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

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Revisiting student goals

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 🙂

Deadlines and having high expectations

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

PLUG Groups PLD 2018

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.

Reflections on Rotorua field trip, 2018

P1010412.JPGI 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:

  1. 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 
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 strategies – Year 10 Amazon paragraph writing

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.

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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”.

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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.

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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).

Changes to Level 2 – hip hop unit some reflections

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)!

Teaching as Inquiry Literacy in Level 2 Geography- Term 1, 2017 #2 (Feedback, feedforward)

As noted in my earlier post – Inquiry blog 1 I was concerned about the level of detail, structure and lack of explanation in my level two geography class. A number of students were using bullet points to write their assessments and generally their work lack the detail required at level 2. After speaking to teachers in the English department about this I wondered if this was potentially an issue with students creating subject specific silos and not transferring skills from one classroom to another. As mentioned previously I wanted to overcome this block and decided to address this with the class. We went over “How to write an essay in geography” using adapted resource material from an English class (see blog 1). This reinforced essay writing skills and emphasised their place within a geography context.

I wanted to work on the paragraph, structure, flow and level of detail and critical thinking within written work with this particular group over the year and decided a useful starting point would be to ask the class to write an essay without the pressure of assessment. The logic behind this was for me to gain a bit more insight what students writing looked like (at this stage I had only seen one assessment) and also to provide a space for me to give writing specific feedback.

As we were beginning a new unit “Conducting Geographic research with direction” – students were going to decide where a new Coffee shop should be located in GI. However, as we started on this topic I realised students at Tamaki College didn’t seem to have a good understanding of New Zealand’s Coffee Culture – this was a foreign concept to the class and their knowledge of “coffee culture” was limited to Mc Cafe, Nescafe or “Mum’s weekly coffee from the bakery on pay day”. I realised for students to engage with this research project I would need to provide some context for the class. So I decided to combine this with essay writing. I asked students to read some information about Wellington’s Coffee Culture – pick a theme that was interesting to them and write about it.

I gave students several lessons to work on their essays and asked them to share these with me. I explained I was going to give feedback around structure only and explained a traffic light system. As a class we were using the TEXAS model (topic sentence or statement, explanation, example, analysis and summary/link).  I then explained I would highlight green where they had provided a clear statement. Orange where there was an explanation, yellow if they had provided evidence or an example and purple where they had linked back to the question.

 

Feedback for Year 12 writing

 

My goal here was to encourage students to be more reflective and hopefully develop skills to check their own work by providing feedback. I looked over students work and highlighted using the fore mentioned color codes and then wrote a comment.

Here is an example of the type of feedback I was giving:

Coffee shop work

While some students responded well to this type of feedback I got the sense it was a little intimidated and overwhelming for others. I then thought about it and realised I have my own anxieties about writing and commenting on everything was probably not helping students who already lacked confidence. I need to reconsider my approach and find another strategy to improve the literary of level 2 students in geography.