Thursday, 15 November 2018

Reflecting on my Classroom inquiry into raising the achievement of boys' writing in my level 2 Social Studies class

In February this year, I shared a blog post about my classroom inquiry and the fact that 8 of the 9 students who'd joined my class had not taken social studies in year 11.

"When asked why they took my class, 2 replied because it was the only option in the line they liked, 3 said because they wanted to try it out, and rest weren't sure why they'd taken my subject.  Only 1 student had said it was part of his career pathway" (February, 2019)

Over the year, I have used engaging contexts and activities to motivate my students with their learning and to think critically about the social issues that they were learning about - the Tamaki Regeneration Company, the 40 Hour famine, Marriage amendment laws and Israel and Palestine (for the external). Having limited knowledge about what social studies is all about, I was hoping that their interest will grow if I exposed them to different learning environments.  

I also used a variety of effective writing strategies to get them used to academic writing and to improve their confidence in writing.  A workshop by Joseph Driesson on Improving boys' literacy skills helped kick off a drive to research effective practices.  This was followed by a PLD opportunity with 'Write that Essay' taken by members of staff, who have shared effective strategies that we had trialled throughout the year.  A focus on 'Language in Abundance' has allowed my students to use the 'Talanoa' to encourage my kids to make meaning of their learning through verbal and oral discussions.  This has probably been the most effective strategy because my kids love to talk.

To measure whether my inquiry has made an impact in their achievement, I have looked at:
  • Credits gained in their assessments
  • Credits gained at merit/excellence level
  • Literacy credits gained at the of the year
  • Student voice surveys
(Note:  These results are based on 8 remaining boys in the class)

Credits gained in their assessments, at merit/excellence level and in literacy.

My Reflection:  I am pleased about the results overall as there has been a shift from 6 boys achieving credits in the first assessment to all 8 in the term 3 one.  As shown by the table, there have been successes in the number of merits and excellences gained by the boys, but not a significant shift.   This shows me that more work is needed to shift the achieved students to a merit or excellence grade.  

Student voice surveys

I conducted a comprehensive student voice survey at the end of the term for my kids to sum up their experiences in the class for the year.  
  • Engaging Contexts

I asked the kids to rate the topics on a scale from 1 - 5, 1 being the least interesting, 5 being the most interesting.  I then asked them to write why they put this grade on the scale. 

  • Effective writing strategies

I asked the kids to tell me whether they thought their writing had improved and 100% of them said that it had and they then identified which strategies may have helped the most. 

My reflection:  I can see the link between engagement and achievement in that the students that did not rate the first unit we did on the marriage laws highly - they then did not achieve as well as they could have.  As we got to the next two units, there were lots of different activities and engaging tasks that I feel impacted positively on their learning and therefore led to good achievement in their assessment results.  The more engaging a context is and the more a student can identify what helps them to write, the more they will invest in their learning and achieve better results.  When asked whether they will take social studies again next year, 100% of them answered and told me they were bringing their other friends!  I look forward to taking up the challenge again next year!

Next Steps:  I want to continue to focus on raising the achievement of boys' writing because I feel is the biggest issue that needs to be addressed for our learners.  I have enjoyed learning about the different ways that writing could be improved and find it rewarding to see the success of our boys when they write a great power sentence for example or they overcome the challenge of starting a paragraph.  For my next inquiry, I want to explore the power of the 'Talanoa' further and sit down with Dr Jannie Van Hees to plan to develop our kids as informed conversationists, which I am excited about. 

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

A summary of my BIG inquiry: Raising the achievement of boys' writing by implementing engaging contexts and effective writing strategies.

When I started my big inquiry this year, I had a desire to continue the work and research that I'd begun last year as an in-school COL teacher and my key focus then was 'How to raise the achievement of our boys' in their writing'.  When I think back to my WHY, I was driven by the desire to take on this challenge because I was disillusioned with our poor results in writing, especially for the year 9 boys.  At our cluster wide meeting in February, Woolf Fisher shared these results and I couldn't stand it anymore - my goal was to change those results! I felt motivated to figure out what was going on and find ways to solve the challenge.

My Big Picture plan

I started with a big picture plan and I was guided by two questions:

1.  How can I help/support/guide the most number of people to make the most impact in addressing this issue?
2.  What do I need to do/fix/start within our school that would support the implementation of effective writing?

From this plan, I focused on a number of areas that I wanted to engage with and implement as part of my 'Big picture plan' and throughout this year, I have developed these programmes with the support of our school and Manaiakalani, who have allowed me the time to get these initiatives up and running.

I want to share with you my reflections on a few of the things that I felt were the most successful.  I have tried to write briefly what I did and what the outcomes were below.

The Students 
  • Designing engaging contexts
As part of designing engaging contexts for students in their learning, I helped to develop and implement the Rise Above: Parakuihi and Hauora cross curricula unit for a year 10 class.  This involved working alongside Jacquie Bay and Alvina Pau'uvale of the Liggins institute, as well as Rose Hipkins of NZCER to develop professional development opportunities for the teachers of the unit.  I also facilitated staff PLD and supported teachers in my department with designing lessons.  As the unit is currently being taught this term, we will be reviewing the programme with all of the team involved at the end of the year.  The initial feedback from teachers is that the students are engaged in their learning and can see the benefits in this type of integration.  This has been a good learning opportunity for me to see how to develop a programme such as this, with a number of key stakeholders involved from the start.  My hope is that the learnings from this unit could support a bigger programme next year.

    10RMz are learning about healthy eating.
  • Knowing the value of Asttle 
The TKI e-asttle 'Assessment for Learning' site describes ways to communicate the value of knowing about asttle to educators and explains the importance of sitting down with students to inform them of where they are at with their results and how to set goals to raise their achievement.  I recently wrote two blog posts about a writing plan that I'd developed to support our juniors in their recent exams (Year 9 post and a year 10 post).  Both blog posts gained some positive comments from educators in and around our outreach clusters, to schools such as Hornby Primary and I was excited to hear that their leadership team were going to try aspects of the my writing plan in their school.
Top tips for kids writing
  • My Classroom Inquiry
This year I taught a group of year 12 boys who had never taken social studies before and most of them were there by default.  I utilised some of my learnings from my last inquiry and PLD from Dr Jannie Van Hees to focus on supporting their writing through engaging contexts and the use of effective strategies.  For each of the 4 contexts taught, I tried to get us out of the classroom, invite guest speakers in, use lots of different writing techniques, debates, role plays and student initiated learning to engage and motivate the students to write.  Our focus on 'Language in abundance' and the Talanoa has given the kids another avenue to share their understanding of knowledge and make meaning from their contexts.  Overall, students have enjoyed their learning journey and have made some positive gains in their achievement.
A few of my year 12's on our recent visit to the 'Are we there yet' exhibition.
The Teachers
  • Our Social Science Department literacy goals
One of our department goals is to try and move junior students up at least one asttle score above their entry level in writing.  My team have a range of strengths and experiences in teaching literacy and a focus of most of our department meetings has been to share any writing strategies that we'd used to allow us to have a bank of strategies to draw from and to see which have been the most effective.  We also enlisted the help of Marc Milford, our literacy expert to guide us through identifying language aspects to support our learners.  Each teacher choose writing as a focus in their own inquiries and I was able to support them as a HOD and a COL teacher to guide them in their teaching and learning pedagogy.
The bestest department ever- Social Sciences team

  • Our Write that Essay (W.T.E) team
During the term 2 holidays, I found a PLD that was being run by Dr Ian Hunter, the developer of the programme 'Write that Essay'.  A number of staff from different curriculum areas attended the PLD and on their return, I invited them to share their key takeouts.  We agreed on a number of strategies that we would use and over the year we have applied, modified and shared these strategies with our students.  We will be meeting again before the end of the year, to see how it went in the classroom and reflect on what we could implement school wide next year.
Our W.T.E team in action

  • PLD opportunities for our teachers
The Learn, Create, Share model is a model that we at the college are purposefully implementing school wide next year and to prepare us better for this, we have been supporting Lenva Shearing on the Manaiakalani team, with staff PLD over the year.  Putting a name to something we are already doing is making the learning explicit and connects us more to our Manaiakalani kaupapa.  As COL teachers, we have also been supporting staff from other curriculum areas on their inquiries which has been positive.
Lenva in her element - sharing her knowledge at the Tamaki College Staff PLD

  • Connecting with our Primary school teachers
One of the real benefits of being an across school COL teacher was that I got to meet with some really hard-working practitioners who generously gave me their time to share their knowledge.  At Glenbrae Primary, Elfrida Raj invited me to a number of their PLD sessions to see how they were incorporating writing in their PLD as a school wide goal and I was excited to be part of the planning with my insights into what we have found was needed at the college.  At Point England Primary, Rob Wiseman shared his writing strategies and units that we could link up with to connect common contexts.  At Tamaki Primary, Heather Collins discussed ways that we could be 'seen' and be actively involved more at their school and Prem Rankolowan invited me to meet some of our potential year 9 students who will be coming to the college next year and next week, Robyn Anderson from Panmure Bridge will be bringing some of her talented students to teach some of our kids how to use google drawing better.  These examples of the openness of staff in our cluster to share their practice, supports the theory that if we can build a relationship based on trust and respect, we can move towards being united in our teaching and learning journeys, whilst still embracing our uniqueness.  I look forward to working more proactively with our primary teachers in the future. 
A writing wall at Glenbrae.
  • Connecting with teachers across the globe
Earlier this year, I had the privilege of meeting Wayne Poncia, the Chief Product Officer of Hapara who invited us to be part of a Global Colab project involving students from Tamaki College, Canada and the States collaborating on solving a global issue.  As part of the planning team, we have met online several times and have designed a programme that will use workspace for  teaching and learning.  This project kicks off in term 1 of 2019, and we are really excited to be part of it.
Wayne Poncia on the right, who has kindly blocked me out:)

My personal learnings

There is no guidebook or instruction manual on how to be an effective across school COL teacher.  I think back to where I've come from and yes, I have done some good things and started some cool initiatives but at the end of the day, will it help our kids improve their writing?  It's hard to say at the moment, as you can't put your finger on just one thing that might work but I hope that part of my plan has helped start a movement. 

There were days when I wasn't sure that I was doing the right thing or working hard enough and I felt like giving up.  But I had to remember to keep my eyes on the prize - helping our kids.  At the end of this journey of inquiry, I have recognised a determination in me that has grown out of what drives us teachers to work as hard as we do.  It had given me purpose and reaffirmed that our kids are at the centre of all we do.

Kia kaha, kia toa, kia manawanui.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Preparing our year 10's for their asttle tests - a whole class approach

The year 10's have been preparing for their exams and as a way to get them ready, I visited 6 year 10 classes and armed myself with their asttle exam papers from February and a copy of their overall asttle results (the colourful ones).

I handed each student their tests and went through a presentation that I'd created.  Below, I thought I'd share a running commentary of what I said to each class as I went through the powerpoint.  I've also written some initial reactions from the kids as they happened.

Slide ONE:  Illusion vs Reality

Me: So when you're going to your exam, this is what you should look like on the left.  Being ready to write, prepared - don't worry about what the words say, it's how she looks ready to write.  But for some of us, on the right is what it really looks like - we're freaking out, panicking and don't know where to start!  My presentation today is going to help you think more about how to prepare to write in your upcoming exams.  Hands up who can tell me which subjects here at school that you need to write in?

Kids reactions:  Students put their hands up, call out a subject or two before they get the fact that every subject they do at school requires them to write something. 

Slide TWO: Understanding the curriculum 

Me:  Now the image on the right show Years 1 to Years 13 and here you are at year 10.  The blue shaded area shows our New Zealand curriculum levels and across a few years, for example at year 9, you could be working anywhere along say levels 4, 5 or 6.  On the left here, your writing levels could be broken down further into basic, proficient and advanced.  Now the reason why it is important to know where your writing is and where it should be is that after exams, you will be in year 11 and starting NCEA and to be able to succeed in NCEA, you need to write at level 6 of the curriculum!  

Kids reactions:  Kids were quiet and started looking at their own results on their asttle papers.  A couple of kids gasped but the majority were engaged.

(For slides 3 to 7, I went through each page of the test and students referred to own tests to see how they did)

Slide EIGHT:  Understanding your test - the marking page

Me:  What do you think the marker has highlighted on this particular page? Why do you think there are lots of comments or circles around words or phrases?

Kids reactions/comments:  "The marker is showing what this person has done WRONG!" (100% of the students who put their hands up said this).

Me:  Not quite.  The markers were marking and highlighting everything that you've actually done RIGHT.  They are looking for evidence of where you have covered the 7 aspects for asttle!  They are highlighting where you have used lots of ideas for example or where you have shown relevant vocab.  If you have lots of circles or lots of comments, the markers have found that you have used the right things.

Kids reactions:  Lots of staring at their papers & sighs of relief as well as looks of disbelief.  Their faces said we are used to having things pointed out that are wrong!.
Slide NINE:  Understanding your test - the coloured print out

MeYour overall asttle test result is shown by the red arrow and your test identified your strengths, what you achieved at the asttle level and the gaps or the work on's that you need to focus on to improve your writing.  Now if you have a look at the continuum arrow in the centre, the blue line or blue water line is where the rest of the country is for your cohort and the red circle shows where you are.  You want to be at or above the line for you to succeed in your writing. 

Kids reactions:  Students were leaning over to check what their mates had gotten and where they were on the line compared to each other.

MeNow over the past two years, each of the subjects that have taken this year, for example English, Science, Social etc has helped you improve your writing and in your asttle test that you will be sitting very soon, your results will show us, you and me how far you have come.  We can see together if you are ready for NCEA! 
(For slides 10 -12, I slowly went through the top tips that Marc and I had identified could help kids tweak their writing and for the final slide, I showed students a link where they could look at an example of a level 6 writing piece and for that writing, what the 7 aspects that markers are looking for in their own time )

A teacher's reflection of this process:  A teacher who observed me giving the presentation said it was so helpful for the kids to look at their own copy of the tests and it being marked, gave it value.  

"They got a better understanding of what they're marked on and what the markers perspective is when marking.  It starts to give it purpose and kids say 'is this the reason for the asttle test?.  Kids always want to know why they're doing something".  

She also found it interesting that kids wanted to compare what they'd got with their neighbour especially when comparing where they were at with the national average.  The boys in particular were more vocal about comparing their tests, as they liked being competitive.  She could sense her kids having a wider understanding of the reality of the importance of these test and how it applied to them because their papers were in front of them (and it hit home!).  

Overall, I believe this was a positive process that would benefit the year 10's going into NCEA.  Giving them the opportunity to see what a markers sees empowers them to take ownership of their learning and their writing.  As the saying goes 'Knowledge is power'!

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