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.

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.


Changes to Level 2 – Contemporary Issue. Ihumatao, Otuataua, Stonefields.

In my second year of teaching Level 2 Geography at Tamaki College I wanted to make some changes to the course content. In particular to AS94245 – contemporary issue. Last year students had looked at whether or not a rail link should be built to Auckland’s International Airport. However, students (and myself) were not really engaged in this issue. As noted in my previous post about teaching Child Poverty in my level 1 class I feel it’s important to teach content that I find interesting and exciting to teach as enthusiasm can be contagious – this is especially important for issue related content. One of the reasons I think geography is such an important subject is for it’s potential to engage students in the world that we are living in.

Students are Tamaki College, living in Glen Innes are living the realities of a significant redevelopment project happening in their community. When I have discussed this in class with students this seems to be an issue they feel passionate about and are keen to discuss and debate in class. The Level 2 Social Studies class looks at this redevelopment and the perspectives around it and since their were some strong parallels between what is happening in Glen Innes (in particular with the Point England reserve) and Ihumatao.  I felt that this might provide students with an opportunity to draw links and think about issues a little deeper – especially for those who were taking both Social Studies and Geography.


Additionally, Ihumatao is a good example of the Treaty of Waitangi in a contemporary context. Highlighting to students the Treaty is not simply a historical document that has been left behind. Rather, that is has implications in todays society too.


Since Ihumatao is a local issue (located in Mangere, Auckland) this also provided an excellent field trip opportunity. I contacted organisers from SOUL (Save our Unique Landscape) to see if they were willing to take the class through and discuss their various perspectives with students. SOUL were happy to accomodate us and we organised a trip to visit the land. This was a fantastic way for students to see the land, hear stories and gain a deeper understanding of the cultural, archeological and historical significance of Ihumatao. Students then returned to school with a deeper understanding of the issue and heard a variety of perspectives on the issue (SOUL had 4 different speakers talk to the class!).

On reflection it is important to reflect on and change units of work in class and attempt to find issues that engage students and me as their teacher especially in a subject like geography that allows students to explore the world we are living in. Using locally based issues can be a powerful way to bring the issue to live for students especially when field trip opportunities are available. This can allow students to explore the issue and different perspectives first hand rather than reading off a website – this is especially valuable for students whose literacy levels are not good. Lastly, it is important as a teacher of social sciences to keep topics fresh and relevant!


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)!

Co-constructing class expectations and rules and adressing lateness

As noted in 2017 I found co-constructing and establishing classroom rules and expectations with students to be a successful strategy to creating a safe classroom environment. I decided to set these rules and expectations with all my classes again in 2018. However, an issue I faced with students in 2017 was significant lateness. The majority of students tended to arrive 15 to 20 minutes into the lesson. This was problematic for several reasons. Firstly, during a 50 minute lesson students were missing almost half of the lesson by not getting to class on time. While not all students were arriving late this did have a knock on effect to classroom culture. Where the on time students would muck around until their peers arrived. It made starting the lesson in a timely fashion challenging and at times frustrating as late students would arrive and disrupt the lesson or interrupt me teaching or giving instructions to the class.

I decided to find a solution to this with students in 2018 and discuss my concerns around lateness with students while we were setting expectations. We came up with 2 solutions to my concerns. 1) in each class we determined what was a reasonable amount of time to get to class after the bell (between 5-7 minutes).  I then asked each class what should happen if this expectation wasn’t met. We decided together that each time students would come in quietly, write their name on the board and if it happened 3 times in a row then there would be a phone call home. If a student was late one day but on time the next they could then remove their name from the board.

I also had a discussion with the class about appropriate ways to enter the classroom if they were late for reasons beyond their control. E.g. enter quietly and wait for the appropriate moment to apologise and ask for instructions.

I have found setting these clear guidelines, expectations and consequences with all classes early on in the year has made a positive shift in terms of students generally arriving within the agreed 5-7 minute window. When students do come late and disrupt I generally ask them to try entering the room again and they remember our early conversation and come into the room quietly. Taking the time to set clear expectations with students is a useful way to overcome issues such as lateness and consequently helps students to take responsibility for their own learning and behaviour.

Setting goals with students 2018

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.

Co-constructing classroom rules and expectations

At the start of the year or when I first meet my classes I set classroom expectations and rules with the class. Rather than coming up with a set of rules that the class must obey I turn this in to a class discussion. As a class we set the rules together.

I did this with my Year 9 tutor class at the start of the year and I found this a really useful approach to establishing rules and expectations. It allows member of the class to discuss what is important to them and what helps with learning. We take this opportunity to discuss things like eating and drinking in class (ok if they clean up), headphones (ok if they take them out when others are talking or for instructions etc. As a class we often decide what should be done if a student is late. For example with my Year 10 class we decided 5 minutes late was ok but any time after that will be made up at interval. Students then have a tenancy to follow these rules because they are given some agency in creating them but also because the process has been co-constructed as well.

Furthermore, at times throughout the year we could revisit the rules this was especially valuable for classes I was having behavioral issue in because I could gently remind the class these were their rules.

In summary, co-constructing class rules with students is a useful way to establish a safe, culturally responsive learning environment.

Knowing your learner and adapting to a situation – Level 3 geography at Tamaki College

Several students in my level 3 geography class had some issues this year with attendance. They would rarely come to class however, I saw them around school everyday. After further investigation I found out these students were going to the library rather than class. For me as a first year teacher this was incredibly frustrating. I could not understand why they would come to school but not class and seemed to think being in the library rather than class was a totally exceptable excuse.

Early on, I accepted this as I could see they were at least getting their work done and were on task. However, I tried to assert that they came to see me at the beginning of the lesson to get the work. This request was a constant battle. Furthermore, as the year progressed these students would no longer tell me they were there nor were they completing their work. I would have probably let this go and mark the students as truant however, the weekend before assessments were due I would get frantic emails from these students asking for help. On the one hand I was pleased at least they were getting their work done. However, I couldn’t help but be annoyed they only really needed help because they had missed weeks of class discussion and extra support. Regardless, I would always answer their questions and try and support them as much as I could online.

As the weeks went by my frustration grew, these girls were not completing work but they were at school everyday! I felt responsible for their learning and was growing increasingly concerned about their lack of credits. I began to question these girls more and more when they had missed class, sent letters home and spoke to my HOD and their Dean.  None of this seemed to help in fact in only seemed to make matters worst – this had now started to effect my relationship with these students and they DEFIANTLY didn’t want to come to class.

By the end of term 2 I had, had enough, my approach wasn’t working and all the effort trying to get these girls to class was exhausting. I made a decision – I would focus on the students who wanted to come to class. I tried to have a restorative conversation with the girls. I explained my frustration but informed them it was now up to them. If they wanted to come to class they could, if not they didn’t have to. I also explained my frustration at checking work at 10pm on a Sunday night and asked if they could come see me in class with their questions. I decided to embrace the situation and told them they could come check in and were not expected to stay in class – they could head back to the library. Although this was difficult for me as a first year teacher as I felt like I was giving the girls permission to truant my class I was at a bit of a loss and figured it was worth a shot if it got them completing work.

While this didn’t work for all 3 students – one student responded particularly well. I began to see her in class more often (still not every day) and our relationship had improved she would talk to me about work and was generally pretty focused and on task when she was there. This shift in attitude (from both of us) meant this student ended up catching up on all of her missed assessments and completing all 4 of her internals.

In conclusion, I learnt from this experience as a teacher it is important to adapt your teaching practice to suit your learner and focusing on repairing relationships through restorative chats can be incredible useful. In the future, I will focus on the students who turn up to class and try to maintain a positive relationship with the more casual attenders so if they choose to make a turnaround they feel the door is always open 🙂

Providing opportunities to learn -eliminating distractions and building relationships

During Term 3, 2017 I noticed one of the relationships with one of my students (student A) in my Year 12 class had shifted. Earlier in the year this student seemed to lack focus, struggled to complete work on time or to the standard he was hoping for and was reluctant to ask for help or support from me with his work. I started to think back on why this shift had happened and I realised his attitude towards me and his work had changed around the time I intervened on a class mate who was a constant distraction (student B).

For most of the year I had thought that student A was the student who was doing the distraction. He was often up and out of his seat walking around the classroom. Giving me the impression he was distracting student B. However, after a conversation with a maths teacher who had taught both of these students before I learnt the opposite was true. Student A liked to walk around or stand up in class for some reason but that was a habit rather than a reluctant attitude towards work. In addition to this new knowledge I realised that Student B rarely completed any work (other than the first assessment). I was also concerned because Student A had been identified as a Priority Leaner because of his lack of credits at level 2 despite his reputation as a good student in previous years.

I realised it was up to me to manage this behavior in my classroom better if I wanted both these students to succeed. The next lesson the off task behavior started and I told these students I had, had enough. If it happened again I would remove one of them….it did and so I took Student A to the deans explaining he was not in trouble I just wanted a quiet place for him to work. I also explained that next time it would be his friend being removed and this would continue to rotate until we could get our work done all together.

The next day I noticed both boys were on their best behavior especially student A choosing to sit elsewhere and Student B did not seem to want to be sent out so they were both able to get on with the learning.

After this not only was student A much more focused in class but he began showing me work and asking for support. This taught me that it is important to provide a learning environment where all students have the opportunity to learn even if is their mates distracting them. I will defiantly intervene much earlier in future situations that are similar – as this not only improved my relationship with the students but also allowed this student to focus on his learning.