Friday, 29 June 2018

In The Students' Shoes For A Day

Over the past few months I have struggled to build relationships with some of my Year 11 PE students. There are 7 students who are close friends and sit in the back corner together, and often I find myself spending time managing their behaviour. ALL of these students have been identified as priority learners, and they are Maori students too.

Last year I went and visited one of my priority learners in another subject (see blogpost here), and found the experience incredibly rewarding. I took away some strategies to use within my class to support this student. My biggest concern with my current 7 students, is the time I spend trying to get/keep them on task, is sucking away time with students who really want and need my help - it really isn't fair. So, I requested, and was granted, a whole day today to observe these students in some of their other subjects. I really enjoyed seeing the kids in different lights, but also felt a sigh of relief when other teachers expressed their concerns and difficulties with the same students as me.

My key thoughts and reflections throughout the day;
  • Following around the students really made me appreciate how difficult it must be for the students to move between different classroom environments, different rules and expectations, different peers and completely different topics. I found it difficult to switch my thinking between periods and determine what was accepted in one class (which may not be accepted in the next). So I think I need to be a little more empathetic sometimes if they forget some of my rules!
  • Physical placement within the room seemed to make a considerable difference to many of their concentration levels, motivation to complete tasks and engagement in their learning. In addition, the classroom layout itself effected how they behaved and came across in the class. This wasn't too surprising though!
  • When the tasks were hands-on, or not using their devices, the students were generally more engaged, and were completing more of their tasks.

After this day, some strategies I think may help moving forward in my 11PE class are;
  • Change up the layout of the classroom, so the students are not all segregated in the corner. This may encourage the students to connect with other students, may reduce the behaviour management time, and may increase student engagement. In some of their other subjects, these students were seated closer to the teacher and they were less disruptive than in my class.
  • Have more one on one discussions with the students about their learning. I spent an entire period with my Year 10 students, individually discussing what they had learnt throughout the previous unit and what they still didn't understand (away from the other students in the class). This was so effective to gain an understanding of where they were at in PE, as well as enabled me to have conversations with some of the quieter students, building a closer relationship with them. Having the individual chats with my Year 11s, including the priority learners, may be as effective to increase relationships, will increase time spent with other students in the class, and the conversations may give me further strategies to support each student.
  • Include more activities/tasks that are not on devices. Gaming, social media and YouTube have been some of the main things I have had to manage when these students are in class, and today's observations demonstrated to me that removing the devices increased student engagement.
Overall, today was a great experience, which I am grateful for. I took a lot away from being immersed in other subjects, not only from the students, but also the teachers. I would definitely recommend observing priority learners who may be more difficult to connect with, in other subjects.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Why are you learning this?

As previously blogged about here, underpinning our teaching and learning is Ako Orewa. This is the school vision, which aims to empower students, and promote learner agency. Within the department, we have been focussing this year on the learning process;

What are we doing? Why are we doing it? Where to next?

I have been attempting to include these key questions into my lessons, especially with my Juniors, to make greater meaning of the learning related to the wider world, as well as encouraging students to take ownership of their learning. I definitely feel this is something I am improving, but need to actively include in more lessons, to shift the locus of control and continue to question why we are learning, what we are learning. 

I am finding myself this year teaching new units, and as a result needing to get my head around new assessment tasks too. I have struggled not to teach to the assessment, being completely honest. So over the past few weeks I have tried to often ask myself why I have planned particular lessons, and if the answer is 'because they need to know it', I try to reshape the lesson to be more about what the students want to know (based off student voice collected both formally and informally). Then, the 'why' shifts slightly.

To assist with the implementation of Ako Orewa (a five year plan, which includes a huge curriculum shift over the next couple years), teachers are encouraged to complete 'Ako Orewa observations'. Instead of visiting classes to observe a teacher (even though teacher observations are great learning experiences), we are to visit classes and discuss some of the key questions alongside, with the students.

I completed two Ako Orewa observations in Term 1 - one in an 11PE class, and one in a 12PE class. I found the conversations with the students incredibly insightful, as they were really able to explain the importance of self management and being in responsible of your own learning. I was surprised how the students were able to articulate how their achievement is determined by what they put into their learning. However, many were also able to (guiltily) describe the lack of understanding they had related to their learning tasks (which they identified was due to what they had not put in). I was not surprised either, that some students were unable to explain why they were learning about what they were learning, as we were only at the beginning of this shift in mindset. 

A term later though, I visited the two classes again, and spoke to different students. Many more were now able to identify why they were learning about particular topics and relate them to their lives. Some students were also now able to explain how they use exemplars and marking criterias to determine their level of learning, and where to go next. Therefore, starting to shift the focus onto the learning process in our classes is supporting the Ako Orewa vision/pedagogy.

I really enjoyed completing these observations, and I am looking forward to someone popping into my class so I can gauge where I need to further question or ignite discussions. Having discussions with the students really made me reflect on the learning process in my own classrooms, and actively think about the three key questions. Next year my challenge will be to relate the learning process to the Ako Tools.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

High Expectations - Do You Have Them?

Last Tuesday evening I attended a session facilitated by The Education Hub about how to become a high expectation teacher. I was interested to attend this, as I know deep down I expect all of my students to achieve to the best of their ability and to challenge themselves, but I was unsure how to structure my lessons and classroom to demonstrate high expectations. After listening to the presentations/research (Christine Rubie-Davis - see her slides here) and reading this paper created by The Education Hub, I have taken away many points to reflect on about high expectation teaching.

  • Studies have shown that by having high expectations of students determines student attitudes towards learning and overall achievement. When teachers have low expectations of their students, students' self perception and self belief drops, and evidently their success. 

  • Establishing routines early in the year is important, so students know what is expected of them and when. By creating a classroom culture where students are held accountable for their own learning, and are empowered by their tasks, but are also able to ask for support when needed, will help maintain high expectations throughout the year (rather than trying to set routines or expectations of the students partway through the year).

  • Ask high level questions of ALL students, expect ALL students to achieve the same goals and tasks/activities irrespective of their ability level. Differentiating tasks among the class based on ability is likely to reduce student motivation and achievement, as students who are identified as the lower level learners will perceive their teacher has lower expectations of them to be successful (and their success is significantly determined by the expectations their teacher has), and that the teacher values the high achievers more. Rather than asking different questions, if the student doesn't initially understand a question, then rephrase the question, or scaffold further (so the important thing the student takes away from this experience is that the teacher has the same expectation for all initially, but breaks down the question further if needed). Alternatively, provide several tasks, which the students can select from.

  • Low expectation teachers communicate tasks that need to be complete, whereas high expectation teachers communicate learning intentions and success criteria, and whether these have been met. Therefore, the emphasis is on the learning process, rather than the end product (which is paramount at Orewa currently). This is an area I definitely need to improve, as I feel I focus more on task completion, rather than the learning intentions. As previously blogged about, the WHY is important, rather than simply the WHAT. Moving forward, I would like to encourage my students to read through the success criteria of their tasks, and be able to identify whether they think they have met this (and if not, where do they need to head next in their learning - relates back to the learning tools).

  • Spend equal time with all students, rather than spend additional time with the lower ability students and leave the higher ability learners to work independently. This demonstrates the teacher has the same expectations for all, and can challenge all students as individuals, rather than within ability groups. I do feel I currently spend more time with the students who need more support, and as a result I am not challenging my self directed high achievers. Reflecting after this session, I fear this may suggest to these students I do not have time for them, as I am focused on getting other students 'over the line'. Therefore, I need to consciously attempt to spend an equal amount of time with all students.

  • Spend less time contacting home about things that have 'gone wrong' in the classroom, and more time calling whanau about successes and when students are exceeding your expectations. This is another thing I am aware I need to do more of - positive phone calls. Right before I attended this session, I called one students mother to say he'd had an incredible change of attitude towards learning over the past few weeks and I was really proud at how much effort he was putting into his learning. Surprisingly, she said that was the first positive phone call she could recall she'd had about her son!

  • Finally, Christine suggested videoing myself when I am teaching, to see how I am coming across to my students and whether there were other things I could have said/done during the lesson. A couple of years ago, I filmed and reflected on a lesson, see here, and found the process incredibly useful for reflection of my pedagogy, behaviour management and expectations of my students. I would like to video myself at some point again.
A question to reflect on if you're an educator is;

"What do your practices reflect about your beliefs about your students and their ability to learn?"