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.

Jump start 2017 review and planning for 2018 – pros and cons

At Tamaki College we move our Year 9 students into Year 10 and Year 10 into Year 11 for the last 4 weeks on term 4. This is after junior exams and the seniors have left. The idea behind this is to increase engagement and to hopefully get some Level 1 credits providing a “jumpstart” into 2018.

At the end of 2016 I saw a similar strategy being employed with Year 10s going into Year 11 and the English class I was teaching began their “Static Image” assessment in week 5. This was positive for the new year 11s at Whangaparoa College and it kept students focused rather than starting their summer holidays early. Around this time I visited Tamaki College to do handover with the previous geography teacher. I came to his Year 11 jumpstart class and got to meet some of the Year 11 students I would be teaching next year (2017). I remember being amazed! The class was focused, on task and working on their first assessment (AS91009) – looking at sustainability and tourism in the Maldives.

At the end of the school year Caleb, the former geography teacher emailed me students work from this assessment with comments. He noted that students would need another week at the start of the year to finish up this assessment.

I began 2017 knowing the class had stuff to finish up on their first internal but this took much longer than expected. As the class had just had 6 weeks off their summer brains had forgotten a lot of the content they had covered the previous year. We ended up having to go over a lot and extend the deadline. In the end the class spend 2 weeks at the start of the year working on this first assessment (this meant the work took 6 weeks all up). What further complicated our “jumpstart” to 2017 was there were 4 new students who hadn’t been in the class at Year 10 (dec 2016). I then had to start them on the learning for this particular assessment while the rest of the class finished up – making the start of the year a little messier than I would have liked.

Nonetheless, we got through it and once the assessments were finally handed in I decided to start everyone on the next assessment and come back to AS91009 at the end of term 3 for the 4 or 5 students who hadn’t got a chance to start the assessment. I thought this was the best approach since those who had done jumpstart could potentially focus on exam revision during this part of the year while the other students completed their assessment.

Unfortunately, only 2 out of the 6 jumpstart students ended up gaining the 3 credits for this assessment. 2 students did not complete the work and 1 got not achieved. On a positive note, the space at the end of the year meant that the students that did not achieved or hadn’t completed had another opportunity to gain these lost credits. The non jumpstart students also had the time to complete the assessment. As one of the students who had completed the assessment during jumpstart was away sick this meant she wasn’t missing any assessment opportunities during her time away from school. This left one student in the class who had received excellence for this assessment during jumpstart. I decided to give her the option to prepare for exams or start a level 2 standard. She choose the level 2 standard and got 3 credits at level 2 to an excellence level! In this particular case jumpstart gave me the time to accelerate a high achieving student.

However, with the 4 weeks at the end of the year (2016), 2 weeks at the beginning of 2017 and the extra 4 weeks in term 3 the class spent a total of 10 weeks on one standard. I’m not sure this was necessarily the most effective use of class time.

Prior to planning for Jumpstart 2017/2018 it was important for me to reflect on the benefits and shortcomings of offering credits at the end of the year. In summary:



  • We ended up spending a lot of time on this one assessment (10 weeks)
  • Revisiting the same standard 3 times may have been a bit tedious for the class
  • Only 2 students passed the assessment initially
  • 2 students didn’t complete the work and 1 didn’t pass (perhaps they were not ready to be assessed so early on
  • The first few weeks of 2017 students were working on assessment potentially acting as a barrier for establishing a relationship with this new class.
  • Students who missed jumpstart or enrolled late were at a disadvantage (messier start to the year)


Some benefits:

  • There was time at the end for students to catch up/re-do assessments
  • Extra time provided students opportunities to be accelerated
  • Students were focused at the end of the year.

Taking these reflections into account I decided 4 weeks wasn’t enough time for me to get to know a new class, introduce them to a new subject (geography isn’t an option until year 11). Further, there wasn’t space to engage students and develop an interest in the subject. I also felt it was important to introduce students to the key concepts in geography and explore these ideas in more depth. Providing a solid foundation as these key concepts are used and need to be applied in all geography internals and externals at level 1, 2 and 3.

I decided for Jumpstart 2017/18 I would focus on the key concepts and plan this around the idea of “My significant place” using this as an opportunity to develop interest in the subject, get to know students and develop a subject specific vocabulary.

For further reading – Here is the link to my 2017/2018 jumpstart unit plan