Showing posts with label low SEI students. Show all posts
Showing posts with label low SEI students. Show all posts

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Big discussions in education

There are some big discussions happening at the moment in education.  Australian Curriculum, standardised testing, year 7 transition, public private partnerships, emerging social issues, CAS calculator implementation.  Each are having a lasting impact on the way education is progressing.

Australian curriculum seems destined to repeat the primary mistakes of OBE in that it is being run to political timeframes, is being introduced without effective assessment policies and guidance is a bit haphazard about its implementation schedule.  The one size fits all model, being implemented across K-12 with missing blocks of understanding scattered throughout each year group indicates that the success will be limited to higher SES schools that already approached the norm expected by the curriculum.  The curriculum does not support our kids and the enforcement of A-E grading / inappropriate curriculum just ensures the feedback reinforces their position in society.  It will take schools to make a stand, change their approach and find innovative ways to smooth the learning curve to help these students succeed.

As schools struggle to reach the norms required they are trying publicly to show they are ready to maintain their competitive position in standardised testing.  Being based on averages, even if a low SES school catered well for its higher achieving kids, this result is hidden within the average.  To counter this effect small schools are putting vast amounts of effort "teaching to the test", something most teachers are vigorously opposed to.  I was hearing an anecdote last night from a friend talking about their kids playing schools and saying,
"And after maths we'll have NAPLAN"
Since when did NAPLAN become a formal class in year 3?  If we want this to stop, we have to stop publishing these figures.  By all means run the tests and direct funding to schools based on test results,  but schools are biasing the test so badly I question its relevancy as a standardisation tool.

Year 7 transition has become a non issue.  In many public schools there aren't any coming to high school.  The delay of the decision to move 7's means that many parents of higher ability students made the decision to send their kids (along with younger siblings) to private schools and get specialist teaching assistance.  The remaining kids in many cases lack support at home - many are the most at risk students.  Public school numbers that were quite stable at 500 are dropping sub 300 which makes smaller metro high schools unviable and there is no indication that this number will bounce in the next 5 years.  Smaller schools can't compete with private education and facilities, lacking a marketing budget or effective USP to drive students to the school.  The end result is that more public schools will close and our education system will become more and more dependent on private education, ultimately further disadvantaging and marginalising low SES students.

With smaller schools and reduced funding through lack of scale to minimise costs, our smaller schools will need to increasingly devote time to managing public/private funding agreements to maintain programmes.  This is a clear diversion from classroom first (as it diverts resources from the classroom), will bias schools towards areas required by industry or areas easy to support through volunteers.  This is an issue in itself as cyclical industries may leave highly at risk generations of kids in geographical areas without employment opportunities, potentially creating ongoing social issues for communities and creating situations for schools where difficult to staff specialist programmes or expensive subjects to teach will become unsupportable.

The marginalisation of the poor is already occurring with accumulations of cultural groups in low SES areas now not integrating with large sections of the community (as those children are in private education), something in the past restricted to exclusion from high SES students in a few independent schools.  Without any real hope of employment due to a lack of social support and poor levels of education, some low SES students are now focused on the quick wins available to them through crime and social loafing, others are facing low self esteem, poor job prospects and mental illness.  The lack of positive peer support is having a clear impact on our communities and schools.  The edges of this is starting to be reported in the media and has the potential to create another drug and alcohol effected generation that will again require large amounts of funding to address.

The last issue is a math issue and one we face right now, but is still related to the issues above.  Math itself is becoming marginalised with the cost of participation rising above the level of a growing number of students within the school.  CAS calculators at $200, revision guides, course costs and texts can account for 50% of year 11/12 fees.  Low participation rates are precluding students from higher study.  Able students are now choosing other subjects with lower costs as families cannot pay the cost (costs that may have been able to be found within the school when numbers of at risk students were lower, access to support bars were set lower and more discretionary funds were available).  A further question exists about whether we need these calculators as they are creating exams that test the corners of courses to create bell curves rather than teaching students solid mathematics.  Many teachers are still struggling with CAS calculator integration and I'm beginning to fall in line with the thought they are not  an effective teaching tool, tablet technology in the classroom (not in assessment) may be a better pathway for our high performing students.  I'm sure issues like this are apparent in other learning areas.

Public education is beginning to fail the students that it is most needed for, to ensure "the fair go" is still a national objective.  I hope we have the courage to address it early, rather than be forced into reactionary measures later.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Reasons to not achieve

"Low ability" students have always been a bit of an enigma to me.  I put them in quotes, as many times they are not actually low ability, they only demonstrate low ability under assessment conditions.  They come in many shapes and sizes.

The student that does not value education.
On occasion I get one of these.  They're the ones that ask why are we doing (whatever it is)...   The answer is fairly simple in that the curriculum is set and the government pays me to teach it.  Blame your parents they elected the government.  The alternative is to identify how each topic is applicable to the workforce (which inevitably ends in I'm not doing that) which makes embedding context for these students a reasonably ineffective approach.  I have a book that does this, if they continue I direct them to it.  Eventually we get to the point where they accept that education is an enabler of general occupations and that their chosen occupation (footballer, dancer, stripper) may not be their only occupation and that math skills will help them in their future life.

The student that sees work as a favour that deserves special credit any time they do it.
"But I did work" - So what? Still less than everyone else and well below your level of ability.  Doing more work in my class than anyone else's is not an excuse for poor behaviour.  If a student disrupts ten other students but finishes their work, it still is not acceptable.  Maturity is the only thing that reliably fixes this, as they get a goal that they need your subject for.

The student that cannot perform under assessment conditions.
I don't have an answer to this one.  I've had to use teacher judgement on a few of these over the years.  They sit in class and work.  They complete assignment work.  If it's done 1-1 they're fine.  Put the word test on the top and their brain explodes.

The student that sees you as an equal.
I'm not a friend, I'm not a colleague, nor am I an acquaintance.  Students don't have a right to discover whether they should respect you or not.  When I walk into a class, I set the rules.  By rights of a degree and being placed in the role by the school I have earned the respect given.  I decide when these rules are broken.  I may tighten the rules at the request of a class.  The right to negotiate is born through acceptable behaviour, not through misbehaviour.  If I don't do a good job teaching I will lose that respect over the year, but I deserve the benefit of the doubt in the early days.  This is best fixed with a team leader or deputy present.  Explain the problem, probably no-one else has.  You will now become a lone entity in the world they don't treat like everyone else and may help them keep their first job.

The student that avoids work.
This student needs to see the counsellor, toilet, drink fountain, office, nurse, dentist at least once per day.  They are late to class and have not been told that assignments/tests/homework are due.  They are probably the easiest to fix.  Fail them.  Early.  Sit them down and explain to them why they are failing.  Give them catch up time at lunchtimes and additional homework delivered to parents.  Then encourage them as their grades improve.  Don't stop too early, it may take a few years to change a habit of six or seven.  It takes a fair bit of effort.

The student that believes life is fair.
Guess what.. it's not.  If I believe you need more attention than another student to succeed, I'll give it to you.  If I believe that one student will respond to a stern word, and another will not, I won't bother with the latter - I'll try something else.

which leads to...

You're picking on me because I'm .....
It's true, some students I will give a hard time to, because I think they'll come good and make something of themselves.  Others require different strategies and a host of people and money for special programmes before they come good.  Swearing is a favourite - kids from good homes don't need to get the habit, others from difficult home lives need tolerance as it takes time to come around.  "Unconscious" swearing is one thing, being sworn at it another.  Very few homes allow disrespect to parents (it's fewer than many believe), and this respect has to be transferred to teachers and being sworn at crosses the line.  I love the shocked look on their faces when I say my grandfather is darker than them and that they need to consider their words carefully because, like them, I take racial vilification comments very seriously.

The student that tries and fails, every time.
If a student can't pass your course legitimately, then you need to act.  Create a course for them, move them, do something.  It's soul destroying to you and the student to allow this to continue.  Heterogenous setups are a trap for this sort of thing.  One curriculum does not fit all unless you are a highly (and I mean highly) organised and skilled operator.  I have not met that many that do this well.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Teaching of mathematical literacy

I have been teaching a low literacy class this year and it has taught me the perils of relying on the immersion technique to teach mathematical literacy. After seeing the positive effects of direct instruction of low literacy students, I see immersion as a lazy teaching technique for low ability students - immersion is slow, ineffective and generally detrimental to these students, especially in a large heterogeneous class.

Let me explain. When I teach area, I generally teach students to write a story that I can read. They draw a diagram, label the sides, write a general equation, substitute the values, evaluate the solution and check their answer. Once this technique has been learned I can then easily teach other concepts such as Pythagoras' theorem, trigonometric ratios, surface area and the like.

The explicit teaching of mathematical literacy (requiring specific layout and explicitly explaining the meaning and need for each component of the layout) is the key component in this exercise. By year ten, most can answer the area of a rectangle and write the answer, but cannot abstract the method to a circle. I attribute this to a lack of mathematical literacy and a failure to appreciate the true need for mathematical literacy.

Although modelling has a place in teaching mathematics (a key tool in immersion), we must be mindful that we need to teach literacy explicitly and not assume students will just pick up major concepts by observing a question being completed. The difference between a student answering a question correctly (after being given an example on the board) and being able to identify how to answer a question correctly from a range of tools (without prompting) is considerable.

Mathematics has grammar just like English. If students understand the grammar of mathematics, the meta-language of mathematics and the algebraic/arithmetic/visual representations/tools of mathematics, then their ability to solve problems increases exponentially.

And as mathematics teachers we can appreciate the benefits of exponential growth.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Expectations of low SES students

Low expectation is something that can be easily reinforced. It can be environmental (like praising effort instead of achievement), it can be by omission (such as not making information public that would promote academic behaviour), it can be through antisocial behaviour (such as allowing bullying of academic kids) or peer associated pressures (such as girls not wanting to appear smart).

The challenge for the community, schools, teachers and parents is to prevent these negative re-enforcers.

I ask parents of friends how their students are doing and they have no idea whether they are good enough to attempt university. I get comments like - "they're getting level 'x' whatever that means - the comments from teachers are always very positive!". Parents can help motivate students without accurate information about their student. Our PC reports are doing them a disservice.

I asked lower school students how many of our students make it to university each year. The predominant response was zero to four students. The actual number is between 20 and thirty or nearly 2/5 of the cohort that stays until year 12.

The majority of students, at year 8/9, actually think that university is unobtainable. The scarier fact was in a middle school environment middle school teachers rarely teach upper school classes and can't recognise the students that need to be informed, coached and supported into university pathways.

When I asked yr 10/11 students, "What classroom scores were needed to enter university?", they answered 80+. This is not only an unrealistic target for many students but also plainly wrong, it is far lower for the majority of courses.

When I sat with teachers and we looked at standardised testing scores and sought to identify potential yr 9 students for university pathways, no-one (including me) had any idea what we could call a benchmark score before considering student attitude, school results and work ethic to start the process of identifying university bound students. We will figure it out more accurately over a number of years (if tests are kept standard) because we are interested but what of the teachers that are classroom cohort focused instead. They will rediscover similar information by the end of the year.

I start my masters this week (all going well) and the broad topic I have chosen to investigate is: "What tools are available to identify university bound students, what programmes are available to guide students into university and how effective are they for low socio-economic students?"

If you have any ideas, I would love to hear about them and include them in my research. I look forward to hearing from you!