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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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 – 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.

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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.

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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!

 

Rotorua Education Network – “Famil”

In November this year I attended the Rotorua Education Network famil. This was a 2 day PD that involved meeting with and experiencing tourism in Rotorua. During the 2 days we went to agrodome, te puia, we also went white water rafting on the skyline to agrodome adventrues, on the ogo and to tamaki village for a cultural experience. This was a pretty awesome PD to be attending a aside from being a whole lot of fun it was beneficial to my teaching practice for several reasons;

  • This year was my first year taking my Year 13 geography class to Rotorua as part of their research assessment and external (cultural proccesses). I booked on line through the Rotorua Education Network but didn’t really know what to expect or what was on offer. The famil, showcased a whole lot of tourist providers and what they could offer school groups – including links to particular standards. I now have some ideas for next time and may be a bit more adventurous in the activities I book. This year I was viewing the trip purely from an assessment driven perspective and not looking at the bigger picture in terms of cultural experiences, fun outside of the classroom.
  • This trip provided me with a useful networking experience with about 20 geography teachers from around the country attending we spent a lot of time talking about the various programs and courses we offered which was useful to my planning and reviewing of the level 3 program.

I am now looking forward to creating a more engaging and holistic fieldtrip in 2018!

AGTA – New to teaching geography course

In May, 2017 I attended a workshop held by the Auckland Geography Teachers Association. This was a short 3 hour course that covered some general information about teaching geography. While there were a number of themes that were addressed in this discussion there was one point that really stood out to me. One of the experienced geography teachers was discussing planning your program and the amount of credits required. She was explaining the benefits of offering less credits in your geography course in order to provide a space for teaching and learning outside of assessment.

I liked this idea for a number of reasons;

  1. As geography is an option subject we should be developing students interest in the subject and making our subject as exciting as possible which can’t always be done if you are constantly teaching to assessment.
  2. It is important to take time out to explore other issues that interests us as teachers but also students. E.g. current events, global issues, media stories etc. Cutting assessments gives some space and time out and learn through exploration.
  3. Teaching the same content year after year can be tedious for both the teacher and student – exploring new ideas can be engaging for the students and keep teachers passionate about the subject.

Nearing the end of 2017 on the back of my first year of teaching this is something I am seriously considering in my planning, in particular cutting out one external. At the moment the majority of L1,2 and 3 students only complete 1 if any externals and so focusing on internal credits and making the content interesting could be are more meaningful and valuable use of class time than preparing for externals that are not always completed. However, I will re-assess this at the beginning of next year once we have the data for externals. In the meantime I am re-working some of the content for next year to keep geography interesting!

Teaching as Inquiry – Literacy in Year 12 Geography – Term 3, 2017 #5

While my Year 12’s geography class’ writing had significantly improved since term 1 with the focus on structure; in particular topic sentences and evidence. As noted in post 4 (term 2) the class were still lacking skills to link and focus their key points. While after marking their research assessment I felt their explanations were a lot stronger than they had previously been this showed me they perhaps had a better level of understanding. However, after completed there 3rd assessment I noticed their explanations were still lacking significantly. I reflected on why this might be the case.

As the research assessment reuqires students to summarise their explanations may have been stronger in this context because this was their own data and information they were drawing from. We had collected the data in Glen Innes over 2 days and since the context was familiar students may have had a lot more confidence in writing about this environment. This pointed me to look at the level of reading comprehension for the Year 12’s. Perhaps a lack of understanding was coming through in their written expression. While students seemed to be able to give good examples or evidence the why seemed to be missing.

This lack of explanation linked to reading comprehension made complete sense to me. I thought about my own writing experience. If I don’t know about a topic I struggle to write on it but if I feel confident then the words seem to flow a whole lot better. This reflection is further supported by literacy data at Tamaki College with a significant number of students being well below the national average. I was teaching some Year 9 students (13 year olds) where a reading age of 7 or 8 was pretty common. Even if these students just went up a minimum of one reading year per school year level (without our accelerated reader program) by the time they reached Year 12 it was possible a number of students in the class were reading at a 12 year old level. Although this may not be entirely representative of the students in my geography class it was a useful rough guide to help me think through what I may to change within my teaching practice. A lot of the text I was providing this class were adapted from a text book aimed for Year 12 students – this meant that there were likely to be some issues with comprehension for a number of students in the class – this made sense as to why they were struggling to explain ideas in their written expression.

Next steps from here – I needed to change what I was doing in the classroom in the way I was providing content. I needed to adapt to suit the learning needs and literacy levels of student in my Year 12 class at Tamaki College.

Teaching as Inquiry – Term 2, 2017 Literary in Year 12 Geography #3

As discussed in my previous 2 blog posts (1) and (2)  I wanted to improve the detail and clarity of writing in my Level 2 Geography class. I felt students lacked evidence, linkages and detail required in Level 2. As noted in my 2nd post – I attempted to give structural feedback to students but felt this may have been an intimidating approach and may have deterred some of the less confident writers.

Admittedly I had seen some improvement when I asked students to write an essay and asked them to focus on structure compared to their first assessment. However, I wanted us to keep working on the structure. As we had done a couple of solid weeks on essay writing at the end of term 1 I decided to take the focus off a little bit while continuing to reinforce the points. I tried a number of approaches. As the class was now finishing up their writing for the research assessment I felt it was important to have frequent class discussions about paragraph structure. At times this meant just reminding students about TEXAS (topic sentence, evidence, example, analysis and summary/link). I would regularly stop the class to discuss this during their assessment write up and continued to provide feedback focused on structure (however, I got rid of the highlighting and simply left comments on students work).

I felt this approach was useful for a number of reasons. Firstly, I had already established the framework I would be feeding back to students based on the traffic light system (see post 2) this then meant my comments could be less specific (without breaching the conditions of assessment). For example, I would comment “Link back to the question” or “Include more evidence” “Topic sentence” and students would know I was referring to the structure of their paragraph. I still continued to reinforce the importance of strong essay structures and would often provide students with examples of topic sentences, links and specific evidence and examples through class based discussion.