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 Continue reading “Teaching as inquiry 2019 – improving student achievement Level 1 Geography (Focusing and developing a hunch)”
As mentioned in a previous post I set goals with my students at the beginning of the school year as a way to get to know new students and have a conversation about strengths, weaknesses and hopes for the future. However, my senior classes in particular level 2 and level 3 students seem unmotivated in class and struggling to submit their assessments.
A number of students seemed to have pretty much given up – perhaps this was because they were new to geography or they found the subject challenging (some didn’t even have level 1). However, some other students who were more than capable were lacking motivation as well. I decided the goal setting we had done earlier in the year was a useful starting point to a conversation. I sat down with each student in the class one on one. Brought up their goals and ask them how level two was going? I emphasised it was not yet halfway through the year and they could still turn it around. I also asked questions about what their plans were after school. While most didn’t know – we talked about the value of keeping opportunities open rather than closing doors. One student in particular was reluctant to take part in the conversation and had done absolutely no work all year. I decided to take a different tactic with her and asked her to think about how she wanted to use her time in class productively – it didn’t have to be doing geography just doing something! She was still just saying “I don’t know”. So I said we could revisit the conversation on Monday. With the rest of the students in the class we talked about next steps moving forward and how I could best support them. Another student without any credits at level 1 and 2 decided to work on her level 1 rather than level 2 so we came up with a individualised plan for her.
Overall, the reflection of goals conversation was a success. The majority of the class began to re-engage with some of the struggling students taking ownership and sending me work for feedback. A few sitting right next to me so I could help with their work during the lesson – including the student who I gave the opportunity to tell me what she wanted to do during class time.
On reflection revisiting goals is a powerful way to re-motivate students and find out where students are at. While this is useful at the start of the year it is hard to have realistic conversations with students about where they are at this point in the year. In the future I will have this conversation a little earlier on in term 2 in the hopes this shift in attitude and newly found enthusiasm could emerge a unit or work or 2 earlier 🙂
In 2017, the Level 3 Geography class took a field trip to Rotorua for 3 days. This trip was to support students with an external and students were required to conduct geographical research as part of an internal. The trip overall supported students towards gaining 9 credits in geography. While this trip was beneficial to students beyond assessment (see previous blog posts) However, reflecting on results from previous years I decided to try putting some criteria around attendance for the trip. This is largely because only 4 students attempted both the internal and external. Furthermore, a number of student rarely attended class throughout the year and then disappear after the trip to Rotorua. It is important to reflect on this because currently the Board of Trustees and the Geography department pay a significant amount of money for student to attend this trip.
This criteria was set with students in the first week of school for 2018. This way expectations with students were clear and hopefully I would get more Level 3 students attending class and submitting internals (this was a big issue in 2017).
As a class, we decided that prior to attending the trip students needed to have 80% attendance (although 90% is recommended by NCEA – this was a more realistic goal for the majority of students). Students would also need to complete ALL internals leading up to the trip.
This approach seemed successful in the first month or so of class with the majority of students making an effort with attendance. However, when the first assessment deadline came up only 9 (out of 23 students handed this in). This unfortunately meant attendance and work completion dropped off for a number of students. A similar number of students handed in the second assessment. While this work completion doesn’t seem great it was a significant improvement from the Level 3 class in 2017. Additionally, students were making an effort with attendance. At this point I discussed the results with my HOD who suggested revisiting the criteria. This seemed like a good idea in the hopes to motivate some students to complete their third assessment. If students completed 2 assessments and had 80% attendance they could come on the trip.
Some key reflections on setting this criteria and the adjustments made latter in the year:
- it helped motivate students to attend class and summit work
- However, it meant if students didn’t hand in the first assessment they almost gave up as they knew they were missing out on the trip – it would be good to consider a way to address this in 2019.
- I needed to follow through on the conditions I made with students regarding the second assessment as only one of the four students I extended this to actually handed in their assessment but came on the trip anyway (as arrangements were made too close to the deadline).
Overall, it was worth having criteria and putting restrictions in place as it meant students took their geography work and class attendance a bit more seriously since they wanted to attend the trip. It also meant we ended up with a nice crew of geographers on the trip. However, this criteria needs some adjusting for 2019 – perhaps it doesn’t need to be so credit focused potentially attendance is enough? In saying that, attendance in general has seemed to drop off since the trip in term 2 and only 1/3 the students that attended the trip have submitted their research assessments (similar to 2017).
Throughout 2017, I had trouble in most of my senior classes with students handing in work by the agreed deadline. While I initially tried to enforce strict deadlines, students didn’t really seem to take these deadlines very seriously. On several occasions in my level 1 and 3 classes students would just completely ignore the deadline and as a result I would then give the entire class an extension – feeling like this was perhaps because I hadn’t given students enough time for their assessment.
However, towards the end of 2017 I came to realise my enabling of missing deadlines was an unfair approach to assessments. On the one hand I felt that giving students more time was better than them not gaining credits for their incomplete work. However, this seemed unfair for small minority of students that did work hard in class to complete work by the deadline. It meant effectively I was favouring some students over others and some students were getting a lot of extra time to complete work. For some students they were then gaining; achieved, merit or excellence grades while other students who were handing in on top potentially could have gained a higher grade if they were given the same amount of time. Furthermore, students did in fact have plenty of time in class to complete their assessments but because they were no real consequences for missing deadlines and too many second and third chances this meant student were developing poor time management skills in class. If I wanted my students to develop strong time management skills and take deadlines seriously I needed to address this issue. I knew I was setting students up to fail later in life (at university or workplaces) if I didn’t foster a sense of urgency around work completion. I realised I needed to establish a clear extension policy early on and follow through on this policy.
As noted my level 1 and 3 classes seemed to have a pretty relaxed approach to work completion and deadlines however, this didn’t to seem to be as much of an issue in my level 2 class. I realised this was because I had set some clear expectations with this class at the start of the year. I had gotten students in this class to apply for an extension on their first assessment prior to the deadlines.
As you can see on the form students were required to reflect and take responsibility for meeting the new deadline. As a result of doing this early on with my level 2 Geography class I think this meant students took their deadlines a little more seriously than my other senior classes.
At the end of 2017 during a Social Studies Department meeting my colleagues and I were discussing the challenges of getting students to take deadlines seriously. I shared my application for extension form with my department and we decided to use this and implement a department policy. This would involve students applying for an extension (prior to the deadline). A phone call would be made home to inform parents/caregivers. This would then be signed off by the classroom teacher and then given to the HOD. The HOD would then talk to the student and approve or decline the extension.
The policy was made clear with students in the first week of classes and a letter was sent home to all Social Science students informing parents/caregivers of the policy.
The process was made clear with students and the deadlines were set early on so this meant students knew exactly what was expected of them in terms of assessments and deadlines. The expectation being deadlines would be taken seriously and there was a clear process on how to get an extension. This meant that it was fair for all students – those that needed more time needed a legitimate excuse and their were clear steps for them to follow if they needed an extension. This policy was discussed with students in week 1 and the assessment calendar was shared with them.
Reflecting on this policy at the end of term 2 I think it has been successful in getting students to take their deadlines seriously and there is definitely a sense of clarity around what is expected in terms of taking responsibility for completing work on time and taking ownership if an extension is required. There is definitely more of sense of urgency and stronger work ethic in class leading up to a deadline.
As noted in an earlier blog post the Tamaki College Social Sciences Department implemented a strict deadline policy for 2018. However, I wanted to provide students with an opportunity to catch up on missed work or if they were falling behind. I had held a geography study class for the majority of 2017. Since there are a number of students who take more than one social science Mr Brown (a history teacher) and I decided to hold this together. This meant students could come after school and get support for one or more of their classes. At the beginning of the year we sent a letter home to ALL students studying Social Sciences letting them and their parents/caregivers know this support was available.
Nearing the end of term 2 it is important to reflect on this study class. Ideally, students could come and get extra help (or time) spent on their assessment and therefore this would support them with course content and therefore assist students in meeting deadlines. However, students seemed to come in the first half of term 1. Since then it has been just myself and Mr Brown. Perhaps I need to remind students more regularly that this class is on. Or perhaps check in with students about preferred days since I asked students in term 1 but sports and other extra-curricular activities may be getting in the way as the year moves on. Nonetheless, having a regular time where support is available is useful. Often students will ask if they can come see me after school for help with stuff this way there is a clear time I can make myself available for them outside of class.
As mentioned in earlier posts at Tamaki College teachers meet regularly (every 2 weeks) to discuss and collaborate on how to best help priority learners with their academic achievement. In particular, students who have 0 credits in a number of subjects. In 2017 we focused on Level 1 and Level 2 students. However, in 2018 we will just be focusing on Level 1 students. As my Level 1 class only has 7 students there is only one student I am focusing on within the PLUG group discussions who prior to meeting in our groups had 0 credits in Geography.
I wasn’t really sure why this student wasn’t achieving in geography. While attendance was a bit of an issue she worked hard when she was in class and cared about her academic success. I mentioned to her Science teacher who is also in my PLUG group that I had found her writing to be a bit of a problem. This student’s writing was at times overly descriptive and perhaps better suited for creative writing or perhaps speech writing. However, this didn’t really work in geography. Her science teacher also commented on some issues with her writing.
After this conversation I decided to pursue this further by talking to the student one on one and giving feedback. I suggested she use grammerly and regularly share her work with me so I could comment on her writing (as well as content). We have been doing this were possible and since then this student has achieved 3 credits in geography and I have noticed a vast improvement in her writing style.
I took my level 3 Geography class to Rotorua for 4 days in Week 7 of Term 2. I made a few changes based on my learnings and reflections from the 2017 trip. Here a few things I adjusted:
- Based on the results from both the exams and internals tied to the trip I decided to establish a criteria for students attendance on the trip (80% attendance and 3/4 assessments submitted prior to the trip) – see more on this here
- I changed the days from 3 days to 4 largely because I felt the time there was too rushed and it didn’t leave my time for students to reflect and plan their field work. In 2017 there was only one opportunity to collect field work data but the locations students choose wasn’t appropriate so there was no space to fix this. This year the extra day allowed for 2 research slots. After the first data collection I got students to reflect and then re-evaluate their research plan for the following day – including location. E.g. if they went to an area where there were no tourist they could then reflect and change their location for the next day.
- I included more fun activities e.g. the ogo and white water rafting – this is based on my reflections of 2017 and the professional development I attended at the end of 2017. I wanted to take a more holistic approach to teaching and learning.
- I included more cultural based activities – as this was something maori students appreciated from the 2017 trip (seeing their culture valued). So we spent more time at Te Puia, Mitai and Kaitaki Adventures (run by iwi).
Some general reflections on the trip this year:
Putting criteria in place was a positive step to motivate students prior to the trip but also meant that some students missed out. However, we were left only bringing the engaged students on the trip which meant we had less behavioural issues etc on the trip.
The research over 2 days was definitely better and allowed students to critique their own research process. However, a couple of students skipped a significant number of classes prior to the trip which meant they really had no idea what their research plan was. Getting students to actually carry out the research in the mist of all the fun activities was a bit tedious I will need to look at solutions to this for next year – perhaps not allowing students to come if they haven’t planned in advance and making this really clear with students. I could also find ways to get students to evaluate their group members to avoid some students “carrying the weigh of others” on the trip. Having morning briefings with students prior to starting the day will also make sure the schedule is clear and everyone knows what is expected of them.
The first and second day were good in terms of students following instructions and showing up on time. However, by the end of the second day I started to feel a little like a nagging mother getting students up and ready in the morning. Perhaps an incentive for students displaying RISE values could help address some of this issues. Again regular briefings with students could also provide opportunities to reinforce expectations around behaviour and attitudes.
Overall, the trip was a success – especially in terms of getting students to do their research and critically reflect after each data collection. Students had a really great attitude (most of the time) and enjoyed the trip. However, there are still some organisational and structural issues I need to tighten up for 2019.
Literacy is a significant issue for students at Tamaki College. Students tend to be well below the National Standards for both reading and writing. During Term 1 the Social Science department met with the Literacy Specialist at Tamaki College (Marc Milford) to discuss his writing plan for 2018. During this session he shared his plan with us and discussed strategies would could use in our Social Studies classes to improve literary.
During this session Marc gave some suggestions of strategies we could use in our Social Studies classes. One I liked in particular was the “Judge group writing task”.
I decided to try this with my Year 10 class latter in the week. I asked Marc to come along and observe and help judge. During a double period I set this up as I had already planned to get students to write a paragraph on the Amazon. I explained they could write the paragraph in groups and then we would write them up the next day and “judge them”. There would be a small prize (chocolates) for the best paragraph. Students took the task very seriously and began writing their practice paragraphs in groups.
The next day Marc came in and gave the class a little more guidance and some tips on how to improve their paragraphs. Students seemed to be excited to get into the writing. Once they had revised their paragraphs students wrote there one up on the board. Marc gave a quick explanation of strengths and weaknesses of each paragraph and then gave a grade out of 5.
Some refections: Overall, this was a really fun engaging activity that students enjoyed. When I asked students about how they felt the task went they said they enjoyed it but needed more time. Perhaps this task would be better over a double period rather than a single to allow students more time to write. It would be useful for students to do this fairly regularly and then gradually build up to students judging each others work (with guidance).
In my second year of teaching Level 2 Geography at Tamaki College I wanted to make some changes to the Level 2 course content. As mentioned in previous posts I had already made some changes to the program. I wanted to the program overall to be more engaging and culturally responsive to the students I was teaching. A lot of the current content had come from text books or from the AGTA (Auckland Geographers Teachers Association). I wanted the program to be a little more relatable for the students I was teaching. At SOC CON 2017 I looked at the resources provided by Geostuff and a unit on hip hop grabbed my attention. A lot of my students listened to hip hop and RnB and felt this could engage a number of students in a more meaningful way.
This new unit was for AS91426 – Explain a geographical topic at a global scale. Students were to identify the global pattern of hip hop, explain the causes and significance for people. Perhaps a little more exciting than HIV/AIDS.
Some reflections – the class really seemed to enjoy the topic and the content. However, the pattern and causes were a little challenging – especially since a lot of the class were new to geography and had no prior knowledge. Secondly, the way I presented the content was a bit all over the place – I really needed to break down the causes and give students more examples of this rather than getting them to identify these themselves from the resource booklet. This was perhaps ok for the students who had taken geography at level 1 or students who were a bit more academic but I had a really diverse group of learners in the class this year and could have perhaps provided a lot more scaffolding for some students to make the pattern, causes and significance for people a bit more explicit. Especially considering this was the first unit of work we had covered for the year and the key geographic concepts were very new to a lot of my students. For next year I will scaffold more and take more time on key concepts – especially patterns (which can be a bit challenging)!
As part of getting to know my students at the start of the year I sat down and set goals with each students in my Year 10, Year 11, Year 12 and Year 13 classes. This was something I tried in 2017, however, I wanted to check in with students more frequently on how they were going with there goals. During the first week of teaching as I was getting to know students I sat down with each student in all my classes. Prior to our one on one conversation I asked students to think of 3 goals they had for 2018 (this could be academic or extra- curricular). I then ask them to share with me their strengths and weaknesses and their plans for the future once they had left school.
I found this to be a particularly useful way to get to know students as I had a lot of new students in all of my classes that I hadn’t taught in previous years. Students tended to share goals such as “pass level 1, 2 or 3”, “avoid distractions”, “focus more”, “complete work during class” etc. Throughout the discussion I noted down these goals in a spreadsheet and asked questions about what I could do as their teacher to support them with their goals for 2018.
Setting goals with students provided students with an opportunity to set goals for the year, reflect on their learning in 2017 and share information with me as their teacher. Recording this information meant we could revisit their goals later in the team or during term 2 to check in on how students were going with meeting their goals. Having these conversations with students one on one also gave me the opportunity to get to know students a little bit – especially their names as I tend to find learning names difficult unless I have had a one on one conversation with someone.