Friday, 24 January 2020

The Shift Has Arrived - Chaos Ahead!

Throughout 2019, we were in groups of 6 to create an integrated unit for 2020. I briefly explained in this post what my PLG's initial ideas were. The last two CallBack Days have been dedicated to meeting who we will be co-teaching with, and getting comfortable with the units we will be teaching. It's crazy how far we have come - we are starting to teach the units next week!! 

Our school is having quite a shift this year, and it's super exciting. Not only are we integrating curriculum areas at Years 9 & 10, the timetable is also changing and we are introducing Mai Time and Ako teachers. Moving from 5 periods days and a 10 day cycle, to 4 blocks a day and a 5 day cycle means we actually see the students an extra half an hour per week (Juniors and Seniors), which is great! Mai Time and Ako blocks are included in the timetable for Juniors - given the same amount of time as curriculum units. Put simply, Mai is an opportunity for students to be physically active and also time to create their own passion projects/inquiries. Ako is a mentoring system designed to support students with self management, how they learn, and progress towards goals (kind of like School Mum!). Later in the term I'll blog more detail about Mai and Ako, as they grow a little more.

The unit my PLG developed comes under the umbrella value of respect, and is the sexuality unit for Health integrated with Digital Technology and English. There are 5 modules (Hāuora, Pubertal Changes, Communication, Relationships, Drugs & Alcohol) throughout the course. Students will have checklists for each of the modules full of resources and tasks to complete. Ultimately, by the end of Week 12, they will have created a 5 page website to demonstrate their understanding of the content/skills/tools within the checklists for all 3 curriculum areas. Throughout these 12 weeks, we (the 3 teachers) will be floating around 75 students to give them feedback and have learning conversations, and host mini tutorials - the onus is handed over to the kids entirely!

Week 13 we have calendared a 'catch-up' week. As we are assessing against the achievement objectives (see 2019 trail here) frequently throughout the modules, by this point we should have a good understanding how the students are progressing. This week is to encourage students to increase their levels for their achievement objectives (for any or all of the curriculum areas), and to determine the final 5 weeks. 

If students are sitting at a Level 2 - Level 3 of the curriculum, they will be required to review their website pages to increase depth and demonstrate greater understanding. If they are a Level 4 across the board, the students will be given an extensive list of inquiry ideas they can choose to investigate (which will supplement learning in a curriculum area of their choice). Our most academic students who are already a Level 5, will design their own inquiry project. The project will need to be related in some way to one of the 5 module topics previously explored, and the students are required to explain which 2 achievement objectives their project will demonstrate.

I would be lying if I said I am feeling 100% confident. I'm honestly feeling a little apprehensive. What if the kids don't do anything with all of this freedom? What if I clash with my co-teachers? What if there are students who fall through the cracks? What if they aren't getting depth in their learning? Am am void now?? BUT I am also incredibly excited to be involved in this shift, I think it's an amazing opportunity for the students AND the teachers. We will be learning new skills and content from the other curriculum areas, and also further developing skills including collaboration, empathy and problem solving. Bring on the organised chaos!

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!