Teaching as inquiry 2019 – improving student achievement Level 1 Geography (Focusing and developing a hunch)

At the beginning of Term 1, 2019 I was looking for a focus for inquiry. Starting my first term teaching at a new school I initially thought I would like to focus my inquiry on finding ways to include and incorporate student and whanau voice into the geography program. However, I quickly this was a little ambitious being my first year teaching at a new school and in a new community. After a department meeting where we review the previous years NCEA results I decided to shift my focus.

The schools results for Geography were noticeably low. I notice a lot of “Not Achieved or DNS grades” for both externals and internals. After a brief discussion with my colleagues in the Social Sciences department they agreed completion rates for internals and attendance rates for externals were a known issue at the school. Some of this was due to school wide attendance but they explained there was a significant “drop off” in attendance during Terms 3 and 4 in particular.

I wanted to take some of my reflections and learning from my 2018 inquiry where I focused on exam results for a Year 11 Geography class. I had faced similar issues with exam results in 2017 with a significant number of students either not sitting the exam or not achieving in the externals. The exam results for my 2018 Level 1 Geography class showed a significant shift with 85% of students attending the end of year exam, 71% achieving and 57% of students gaining Merit or Excellence endorsements. While these results seem impressive there were a number of factors that were beyond me and my teaching capacities that resulted in this success. 1) The class size was small (only 7 students) 2) The class were all girls 3) These were mostly highly driven and ambitious students. Regardless of this there are also a number of strategies I incorporated throughout the year that could also support student achievement in a Level 1 Geography class at Northland College.

  • Attendance is a significant issue at both schools – one strategy I incorporated into my teaching practice was addressing this early with students and finding solutions with the student through creating individual plans and regularly checking in with students about were they are at. I have found as a teacher if we ignore the reality of a students low attendance it can be problematic as they can then come to class feeling overwhelmed and behind. Finding ways were students are empowered to work at their own pace can support achievement and make class time more productive when the student does attend.
  • Literacy as noted in previous posts literacy can be a huge barrier for students academic success. While students can be supported with understanding the question and the content for internals. Low literacy in external examinations can be challenging – especially in geography when the questions are notoriously complex in their wording. Familiarizing students with subject specific vocabulary and exposing students to practice questions in the lead up to externals can help overcome some of these obstacles. Further, using a specific paragraph structure can help students format their answers to include evidence and specific examples required for NCEA geography internals. Providing students with a format such as TEXAS (topic sentence, evidence, analysis and summary) can support students with formatting and answer that is clear, concise and addresses the question. This structure can also assist students with moving their answers to a higher level of thinking with focus and discussion on the analysis aspect.
  •  Feedback providing regular and constructive feedback can support students with their learning. I like to use a tracking sheet as a way to check where students are with there internals and this also provides me with a systematic approach to checking students work and giving them feedback.
  • Building relationships while I was fortunate to have a small Level 1 class in 2018 this also reinforces the point that having a good relationship with students is key. This will require extra focus for me in 2019 as I am teaching at the new school and am yet to establish relationships with any of my geography students. This then will be a key focus for this inquiry.
  • Planning – based on my inquiry I also discovered planning is key to increasing student achievement. Aiming to finish internal assessments by the end of Term 2 allows students to focus entirely on externals in Term 3. This is especially important for students that struggle with and feel anxious in exams. Preparation and allowing sufficient time to prepare and practice can help build confidence and (hopefully) increase attendance for external examinations. Completing internals by the end of Term 2 also allows a buffer of time where students can be given the opportunity to re-sit internals.

In summary, my focus for inquiry for 2019 will be to work on improving the NCEA results for the Year 11 Geography class. I will focus on achieving this by establishing relationships with students, supporting students with their literacy – particularly subject specific vocab and support with structuring paragraphs. I will also keep track of work completion and provide regular feedback and support students with low attendance by setting individual goals with students who have particularly low attendance.

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