Friday, April 15, 2011

Hello out there!

Last month we hit 1000 visitors in a month for the first time (1111 in fact).. which is a fair bit for my little blog.. hello to everyone out there.. I hope there's a snippet you can take something from.

I'm sure that there's a few teachers looking forward to the holidays and wondering how we can finish off the mini term and get into exams before starting semester 2.  Gathering up the last of my tests for the term has left a load of marking that needs to be completed next week.

It's usually about this time that I reflect on the term and try and figure out how I could do it better next time.    I'm very cynical about NAPLAN and can see on a daily basis the negative side of it.  There is pressure being put on administration to make difficult cohort's perform.  There is pressure on teachers to put curriculum aside to teach topics out of sequence to "optimise" student NAPLAN results.  There is pressure on students to learn techniques to optimise their performance as it is a significant factor during their subject selections in year 10.

I tried to analyse NAPLAN pre-tests this year to get an indication of expected NAPLAN results.  Having done the analysis myself, I have confidence in my analysis but comparing results to past years makes me question the validity of the data or the value in repeating the exercise next year.  After looking at individual student performances in year 12 and their NAPLAN results, I see little correlation between the two - in fact in many cases the results are contrary.  Comparing year 7 results with year 9 would indicate that many students are in fact going backwards during their transition to high school.  Performances in individual outcomes is disturbing, with some areas of the syllabus lacking depth to any level.  Some individual student results were bizarre to say the least, with some very high results in some classes from some students that had no opportunity or ability to learn the work that they managed to get correct.

Given the change in syllabus, this year I had the opportunity to align year 10 and year 9 coursework for a short period.  I noticed not only a maturity factor affecting performance, a cohort ability factor but also a significant NAPLAN factor.  Whereas the yr 10's were given a structured sequence of algebra lessons, the yr 9's were given a fractured course, interspersed with NAPLAN revision.  My feeling is that the 10's understanding is far greater and more likely to be retained than the 9's (both having similar backgrounds in the material presented) after completion of the course of work.  Given this I can only conclude that NAPLAN is disrupting learning in year 9 - potentially for a term and a half (which in any case has always been typically a slow group to settle) preventing them starting serious learning.

I'm sure we are not the only ones spending inordinate amounts of time on NAPLAN especially as the measure of a school's performance rides on the public perception via  It seems a little unfair that the reputation of a high school rides on what can be done in 4 terms during year 8 and one term in year 9.  Sadly all the good in making students work ready, TAFE ready and University ready up to year 12 is disregarded and stupid charts in a stupid website designed by stupid people is used to measure a school instead.  More important is how many indigenous students are present, how much money the school is given for each student and whether the school compares with a dubious set of like schools.

I can say two things with certainty this term.  Firstly, teaching middle school is significantly easier than senior school.  I look forward to attacking it with gusto without the overhead of NAPLAN nonsense.

Secondly, middle schooling has lost its way and needs to refocus around curriculum rather than pastoral care.  The lack of programming and consideration of actual learning (especially in the mid to top students) is frightening.  I don't claim to be a genius at planning but I can show at all times what the intent is of my teaching, have it vetted by a teacher in charge and supported by text and resources.  I can't and don't condone the time wasting that is done with rewards programmes, homogeneous programmes in heterogeneous classrooms, mental mathematics and the general avoidance of teaching, assessment and grading standards.  With the loss of staff that can measure the effectiveness of learning programmes and the movement of responsibility for curriculum to administration incapable of monitoring progress, middle schools are languishing in apathy and poor performance.

I don't think I am alone in this thought.  I love the idea of middle schooling but am yet to see it work in any but very affluent schools.  Maybe, as I was informed early in the year - as a "classically" trained teacher I lack some flexibility in this regard.

I'll try and keep a more open mind.

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