into research and know that I can attempt to do too much. I need to be ever vigilant (may these not be famous last words!).

I'm excited.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Summer School 2010

Sometimes you stumble upon concepts and ideas in discussion with others. I ramble on but a grain of insight can sometime emerge.

Yesterday it was this statement that stuck - "You have to stay focussed on student outcomes if you are to maintain inspired".

Frustration can set in if you lack time, materials or ability to satisfy the needs of your students no matter your success in other areas.

It follows on from what I was saying about students the other day. Students only stay motivated if they experience competitive (real) success.

Similarly for teachers - if courses that we run do not amount to student success we too become demoralised. Big picture approaches are good where we know systemic/school success will come once a project is developed, but we still need the day to day success at a student level to maintain our enthusiasm, else we risk a jaded and compromised implementation as we focus on finishing the job at hand rather than seeking improvement as we develop an idea (and if you lose focus from the student you lose the opportunity for continual improvement).

When we finally reached the discussion on the summer school focus for this year it was eye opening the changes that we need to make from our successful course last year.

Focus 2010 Summer School
Algebra, Quadratics and linear equations
Bearings and Vectors
Trigonometric Identities and Exact values
Functions, continuity, domains and range
Moving Averages, Residuals and Seasonality

Hi ho, it's back to work I go!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

NAPLAN results released

Today the NAPLAN results were released for 2009.

They show the major reason students in low socio-economic regions do not do as well as in more affluent regions. As has been suggested on many occasions, it has little to do with teachers, but more to do with geographical location, tied to value parents put on education.

It is well known that more people with higher levels of education live in affluent areas. Now we can see the results of these accumulations of educated people.

Average Year 9 NAPLAN results nationally (examining parental education)
Mean Parental Education (band that the mean falls in)
631.2 Bachelor degree or above (band 7)
596.7 Advanced diploma / diploma (band 7)
577.6 Cert I to IV (band 7)
586.5 Year 12 or equivalent (band 6/7)
556.5 Year 11 or equivalent or below (band 6)
578.2 Not stated

(Band 5 is the minimum benchmark in year 9)

For example - students with parents that have bachelor degrees have a mean NAPLAN score of 631.2. Students with parents that dropped out of school in year 11 or below have a mean score of 556.5. This is an important (and obvious) finding as it can be used as a factor in putting forward students for advancement in early years (and draw attention to potentially underperforming students).

Students with strong parental support do better (on average a whole band higher). Parents that have the ability to provide educational support typically live in affluent areas. Which leads to the whole anti-NAPLAN arguement. Putting more money into low socio-economic schools will not even the spread of scores - nor will naming and shaming schools that cannot do it.

Sadly, the rich will get richer. Unfortunately, to compete in the global economy we need these people.

On another front, the difference in teaching standards between states do not provide anywhere near the parental influence difference and we acknowledge that teaching standards between states are a major factor in student performance. Yet we are pursuing a costly and ultimately ineffective national curriculum. We are trying to identify better teachers for low socio-economic schools (how insulting to the good ones already there!). We are trying to fix a problem but have identified the wrong cause!

We are a diverse country that has diverse issues, with large geographical issues - no quick fix political solution will ever exist.

If money is to be put anywhere to ameliorate the issue - it has to be into before/after school hours/holiday/year 13 programmes and the provision of similar support as provided by affluent parents from age 4 onwards. In many cases this is impractical, costly, wasteful, unwanted interference in the school/family/community relationship (and will likely degrade this relationship further in struggling families than it is now). It is not a quick fix - prone to constant criticism and not politically expedient.

In the metropolitan area, only generational change and gentrification of areas will allow families to raise themselves out of poverty. It takes effort, pride and time. This opportunity is a part of the Australian way and this is what needs protection and valuing.

This is the real role of schools. Pride in self and community in positive ways.

In Australia - unlike other countries, the poor get richer too! Fortunately for us, in comparison to the global economy, the majority of our poor are doing well.

Our government is doing well if our standard of living continues to improve - it is the only real measure of progress. This is where their focus needs to be, not on micro-management of education. Us going backwards does not raise the standard of living of poorer countries - it raises our ability to give assistance.

Do-gooders are not doing anyone any 'good' by supplying NAPLAN information. We need to wind back the release of specific NAPLAN results now, before more unseen damage is done.

Full results of NAPLAN summaries can be found here. Community results are due in May.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Outcomes Based Education devaluing progress

One key issue with OBE was the devaluation of progress in outcomes not being immediately assessed. Combine this with marking that isn't normalised and it can demoralise a student.

For instance, a student starts totally disengaged and gradually becomes more involved with the classroom. The outcome for lessons are not achieved. The child does not achieve NAPLAN results. The child again gets an E for the term despite making large amounts of progress socially.

The main feedback for the student is that effort has no reward and he again becomes disengaged. The feedback for the teacher is that putting effort into a student like this is not worthwhile, more tangible/measurable results can be found with students that are already on learning paths. It is not fair, equitable or motivating for either party.

It is this sort of logic that we as a profession are facing at the moment and this is something that we need to consider if we still want an inclusive education system. We are heading towards a system where students that do not fit into mainstream profiles are being farmed into alternate programmes as they fall farther and farther behind, with little incentive for schools to investigate issues and try to re-integrate students.

I'm sure that this is not the right thing to do.

Sometimes as teachers we need to look at the whole picture and realise that we are achieving great things even when the measured results do not show them (especially when standardised reports don't measure what we are teaching!) - the seeds we plant in students may not germinate for many years yet are still worthwhile - a message may take many iterations to become active, developmentally change often requires multiple iterations by multiple people to become successful.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ghetto subculture

The "ghetto" allowance as it is affectionately known is an amount of money given to teachers in hard to staff schools. It is compensation for the loss of skill, access to promotion and the general reduction in standards of acceptable behaviour by students.

Yet, we are not in a ghetto and it riles me to think that teachers think it acceptable to promote a ghetto subculture within the school. I really despise the ideals that this espouses.

For instance, a ghetto subculture accepts that subjugation of women as acceptable, violence is a solution, prostitution/pimping as admirable and a drug culture is a way out of the ghetto. Fame through dance and rap, quick money through theft, extortion and drugs become the only perceived way out of poverty. Authority is the enemy.

It's not true in the US and it's not true here.

We should be educating kids that these values are not only undesirable that they are also misleading. Women in Australia do not have to be property of men. All other solutions should be investigated before violence is pursued. Drugs are never, ever an option. Crime all too often leads to a life of recidivism and a loss of education limits future options. Hard work, respect for authority, conservative spending and generational change is more likely to lead families out of the poverty trap rather than quick fix ghetto solutions. A mob or gang mentality is one lead by ignorance rather than common sense.

Showing movies to kids (entertaining or not) that promote ghetto values on the days before school ends is a form of child abuse. Step Up 2 was the movie I sat through today and it was as predictable as the cover indicated. Our kids should not be drawing parallels between American ghetto kids of little future prospects and the Australian reality where mateship, individuality, working hard and a little opportunity allows anyone with a good attitude to be successful.

Let's be very clear, this movie had a student bashed and kicked by a gang of men with no consequence occurring because he wished to dance against them. The 'heroes' as a prank broke into another persons home, vandalised it and videoed it on the internet in order to gain 'respect'. The head of the dance studio was vilified for removing a disruptive element from the school. Students grouped together and hid the truth from authority rather than facing the issue when the studio was vandalised preventing resolution of criminal behaviour. The background of the movie was attendance at a secret venue and having dance offs (sound anything like the rave culture of our time - do we remember what else occurred at these 'dance' events???). The parent was portrayed negatively when showing restraint and positively when poor parenting allowed the student to attend the 'dance off''. The movie focused on a bunch of misfits that were encouraged to defy authority and seek fringe activities. And this is what we want our students to relate to???

To stop these movies being shown on final days requires all teachers to maintain their programmes to the wire, valuing each day of learning. NCOS has not helped matters, now making term 4 a hodge podge of early exams, TEE preparation and mixed 11/12 classes. It is a common time for long service leave and relief classes of busy work. Yet we should make an effort.

If we as teachers do not value every teaching day available - nor will our students.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Games Club at school

I've played many of my games at school with students and have been pleasantly surprised that they have been well looked after.

Last week I set up all the games and asked the principal to come see them in action. Since then a number of teachers have been coming to the room to see what all the fuss is about.

Our principal encouraged the creation of a games club next year and asked to put in a finance committee application.

Here are some of the games on my wishlist:

Gateway Games (used to develop rapport and get students thinking strategically):
Ticket to ride (2-5 players, $75): Easy to learn and currently played by kids unassisted
Citadels (2-9 players, $35): Easy to learn and currently played by kids unassisted
Apples to Apples ($55, 2-10 players): Easy to learn, fun to play and currently played by kids unassisted
Bohnanza ($27, 3-7 players): Just arrived. Highly regarded. Enjoyed by students although not played cutthroat.
Blue Moon ($35, 2 players): Just arrived. Quick to play. Quite fun!
Condotierre ($25, 2-6 players): Just arrived. Highly anticipated.
Portobello market ($70, 2-4 players): Mathy eurogame, some success with low literacy students
Colossal Arena ($30, 2-5 players): Just arrived. Quick to play. Betting and fantasy theme enjoyed by students
Formula D ($65, 2-10 players): On most wanted list. Highly regarded.
Zooloretto ($60, 2-5 players): Top of most wanted list. Highly regarded.
Carcassonne ($40, 2-5 players): Easy to learn, successful with low literacy students
Hive ($35, 2 players): Easy to learn, great for small competitions
Go ($39, 2 players): Easy to learn, impossible to master, great for small competitions
Pitch Car ($105, 2-8 players): Dexterity based game.

Total cost $696

Games to further develop interest in collaboration, cooperation and competition
Battlelore ($115, 2 players): Has a good hook to get students interest. Medium level of literacy required. Successful with capable mathematics students.
Battleline ($33, 2 players): On most wanted list. Highly regarded.
Cave Troll ($45, 2-4 players): Just arrived. Highly anticipated (meant to buy Bridge troll but it's turned out ok!).
Dominion ($60, 2-4 players): Limited success thus far, requires more work learning how to teach effectively. Medium level of literacy required.
Small World ($90, 2-5 players): Mixed success thus far, requires reasonable level of literacy and persistence not found in current students.
Race for the Galaxy ($55, 2 players): Success only with capable mathematics students.
Illuminati ($60, 2-6 players): Ultimate negative relationship game, requires some literacy skills.
Steam ($70, 2-6 players): Strategic progression of difficulty from Ticket to ride.

Total Cost: $528

Games requiring extended concentration (>2 hrs)
Die Macher ($70, 3-5 players)
Twilight Struggle ($60, 2 players)
Brittania($60, 2-4 players)
Runebound ($70, 1-6 players)

There are a number of good games missing from the list - Settlers of Catan, Tichu, Space Hulk, Chess, Uno, Connect Four, Draughts, Dork Tower, Warhammer (anything), Pandemic, Thurn and Taxis, Stronghold, Descent, Power Grid, Agricola, Puerto Rico, San Juan, Britannia, Dork Tower, Alhambra, Galaxy Truckers, Elfenland, Shadows over Camelot, Shogun, Risk, Scrabble, Bridge Troll, Sorry Sliders, Tumbling dice but the list could go on and on.

It would be up to the club itself to choose what games would be purchased (vetted by me) once the finance committee application is approved.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Do students need to enjoy school to do well?

This was the chicken and egg question of yesterday. Does a student need to enjoy school to do well?

My initial thought was no. I hated school but still did well.

... but then, I was hardly the average kid.

So I looked at the top ten kids in each year group and asked myself did they enjoy school. For the majority it was yes. Which doesn't really answer the question, as 'do they enjoy school because they are doing well?', or 'do they do well because they enjoy school?'

So I took the assumption that students enjoy school because they are doing well and sought to quantify it.

The next question was, "Does progress equate to doing well or does competitive achievement equate to doing well?" On face value progress probably isn't enough, as students in lower classes generally enjoy school less than in upper classes (or similarly in unstreamed groups, students at the bottom of a class are generally less likely to enjoy school if they aren't competitive with other students), yet in many cases students in lower classes are making faster progress. The exception is in VET courses where success is defined as either leaving school and entering the workforce or alternate education such as technical colleges.

Following this insight you could make the tentative conclusion that artificial success or enjoyable activities will not make a student enjoy school as only competitive success will give them satisfaction! Students need to do well to enjoy school.

This would explain why students seek social success or spectacular social failure (negative behaviours) as this is something they can be competitively successful at. It would also explain mastery based class success and why dumbed down classes tend to be happier (give a class a copying activity and watch them go!)

Find a longer bow than that! I dare you!


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Interesting facts about Perth Teachers

WACOT released the following figures about Perth teachers in their latest publication InClass, found here.

38,125 Registered Teachers
• 7,749 Provisionally Registered Teachers
• 363 Limited Authority to Teach
• 26 Associate Members

34,256 female teachers
12,007 male teachers.

The imbalance between female and male teachers is astonishing. Of the 46,263 teachers of varying registrations, only 26% are male. That's a real lack of male role models in our workforce. I wonder if it was the reverse (eg. more males than females) if we would be having a recruiting drive and financial incentives for females to enter the industry?

At our school, I would hazard that the male percentage is much higher than that. In low socio-economic schools, where single parent percentages are normally higher, I would also suggest that this is a good thing.

Another interesting statistic is that 17% of the workforce is in training/probation/being actively mentored (on provisional registration). Last year only 2.5% moved from provisional registration to full registration (another 2.5% re-registered as provisional registration not meeting the criteria for full registration).

Eight days to go!!!


Q: How does Good King Wencelas like his pizza?
A: Deep pan, crisp and even!

Here's more and more and more. All cringeworthy!

Don't forget to ask Santa to look after all those people who ended up on EIP or who were on fixed term contracts and are still looking for work.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Developing rapport with difficult students

Some students spend large amounts of time out of class. Some are ratbags that deliberately seek to be excluded, generally are of low IQ and are very difficult to help. Others purely lack social skills.

Each year the maths team adopts a few of these and attempts to help them through to graduation.

I find the students lacking social skills easier to help - sometimes a little intervention is enough to get them performing in a normal classroom. One student that fit this criteria just graduated (yay!), I lost contact with my candidates from last year (as I only taught the top year 11 classes this year). Sadly they have gone off the rails a little.

This year, my approach for the students is different. One student is being encouraged to seek approval and success from teachers in more than just my class, to learn how to tolerate negative behaviour of others and has improved out of sight from the truanting ways earlier in the year. Another, I've spent a lot of time playing games with and getting to sit still and paint miniatures for me. If I can teach how to behave in a group, be a little more patient and share an affable nature in a social way, we would of gone a long way to finding a way to integrate into society.

After all, these are the real success stories that kids remember well into later life.

Building group capabilities

Working in year 10, the opportunities for working in groups can be fairly limited - students rarely come ready for groups, so we need to train them how to work in them.

Step 1. Firmly establish the rules.
a) The teacher is the arbiter, no correspondence will be entered into.
b) Misbehaviour of one member of a team penalises all.
c) Performance of a group is measured by the whole group's performance
d) The teacher decides who is in the group - groups will change so get over it.

Step 2. Identify key tasks that need to be achieved. Explain what needs to be done clearly.

Step 3. Pounce on those deliberately stretching the rules, give warnings then penalise the group).

Step 4. Make achievement explicit (Eg. write down scores or give instant reward).

So... Here's what I did. There's a problem in the class with decimals and how operators fit within decimals. I garnered a mental maths book and put the students into teams of four.

In the first round students had to gain a group answer. The groups with the best students tended to do best, but I had made some effort to distribute these amongst the groups. They were given 5 minutes to find the answer to the questions written on the board. Answers were exchanged and marked by the students. The mean mark of all students was recorded.

In the second round students had to exchange desks and were not allowed to sit with students in their own group. A similar set of questions was given to the students to complete individually. They had thirty seconds to find a seat. Teams that did not find a seat quickly were docked a point. At the end of the round thirty seconds was given to give the answer sheets back to their designated marking group and get back into their own group tables.

By the third round students started to realise that they had to help each other to win. Although they were not allowed to use calculators, they could use any notes in their workbooks. Students started getting off task, so I started deducting points. Funnily enough these students were pounced on by their own team members.

It took 45 minutes to get through 4 rounds but the next time I anticipate it being a lot faster.

The next time we focused on a rules based setting. The idea was not only to win, but to do it within the rules set. In this instance we were doing "United We Solve" type activities (well worth getting for yrs 8-9) where each student gets a clue but cannot show it to anyone else - nor can the clue itself be written. If a team broke the rules, they were given 0 points, once the first team solved it, the other teams had two minutes to find the solution or gain no points.

The next time we focused on logic puzzles. I set a page of activities that were worth five points each but needed time to complete and set a puzzle every 5 minutes on the board worth one point. The students loved this and we really motored through a lot of puzzles. I loved asking the kids how they reached their answers.

Next class is the standard build the bridge to span two desks and withstand a 500g weight from the centre of the span (I usually do it with bamboo and skewers but this time I'll do it with straws and sticky tape and see how it goes).. I might also do the build a tower activity using the same resources.

Needless to say some extrinsic reward was necessary to get it started - but now I think they may just play for the fun of it.

Update 9/12: Had troubles today.. some of the students decided that they wanted to just sit and do nothing. So, we all did bookwork instead. Very sad students. We explored the fairness of failure to follow instructions and timewasting. Lesson learned I hope.

Update 13/12: After a few days, the 'cool' kids all of a sudden think that board games might be ok. Here's a link to local suppliers of board games not made by Parker bros.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Developing a school vs developing teachers

When I entered teaching, my aim was to make a lasting difference in whatever school I was in. This meant contributing to the school, not just my own personal knowledge and skills. To do this I was always on the lookout for ways to create things that could exist long after I had left. Being a bit of an idealist this is still my aim, but at this time of year you always feel a little jaded.

My first efforts at lasting difference were failures as I started out by looking for people with similar aims. Sadly I didn't find any and fried myself trying on my own.

Then I found a few people that were willing to try. .. and we started a few things. We were successful and used these things we created to better our teaching. Better recording and analysis of data, better learning environments, better access to past tests and assignments, better teaching resources, better systems, better programming. We shared ideas freely, had open door policies and observed each others classes, team taught in term 4 when load reduced, developed practicum teachers. Things that made a school a better place to learn and teach.

...but sadly, the education system does not value these ideas. Long term ideas that might take years to bear fruit are subsumed by the immediate need for NAPLAN success, staffing ratios, student graduation figures and the like (and when success comes, credit is claimed by those with no evidence of involvement whatsoever!).

Why is personal knowledge king and information sharing rare? Why is systemic improvement or ongoing curriculum improvement not a priority? Why is the absence of issues an indicator of good practice? How can curriculum be lead by those that do not teach, are out of learning area, have not taught or do not like to teach? How is being good at something a great reason for promotion into something you have no experience in, especially where experienced people do exist to fulfil the role? Why are good young staff undervalued and are being replaced by teachers less qualified and/or unable/unwilling to maintain full load due to EIP? Why does capacity building take a backseat to growing and protecting fiefdoms? Why is there a growing gap between middle school performance and upper school academic requirements? Why is communication so poor between teachers?

Why are the answers to these questions seen as too complex to attempt finding solutions?

This is wrong.

By focusing on building strong vibrant supported teams, we can create learning environments that do wonderful things for our kids. We can build schools that we are proud of, that kids are proud of, and that the community is proud of.

This is right.

It is that black and white.