Sunday, March 27, 2022

Week 8 complete - Covid at peak.

Covid is impacting on classes at all levels.

Student services is struggling with demand.  Assessment is scattered.  Large numbers of students have missed significant parts of the school year.  Teachers are fearful of getting sick and have found it hard to take leave with the restrictions in place to recharge.  Relief is hard to find, classes are being collapsed and schools are coping - but that's about it.

Behaviour issues tend to revolve around getting students to put on masks.  It's a bit tense.

It's important we all keep our heads down, focus on what needs to be done, and keep it all together until week 10.  It's not the time for new initiatives, pushing for progress or seeking improvement.  Calm the ship, wait for still waters and then strike again forward.

My classes this year have been a joy to teach with results at all levels.  It's a shame it's happened under these conditions where the initiative put in place would be able to shine. Academic support classes in 7 & 8 are engaged and enjoying school.  Pathway 3 classes in Year 10 are providing feedback to students of realistic course selections for Year 11 and Methods well supported through ICT and MathFest earlier in the year.  Few requests for changing streams and high levels of success being encountered resulting in lower behavioural challenges.  Time is available to work with students at risk.

Lets get through covid peak and move on.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Programmes are not prescriptive

Programmes of work are not prescriptive.  They provide the intent of the teaching for a series of work as set by the syllabus.  As a HOLA, explaining this is difficult and when a teacher tells me that the reason for teaching work that is not understood well by students is that "it's in the programme", it creates an all too common scenario.

If 1.0 FTE is full time, 0.2 FTE is a class load.  HOLAs are officially on 0.7 teaching time, but 1/2 a class (0.1) doesn't timetable well and is typically filled with behavioural support; it is more common to have 0.6 teaching time.  I have two after school classes and the summer school, so I'm not topped up sharing a class with someone very often.

.. thus, it's reasonably common as HOLA that I take a class for another teacher.  This is different to classroom observation, as I am teaching the material and can get a feel of what is possible and not possible to do with a class.

What worries me is how often I get given the class and assess that it is off syllabus, too difficult, lacks differentiation or is too easy.  When queried, all too often it is because "it is on the programme".

I scratch my head at this point.  I understand that teachers are time poor, prepare in advance to manage load and have the occasional lesson that is pitched incorrectly.  What I think we need to do more is evaluate the programme and if it is not working, be more willing to discuss that it is not appropriate for a particular class, abandon the preparation and move with what the students can do until the next topic.

This is quite confronting for teachers reliant on their programmes to sequence their lessons for them.  

It is also very risky to prepare booklets prior to knowing the level of a class - it is not necessarily time wasted (as they might be used at a later date by the teacher, another class or a colleague), but may not be appropriate for the class intended.  The great thing about a teacher vs online coursework is that if the lesson is not working, it can be abandoned and modified typically as a "chalk and talk" lesson that can be devised on the fly. With the knowledge gained through interaction, the next lesson can be planned better.  I am not proposing all lessons are done on the fly (it takes a lot of skill to do this) and I don't know too many people that can do this successfully, but there are times this is necessary to maintain the flow of learning.

A text can be superior to an ad hoc google based worksheet series of lessons for "average" students as the sequence has been trialled and most of the time interprets the intent of the syllabus dot point.  A worksheet can be good to supplement where a text does not give a comprehensive approach.  After years of denigration of the benefit of texts to provide sequenced item banks of questions, sometimes I think we go too far photocopying work that sounds ok until we put it in front of kids (typically in a form they are not used to seeing, is too hard/too easy, out of sequence, for a different context or year group, overly repetitive and skill based).  There are times we are better working through the worked examples in texts with students than re-inventing the wheel.  Where proof is involved (particularly in Trigonometry and Geometry with average to talented students), working through textbook examples are often better than empirical "use this formula" by "putting numbers here" and having no idea why formula or identities work.

My instruction to teachers about programmes is that programmes are not prescriptive - they indicate the intent of the year and when assessment will be held.  Tests should not be written until after the coursework is completed (or at least is known where the course will finish). If a class has different requirements, do different work and assess that.  Be aware of the grade related descriptors and continue the discussion with students and colleagues about the level of work being done with the class. 

A class constructed to support the volleyball timetable will be different to one supporting art students or English students.  Although it is attempted to balance behavioural and academic requirements in streams, it is not always possible.  

How we teach requires re-thinking of how information is presented to ensure each student finds a level of success. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

The true superheroes

Today we have Marvel leading the way in what it takes to be a person that does the right thing. The message is that you need special powers to do something that is not full of self interest or narcicism.  It is not normal to participate in something that you don't gain material benefit from.  After all, capitalism is the American way.  Philanthropy is what you do when you can't possibly spend it all and cynically could be seen as "a look at me" event or publicity exercise, rather than actually doing good in the community.

Our culture is dominated by "the look at me" ideal, but it wasn't always so.  The idea of giving as a pathway to fulfilment and happiness is known by the older generation.  Looking at organisations such as Lions and Rotary, putting internal politics aside, both organisations have people in them that genuinely get pleasure from doing good in the community in which they live.  I would put forward that these people are the real superheroes as they assist where there is no reason to assist, other than it is the right thing to do.  There is no material benefit other than gratitude and a thank you.

Current generations have faced hardships: bushfires, high interest rates, climate change and now covid but have not faced war, high unemployment, famine - issues about safety, security, extreme poverty and basic needs in the way past generations have.  Bringing together of a whole community has not been required in the same way as past generations.

There are some members of our community that have faced a loss of basic needs.  These are some of the nicest people in our communities as they know what it is like to have very little and still see the good in the world.

It is important that our youth are encouraged to experience that community service is a path to a fulfilling adulthood and have authentic ways to engage with it.  I do not in any way propose compulsory community service, but giving them access to those that are willing to serve, when they are ready to serve (through the armed forces or through local community organisations) is important to their growth - having opportunities and positive experiences that they can access when they are ready and continue into adulthood.

Without these positive role models, they may believe the hype that only those with super powers can do good.  And it is simply not true at all.

Friday, January 21, 2022

MathFest 2022

MathFest 2022 is rapidly coming to an end.  It's been quite a ride.  My feet are hurting, my voice is gone, I might need some time to recuperate over the weekend.  But.. has it been a success?  I'll know for sure after surveys are in.

Initial signs are good.  Four schools, sixty Methods students, anecdotal student responses is that they have loved it, even though it is five days during the holidays, in 40C heat with evap airconditioning, no internet due to a network upgrade, surrounded by building works, presenters dropping like flies due to covid fears, zero budget; yet there has been no student dropoff in attendance during the week.  Developing together a concept aimed to increase engagement, retention and achievement of high level mathematics students in the northern corridor has had its challenges. 

Comments like "this is awesome" and "thank you sir for this" from students mean a lot.  Teachers commenting that students will "remember this" and "we'll be back next year with more" confirm that the idea is sound.

The volunteers that presented for the week are the pinnacle of what teaching is.  People giving up their time, for highly engaged kids.  No sign of the entitled youth we encounter during the year, engagement hasn't been extinguished through explicit instruction.  We're doing it like it should be done.

Two 'big ideas' came out of MathFest 2022, "infotainment" and "unstruction".  Infotainment was a mode of delivery that allowed presenters to ignore syllabus requirements during MathFest and travel with the interests of students.  This freed presenters from assessment/course outlines and allowed them to flavour the course with topics, questions and interest areas such as historical elements, associated mathematics, delving deeper into key concepts than time would usually allow.  Unstruction was freedom to work with students to enjoy learning rather than be instructed explicitly from a syllabus led schedule that needs to be taught.  

Delving into the meta of learning helped students see the difference in learning vs instruction and empowered students to adapt and develop agility to shift thinking, rather than be fixed in their expectation (and engage in the blame game), when teaching style does not align directly with a student. 

Presenters have been subject to getting WWC, vaccination records, medical issues, childcare for their own children, caring for sick family members, competing demands at the start of the school year, broken cars, covid fears, without funding for resources we take for granted during term.  All with a smile.

Teachers have been designing investigations together, doing them with students, discussing resources, pedagogy, impediments to success, finding things that work.

We need to think beyond chalk and talk if we want to engage this generation and define what teaching needs to be.  We need to embrace our responsibility that teaching goes beyond subject knowledge and into the realms of values education and what was parenting.  We need to think laterally beyond the 40 week term.

The themes of consolidation, concept investigation and self development have permeated through the sessions.  Community involvement through past students, volunteer teachers from across Perth, the local Duncraig Lions club volunteering time and resources, Curtin University involvement all have provided the example required to get students to think beyond themselves and know that they are valued and belong.  

Students now have a responsibility to not only believe in themselves, achieve but also to inspire younger students, their teachers and the local community.  They will do great things.

It's nice to be a part of it.