Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Authentic Learning > Exam Results

Preparing students for exams is really difficult. I have a lot of empathy for teachers who need to prep their students for multiple exam papers, and have multiple exam filled classes - I only have one class and one paper!

When I taught the Level 2 Health course for the first time in 2018, I needed to teach and prepare students to be tested on two topics - we didn't know which one they were going to get. The exam requires students to identify and explain the possible influences of and consequences from an adolescent health issue, and to then suggest health-enhancing strategies to reduce the issue. 

In 2018 the topics were body image or managing conflict in relationships. Although there are some obvious overlaps in the topics, they are quite different. As a result, in the short period of time we had to learn the content, the structure and revise the exam, I felt I was teaching to the assessment. An assessment that I didn't even know what it was going to ask! This sad reality meant that I didn't feel there was much authentic learning for this cohort of students, as I was so focused on wanting them to feel the most prepared they could for their exam. Although of course success in exams is important, authentic learning is considerably more important in my opinion... so I hated accepting how assessment driven these couple of months pre exam were. 

I was delighted when the assessment specifications changed for 2019, to only have one topic (stress from social media). The students still needed to understand and practice the structure of the exam and how to annotate the scenario and resources - but now we had considerable more time to prepare, double! Having much more time meant there was ample opportunity for lessons and activities, but not specifically exam related. We watched plenty of clips, read articles, completed experiments, took quizzes, had debates; all things that highlighted how stress from social media is an issue but didn't always connect back to the exam itself. From the conversations I had with the students, and the observations I made, I feel there were genuine learning experiences for the students in this 2019 class. That they actually took away some tools, skills and information they could come back to in the future when interacting on social media.

Surprisingly though, the exam results are much the same between the two cohorts. I was hoping with greater depth of understanding about the topic, there would be a greater increase in Merits and Excellences, but they are similar. Thankfully I feel they took away a lot more learning!! This year I may need to have higher expectations of how many practice exams students write for instance, and be more actively involved in their study time. Last year the students requested a few periods to self manage their own study, but I feel most didn't utilise this time (even when given 2-4 options of things to do during this time!). So more regimented study time may be needed.


Something to note that is interesting, is the profiles of expected performance for this exam in 2019. Even though I feel a little disheartened the grades are much the same between my classes, my 2019 class actually sat higher than the predicted results, particularly for Achieved and Merits. Despite being a tiny fragment of a large body of students, this a little comforting to see - and may mean some of them were actually scaled down.

Finally, these graphs do not take into consideration the students who did not show up for their exam. Empty papers and seeing 'absent' on their academic records, was a little heartbreaking after the time and effort poured into the students. I have no clue how to reduce this issue. I can't control if they show up or not and there is no consequence/penalty/followup if they don't. Thankfully though, the number of no shows from my class reduced from 4 in 2018 to 2 in 2019. Fingers crossed this number is 0 at the end of 2020 - We have an extra hour for each class per fortnight with our change in timetable this year, so hopefully even more time will help with this goal!

Sunday, 29 December 2019

Challenging Conversations: A Checklist

Difficult conversations "are all about coming to a common and workable solution that helps everyone to grow and move past the situation" (Brian Gatens). In education there may be several times we need to have a difficult or challenging situation; with students, whānau,  student teachers, colleagues, leaders etc for a variety of reasons. Throughout this year, I have needed to have a few myself, particularly with student teachers and colleagues. As a result, I wanted to learn further about difficult conversations. 

After researching and reflecting on what I read, watched and discussed, below are the key points I have taken away about having challenging conversations;
  • Scheduling the chat to be at an appropriate time is important. This is to ensure there is plenty of time, so the conversation doesn't feel rushed or incomplete at the end. When scheduling, give some indication to the other person what the conversation will be about if you feel it is appropriate, so that they have time to think about it/make their own notes prior.
  • Prepare a list of things you would like to say before going into the conversation and stick to the facts throughout. These will help you to stay on track, and reduce opinions and emotions coming into the discussion.
  • At the beginning of the conversation, explain the purpose of the meeting clearly and deliberately. Disclose concerns/problems honestly and respectfully. If you aren't open and honest throughout the conversation about what you are thinking, there may be limited steps forward to resolve the issue.
  • Support your point of view with specific examples to illustrate - remain factual. Be assertive, not passive. You want to get your point across, but you also want to maintain a positive relationship afterward.
  • "Get curious, not furious" (Richard Wells) - ask questions as opposed to giving statements, inquire rather than instantly attempting to solve a problem.
  • Be prepared to have your own assumptions and beliefs challenged, to increase validity of reasoning and demonstrate you are open to a conversation. Be sure to consider the possible causes of the concern/problem (this is key!).
  • Use tentative language as opposed to definitive - opening up and inviting them into the conversation. Provide time for the other(s) involved to share their perspectives. 
  • Paraphrase what the other person or people are saying, to demonstrate you are actively listening. Ask open-ended questions to encourage them to elaborate further, to gain further understanding of their perspective.
  • Once you've heard and considered all perspectives, brainstorm possible solutions/next steps together. What do we value moving forward, not what do I value. The decision making process needs to be shared. All should understand the 'why' behind the solutions suggested, not feel as if they are being put in place because the 'person in power' has said so!
  • Summarise the meeting, write down the next steps/where to from here, and make a time/further meeting to check in on these steps and how they are progressing
  • Afterward, once all members of the conversation have had time to process and reflect, there may be further questions or comments to discuss (so be open to emails or another meeting to be scheduled).
Alongside is a sketchnote created by Richard Wells. The bullet points in this post came from a discussion we had using the sketchnote as a prompt, as well as the resources listed below.
I thought this was a great final post for the year, to feel more confident to have difficult conversations in 2020 - bring on my fifth year!