Sunday, February 14, 2010

The need to stop and rethink

Sometimes after assessment you need time to stop and rethink. When a course of work has succeeded for a number of years and fails spectacularly with a particular group, it's a good thing to reflect on what has happened.

If a group of students can't follow instructions to complete a task the underlying issues should be examined.
a) Has your teaching changed(content/pedagogy)?
b) Are the students somewhat different to other groups and how(ESL/refugee/migrant visa/disaffected/gender specific/generational change/indigenous)?
c) Has the environment changed (bullying/timetable/family/schooling structure)?

This happened to me recently and I learned a lot from it. My final conclusion in this case was that the kids had changed - I had a weak group, caused by frequent absenteeism over many years and a raft of 'community' issues. These were kids lost in the system. I became a better teacher as I had to think of new ways to teach content that I had taught successfully a number of times before. In a heterogeneous class, I never would have had the time to backtrack, but in a streamed class destined for 1B in year 11, just this once I had the time these kids needed.

I had to diagnose the core issues, backtrack and reteach basics that are normally assumed to be in place since primary school. This in itself was a new experience as teaching solely upper school classes removes you from some of the resources and skills necessary for primary content.

I had to face issues similar to I imagine that of low literacy English classes, where finding age appropriate basic reading materials for adolescents can be difficult.

After they had learned the basic materials, I had to consider topic fatigue and put the desired year 10 learning aside for a time, giving them a break whilst they digested the new material. This gave me time to retest for retention, to make sure this time the learning 'stuck'. I had to be careful that the prerequisite material had actually been learned where previous teachers had been unsuccessful. For some, the motivation to retry a topic failed (where they had multiple failed attempts over multiple years). It was a lot to bear, difficult for them to face and hard to kick start. Kids are proud and rarely want to accept that they can't do something their peers can do readily. In a large class, it's easier to give up and hide in the sea of faces.

The turning point was when we finally revisited the topic and we looked back and could say, 'that was pretty easy now I know how'. Like with most things, unless the end point is well defined (the goal) it's impossible to see when something is achieved.

It's a real reason why wafty curriculum fails inexperienced teachers.

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