Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The meaning of full participation

Full participation is the emerging buzzword in education.  What is it and why do we need it?

79.1% of students were engaged in full time education as at the 2016 Census.  That means 20.9% had dropped out of full time education.  One would expect that full participation would mean 100% but every teacher knows that the percentage is lower than this.

In every school, there are a number of students either passively not participating in classes or actively seeking to disrupt classes.  Different sectors are able to deal with these students in different ways.  One of the clear inequities of the public/private is the ability of private schools to encourage students to leave (either through the cost/return argument or simply by not renewing their enrolment) resulting in a disproportionate numbers of these students in public schools.  Full participation is engaging these students.

Since the implementation of compulsory education the public system has developed a number of measures to minimise disruption of low participation students in schools (and their disruption in local communities).  These students are the most at risk socio-economically and for mental health; typically with poor role models, have a low value of education and foresee few job prospects.

These students lower the actual participation rate in schools and consume a significant amount of time initially for teachers, then student services and later for administration requiring alternative pathways to education or employment, or increasingly in extreme cases being passed between schools via section A exclusions.

They are currently in the spotlight for the amount of time they consume - and the new focus for classroom teachers to attempt to prevent them becoming issues for the department, admin and student services.  They are the students that typically know that discipline and BMIS is a bluff - if they say no, there's not much schools can do.

It is one thing to say full participation is required - another thing to make it happen, the levers are below and this is far from an exhaustive list.

a) establishment of rapport

You don't want to be their least favourite teacher - if you are, you are in for a hard time.  For a traditional teacher, where consequence (detention/suspension) is the only remediating measure in a teacher's kitbag, these are the teachers most at risk.  A positive approach is needed (and is wearying), each day, every day. 

b) positive re-inforcement

These students typically are low performing and have low self esteem.  Ensuring success is encountered and encountered frequently, is essential for engagement.  

c) syllabus delivered at developmental level

Students that have not found success, particularly in Maths get accumulated in secondary school.  The current syllabus is an issue as it is "one size fits all" and with students 4-6 years below syllabus, this is not conducive to success, requiring other strategies.  Where they could hide in multiple primary schools getting extra assistance as the bottom two students in classes across the suburb, they now get put together and are expected to learn in a standard learning environment without the additional support and attention they have previously been given.  Not being equipped for independent learning, all too often this results in poor learning environments.  To get them to achieve at level, requires identification of where they are at, and devising a learning programme that caters to their needs.  This is time consuming, expensive and rarely implemented well.

d) students services support

These students have issues and lots of them.  It often feels like whack-a-mole in these classrooms.  As one student settles, another looks for attention.  This is a lifelong pattern by students to gain attention (good or bad) not gained elsewhere.    Typically to address these issues requires an holistic approach, with student services monitoring student and family wellbeing and communicating this to classrooms such that teachers understand the source of issues faced.  It can be as simple as giving a kid a pen and paper to reduce anxiety for a student with a family underemployed and struggling to keep a roof overhead. Effective student services and timely information is critical to establishing and maintaining establishment of teacher rapport. A case management approach is critical to success.

e) environmental supports

Students in this category can have limited social skills and may not respond to measures that work in other classes.  Low key measures may not work (proximity in particular may raise anxiety levels), their focus on social equity creates friction(attention given for poor behaviour is seen as unfairly distributed),  poor social skills (seating plans become problematic, peer conflict more frequent), homework creates friction (few study skills, no environment that supports homework, little IT access at home).  These classes have high levels of conflict and these levels of high stimulation can undermine students ability to function particularly where autism and ADHD is mixed in.  A shouty teacher with an anxious or traumatised student completely undermines any ability to learn.  They need a caring, supportive environment, hard to supply when they evidence little care of themselves.

f) instructional techniques

Instructional techniques are more limited as students find it difficult to work independently - especially as class sizes rise to 26-30 students.  This results in highly structured lessons, teacher directed lessons, with fewer opportunities to engage with investigative approaches to cater to multiple levels of ability.  With higher levels of impulsive behaviour, lessons that are not highly structured can quickly become unworkable.  I'm not sure what the answer is here and my feeling is that the problem is significantly different in Year 7 (where there is still hope for connection with education) to Year 10 and beyond (where external influences and antisocial behaviours may exceed the ability of schools to engage them). 

g) parental involvement

These students have had constant negative feedback given to parents whilst in formal schooling and often parents have disengaged.  Families can often too be classified as at risk themselves, being possibly broken, abusive, helpless and highly resistant to engagement.  Developing a team approach can be difficult and requires a deft touch.

h) community involvement

Community involvement - Smith family, Rotary, Lions, Police, Juvenile Justice, Focus First, AustismWest, EdConnect, Mercycare, Clontarf, RMLA, Headspace provide a range of supports that can improve the home situation for students and promote full participation.  A pair of shoes, pen, calculator, exercise book or a strong mentor can help a student engage in a classroom in class and supplements what student services can do.

i) classroom structures

Low participation students are typically put in the same classes as students with disability as both are academically struggling and the supports (such as EA's or small class sizes) are with other low functioning students.  Many of the issues above are shared with students that have a disability but attract no funding to rectify. The management of these students is completely different - putting them together creates a more complex classroom (typical of streamed environments) than not doing so and is not desirable. 


Now all this for a relative few, which diverts attention from core business of schools - delivery of the syllabus.   The obvious statement is that this is what schools do, and they care, but it should not be just assumed it will happen - because it won't and hasn't in many instances despite best intentions - to do it requires a clear understanding of the issues faced and addressing them with due consideration of the cost/benefit.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

What part does motivation play in teaching students?

 As teachers we are typically motivated people. We prepare classes, mark work, consider what comes next.  Generally we are moving from one thing to the next without a lot of thought about "why am I here".

Students on the other hand are on a 12 year journey where the press constantly questions the direction of education as a system.  Anecdotally, the general trend of apathy towards education is growing, or many teachers would have you believe.  Students are unmotivated, apathetic and of decreasing standard is a fairly common comment.

This raises the question of what role do teachers play in motivating students? Where are engagement strategies in the list of hierarchy of skills to develop.

I have asked teachers whether they consider motivating students a part of teaching.  Thankfully, the view that students are self motivating is less common and teachers accept that motivating students is a key component of teaching. The "hook" is nothing more than a motivational strategy to link students with a teaching context.

So, what happens if a student is unmotivated.  


Teacher centric                                              

Student needs to motivate themselves            

Isolate the student to prevent negative influence          

Inform parents that a problem exists               

Inform student they have a problem                

Expect someone else to solve issue               


Student centric

Need to identify a method or context to motivate the student

Place student among good role models

Work with parents to identify possible solutions

Work with student to identify why unmotivated

Opportunity to develop skills to motivate students



It's a interesting problem to consider.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Examining programmes

Programmes for each year group are developed over many years.  Redesigning them from scratch is a time consuming task and has the potential to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

There are a number of models that I have seen being used.  The model I'm faced with has left me challenged and has been driven by streaming at the school and an aim to make teaching easier, freeing up time for intervention with students.

In Term 1 and 2, Number and Algebra is done in each year group. In Term 3 everyone does Measurement.  In Term 4 everyone does Probability and Statistics.  Some of the programmes are simply the outcomes listed in order, with texts identified next to each topic. It helps with sharing material as everyone is basically doing the same thing at the same time.  Tests are set and everyone does the same test in each pathway.  Each test appears to be rewritten from scratch each time.


I must admit I scratched my head at this model.  It was obvious the difficulty ramped by midyear and dropped at the start of Term 3 and Term 4.  A group of students in each class disengaged as they fell of the programme and the work became too difficult.  Retention of material, year to year, was not apparent - especially in senior school.  Problem solving was not strongly developed resulting in a lower than expected number of students attempting ATAR courses or performing well in ATAR courses. Together with the current streaming model and in consultation with other HOLA's and SWS it appears the programmes and structure set are not inline with current teaching practices and needed attention.


After a bit of a review, I stated that I wished for this to change to the team and that NA be set as the backbone for material over the year with M and PS applying concepts taught in each NA unit providing context for ideas presented.  The problem was how to implement it..  and this required some thought.  

My initial idea was to set year groups to teachers in groups with an objective of rewriting them slowly over 6 months.  This method has been singularly unsuccessful.  One alternative was for me to sit down (again) and write a series of programmes for all streams.  The main issue that I have found with this approach is a lack of ownership by the teaching group which leads to a lack of future development and analysis of the programmes.  In a team critical of change, it had the potential for a blame game rather than a incremental improvement model to be developed.

So I took a long view instead.  I took the most difficult year (Year 10) and will rewrite this one myself (and will need to incrementally rewrite it over the next four years as students adjust to new teaching pedagogy, starting in Year 7).  As I will be teaching in Year 10 for some time, I can ensure that this gets ongoing review.  Secondly I set the most progressive teachers to redevelop the Year 7 programme and then found a PD from SWS later in the year that would help them develop an engaging course.  I can then work with them to analyse how each course progresses and develop an evidence based approach to teaching, whilst encouraging development of the course with engagement and instructional techniques needed to advance students optimally. Once these two year groups are established in 2021, I can look at the remaining two year groups that require development.

A big part of the new model has to be how grades are allocated (giving meaning to pathway grades), how students are assessed (broadening the methodology for assessment), how SEN reporting is used and how EAs are used to support learning in the classroom. 


Now that the main idea is set, hopefully it will gain traction.