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.