After reviewing the senior geography exam results for 2017 (level 1, 2 and 3) I wanted to find ways to improve outcomes for senior students sitting the external exams (see some reflections here).
A number of students explained to me that they were tripped up by the wording of a question and rather than skipping that particular question they would simply give up and skip the entire exam. In 2017 all geography students prepared for 2 externals but the majority of students only ended up sitting one. This was frustrating as I knew if students had more confidence, better literary or more practice with exams they would have not been so quickly deterred by the wording of a question. While I felt that I had given students plenty of opportunities to practice exam questions and had spent a lot of time having class based discussions brainstorming about old exam questions this was still a major hurdle for students. A number of students gave me feedback that they would like more practice questions to better prepare for the exam. I felt I had given students a lot of practice exams to work through – however, students seemed to lack a sense of urgency around completing these and could take weeks of class time to write practice answers for one exam. As a result students were not really being exposed to a range of questions or getting the feedback they needed to be confident in the final exam.
My hunch was this sense of urgency and feedback needed to be developed over the whole year and not just leading up to externals. I also got the sense that perhaps teachers were providing a bit too much feedback during assessments which meant students lacked confidence and experience in tackling issues on their own – as this type of problem solving was required in the exam I thought I could potentially prepare students for this during internal assessments.
I decided to approach assessment differently and do all the teaching over 4 weeks and then run the assessment like a test – under exam conditions over a week. Students could answer practice questions and prepare in advance and seek feedback (much like in an exam) but for the internal they were on their own. (see previous posts)
I attempted this approach for 2 assessments at level 1, 2 and 3 throughout term 1 but what I found was many students were away during the week which complicated things (this perhaps may be a useful approach in schools with high levels of attendance but it wasn’t really the best strategy for my students who were regularly missing class). Another key issue I noticed that for many a week just wasn’t enough time and this affected the hand in rate significantly.
At the end of term 1 I realized I had to reconsider this approach and adjust my program to accommodate students. We were half way through our internals and the majority of students were not achieving or submitting work with the exception of my level 1 geography class (all work was completed!). I decided to revisit individual goals with students and create individual plans in order to support students with their internals (see previous posts). I sat down with each student one on one and discussed where they were at and what we could do moving forward. Every student in my level 2 class was now on their own individual plan to support the different academic ability, rates of attendance and other learning needs. This worked really well, students were engaged and those who had missed a bit of class were able to just carry on where they left off. The majority of students in the class gained at least 5-8 credits during term 2 – so this was a big improvement on the results in term 1.
During term 3 I revisited goals with students again and decided to give students the option to sit the externals or carry on with internals at the beginning of the term. 5 students ended up opting in to the exam. A one on one discussion with each student allowed for students to make their own decision on this – many who had not completed all the internals felt they could get more credits focusing on the internals.
While it is unclear at this stage whether this inquiry has improved students outcomes in externals – I feel it has allowed me to reflect on my own teaching practice and develop and improve my teaching practice. Adapting the course to suit individual students is a useful way to better support the diverse needs of learners in the classroom. Not all student is the same and this needs to be considered throughout the school year. Having regular conversations with students about their success meant that I developed stronger relationships with students and they seemed to feel more confident in seeking feedback on their work when required. Students also seemed to be taking responsibility for their own learning – often submitting work when it was ready without me chasing them for it.
Next steps – I will focus on individual plans much earlier in the year.