Sunday, August 28, 2011

Afterschool classes

The Maths Dept runs four after school classes, two on Monday and two on Tuesday.  All classes are optional.  Students come that need help in particular topics, split by 9/10 and 11/12.  The senior school classes typically are seeking consolidation and the 9/10 class is typically those seeking extension.

Many afterschool classes are now becoming compulsory, especially at the end of the year.  I wish teachers wouldn't do this.  School is a complex organism and when you take freedom away, students are forced to make ill advised decisions.

This week I had to speak for students with excessive afterschool comittments, students that had options subjects in year 12 encroaching on class time (I doubt whether the student would appreciate my help either) and in study time.  I try and be supportive of options teachers and allow students to participate in extracurricular requirements but... stage 3 students in year 12 should be quarantined from them in the weeks leading to mock exams.   I'll be hard pressed to accept any argument that tries to say otherwise no matter how talented they are (or untalented in maths for that matter).

My thinking is this.   Students get into university based on an ATAR score or through portfolio entry.  Options subjects (at least at our school) are 2A or below in year 12.  Thus they are supporting cast when calculating an ATAR score.  3A scores are not, even low ones.  If we had stage 3 students in non MESS subjects that weren't scaled to useless, my position would be far different.

The argument that students will lose enthusiasm if not allowed to participate does not hold water either.  As a teaching body, it is our job to work with teachers to make sure these predictable situations do not occur.  It was a questionable teaching decision that put students there in the first place.

A student should participate because "they are helping market the school" is not acceptable either.  Year 12 mock exams are the culmination of 12 years study.  To jeopardise this by moving focus away from study lacks a little foresight and is not in the best interest of the student.

Don't think that I don't admire the option class teachers.  They are passionate about their subjects and passionate groups (even us maths dinos are passionate about our subject) will strive for what they think is right.  I'd rather have passionate groups striving for excellence than rampant apathy.   If people weren't discussing matters and pushing envelopes I'd be more concerned.  There are times where students can only continue in the academic subjects because they can vent using emotional and physical outlets.

MESS subjects do stupid things too.  We shouldn't be loading the end of the year with excessive assessment.  Identifying areas of weakness two weeks before exams is probably too late and of minimum benefit.  The words appropriate levels of study and revision need to be in the forefront of our teaching minds.  Student anxiety levels need to be kept at appropriate levels.

Coming back to the original point, this is why mathematics afterschool classes that I run are optional.  Students can choose whether they need the help or are in a position to enjoy extension.  They can prioritise their learning and optimise their potential.  Forcing a student to do something at this stage of the year is only creating a problem somewhere else.  Being able to make a decision is an important part of growing up, as is ensuring safeguards are in place when lack of maturity jeopardises their potential.

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