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!