Friday, August 6, 2010

New fun games

Well, it's been a busy year and playing games has not been high on the agenda.. but for a change I thought I'd write about the couple of games that have been fun in the classroom and others that have been fun at home.

The three big success stories of this year have been Lupus in Tabula, For Sale and SET. All three are relatively inexpensive (<$40) and can be played with groups.

Lupus in Tabula is a game that can be played with a whole class, basically heads down thumbs up with Werewolves. Some students are the werewolves, others are the villages and we all have a bit of fun lynching the wrong people. I get to stand at the front of the class and describe in graphic detail how students are ripped apart in the night. From my top to bottom class, all have enjoyed the theme and it has allowed me to discuss problem solving strategies such as limiting choices and probability to resolving social issues such as how to play fairly and that being involved can be fun. It's probably the new favourite over Apples to Apples for a whole class.

The next one is For Sale, an auction game where students buy houses and then sell them, the person that sells their houses for the most money wins. We have great laughs about who will end up living in a cardboard box (one of the houses for sale) and who will end up in the space station. This one requires a little mental maths, ordering of integers, a little recall and a fair amount of fun.

SET was the big surprise. A bit of a brain burner, students have to pattern match cards to find groups of patterns. It plays a bit like an IQ test and after you get the hang of it, can drive you batty. It's interesting that the 'smartest' kids are not always the fastest, it's an occassion where 'visual learners' (how I hate that term) can show their mettle.

Honorable mentions should be given to Leaping Lemmings, Battle Line, Ticket to Ride - Europe and Cave Troll that had some table time, but weren't all that successful.

At home, the big winners are Campaign Manager 2008, Arkham Horror, Runewars, Space Hulk and Twilight Struggle. I'd still love to get Die Macher & Brittania to the table, but I'm not holding my breath until TEE exams are over. We still have to complete proofs and stats/probability, so I'll have to have a sit down and figure the rest of the course out.

Until next time...


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ability and performance of students in year 10

Today I focused on the performance and ability of year 10 students. I really wanted to know what caused the lack of performance in students coming through from the middle school.

Issue 1: Middle School and Middle Schooling.

Funnily enough these are two different terms. Middle school is the structure - the buildings, the leadership model, the way students move between classes and the like. Middle schooling is the teaching pedagogy and curriculum. Neither came out unscathed.

Research was not positive about progress in middle schooling.

“middle schools are in serious decline in the US and UK... What is actually done within classrooms and schools is the most important thing, not structures... The most important factors for high-quality education are quality teaching and learning provision; teaching standards; and ongoing teacher professional learning focused on evidence based teaching practices that are demonstrably effective in maximising students’ engagement, learning outcomes and achievement progress.” (Dinham & Rowe, 2009)"

“the report called for a “second generation” of Middle Schooling philosophy with a focus on relationships, relevance, pedagogy and rigour, which is informed by students’ experiences and enabled through sound educational research.” (OBrien, 2009) [Referring to the Beyond the middle report]

" In a region with very low student retention, the middle years when curriculum becomes compartmentalised and fraught with judgmental selectivity was a crucial locus for confronting serious consequences, in student lack of engagement, for later achievement and retention" (Hattan et al, 2009).

“Middle Schooling movement that has been variously described as “arrested”, “unfinished” and “exhausted”." (Prosser, 2008)

"There needs to be a more systematic emphasis on intellectual demand and student engagement in mainstream pedagogy that moves beyond and capitalises on current foci on increased participation rates and basic skills development for target group students." (Luke et al, 2003)

A great article to read is Beyond the Middle Years (Luke et al, 2003) by DEEWR and then follow it up with Dinham and Rowe (2009) article available from ACER. If students don't have a workable learning environment then learning is highly unlikely.

Issue 2: Home environment

Home environment is a key aspect of demonstrable learning ability. Although the gloss has come off this idea since the Campbell report (1960) in the US which prompted black students to be bussed away from their homes into "better" environments, it is still a factor in understanding student ability and performance.

"Students performance in low SES schools significantly lower than high SES schools. Internal school-based determinants of success do not operate independently of external, context-based determinants" (Angus, 2009)

“Cost of school represents a disproportionate amount of household income in term 1 for sole parent families” (Bond & Horne, 2009)

" In the 2007 Education Costs Survey, most parents reported having difficulty paying aspects of their children’s education during the last year, particularly for sport/recreational expenses (69%), for camps (62%) and for books (60%). Almost half struggled to pay for equipment (48%) and excursions (47%)" (Bond & Horn, 2008).

“If education is going to be the means to personal fulfilment and opportunity, we need to ensure that all these young people and their families are given the support they need to succeed. If not, then the education process will reinforce disadvantage, not overcome it, to the detriment of us all.”(Dinham, 2008)

"Schooling reproduces the structure of inequality itself" (DEEWR, 2009) inferring that prejudices and low expectations are placed on working class children by the system and re-inforced by parents

Lower expectations by parents impact on adolescent performance (Crosnow, Mistry & Elder, 2007)

High level of aspiration, low chance of success (p.162) – ESL students with non-english speaking parents (Windle, 2009)

Issue 3: Ability is often not recognised

Students are unaware of their underperformance

“Honesty in recognising and reporting student ability levels (p.163) Students reported that their skill in English was much higher than assessment indicated” (Windle, 2008)

“Ability may not be recognised due to teachers failing to recognise high ability students manifesting typical low socio-economic behaviours.” (Petersen, 2001)

“Further, social and individual factors were found to affect students' attitudes and academic choices; in particular their identification with peers, school and family and student's perceptions of peer, school and family attitudes towards HE. An interesting finding arising from stage one data was that there were significant age related differences in students' attitudes toward school and learning. Students in year 10 were significantly more negative on nearly every measure than students in Year 9 or 12.” (Maras, 2007)

Issue 4: Underperformance of teachers

Poor application of new ideas has resulted in lower than expected performance for a generation of students.

"Research conducted over the last 40 years has failed to show that individual attributes can be used to guide effective teaching practice. That ‘learning styles’ theory appeals to the underlying culture’s model of the person ensures the theory’s continued survival, despite the evidence against its utility. Rather than being a harmless fad, learning styles theory perpetuates the very stereotyping and harmful teaching practices it is said to combat." (from abstract only) (Scott, 2010)

"Practice, grouping of concepts and direct instruction/frequent modelling are key element in addressing learning difficulties. Independent learning and discovery based learning is inappropriate in a learning difficulty environment." (Bellert, 2008)

“Many primary teachers feel under-equipped to teach mathematics and science. In a 2007 study of 160 Australian primary school teachers, they devoted only three per cent of their time to the teaching of science and 18 per cent of their time to teaching mathematics. There is concern that if students receive an insufficient grounding in mathematics and science in primary school, this will cause difficulties in secondary school.” (quote taken from (Chinnappan, Dinham, Herrington, & Scott, 2008).

“Curriculum alignment must occur to clearly connect outcomes to assessment.” (Hedemann & Ludwig, 2008)

“Curriculum Mapping is required to ensure minimum standards are met. Every student must have multiple opportunities to attain minimum standards. Choice of actions is required to improve performance.” (Falls, 2009)

And that was today's research!!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Thinking about information thus far

Ok research thus far,

So for students to succeed in low socioeconomic schools we require the following:

a) Parents to encourage students towards realistic academic goals
b) For students to be educated into valuing academic success and aspire towards it
c) For teachers to set high expectations and go well beyond the average expectations of a normal teacher
d) For schools to find, support and appreciate teachers that can satisfy c)
e) For government to accept that low socio-economic schools (no matter what is done) will not succeed at the level of mid to high socioeconomic schools for a myriad of reasons.
f) For tertiary institutions to get involved at an earlier stage than year 11/12
g) For corporate entities and employers to realise that there are many capable late developing students from low-socioeconomic schools able to participate in the workforce (that under different circumstances could have achieved in a tertiary environment)

That's that.. done.. tick!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Unrealistic expectations

Some students have unrealistic expectations. In the same way that some parents lower the expectations of their students, it does also go the other way.

One sector of the school population where this is common is with students of non-english speaking backgrounds. Students can be put under extreme pressure to perform, often after going through very limited schooling. It's not just a Perth thing, it was also observed in Windle's study (2009) where students reported higher understandings of English than their assessment recognised, the students had high levels of aspiration to attend university but a very low chance of success.

In the refugee population, this is a common problem, with many having had limited schooling prior to gaining residency or refugee status. It leads to exacerbate the demands on teachers in low-socioeconomic schools (as observed by Campbell Cook and Dornen, 1995), with teachers recognising ability, but requiring inordinate amounts of work to see these students through. In talking to a care worker outside the system, they raised that other issues are also common such as sleeplessness (due to hyper awareness), distrust of authority and reluctance (or over demand) when seeking assistance.

When you consider that many of these students are not eligible for additional funding, yet require lower primary assistance within a high school environment, it is easy to see why their performance can fall below school norms. Yet these same students are averaged into "my school" results. From a school perspective these students are a real problem.

For these students to be seen as a problem is a social justice issue that needs resolving. It is a real problem when moving from a searching for excellence paradigm to a market driven approach. In a pure market driven approach, these students would be excluded from mainstream education (to preserve school results and ensure that the calibre of students at a school is maintained) and placed in segregated specialist programmes. Yet from an ESL perspective (as discussed with ESL teachers) this is detrimental to their progress as their immersion to common language is a requirement for their improvement.

As a teacher it is a frustrating problem as you need to help at-risk students, but know to do so will draw attention away from kids that have higher probabilities of success. The 'greatest good' model vs the 'rights of an individual' is in firm conflict. Couple this to the higher risk that their 'other' issues may undermine your teaching programme for these at-risk students and the opportunities for success further decrease. Reverse racism (predjudice of non-minority but equally disadvantaged groups)is common, as are claims of racism if direct assistance is withdrawn. It can be a real catch-22 situation.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Literature Review

Research is one of my favourite pastimes, sitting in a library with purpose is quite a fun thing. Yesterday I sat and read about some of the issues faced by disadvantaged students. As I work on my literature review for my masters I'll keep updating this post.

1. It's not a new problem.

The Coleman Report in 1966 was a seminal report in investigating disadvantaged youth in schools (commonly referenced). I need to read it!

To address the issue in Texas, standardised testing was introduced and showed a high degree of success, but at the expense of a narrowing curriculum (Smith, 2005). This was again seen in the UK (Cox, 1999).

The Australian Government recognises disadvantaged student performance as a problem and have produced a paper outlining some effective measures that can be taken. I need to find references, I've read DEEWR articles in the past(here), now I need to use them!

In general though, Australian mathematics education fared ok when in 2000 we were compared to 31 OECD countries (OECD study, 2003), Australian education was significantly higher on the PISA scale for 21 countries and only significantly lower for two (Japan and Korea).

Students that study in state schools have significantly lower funding that independent and private schools (Edwards, 2008).

2. Environment is a key factor

In a US study, a pre-primary student given extra assistance by a university eventually graduated with two degrees. Nothing spectacular here except her parents had sub 40 IQ (Wickelgren, 1999).

3. Students require attitude adjustment

In a Queensland study in 1995, an observer recognised that until students are assisted in changing their perspective they cannot begin to appreciate any assistance given to help them gain access to university pathways (Campbell, Cook and Dornan, 1995).

I saw as a result of my action research in term 1 & 2 that students need to understand what academic behaviours are and why they are important. This can result in quite spectacular short term success. These behaviours in themselves are not enough to ensure ongoing success as retention requires repetition and a long term committed approach to provide lasting benefits.

4. Students require a range of motivational support

There is no one way to motivate students. Many theories exist and none are perfect. Common theories are Expectancy x value theory, Attribution cognitive theory, Attribution Achievement motivation theory and Achievement goal theory (King, 1998).

5. School can both improve future prospects and reinforce existing expectations.

For some students schools can inspire them to levels higher than their parents. For others, schools will reinforce similar job prospects to their parents (Campbell, Cook, Dornan, 1995) and schooling reproduces the structure of inequality itself (DEEWR Component A, 2009, p.29).

High SES students are over-represented and low SES students are underrepresented because students from different SES backgrounds are differentially prepared by schooling for entry into university (DEEWR, 2009, p.29)

6. It is possible to improve university pathway access

There's nothing easy about it, but it is possible with the proper long term approach. Now the task is to create a way to find that correct method for our school.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Career progression and an idealistic approach

I sit here still wondering if I am doing the right thing. A senior school teacher has the world at their feet, being able to teach to year 12 across all areas of your specialist curriculum is what gives you worth when seeking to further your career. I'm considering applying for a position in the middle school.

In a small low socio-economic school rarely is the full curriculum offerred (1B-3D MAT and 3A -3D MAS) and rarely will you get to teach the upper subjects as there is competition for them among those in your department. I've been lucky to be given an opportunity to teach all levels of year 10, MiPs, MwM, Discrete, 1BC MAT, 3ABCD MAT and 3AB MAS, but have rarely been able to teach any of these courses more than once. School collaboration (where students are bussed between schools for small class subjects) only makes this cycle longer. Being at the end of a cycle of students, my run at these subjects would take at least another three years (following students through from year 10) and I'm not looking forward to the slog of working with another lot of under prepared kids.

The fatigue and long repeat cycle is a factor in the constant turnover of teachers as they seek to develop depth to their understanding of the curriculum and pedagogy - many at this stage of their career seeking independent sector jobs and more pliable students. Being four years into my career, I'm looking for an opportunity to further improve my teaching and I know there is a job to do in middle school to better prepare students for high school. I've taught senior school for three years and the whole time have yearned to go back to middle school and do what I was trained to do, despite all evidence that says I am a better exclusively senior school teacher than an exclusively middle school teacher - oh for a position where I could do both!.

It has been pointed out to me by many that to not teach any senior school is career suicide. To lose the perspective senior school offers reduces the ability to bridge students into senior school and reduces your attractiveness to a potential employer. Furthermore, from the outside it would look like I was 'encouraged' away from senior school because of under performance, inability to handle the stress or lack of ability. Maybe subtly this is the case (I hope I'm still my harshest critic, my results this term have been woeful by my standards) but I think the want to move to middle school is still my choice and not something that I am not being directed towards by administration. I may also be walking away from a leadership issue in senior school as if I'm not in senior school, I won't be considered once senior maths staff seek new opportunities (conversely what would a future employer think if I'm eight years into my career and still applying for a senior position!).

Despite this, now that a middle school position has finally arisen, I have put my hand in the air and said, 'I would like to work in the middle school if I am the best applicant.' Many people have supported me in the senior school and I feel I have let a few people down by deciding to do this, as it would leave a hole and cause some instability whilst a new teacher is settled in (whereas a new teacher would have less impact in middle school especially mid-year) but I feel I can't complain about student preparedness if I'm unwilling to roll my sleeves up and do something about it. It may set me back a few years in my quest for readiness for a HoD or TiC position but if there is a job to be done (and the middle school needs to gear up for national curriculum and year 7 introduction (if it ever happens)) this is a job I can do well.

After all, I'm only really happy when engrossed in what I am doing and striving for excellence. I'm reliant on others to find areas where I can do this and need faith that they are cognizant of my career progression when utilising my skills. It's a bit harder with a newborn as I have to think about career progression a bit more than in my idealistic past, but I still feel that making it 'career' rather than 'best interests of children' the prime focus of my teaching (as I see in other 'driven' teachers) is a mistake in my case.

Ultimately, if the school needs a senior school teacher, I can do that. If they need me as a middle school teacher, I can do that. If they can find a way to allow me to do both, that would be good too.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pride in your work.

It's taken half a year but I think the message is sinking in. This week I have focused on getting students to perform to a standard rather than some fictional developmental level. I am the teacher, I set expectations on how I want things to be done and no, I don't really care how your last teacher let you do it.

Hard up against the left margin, work down the page, rule a new column if there is space for it and use it, exercise number before you start in a column, work marked from the back of the book once an exercise is complete with a red pen, one line for each line of working (why do students miss spaces??), a space between each question, each question should be written as if to be read by another human being - not in some chicken language from outer space.

Also, if I give an instruction on how to do something, pay attention and do it that way. If you are writing 4709 in words, it is four thousand, seven hundred and nine. The 'and' is important. Ninty, ninteen, forteen and fourty are not words. One equals sign per line, the question is always to be written unless a lengthy worded problem. If you are adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing vertically I expect to see clear columns for place value.

When I come into class, don't wait for me to say get out your books - just get them out. If I write notes on the board, write them down verbatim - I haven't met many students that can paraphrase sufficiently to make more succinct notes than mine. Asking what time the period ends is a waste of time - the answer will always be two hours fom now. If you fail a quiz, expect 60 questions for 'practice' over the weekend. Don't talk in my class about social events unless you can consistently get 80% in assessment - you obviously haven't got time to lose.

If you have a problem, seek help. If the problem has to do with a boyfriend, seek someone who cares - I'm only ears for maths and things that need mandatory reporting. I'm not your friend, please remember that - I'm your teacher.

.. and the funny thing is, when you lift expectation, it's easier to teach. The students respond and start to realise that you only want the best for them - tell them it's much easier to just sit back and watch them fail (or to give them phony grades that make it look like they are learning). To me setting high standards is just showing students how to take pride in themselves and their work. Building self esteem is not mutually exclusive with negative responses. I think that in many cases students need to have the bar lifted for them before they can start to do it themselves.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fatigue... and a poke at Julia..

Teaching is one of those careers where fatigue is a constant enemy. It's important to recognise (especially at this time of year at the end of an 11 week term) that you're not going to be at your best. Week 8+ is always a bit of a danger time where you can lose perspective on your successes and fall into the trap of seeing defeat in what you are attempting to achieve.

With the NCOS things have changed a little, it means that you have to press on at a time where typically you would wind down into the end of term. You really need to fit two good weeks of work in to make a good run at the mocks at the end of term 3. Kids will be feeling the pressure, admin needs reports completed, exams need marking, tempers will fray.

Yet this is also a time when teams come together and there are opportunities to do small things that can make a lasting impression. Take the time to smile at someone, guide them through a nasty spot, do an extra duty, smile when you get relief, go on an excursion, offer around a chocolate bikkie or grab some take away for the staff room. In the crucible great things can be borne.

Take inspiration from wherever it stems, much of mine at the moment comes from my daughter, where in the past I may have given up and sought another challenge, I now dig in and look at the problem again seeking new solutions. A challenge is just an opportunity yet to be realised.

I was working with my 10's and we are looking at their ability to perform in non-calculator situations. Many can't divide, and many of those can't multiply because their tables are weak. Any idiot can teach kids tables. Maybe it's time I rolled up my sleeves and planned a tables club for next year, to fix a core issue. If numeracy is the focus next year, perhaps this is one path to finding long term success.

It's also a time where many decide it's time for a change and the inner conflict occurs of the desire for stability vs career opportunity. Do you talk people into staying or encourage them to pursue other options? I don't know the answer for this other than to encourage them to seek someone with more experience to help them with the answer. Other than this blog, I have no desire to lead (or even influence) as my best leadership option is to lead by example. Whilst still learning content and gaining an understanding of leadership roles I am in no position to lead with expert power. With time, my masters, a bit of experience and teaching year 12 courses may lead me there.. but I think I have a way to go yet.

If that idiot Gillard can become Prime Minister, who knows which lump headed student will solve world hunger, cure cancer or bring about everlasting peace. Some even might remember that teacher that gave them a hard time or a bit of encouragement that put them back on a path to success.