Showing posts with label streaming. Show all posts
Showing posts with label streaming. Show all posts

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Streaming - not as simple as moving a student.

I spend considerable time each term dealing with streaming issues.  The issues in each stream are significant and relate to the perceptions of how streams should work by stakeholders.  Some of the issues faced below occur each term and relate to students wishing to move streams.

1. Stream sniping: A disengaging student in the bottom third of a class seeks access to a lower stream to find success and claims demotivation/anxiety as primary reason for lack of success.  Where a large gap exists between streams, by allowing a high ability student into a lower ability class, it has the potential to demotivate current students finding success in the lower stream.  The preferred solution is to use engagement strategies to again make the student competitive in the higher stream.

2. Teacher pedagogy: A student is struggling to adapt to teaching methods of a teacher compared to a teacher in a previous year. This is most evident when moving from an inexperienced teacher that teaches a narrow directed course to a more experienced teacher that drives a conceptual course in middle secondary years.  Issues can also relate to over or under expectation of students, particularly late maturing boys or over emotional girls.   The preferred solution is recognise the issue and to develop the capacity for independent learning whilst providing additional support for students struggling in transition.

3. Performance Anxiety: A student who has experienced significant failure over time may be unable to function optimally under assessment conditions.  The preferred solution is to focus on what has been learned from each assessment and provide alternate assessment feedback to the student to indicate their learning.  

4. Restreaming resistance: Teachers can provide significant resistance to restreaming students as it can cause considerable disruption to stable environments to continue to have students introduced to a class.  Popular teachers able to cater with difficult students can often have classes swell in size if not observed carefully. Where restreaming has been successful, the temptation is to introduce more students that are also struggling to see if a similar result can be obtained.  The solution here in most cases is to resist re-streaming outside of defined streaming times during the year in all but extreme cases and limit transition issues to defined periods during the year to maximise learning for all students in each class.  

5. Parent nag: A student can nag their parent into continuous follow up with the school where no evidence exists that a student warrants moving.  This can often follow when a student is allowed to move for legitimate reasons and friends or students with lower results see it as a path to lower work expectations.  The solution for this is a clear understanding of the evidence base for the student (current ranking, standardised testing, prior grades) and re-presenting this nicely back to the parent.  Often this is as simple as replying with their ranking and indicating that others would be considered first.

6. Disengagement: Where students disengage on mass, as issue exists for the teacher to re-engage the class.   The solution requires examining pedagogy, engagement strategies, expectations, content and audience to identify strategies that may work.  This can require questioning teaching philosophies and compromising principles to get students to a position where learning recommences.

7. Isolation: This is a hard one.  Where a student is an isolate in a class and friendship groups are elsewhere, especially students with limited social skills, the requirement to move class can be legitimate.  The performance of a student in this situation where a student is on their own or where a class has turned on them (girls in particular can be mean in this situation), moving the student can be required.  This should be done in conjunction with student services to ensure that the teacher isn't then nagged by a wider range of students.

8. Transition: A student transitioning from a lower to a higher pathway needs time to transition as there will be considerable gaps in understanding, particularly closer to Year 10.  Students in this situation need constant care and encouragement to find success.  To promote success, students should be primed as to the expected behaviours of the new class and be preloaded with material prior to movement to support their success in the new class.

Streaming is not a simple solution to drive learning - it is a blunt instrument that is used at specific  times of the year to ability group students.  After it is done, time is needed to assess the requirements for the next streaming point - constant change will result in making it difficult to settle the streams and get them right - it is better to use differentiation between streaming points and make better streams than to use streams as diagnostic tools to provide students opportunities and disrupt the learning of many, constantly.  Those involved with streaming know this intuitively, as they have to deal constantly with the demands of restreaming otherwise.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Reporting, Pathways and Streaming

Students are commonly placed in Pathways in schools commonly known as streams.  These streams set the level of teaching to ensure students are successful at the work that they attempt.  One class may focus more on the higher conceptual ideas leading to higher grades and other may focus on lower ability work.   All from the same year level syllabus, just at different difficulty levels. 

Students that succeed at a high level in their Pathway are given the option of promotion to a higher class and those underperforming are placed into a class where they are more likely to find success.

Many considerations are made when examining Pathway changes:

  • Whether swaps are available to maintain classroom size (and would also benefit from change)
  • Maximum class size restrictions
  • Content being delivered (where courses are not aligned)
  • Gender balance
  • Pastoral care
  • Reporting periods
  • Student aspirations
  • Demand for seats (whether other students are seeking the place in the class desired)

Reporting plays a large part in deciding who may be moved between Pathways.  An evidence base is required before a student is moved.  Once identified, success of the student in the new pathway is influenced by the preparation done by the recommending teacher prior to the move.  This would normally involve:

  • Warning guardians and student that a move is imminent without improvement 6-8 weeks before the move.
  • Talking to the parent about the need for the move when the decision has been made
  • Discussing with the student what would be required to return to the class if desired
  • Examining the impact on aspiration and possible grades of the move
  • Identifying the difference in expected behaviour/work ethic required in new Pathway
  • Discussing that the first 4-5 weeks to be difficult during transition
  • The student discussing expectations with the new teacher
  • Indicating the required classroom behaviours and study habits
  • Introducing the student to the new teacher

Where this has not been done, it can cause considerable additional difficulty, angst, anxiety and resistance to the Pathway move, instead of relief or welcoming of a new challenge.

Friday, March 20, 2020

The perils of streaming

I managed the streams at my previous school for a number of years and significantly reduced the amount of issues raised by teachers.  It was a difficult process to manage as the stream was one size fits all - move in maths, you move in all the MESH subjects.  To get around this required three of the four to suggest a stream or one humanities/english, one math/science to be moved.  At it's best, students worked with teachers over at least a term to get promotion.  By the end the move was valued and deserved.  Streaming was done twice a year for all students and reviewed each term for students that had entered the school during the last semester.

The problem with streaming is that it lacks a research basis for putting it in place in an average school.  In a school where the level of teaching required is 4+ years within the same room, there is a basis for it as it is difficult to teach students that far apart.  In my new school, after removing a small number that require IEPs, it appears that the remaining students fall within a 2-3 year syllabus bracket in each class.

I am struggling with the existing streaming model I am faced with as I come to grips with the benefits and deficits of it.  Three streams have been devised with top, middle, bottom courses.  Top, middle, bottom have two classes in each, also streamed (creating six fully streamed classes) - the best students in each stream in one class and the remainder in another.  The streams appear to align with NAPLAN (with some obvious exceptions being rectified) indicating that for the most part they have been ranked correctly. One teacher in each stream sets all assessments.  All assessments are written from scratch in each stream.

Issues appear when the performance of the streams are analysed.  Out of the 60 students in the top stream, a significant proportion of the second class are achieving less than 50%.  The gap between the mean score in the top class and the second class in each stream increases significantly as students progress through school. My top class outperformed the second top class and were highly motivated and enthused, but students in the second class universally wanted to be in my class (not theirs) but were unlikely to be promoted as they significantly performed lower and demonstrated lower levels of motivation.

Having a highly motivated class may be seen as positive in isolation, but having half the students undermotivated in the top course made me question current practices.  In each stream, one teacher sets the assessment with little communication with the other teacher.  This leads to the second class being given an assessment that is pitched at the wrong level for the second class resulting in lower levels of engagement.  Thus high performing (top pathway but in the second class) students are left believing that they are not solid high performing mathematics students.  It also has the potential for friction between the two teachers (at the level of the assessment set and/or the students of the underperforming second class (blaming the teacher for the underperformance).

As a trial I rebalanced the year 8 top stream to have two classes of equal ability and challenged each class to raise their performance.  To date I have seen little difference in student performance in my rebalanced (lower ability than before the rebalancing) class and hope to see the other class rise to the challenge. We now have two classes of equal ability, we should achieve median test scores approximately the same. With both classes being exposed to high performing students they should have an increased potential for success.

The second issue that I see is that streaming in Year 7 occurs too early.  This separates kids into haves and have nots very early in their high school career, prior to them engaging with specialist mathematics teachers and gaining a love of mathematics.  The issues with this is seen with undermotivated middle tier classes in later years and students that struggle to fully engage with Mathematics as they lack proper role models, particularly boys who generally develop later than girls.

A quick analysis today indicated that there is a clear difference in teaching with respect to results in Year 7, as four classes with similar composition (same NAPLAN mean) with the most at risk removed into a remediation class, performed significantly differently on the same assessment, with one class clearly outperforming the others.  There are some factors that can be attributed to class differences (the spread of ability was different in two of the classes), but if the differences in programme and pedagogy can be identified then improvement can be made in subsequent delivery across all classes.  This was also after one assessment, this may be a strength of one teacher in one topic and may vary in future topics or in students adjusting to a different style of teaching.

The third issue identified is with the performance of upper school classes - there is always room for improvement.  Although small Methods (10-15 students) and Specialist (5-7 students) classes consistently produce 55+ course scores, it is not as consistent in Applications courses (30-40 students) with between one third and one half of students achieving a 55+ course score. In a school of so many students in Band 9 and 10 students in NAPLAN9,  there appears potential for higher numbers of Methods students out of the 60 students typically in the top stream.  To produce a higher number of Methods students requires aligning the Year 10 course with Methods rather than the current programme of 10/10A aligned to the Specialist course and only producing 6-7 Specialist students.  We need to make Mathematics a subject of choice for students at the school and fall in their top two subjects ranked by ATAR course score.  This means the Year 10 teacher would need to extend potential Specialist students through differentiation in class (rather than through the general programme) and assess predominantly on the year 10 (not 10A) curriculum.  If the current course (with a 10A focus) produced more students in Methods with the current programme, it could be seen as workable, but they are not choosing Methods, underperforming in it with many withdrawing from the course in Semester 1, Year 11 (thanks SCSA for an overloaded Semester 1 course) - typically seeing the Applications course as an easier path through Mathematics; resulting in few students using Mathematics as their first or second score in Year 12.

The fourth issue comes with creating unteachable classes.  If students that are disengaged are lumped into a class together, there is the risk of creating a difficult class to engage. Rather than working with difficult students, the first option appears to be to use the streaming process to remove them to another class - reasoning that needs to be constantly challenged.  My prediction when setting up streams at my prior school was that middle classes would prove the most difficult to teach never eventuated there, but I can see it at the new school.  The middle classes appear to lack a clear pathway to keep them motivated, lack positive role models and this may be a good area to explore for further improvement.

Food for thought going forward.  Now to get teachers to see the streams holistically and derive positive changes that can be measured for the benefit of students.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Reflecting on streaming

We streamed the year ten mathematics classes this year. To our mind it was a success. Other learning areas had heterogeneous classes and had a lot of difficulties with behaviour management issues that streaming helped us avoid. We have our 3A, 2C, 2A and 1B classes for 2009 where many doubted whether they would occur.

The success that we have had has put some pressure on the lower school to stream classes to better cater to our more capable students. There has been some regrouping in lower school classes and teachers have reported improvements in the ability to teach mathematics topics.

The start of the Maths/English streaming debate started this week. Should we stream on mathematics results or English results? Being a mathematics teacher, to my mind it requires little consideration. English teachers on the whole don't want to stream - after all English is a subject that lends itself to the heterogeneous approach - an essay can be assessed on many levels. Mathematics on the other hand tends to be hierarchical with a concept impossible to learn without the building blocks before it. Therefore stream on mathematics.

It doesn't need to be that black and white either. Some clever timetabling was done for us and now Maths, English, SOSE, Science can use a good compromise. We have grouped all yr 10 students into two bands, an upper ability band (class A & B) and a lower ability band (class C&D). A&B's are timetabled at the same time and C&D's are timetabled at the same time.

So for the situation above, in the first example maths students in period 1 are streamed into four classes (movement of students between A&B or C&D can be done freely for each learning area). In period 2 for English, the upper ability group is mixed into two classes and the students from C&D are mixed.

The main issue occurs when students in the C are not streamed correctly (eg. maturity raises their output, students are not assessed correctly etc.) and need to be promoted to the upper ability block. This involves the changing of many classes. All four areas have to be flexible in the promotion of students and the consideration of who can move to the upper band. We try to avoid movement by setting entrance tests before the start of the year and re-examining students after four weeks at the start of term 1. New students are to sit the tests before entering an ability block. The main advantage is the reduction of the level of teaching diversity required - there is less gap between the top and bottom student in each class.

It is not perfect as students may not settle into classes as well as they constantly encounter different student configurations (as typically happens with options classes).

Furthermore, it would be interesting to know if our success would have been the same if students had been streamed in all classes. Maybe the novelty of the streaming process is a factor in the success itself.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Entrance exam

Having an entrance exam or pre-test for new students creates an opportunity to discover a lot about a new student. In low socio-economic schools it is very common to have transient students that pop in and out of schools often result in being ejected due to behavioural issues. I am told this is a requirement in other states, but not so in WA.

Transient students typically have little in the way of past reporting and schools can be cagey or lack solid information (especially if it is a local school referring them) about their ability and attitude to schooling. The need to immediately settle these kids into class and give them age and skill appropriate work is essential to establish good working routines and break the cycle. If they don't settle quickly they can ruin a carefully constructed class that is working and reduce it to behavioural problems.

The exam we wrote for year 9 (mentioned here), could be used as an entry test for these kids. It would be an indicator of attitude and ability. As it is two hours we could watch their progress through the test and monitor their attitude to work. The results of the test would give an indication of their skill level. This would remove some of the guesswork and misleading information that can sometimes be put forward by parents that overestimate the skill level of their student. It would also be fair - as it is aimed to be one of the main criteria we use for the initial streaming in year 10 being an exam for completed year 9 coursework. It would also note any key deficiencies that need attention.

As the exam is easy to mark, it could be done by the year coordinator and be free of teacher and parental bias.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Ethical reasoning and streaming

Streaming is a difficult topic as it raises a number of questions regarding student capture, teacher judgement, assessment, and social justice.

Student capture for me is the most critical aspect of a classroom. Capturing a student's interest is a perpetual task, a combination of selling your subject and moving fast enough to keep their interest, yet slowly enough to allow them to fully grasp a subject. For some it can be done through connections with the teacher's personality, others through mathematics success, others through contribution to the class and others by connections with peers. If you can capture a student and get them to consistently have a positive attitude towards your subject then this is the first criteria met for a student to be placed into a difficult mathematics class. Streaming captured students into a class can greatly assist in improving possibility for success.

Teacher judgement is the next criteria. Does the student have the intellectual horsepower to complete the work? No amount of mathematics tutoring will assist a student that has extreme difficulty in reading a question, has too many holes in their skill base or takes too long to understand a new skill. A teacher needs to be able to identify that bit of extra practice that will move the student from being able to use a skill when directed, to be able to apply a skill undirected, to be able to identify the right skill from a range of available skills. It is possible that having to continuously assist a student on a continuous basis will destroy the flow of a class and disadvantage all within it especially in upper range classes.

Assessment is the next criteria. Assessment supports teacher judgement not the other way around. To stream purely on assessment is a recipe for disaster. This is especially true for students riding the end of their ability curve and coasting or loafing. These students, when they hit the wall and finally need to study can be hurt, confused and looking for those to blame for their lack of performance. If these students have not been properly coached before the 'big drop' in results, they can drop morale in a class at a rapid rate. Sometimes (especially in this case or the case where students are having external difficulties) it is best to ignore assessment and use the first two criteria to stream students.

Social justice is the final criteria and it has to be very carefully applied. An injudicious use of social justice to students when streaming will produce weak streams and deprecate the benefits of streaming. Just because a student has a legitimate reason for underperforming does not mean that in time a student will perform. Some say that streaming a class is a social justice issue in itself but watching students being unable to complete work that the rest of the class is working on and suffering self esteem issues or dumbing a class down to the lowest common denominator is not a solution to my mind.

The hardest part of establishing a stream is that it is not an exact science. A student performing at an optimum level with one teacher may not perform at all with another (this is especially true with boys). When creating a stream (especially in small class sizes) team dynamics play a large part - if you can create a team of peers and the teacher anything is possible. It's why I think traditionally the upper classes have been sought after - despite requiring the most skill to make work - they are the ones where there has been most flexibility in construction.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Issues with classroom differentiation

In my top year 10 class, although basically ability streamed (with a few exceptions in the class for social reasons), I have thirty students. Behaviourally there are few problems but as the year has progressed I have 8-10 3AB MAS/MAT bound, 3-4 3AB MAT, 8 2CD bound and 10 2A bound.

This means that as the course continues, student goals are different for each block of students. For some it is so important that they master content now (such as 3D trig and bearings) to leave time for new content introduced in 3AB MAS and 3AB MAT. For those entering 2CD next year, they have a few bites at the cherry, the content is seen for the first time this year, consolidated next year and mastered in the following year. For the 2A crew they do not ever have to master some of the content, but by spending extra time on the basic concepts of more difficult areas of mathematics (especially algebra), they have a higher chance for success as they need to learn very little new content over the next two years.

With such broad groupings though, students are feeling frustrated that they cannot reach the 3A MAS bound students and some have asked to be moved to lower classes (better to be a big frog in a little pond, than a little frog in a big pond). Yet I have resisted this as there are transition issues this late in the year moving students between classes and no guarantees of success in lower ability classes. I have tried to redirect them to before and after class tutoring sessions.

I just thank my lucky stars that we streamed at the start of the year (thanks to one of my colleagues pushing for it). If there were 1B students in the class as well as behavioural issues the class would have had no 3A students at all.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Negative aspects of middle schooling

I've been watching the progress of middle schooling - especially as many schools are moving to this model. As per my last article about action research, here is another topic that is affected by the all change is good brigade.

Here are some negative aspects of a typical middle schooling:
a) Middle schools typically have a different timetable to senior school, limiting subject offerings across the whole school.
b) Teachers become specialised in middle school practices limiting involvement in upper school classes.
c) Student primary to secondary school adjustment and corresponding levels of personal responsibility is delayed until year 10 (eg. behavioural issues are later to develop)
d) There is an apparent reduction in rigour of courses as a disjunct is often created between primary delivery, subsequent middle school delivery and senior school expectations
e) Behavioural and pastoral care take precedence over academic performance
f) Students become isolated from upper school modelling of appropriate behaviour
g) The consequences of non-performance in middle school (as students develop at their own meandering and dithering pace) is not immediately obvious to students.
h) Heterogenous classes (non-streamed) classes are fixed with the same content taught across multiple classes, limiting opportunity for class advancement or addressing teaching moments.
i) Teachers in middle school classes can feel isolated from their subject area
j) Resources become spread throughout the school, causing repetition and higher net cost

There are counters to each of these arguments. I know this.. but I raise some of the concerns here to promote discussion of possible pitfalls.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Streaming within schools

Streaming is one of the most controvertial topics in teaching. I have heard the refrain, 'research does not support streaming' on many occassions only then to hear the benefits of ability grouping.

The social justice issue has clouded the merits of streaming for some time. Is it fair to group lower ability students and create unmanagable classrooms? I would suggest that the obvious counter to this question is that it is unfair to put students together where they can never feel true success. It is true that lower ability grouping require smaller class sizes and/or higher teacher student ratios, but these staffing requirements can be offset with larger academic class sizes without behaviour issues.

My opinion is that for too long we have overstated the social justice issue and forgotten that high performing students require the teaching time lost to managing poor behaviour of lower performing students.

Lower performing students need a different programme catering to their needs and in an environment that they can get attention not through disturbance but through academic success.

The problem with not streaming is that the main output of schools is streamed students - some streamed for university, others for TAFE and some for the workforce. The hard reality hits in year 11 where hiding in a classroom and performing at minimal levels becomes impossible and real grading occurs.

Maybe that's the topic of another blog.