Thursday, April 2, 2020

Adjusting to online delivery

Delivering online is an interesting beast.  For a short period most teachers can deliver content that students can do based on what they have taught thus far.  A logical extension from their existing teaching.

The first hurdle comes with a new topic.  Typically a student cannot learn independently, especially in the lower years.  Where a student is challenged by content, and is not fully engaged, presenting a student with a page of explanation is not going to work.  Couple that with a parent that has limited teaching knowledge and patience is a recipe for a poor learning experience.

Thinking back to my own experiences with online learning, presentation of materials and motivation are key components.

I have challenged my team to think beyond traditional lesson design.  Some have put a little joke in their lesson to keep students coming back. Others are preparing short videos to continue the connection they have with kids, others are looking at formative assessment to provide feedback.

Some of the ideas thus far that we could look at:

- Contact if the student has not logged in regularly to learning platforms
- Feedback on successful/not successful practices
- Use of different learning platforms (Connect, Mathspace, Mathsonline, oneNote, ActiveInspire, youTube, Khan Academy)
- Wider and tailored use of texts
- Video lessons (screen capture, face capture only and whiteboarding)
- Encouragement to use discussion forums to share ideas
- Motivational elements (how, why, hook, timing)
- Sharing resources between teachers
- Online Quizzes
- Booklets of work
- Direct and ongoing interactive parent contact
- How to present ideas in a consumable manner by families consistent with other learning areas
- Sustainability of practices
- Software/hardware required for delivery
- Copyright issues

This is only the beginning.  Ensuring that the correct tools are used for the right kids is the major challenge and engaging them with the new learning environment.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Teaching staff and the future

Today may be looked back as a turning point in education.  Is this the disruption in education that has been predicted for some time? Can we take the predictable and repeatable process of educating students and automate the repetitive parts without significantly reducing outcomes and with lower costs?  Can education be made more efficient that 1 teacher to 30 students with high capital outlays and investment in property?

Is this the day when the model for educating students changes?

If changes in the economy return us to a nuclear family structure with a maximum of one parent working with the other caring for children or unemployed could this lead to a change in the teaching model?

For instance, if a distance model becomes the norm for many students and parents take a significant role in education of children and teacher re-training occurs on a large scale, do we need schools open 5 days per week?

Imagine if things changed.  A 60,000 teacher strong workforce instantly becomes the strongest 2000  delivering online and the rest part time if at all.   Online everything becomes the norm.

This has never been able to be done as technology was not there..

It's an interesting thought.

Are teachers in a privileged position with salaries and doing a job that could be done by a relative few?  Is there a legitimate case for laying off teachers to preserve capital for the upcoming recession/depression? Some are seeing this period as an extended holiday or a "work" at home.  I'd suggest that everyone get into doing something productive such that we can say "I'm needed for my kids to make parents very happy that they have a great teacher" - otherwise these sorts of questions might be raised.  There will be discontent over the have's and have not's.


Yesterday I presented to staff and posed the questions -

What is online learning and what does it look like?
What is the difference between supplementing learning online and delivering teaching online?

For some, there was no difference, for others this caused a critical change in thinking.

The flipped classroom was the first point where teaching was effectively done and supported offline in schools and is closest to an offline delivery model that we have for parents.  Teachers "instruct" online, students complete work offline and self mark or submit work online, teachers are available to answer questions online as they occur.  The intervention done by teachers observing work being completed is not done easily or neatly and would be an area managed by parents.

Teachers might be able to identify things to look out for to parents to increase intervention. Would this be enough to change education from a 60000 strong workforce "rolls royce" solution to a 2000 "it'll do" model where very similar results are found after 12 years of schooling (do the possible efficiency gains possible offline for students of high ability offset the need for 12 years of schooling  and would it be less for those that would be diverted into other forms of education such as apprenticeships and the like).

To perform in society, do children need to attend in person school for 12 years?

Heresy.


Sunday, March 22, 2020

Closing Schools and the effect on Year 12 students.

According to the media it sounds like schools are closing next week.  The big question is what will happen to Year 12 students?  Creating a statistically sound ranking is going to prove problematic for TISC.  It's time to think about the what next..

External WACE exams and ATAR ranking are not about content, knowledge and skills but about identifying potential through evidence that can be used to identify students that will succeed in higher education.  It is far from perfect, but it is the fairest and most manageable idea devised thus far.  The evidence for this is simple - pre-requisites in university courses are rare, they accept students on ATAR scores.  I understand the logic that students will have to do bridging courses once there - but the counter argument is that once there they will be able to do the work based on their ATAR score.

I imagine SCSA could do a few things depending on whether schools are out for 4 weeks, a term, two terms or the rest of the year.

1. Create an exam based on Year 11 course content and run it as the external exam.  A little time at the end of the year to revise content and advise kids early enough and this would work.

2. Create an external exam based on Unit 1 and examine that only relying on the end of the year to finish Unit 1.

3. Expect kids continue their work in isolation through distance education and run examinations of Unit 1 and 2 as per any other year.

4. Reboot 2020 as 2021 and create a mandatory year 13 for all years currently in school(increasing staffing for kindy/pre-primary and rooming as that year group passed through school years) requiring an extra year of workforce for the next 12 years in schooling (dealing with more 18-19 year olds in high school) and a dead year passing through TAFE/universities for the next four/five years.

Kids in my class are becoming able to use a flipped classroom effectively (where instruction is given through Connect), but it does not work for all students and some require face-to-face intervention to be successful and motivated.

I do hope we are sensible about this.   To use 3. (the most likely outcome even if schools are closed for an extended period) has vast inequity particularly for low SES students that are not disciplined, do not have the resources available or are not supported enough for distance education. We should not underestimate the value of peer based instruction within ATAR classes / the power of students at a similar level working together to solve a problem (rather than passive instruction only).

For Certificate students, I am not sure how they will complete any onsite parts of their Certificates -   Childcare, Building and Construction, Sport and Rec when industry are shut down as all are courses with significant practical requirements.

For General courses with practical components, particularly those with significant infrastructure requirements (D&T, Home Ec, Engineering etc), will have an impact on students WACE, students through no fault of their own may be unable to complete courses.

For ATAR, General and Certificate courses, SCSA may need to consider reducing WACE requirements for 2020 (fewer units required) and award units based on partial or projected completion of Unit 1.

Friday, March 20, 2020

The perils of streaming

I managed the streams at my previous school for a number of years and significantly reduced the amount of issues raised by teachers.  It was a difficult process to manage as the stream was one size fits all - move in maths, you move in all the MESH subjects.  To get around this required three of the four to suggest a stream or one humanities/english, one math/science to be moved.  At it's best, students worked with teachers over at least a term to get promotion.  By the end the move was valued and deserved.  Streaming was done twice a year for all students and reviewed each term for students that had entered the school during the last semester.

The problem with streaming is that it lacks a research basis for putting it in place in an average school.  In a school where the level of teaching required is 4+ years within the same room, there is a basis for it as it is difficult to teach students that far apart.  In my new school, after removing a small number that require IEPs, it appears that the remaining students fall within a 2-3 year syllabus bracket in each class.

I am struggling with the existing streaming model I am faced with as I come to grips with the benefits and deficits of it.  Three streams have been devised with top, middle, bottom courses.  Top, middle, bottom have two classes in each, also streamed (creating six fully streamed classes) - the best students in each stream in one class and the remainder in another.  The streams appear to align with NAPLAN (with some obvious exceptions being rectified) indicating that for the most part they have been ranked correctly. One teacher in each stream sets all assessments.  All assessments are written from scratch in each stream.

Issues appear when the performance of the streams are analysed.  Out of the 60 students in the top stream, a significant proportion of the second class are achieving less than 50%.  The gap between the mean score in the top class and the second class in each stream increases significantly as students progress through school. My top class outperformed the second top class and were highly motivated and enthused, but students in the second class universally wanted to be in my class (not theirs) but were unlikely to be promoted as they significantly performed lower and demonstrated lower levels of motivation.

Having a highly motivated class may be seen as positive in isolation, but having half the students undermotivated in the top course made me question current practices.  In each stream, one teacher sets the assessment with little communication with the other teacher.  This leads to the second class being given an assessment that is pitched at the wrong level for the second class resulting in lower levels of engagement.  Thus high performing (top pathway but in the second class) students are left believing that they are not solid high performing mathematics students.  It also has the potential for friction between the two teachers (at the level of the assessment set and/or the students of the underperforming second class (blaming the teacher for the underperformance).

As a trial I rebalanced the year 8 top stream to have two classes of equal ability and challenged each class to raise their performance.  To date I have seen little difference in student performance in my rebalanced (lower ability than before the rebalancing) class and hope to see the other class rise to the challenge. We now have two classes of equal ability, we should achieve median test scores approximately the same. With both classes being exposed to high performing students they should have an increased potential for success.

The second issue that I see is that streaming in Year 7 occurs too early.  This separates kids into haves and have nots very early in their high school career, prior to them engaging with specialist mathematics teachers and gaining a love of mathematics.  The issues with this is seen with undermotivated middle tier classes in later years and students that struggle to fully engage with Mathematics as they lack proper role models, particularly boys who generally develop later than girls.

A quick analysis today indicated that there is a clear difference in teaching with respect to results in Year 7, as four classes with similar composition (same NAPLAN mean) with the most at risk removed into a remediation class, performed significantly differently on the same assessment, with one class clearly outperforming the others.  There are some factors that can be attributed to class differences (the spread of ability was different in two of the classes), but if the differences in programme and pedagogy can be identified then improvement can be made in subsequent delivery across all classes.  This was also after one assessment, this may be a strength of one teacher in one topic and may vary in future topics or in students adjusting to a different style of teaching.

The third issue identified is with the performance of upper school classes - there is always room for improvement.  Although small Methods (10-15 students) and Specialist (5-7 students) classes consistently produce 55+ course scores, it is not as consistent in Applications courses (30-40 students) with between one third and one half of students achieving a 55+ course score. In a school of so many students in Band 9 and 10 students in NAPLAN9,  there appears potential for higher numbers of Methods students out of the 60 students typically in the top stream.  To produce a higher number of Methods students requires aligning the Year 10 course with Methods rather than the current programme of 10/10A aligned to the Specialist course and only producing 6-7 Specialist students.  We need to make Mathematics a subject of choice for students at the school and fall in their top two subjects ranked by ATAR course score.  This means the Year 10 teacher would need to extend potential Specialist students through differentiation in class (rather than through the general programme) and assess predominantly on the year 10 (not 10A) curriculum.  If the current course (with a 10A focus) produced more students in Methods with the current programme, it could be seen as workable, but they are not choosing methods, underperforming in it with many withdrawing from the course in Semester 1, Year 11 (thanks SCSA for an overloaded Semester 1 course) - typically seeing the Applications course as an easier path through Mathematics; resulting in few students using Mathematics as their first or second score in Year 12.

The fourth issue comes with creating unteachable classes.  If students that are disengaged are lumped into a class together, there is the risk of creating a difficult class to engage. Rather than working with difficult students, the first option appears to be to use the streaming process to remove them to another class - reasoning that needs to be constantly challenged.  My prediction when setting up streams at my prior school was that middle classes would prove the most difficult to teach never eventuated there, but I can see it at the new school.  The middle classes appear to lack a clear pathway to keep them motivated, lack positive role models and this may be a good area to explore for further improvement.

Food for thought going forward.  Now to get teachers to see the streams holistically and derive positive changes that can be measured for the benefit of students.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Week 7: Covid19 and teaching.

A lot has been spoken about the effects of Covid19 and students, but there is another possible impact.  The ageing workforce in teaching has led to many teachers working into their 60-70s and now risk exposure to Covid19, more so than in other industries that have gone into lockdown.  For some this is life threatening.  The question that can't be answered is for whom it is life threatening and who will be ok.

As with health professionals, teachers have been asked to go beyond social distancing (as this is not possible in a larger school or even in a classroom).  The main difference to health professionals is that teachers do not have protective equipment or basic expectations of hygiene that can be expected in a hospital environment.  At present we are not exposed to sick children, but it appears we will be soon, we are not doctors and will not easily be able to identify children that are sick in their early stages, placing each teacher at risk (more so than the kids as we will be more susceptible to the virus than they are).  It is not properly known at this stage if children are propagators of the disease and teachers are being asked to care for them on mass despite this not being well understood.

Students are worried about Covid19.  Each day a new scenario is considered.  A child misses school due to their parent returning from overseas and being in quarantine.  A party where a person attended  that was breaching mandatory isolation.  A staff member has the sniffles and a sore throat but no fever.  Should we seperate desks or try and keep things business as usual?  An EALD overseas student returns from home after seeing their parents.  Kids concerned about parents out of work for an extended period. Kids not going to school for fear of Covid19.  Students pretending they have Covid19 to get out of school.  Parents keeping students at home asking for work.  Drug(Ventolin), basic needs and food shortages. If teachers get sick how does that potentially impact our families (even if teachers themselves have low mortality rates)?  How do we keep learning progressing if kids are kept home for an extended period?  How do we complete required assessment for 11/12 students? We have dealt with similar issues before with TB outbreaks or contagion for suicidal ideation, but Covid19 is another level of concern.

Yes, I understand that by keeping kids in schools we may be saving lives in the wider community.  What appears to be lacking is that teachers have been expected to take a frontline role, without being asked or given an option as with the rest of the population - there is not enough information available to know that we are safe.  To some degree it feels like teachers are being set up as the sacrificial lamb (or a lower risk option) to protect the economy, keep parents working, assist health care professionals stay in hospitals and grandparents to not have to care for kids.  Needless to say, teachers didn't sign up for getting sick, purely to ensure someone else doesn't.  When a virus is life threatening, a degree of self preservation kicks in.

The union has been silent on this issue.

I am not criticising the department - they have been open, communicative and have a government line to follow.

Currently teachers are being asked how they would deliver content if students were sent home.  The answer in many cases is that we don't know, we're busy trying to deliver content to kids that are in school as per any normal school year.  For 11/12 students, delivery through technology such as Connect is possible, but assessment remains an issue.  For a short period of time, online tutoring is possible, but instructional time is best face-to-face to ensure just in time intervention for students.

Needless to say, the fear of Covid19 is within our staffrooms and it is a current topic of conversation.  Although it is business as usual, the underlying fear of sickness has an effect on each member of staff which will manifest in a range of ways.  Although general morale is currently good and staff are soldiering on, if teachers start getting sick, it is hoped that schools do close and other measures to protect the wider community will be considered.

I certainly didn't think this would be the big issue in a new role!

Saturday, March 7, 2020

2020 Mid first term.

Being a HOLA can be challenging.  You teach, lead staff, manage student behaviour, guide curriculum, manage a budget and participate in middle management.  With 2/3 of your time teaching, sometimes you can feel a little thin.

This year, coming in cold to a new school, has been a challenge - especially ensuring the three classes I teach are challenged and comfortable without the usual background of work that gets done prior to the start of term.  It has been an interesting exercise seeing the difference in focus of a low SES school compared to a higher SES school.  I spent last week looking at metrics and there are so many focus areas that could be examined - the mind boggles at what can be done with these kids.

I did an interesting analysis of students that achieved 55+ in ATAR compared to cohort strength in NAPLAN9 and another of 55+ achievement in ATAR compared to students that finished the course.  Then used these statistics to predict year 10 class sizes by current counselling processes and those predicted to achieve 55+ ATAR scores.  What was interesting was the number of band 8/9/10 students that are not succeeding in upper school Mathematics courses or that are doing Applications and getting sub 55 course scores.

A straw poll in the top 8 maths class indicated that their favourite subject was Science.  Seriously something that needs fixing and checking why students are not inspired by mathematics education practices.  My hunch is an over dependence on Mathspace, nightly practice based homework, difficult investigations and a very focused and disciplined mathematics course is not providing as stimulating environment as is being done with the Science curriculum.

Working to my strengths is working directly with the kids.  Starting just-in-time intervention, acknowledging that motivation is a key component in performance and maximising learning whilst students are in the classroom.

For my 8's extension class, it's about ensuring that every class students have an aha moment - we work together to identify weaknesses, plug them one at a time and develop strengths.  For my Year 9 development class, it's about getting them to understand that they can do maths (and preparing them for the try a trade we've organised for the end of the year), for my Methods 12's it's establishing a strong work ethic, good work practices and balancing the risk/reward - their time doing Methods work is time well spent that will reap a reward at the end of the year.  We've struggled with the OT Lee text but seem to be on top of it now.

I've enjoyed developing investigations for year 8s, IEPs for year 9's and developing a predominantly flipped classroom for my 12s.  The videos (private playlist here - not public distribution quality, just for my students predominantly presenting OT Lee/Saddler examples) for the 12's. They take a couple of hours each Saturday to develop and upload, but it has been key to allaying the fears of the 12s having a new face to teach them.

I really miss my interactive whiteboard and having a younger team looking to me for guidance.

I'm tiring and losing weight, my car died, my foot is playing up and I'm not exercising as much as I would like.  It's week 5.  I know I have to slow down a little as the pace I've set is not sustainable.  It's fun though, it's not the weary slog of last year, it's a new challenge I should have taken on but was worried about leaving Girrawheen on good terms, with a good staff to fill the gap I would leave without significant disruption.  As far as I know they are doing well and so am I (I haven't had feedback otherwise yet).  Bring on the rest of the year!

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Day 5: First day with the kids

Sat down today and did the exercises for tomorrow, wrote names in my teachers journal and looked at student results for last year.  It's all a bit cathartic and readying me for working with kids.  There's always that nervousness that the kids won't respond the same way in a new context.

I'm missing my car, each day I've popped down to the repair place to pick it up but it hasn't quite been ready.  It's amazing how awkward it is not to have something that you rely on - can't stay late at work,  can't get the bike to do regular rides, can't pop to the shop to get resources.

My own kids are starting year 2 and year 6.  They're excited which is great as all years have not been this way.

Managed to get access to school data, logins, timetables on Friday afternoon.  Starting to wade through the information and see what is happening.  Some Exam results are concerning some  NAPLAN results are very encouraging.  Horses for courses. Yay!


Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Day 2: Learning to keep quiet and watch and learn

Ok, seemed to navigate day 1 without creating a reef of grief.  Fell asleep during the yoga exercise, hopefully didn't snore too loudly.  Looked at last year's results. Looks good so far.  Keep quiet you idiot until you know what you are talking about.  Vocalise here where nobody reads it and it can cause no concerns.  Talk bout the kids and the holidays, keep it light.

There are many things that I wish I was good at.  I've watched people walk the room and talk to everyone in sight, with a smile and some smalltalk.  I gave it a red hot go and hope that people see me as a fairly affable soul looking keen to get started in a new role (and not the annoying new person that knows everything).  Work the absent minded professor role and see what happens.

I can't tell where the undercurrent is coming from, but it appears to be there - a group of people outwardly working together but a very strange vibe at the moment.  It could just be new people working together and not quite gelling yet, I really hope so.  It appears that there has been significant turnover, which has created administrative load.

Timetables today.  Hopefully IT issues sorted out.  It would be nice to get some time to walk the school and learn the lay of the land.  Need a spec teacher stat! Get a few boxes of stuff out of my garage and onto my shelves.  It's all a very odd feeling.  Start operational plans and budgets.

Back to waking at 5am.  This is good as I've been sleeping in too long and was wondering if it was an age thing.  Hives on my left wrist telling me to calm down.  I'm so excited though!! Enthusiasm is a good thing!

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

New day, new job, first day jitters

For the first time in many years I start in a new job, with new people and a new context to apply my skills.  It's a bullet I should have bitten a fair time ago and so far I'm glad I did it.  For the first time in my career I walk away from an environment without leaving a big hole that is difficult to fill and hopefully on good terms.  Last year wasn't a bad year. I've been a Deputy for an extended period, I've come out relatively unscathed and I've won a great position in a new school.

As you get more senior in an environment, it's fairly normal to see divergence in what you think should be done and what the general consensus is.  If you tend to be less risk averse than the incumbent team, then the gap is likely to increase with time.  There are a number of main ways to deal with it.  You can roll with it, you can try to influence the decision makers or you can leave and find a new environment and bring your hard won skills with you.  The alternative is to stay, get stale and discontent.

I've tried the roll with it routine, it's not me and I get frustrated over time.  It's more my style to run a team, to understand the goals of the decision makers, influence the team to align with those goals and influence decision makers to align with what the team wants to achieve and measure the results.  My last role sat between the decision makers and staff and I spent a lot of time explaining and supporting decisions that I didn't always agree with and had no team to work with.  It's exciting to be back with a team and be able to do great things again.

With performance management, I work with staff to ensure that they don't feel stale.  What is the path to their ATAR class, do they want leadership opportunities, do they need support whilst their children are growing up, how are they travelling physically and mentally, do they need pedagogical, assessment or behavioural support, do they need support understanding the evidence base of their classes, are they looking for promotion, do their requirements align with the needs of our students and the school?  These are critical questions to ensuring that staff are engaged and have a clear career pathway to staying relevant in the system.

This time, I don't know if I have an enthusiastic team wanting me to succeed, but I'm guessing so as nearly all teaching staff are good people.  I will miss those that carried me through difficult times and believed that I could do it, even when I looked at a problem and thought how can I do all that!  Doing the impossible has been in my job description a few times in my career, looking at the stats of my new school, for a change, this does not appear the case.  I'll know more when I have more information at hand today.

I'm looking forward to doing the basics well.  Operational Plan, Performance Management, Compliance documents, Faculty Budget, Evidence base, Teaching and Learning.

I've prepped what I can, I've had a good break, everything seems to be aligning nicely.  Bring on that first day!

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Should I send my children to a state high school?

Short answer.  In nearly every case. Yes.  If you live in the Western Suburbs and their peers are going to an Independent Public school, if your child is top 5% academically or has an disability, you have personal history at that school, if your local public school is going through a difficult transition or if you are looking for religious education as part of the curriculum then maybe not.

Long Answer. As a teacher supportive of public education this was a very difficult decision and long drawn out process for my own children.  For a short period I was teaching in a public school, was an advocate for private education and was sending my children to a private school.  It made it very difficult to recommend a state school to parents and raised the question of "if I believed in the private system why wasn't I teaching in the private system too?",  "Was I not good enough to even teach in a higher SE school and why wasn't a public school good enough for my own children?"

I wanted the best for my kids as do all parents, the independent private schools had superior resourcing and better results.  Surely it was a no brainer to pay the money and get a better education.

With the benefit of hindsight I can say that I was very, very wrong for my family.  There are clear reasons why private schools outperform public schools and though it has a little to do with teaching quality as they have more control over staffing processes, it is not the only factor.  Despite odd employment practices in the public system, there are very fine, vocational teachers working in public schools working under demanding conditions.

The basic reason private schools outperform public schools in low SE schools is that cost of living clumps struggling families together.  Many families in low SE areas lack the education to support their children, in many cases had poor experiences within the education system and subsequently lack support for the education system itself.  The proportion of drug use, poor parental skills, unemployment, cultural issues, mental health issues, lack of tertiary study and lack of contact with their own children due to work commitments is much higher.  The entry levels of students at low SE schools are much lower requiring more creative work by teachers in secondary school to access the curriculum.  The skills of teachers in low SE schools is not just about curriculum, it's dealing with all the other issues too, whilst teaching children.

For most people, in higher SE areas there are few reasons not to use higher SE state schools, your decision should be based on local performance and perception.  Investigate local issues with local parents to see what is really going on.  Public documents will not reveal much.  If parents talk about bullying and uncontrolled classes think about the local fee paying privates - but make sure it's not happening there too.  Find out about the tenure of the Principal and their focus. Shifting students from public to private between primary and secondary is tempting but brings a considerable level of disruption to their learning whilst they adjust.  There is risk in transition socially, emotionally and academically at a time of significant developmental change.

My own experience putting my first child in a high ranking independent private school from Kindergarten was not good.  I was promised a thriving young girl and was delivered an unhappy child in a highly competitive environment, with little curriculum differentiation for a quirky student (as opposed to children at either end of the educational spectrum), poor pastoral care and a group of upwardly mobile people that we could not relate to.  As the naive parent that initially proposed sending my child there, it is a decision I have forever regretted.

It's not that the school did not deliver for those parents that pressed their kids, wanted homework, were in the top 5% or had an ID, students that benefitted from strict curriculum delivery and desired upward mobility or were already wealthy and knew it.  It just wasn't what we wanted for our kids.  After four years of an unhappy child, we moved her to the local public school.  It has taken two years for her to be a happy kid again and having normal developmental issues rather than social and curriculum ones.  What I discovered was the difference of her being embedded with families of similar values outweighs perceived academic benefits.  She could be a kid again and develop at her own pace together with our expectation that she would always give her best effort - not be coached beyond it through constant parental tutoring - the expectation at the private independent school to compete.  If you are in a situation like us, I'd suggest rip off the band-aid and get them out, don't hesitate and don't struggle with the decision.  It is the kindest thing to do for your child.

We all want the best for our kids.  Mine can cope in an environment where they are instructed what to do and are happy to do it.  At their new school there is little bullying and enough pastoral care available to deal with little issues.  Teaching is a bit hit and miss as the environment is not particularly challenging and because there is no mechanism to weed teachers out if the teacher can't deliver.

We have three low fee private schools nearby and still have her enrolled at one in case of another parental catastrophic failure but I don't expect to use it.  I know low fee paying private schools do pastoral care well and are less likely to do the "weed" out of students that do not fit purely the academic mould than the high performing Independent private schools.  I have looked into the public feeder high school and am very happy with what I hear from parents at the primary school with older siblings, we should now be ok.

The low SES school that I taught at for so long has better teachers with a more diverse skill set.    Students quickly identify the weak links in teaching staff and move them on.  Kids that can't cope with the difficult environment move on to low fee private schools or higher SE public schools.  Training of teachers is relentless to ensure best practices are maintained to prevent an unproductive environment.  For kids struggling behaviourally it is a much better environment than a private school where they would be asked to leave and have their basic security challenged whilst they matured.  For them the low SE public school is great as the school wants them and wants to help them mature.

For kids that grow up in the area, can survive the environment, are smart and get access to ATAR programs they wouldn't otherwise, they benefit from intense assistance (without these students the school would lack aspiration and growth).  These kids are the pride of their schools, kids that do succeed, despite all the noise that interrupts their learning.

Given my obvious appreciation of low SE teachers, why did I not send my children there?  My kids  lack the social experiences to deal with the environment, I'll support them to university or whatever they choose, they do not need the extra support to cater to local requirements and don't have the skills to cope with the difficult students.  Their home environment is not what I grew up in and they'll do better in a higher SES school.

I was a strong believer in the values education provided by a low fee private school, particularly the service beyond self ethos.  I acknowledge when done well it is brilliant.  I'm not so sure anymore that it is the norm though (after teaching briefly in one at the start of my career - it was superficial at best), but am open to considering it again - it's just that I've seen the service beyond self ethos in public schools provided by teachers in an authentic way, not forced by curriculum and wonder if this form to kids is more effective.  Rotary Interact clubs are a great substitute for this with a win-win for the community and students, where students decide what they want to benefit and it's not a form of community service enforced slavery, tainting their perception of public service.

So, for me choosing a school, ultimately now is not about league tables - it's about cultural fit.  Choose where your child will thrive and forget the rest - it will follow regardless.  There will be exceptions, but the general rule is this - if it feels wrong it probably is.  Ask some questions, make some changes and if it doesn't improve, if the child is not happy, move them.  You are doing the right thing.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Saddler Methods text and general ideas for improving ATAR results

I've been a proponent of Sadler texts in low SES schools as they are relatively cheap, ramp slowly, have reasonable worked examples and I really like the built in study through the Miscellaneous exercises.  Some teachers really dislike them and prefer the Nelson texts instead and for some students the Nelson text is better.  By doing the Sadler Unit 3 Methods text again to reacquaint myself with the course, it has reminded me of a few pitfalls I have encountered along the way.

There are some tricks to using the Saddler text.

1. Go through each worked example with students identifying explicitly what Saddler wanted students to recognise in each topic.
2. Understand that Saddler does not cover every dot point in the syllabus.  You do need to check what is missing and include it in your programme.
3. Check that students are doing the Miscellaneous questions, otherwise they will miss one of the greatest benefits of the Sadler text.
4. There are few exam level questions in the text.  Ensure students use their revision guide in conjunction with the text.
5. Provide revision papers, prior to tests and exams, to get students to assessment level.  The text does not do this at all.
6. Make connections to the glossary and formula sheet whilst students are learning.
7.  Use a journal to identify key points (eg. get students to put their notes in a seperate book from their exercises) and then generate their page of notes from the journal.
8. Get students to highlight question numbers that are tricky or test corners of the syllabus that may turn up in assessment.
9. Identify which questions may appear in calculator sections and which questions appear in non-calculator sections.
10. Explicitly teach and enforce calculator usage until competency.
11. Make sure students are reaching questions at the end of chapters and not just doing 15 easy questions in class.
12. Do corrections (and go through the assessment) after each assessment.
13. Ensure that students check answers after every exercise (at a minimum) and redo questions that are incorrect.  Preferably in red pen, so that you can see from a distance without interrupting them.
14. Be mindful that some exercises take longer than others when setting homework.  As a safety net, I tell students to stop after 1hr 15 mins and assume that they will do a minimum of 45 mins every night.  If it is the whole class, we continue the exercise the next day.  If just a few students we identify together why they are taking too long and try to remedy it.
15. Extend students with the Nelson text if they are finishing earlier than the rest of the class.  In some cases, get them to use this text instead.

I tell students the following:
a) Do only the first ten questions in each exercise and expect to fail.
b) Do the main exercises only and you may reach 50% on assessments and expect to fail the exam.
c) Do the main exercises and miscellaneous exercises, you may reach 50% on assessments and it's possible to pass the exam.
d) Do the main exercises and miscellaneous exercises, make good notes, understand the syllabus dot points/glossary, you should reach 50% on assessments and could pass the exam.
e) Do the main exercises and miscellaneous exercises, make good notes, understand the syllabus dot points/glossary and use the revision guide, you should do well (60%) on assessments and may pass exams.
f) Do the main exercises and miscellaneous exercises, make good notes, understand the syllabus dot points/glossary, use the revision guide and do your corrections thoroughly, you should do well (60%+) on assessments and about the same in the exam.
g) Make a study group prior to exams and allocate content research for revision to each member prior to study meetings to further improve exam results.  Drop members that are not actively contributing.
h) Do as many past papers as you can lay your hands on and have time to complete. Identify any patterns in papers.
i) Do all the past ATAR papers prior to Mock/ATAR exams.

Given the median in exams is over 70%, points g-i are imperative for low SES students to reaching the state mean (not only using Methods as part of your ATAR score).  We would complement above with after school classes, UWA Fairway, ECU Studiosity and summer schools to help students rectify the 2 year gap that they entered high school with.

Natural ability will take some students so far and buck the trend, but usually it catches up with them.  The formula above has worked well with getting average students through the course and though "obvious" took a fair few years to nut out what worked and what was ineffective for larger groups of students (other than just the top four students or students falling behind getting intensive tutoring).