Showing posts with label Exams. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Exams. Show all posts

Monday, July 8, 2013

It's not about the aha moment.

This was a realisation this week.  My teaching is no longer about the Aha! moment.  I've come to the realisation that my students now expect an aha! moment any time I teach.   What's more, experience gives you the ability to construct these moments at will.

Teaching has become more can I get past the aha! moment to ensure retention of concepts and develop depth in learning.  Most teaching points can be taught, creating the motivation required to learn for life, rather than learn for the moment is where my teaching is now going and is starting to drive my thinking.

Where the process of huh?->aha!->embedded is used to scaffold new learning, the embedding is more critical as experience in teaching grows.  This is where exam results improve.

I talked with my teaching group this week and was challenged as to why we have exams.  I sat down after the discussion and wrote for nearly an hour as to why I believed they were important.  Being part of the group that re-embedded them in the school I needed to revisit why I thought they were important.

  1. It is a part of the school year that provides inertia for the learning process: teach (learning) -> test (for understanding) -> exam (test for retention)
  2. It forms a part of the expected scholastic disciplines
  3. It prepares them for the pressures of performance
  4. It provides reason for rectifying understanding after initial testing
  5. It provides summative feedback on student performance
  6. It identifies if students can select the correct strategy across a broader range of strategies
  7. It is an opportunity for making consistent judgements across classes
  8. It is an opportunity to develop revision, calculator usage and note preparing practices in students
  9. It is how students are tested in the majority of upper school courses
  10. It identifies areas that require reteaching or more attention in future courses of work
I'm a bit sad because whilst students were sitting their exams I created a more exhaustive list, but in my wisdom failed to save it.  Can't win them all.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

3B MAT/MAS course review

The 3B MAT course finished spot on 13 weeks (I used the remaining 6 weeks for revision and consolidation), which bodes well for the year 12 students moving into the course next year. The second semester is longer to cater for combined year 11/12 classes.

The 3B MAS course ran right down to the line finishing in 17 weeks and the vectors course was barely completed. It is quite full with Trig Identities and Vectors taking up large wads of time to do properly.

Some of my yr 11 3B MAS students are repeating 3B MAS in year 12 (with me again) and I need to lift the pace a little to make sure there is a little more revision time.

3B MAT exam
We used an external exam and the students were able to easily complete the project networks, correlation, linear programming, moving averages, optimisation and simple differentiation questions. Next year when teaching 3B MAT we will need to focus on interpreting graphs and their derivatives, conjectures and applications of differentiation. I'm happy with the two results over 80% (out of 10 students), but kicking myself that I missed one of the students that fell under 30%. I should have picked this one up sooner.

In particular I would find an alternate text to teach problem solving/conjectures with as the Saddler text is a little short on this topic.

In general I am pleased with their results (pat on the back guys) as I gave little in the way of exam tips (I didn't do the exam beforehand for fear of giving too much away!) and there was a 6-8% average increase across the class.

3B MAS exam
Urgh! The lack of revision showed, compared to the MAT paper. The exam also showed that working consistently through the year can work, with marks between the most gifted student and the conscientious student closing to just 3 marks in the calculator section. More work in vectors is required for the three students repeating next year to improve their C&D's to higher marks. They showed great improvement in the calculus sections of the test. With a bit more experience, they should be better able to identify what methods to apply to what questions. My results are skewed to the left with more C & D's than A & B's, but with 5 students, it would be a surprise to get a true bell curve (I would have liked it skewed more the other way!).

The MAS paper was a bit narrow compared to the MAT paper.. I would have liked to see more opportunity to show what they knew - rather than the imbalance of an overly large number of marks for questions that only an A or B student would be able to complete. Some questions were very misleading in their no. of marks compared to the actual work/knowledge required to complete them. Yet this is the price to pay for using external exams to judge how well the course is being delivered.

On to reports now!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mid Semester Exams

Yesterday I was asked why run exams in year 8 & 9.

I could think of 8 reasons:

1. To reduce fear of exams (students use the idea of exams as a bugbear for not attempting level 2 subjects.)
2. It gives an anchor to the idea of study/revision.
3. It is good practice for upper school and identifies students bound for more difficult courses.
4. It provides feedback on what has been achieved by individual students during the semester.
5. It supports grades allocated by teachers put into reports.
6. It provides a benchmark of performance from year to year.
7. It is the backbone of academic rigour in a school, short of doing a personal project (which is impractical in most public schools).
8. Students gain confidence in doing exams by.. well.. doing exams.

Then I heard the excuses and heard what was really going on:

1. Such and such is just rewriting the NAPLAN test (fine if that is all you have taught in Sem 1!).
2. It's a lot of work (it's our job!) for little return (see 1-7 above).
3. I have to mark it (well.. yes.. but we teach math, compare that to issues in English & S&E, we have it easy!).
4. The kids can't do exams (some can, and they are severely disadvantaged compared to the rest of the state if the first time they see an exam is term 2 year 10(think league tables, think school numbers people! No results.. no school)).
5. I can't write an exam (huh?? ..nor can anyone else, we don't know what you have taught, nor do we know the level of your students! If you need help with formatting we have loads of support staff and teachers willing to help).

There is some argument that there is a level of over testing in year 9 due to NAPLAN but exams and NAPLAN have very different focus. NAPLAN looks at the student compared to the student cohort of the state. The exam should show a snapshot of the learning and retention of the most recent semester.

I can also understand the argument that some students should not sit an exam. If a student has a learning difficulty or is miles below the level of the exam (and a special exam has not been prepared for them) then it makes sense to exclude them.. these are our 1B kids.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Upper 10's and exam preparation

My upper tens have begun revision for their exam. I've pushed them over the last week, getting them to complete twice as much work as my normal expectation per class as a prelude to expectations in year 11. Next I wanted them to experience the expectation of exams and model how to study in year 11. I set aside four days for them to revise and they did the following:

Day 1: Identification of material that could be in the exam
Day 2: Finding of resources (where in texts, portfolios) and identification of areas of weakness
Day 3: Preparation of notes / judging detail required via marks allocated
Day 4: Review and identification of material to study over weekend

Key findings
Students tend not to use contents pages in texts very well. Even when given words to find (solve, substitute, trigonometry) they can't find where in the text to examine. Students also need to consider that higher order questions are more likely to be in the exam therefore they should make sure they can answer questions at the end of exercises.

It was interesting to note levels of anxiety from the beginning (a couple of students with high levels) and the anxiety decreasing as they realised that they had mastered most of the content already. I look forward to next year when I can show them the progress made from year 9 to 10 by showing them their own year 9 exams and comparing it to their year 10 exam.

Students can now produce notes quite well and after a year of reinforcement they can see how to both use and benefit from them.

Students are starting to see that exam hints can be used to improve marks and how necessary it is to follow up and fix any areas of weakness.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Preparing students for exams

We had a great lecturer (now retired) Kevin Casey at uni. He was of the view that learning was basically a factor of time. Given extra time most students could learn the same concepts.

Confidence in exams is a similar concept. Take one student that had extreme exam anxiety - she would frequently throw up before exams, have shakes and rarely display her progress. Some would say that she is a prime candidate for alternate assessment. I would suggest that in many cases this is exactly what not to do. (In life she has proven that she has great coping skills in highly stressful (eg exam like) situations).

In considering her exam phobia I sat her down and looked into what her core issue was. She was a student that had had repetitively reinforced 'I can't do maths because I'm a girl syndrome,' from both parents and past teachers. She also had an almost photographic memory - anything placed in front of her could be instantly recited back.

So I thought to myself let's fix the confidence issue then fix the maths. I considered learning methods I was familiar with and selected mastery based learning as the key tool. Mastery based learning is a great way to attack confidence issues as students repeat activities to the point of automaticity - the point where they don't have to think. This was important as she was brain freezing in exams, thrashing and stressing to the point of uselessness. Mastery based learning is not the most fun way to learn all the time - but it is a great way of showing to a student that they have ability.

Next we did a lot of boring repetitious stuff until she hated me, maths and statistics. But.. she (for the first time since year 7) not only passed but managed to get 80% on her test... and this was the pattern thereafter in not only maths but in other subjects.

We also went through the main steps when attacking an exam:
  • Don't panic
  • Determine the time per question/mark and monitor regularly
  • Read the whole paper before answering anything
  • Order questions from easiest to hardest - do the easiest first and build confidence
  • Don't get stuck - move on..
  • Don't write comments about how hard it is to the marker or doodle on the page
  • Don't rub out working / show all working
  • Go back over the exam at the end - ensure that each question is attempted
  • Take note of when the teacher/lecturer says 'this is in the exam' - put a star next to it.
  • Prepare your notes 1 week before the exam and add to them throughout the remaining week
  • Don't panic
  • Pick your study buddy carefully
  • If revision sheets or trial/past exam papers are available... do them
  • Complete assignments to the best of your ability - this will lower exam pressure later on.
  • Avoid friendship based group assignments
  • Complete as much as you can in class - keep an eye on what the 'top' students are doing
  • Try and guess the types of questions in the exam - make sure you have attempted the questions at the end of exercises and chapters
  • Ask your teacher or lecturer for direction (they can only say no)
  • Don't panic

Students that do well in mathematics have well practiced skills before they attempt to apply them (in assessment or practical applications) and before they are able to choose between multiple skills to determine an optimal solution.

Practice makes perfect.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Preparing graduate teachers for TEE exams

In Perth, we have the Tertiary Entrance Exams (TEE). This is a time of stress for new teachers and students alike. If you are a graduate teacher naturally you start to question whether you have done enough to get your students over the line. I covered the yr 12 Discrete course for five students this year (quite a soft entrance to teaching university bound students), but like most teachers we all want our students to succeed and get a good TER(Tertiary Entrance Ranking - score between 1 & 100 derived from scaled TEE exams) for 'front door' university entry.

[I can hear teachers in Perth saying there are no more TEE exams with the new courses of study(NCOS), but there are still external exams at the end of the final school year and it is the paradigm that we are most familiar with.]

Nonetheless graduate teachers can at this time feel the stress of performance as failure may relegate them to lesser classes for some time. It's probably a good time to give graduate teachers a day of real PD or reflection (preferably with access or guidance from a senior staff member) to gather themselves and prepare materials for TEE students for their run home. I hope when graduate teachers put their hand up they will be listened to; and graduates that are 'low profile' are being monitored and looked after.

We've been lucky in that our Discrete group of students have worked hard and agreed to meet before school regularly to complete old TEE questions and have used the great Saddler texts that have been around a long while (that include constant revision miscellaneous exercises). It's also great that the TEE Discrete course is underdone in the amount of required content in comparison to yr 11 preparatory (foundations) course. Oh, as an old course - it's the second last year it will be run and examined for university entry.

Which leads to the problems of the new year 11 2009 where we are running semesterised 1b,1c,2a,2b,2c,2d,3a MAT, 3b MAT, 3a MAS, 3b MAS courses which are 10 new courses of study, no texts available, no written class assessment and limited sample exam material. If I was a first year graduate falling into year 11 (rather than my soft entry yr12 Discrete course with a plethora of materials/experience of teachers/known student pitfalls/existing performance levels) I would be more concerned. Add to that learning how to use and teach with the new CAS calculators effectively.. it adds another layer of difficulty - especially if the calculators themselves are meant to increase the non-computational difficulty of the courses.

Click here to visit the Tertiary Institutions Service Centre (TISC) for more information about tertiary entrance exams in WA.