Posted in 06. Teaching, Personal TAI

The secret to getting great grades

As we approach the end of the academic year, it is time to look at the overall data for my Year 11 class, generated through internal standards. Do I have the secret to getting great grades? No of course I don’t. But what I do know is that you have to convince your students that they can and will attain great grades. When you set the expectations high, they tend to aim high.

My hunch going into this Teaching as Inquiry (TAI) was that students should be reminded about the basics that make up good writing. This should become the norm for them while reviewing and editing their work. My main focus has been to get them to critique their work before submitting it. This critique could be done by their friend, a family member, another teacher. Anyone they feel comfortable sharing their raw and unfinished work with. The discussions I have had with parents seems to indicate that students are getting their parents to give them feedback. I have certainly found marking to be far more streamlined. Which means that I have focused on their big ideas, rather than the mechanics of their writing.

My class has still been run along the following lines: A flexible attitude, along with varied resources ranging from videos through to exemplars produced by my students, and a bit of everything in between. Students have been encouraged and cajoled into forging their own learning pathways.  I’m happy to say that we have been able to work on a multitude of tasks and activities all at once, and no one has run mad. Slightly crazy, but not mad.

Comparisons are odious, but necessary for my TAI. My basis is always my year 11 class as they are, year after year, pretty much made up of the same calibre of student and have an even gender split. My year 11s have displayed a remarkable ability to self manage and generate some brilliant pieces of work independently, and their grades attest to this. Their Excellence grades, for internal assessments for the year, far outweigh the results gained last year. In essence, 78% of the class have managed to gain excellence grades for every internal this year, just about 10 % up on last year.

 

2017                                                          2018     

A TAI was never designed to be scientific. My data has a number of variables. And I have not discussed all the spirals I have included over the year in this blog post. But I have reflected on them in a variety of previous posts. What is clear to me is that students need to be trusted to work independently, and work the way that suits them best. They need to be reminded of the mechanics of writing, but no need to labour the point. And this class responded to being given timelines rather than checkpoints. They said that they liked the fact that I allowed them to prioritise their work in the way that they saw fit.

As we hurtle towards the end of the year, I have reflected on the crazy kids that make up my day. All I ever ask of them can be summarised in the words of Mark Cuban:

The only thing in your control is effort. That’s all and that’s everything.

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Posted in 06. Teaching, Personal TAI

Teaching as Inquiry: Grades revealed

As I stated in an earlier post, my Teaching as Inquiry model (TAI) followed spirals of inquiry, specifically looking at writing standards.  For these standards, my TAI aim was to raise awareness of the complexity that students can bring to their writing by the act of adding layers. To help with the awareness of these layers, I looked at what the assessment standards give us, and also the Learning Progressions Framework (LPF.) In addition, again as I have previously written about, in our department at school we don’t mark our own students’ internal assessments. We moderate eight pieces of work to set the standard, and then we mark each other’s classes.

The last assessment for the Year 11s was “Connection across Texts” where students find similarities and differences across four texts. It is not one of my favourite standards due to its protracted nature. You introduce it in term one, and mark it in term four. The ideal is for students to chip away at it over the year, and then bring the whole beast together at the end. The reality for a lot of them is that they get the texts read, and then draw it all together in the week or two that it is due. The way I approach the teaching of it is to provide a video of what we are looking for to get to excellence, a few exemplars, and much discussion in groups around themes, characters, and of course, choosing a decent text. I also draw a big umbrella, symbolising the common theme, with branches to texts underneath. We talk about the strengths of contrasting diverse texts, and comparing similar texts.

This year the results were mind blowing. This graph equates to 27 Excellence grades, and two Merit grades.

Now I know what you’re thinking, how did the two students that got merit feel? Quite honestly I think they were also pleased with their grades. What I found most rewarding was the number of E8s that were given from, dare I say it, the “sticklers for correct grammar” type markers.  Two of them said, independently of each other, “This is as good as it gets.”

It is hard to pin point what the students did differently to gain such good grades. I do know what I didn’t do:

  1. Whole class teaching, chalk and talk.
  2. Set checkpoint deadlines. Instead I had a suggested timeline

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3. I didn’t dictate what theme to choose, rather we discussed a number of possibilities

4. I didn’t micromanage them. Rather I trusted them to get the job done, while        keeping close to them by having one-on-one discussions about their work.

5. I definitely did not provide a template. Rather we discussed a number of ways to tackle the final report, keeping the connections across the texts front and centre.

So, for a standard that can be tedious in its drawn out nature, this group of students produced the best set of results I have ever seen for an internal standard, for me anyway. Trusting this group to get the job done, while making myself and my resources available to them for consultation as and when needed, seems to have worked.

As stated previously, I prefer the spiral of inquiry model for my TAI. This means that “one spiral of inquiry leads to another. Small changes create the confidence to design and implement more radical change. This is how transformation begins.” Timperley, H., Kaser, L., and Halbert, J. (2014, April) In this way, one inquiry ends, and the next one begins. But they are inextricably linked and build on each other.

I think it is safe to say I can tick this spiral of inquiry off for another year.

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Posted in Personal TAI

Spiral of Inquiry: Data

I prefer the spiral of inquiry model for my TAI. This means that “one spiral of inquiry leads to another. Small changes create the confidence to design and implement more radical change. This is how transformation begins.” Timperley, H., Kaser, L., and Halbert, J. (2014, April) In this way, one inquiry ends, and the next one begins. But they are inextricably linked and build on each other. For the writing standards, my TAI aim was to raise awareness of the complexity that students can bring to their writing by the act of adding layers. To help with the awareness of these layers, I looked at what the assessment standards give us, and also the Learning Progressions Framework (LPF.)

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In addition, I insisted on the following step. Students had to find someone that they trust to read their work. That someone might be a relative, a past teacher, a peer in another school. And the other thing that I reminded my students was that they should get the checker to be critical. And then, when they are given constructive criticism, that they should act on it. Not sulk about it. Because let’s face it, their writing can and should feel very personal, and therefore, they get protective over it.

I can report back that the marking was more streamlined because I wasn’t looking at the mechanics of the writing, as much as the content. There were one or two that hadn’t been edited correctly, but on the whole it was heartening to see that they hadn’t hit ‘submit’ the minute the last full stop was on the page.

Many students must’ve got their families to read their work. At the last parents’ evening, so many commented on the creative or formal writing, because they had checked and enjoyed their work.

Students’ results were as follows:

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There are 29 students in the class. 13 chose to do creative writing, while 16 did formal writing. Overall, 18 excellences, 9 merits, and 2 achieved grades. There are still some students that would prefer constant feedback from me. But I think they can see the value of sharing their work with parents, peers, past teachers, who can critique their work just as well as me.

Posted in 04. Learning-focused culture, Personal TAI

Developing my teaching as inquiry approach

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The Teaching as Inquiry (TAI) model is designed to improve both the delivery of content, and the experience for the students. In essence, TAI is a process that encourages teachers to change their practice in order to enhance success for all students. My TAI aim is to raise awareness of the complexity that students can bring to their writing by the act of adding layers. To help with the awareness of these layers, I have looked at what the assessment standards give us, and also the Learning Progressions Framework (LPF.)

But is it enough to just be aware of these layers? How do students check that they have added enough depth to their writing? I created the resource above to help. In this exercise, students are required to find someone to check their work; someone they trust; someone that is not me. I will of course be one of the checkers, but it simply is not good enough to wait for my feedback. Some students naturally turn to their peers and get them to read their work. This checklist should help with the process. But what about those students that don’t necessarily want their peers to look at their work? One boy in my class said that he didn’t want his friends to see his work until it was, in his mind, perfect.

So I’ve opened the activity up. My instruction was: Find someone that you trust to read your work. That someone might be a relative, a past teacher, a peer in another school. And the other thing that I reminded my students was that they should get the checker to be critical. And then, when they are given constructive criticism, that they should act on it. Not sulk about it. Because let’s face it, their writing can and should feel very personal, and therefore, they get protective over it.

To clinch the deal, I made this poster to highlight the Ako Orewa questions they should be able to answer during the whole writing process. This should help with developing their agency.

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Thanks to Richard Wells for the critique on my original poster.

Posted in 05. Design for learning, Personal TAI

Take control of your learning

Teaching as Inquiry: 2018

I’ve been mulling over this post for ages. I know my inquiry is linked to improving students’ writing. And I know I want to include increased student agency in my inquiry. In addition. I know that my approach will be based on design thinking. So what is my hunch? This morning, while reading a post by Kath Murdock it struck me. It’s all good and well me being flexible and giving choice. But the students do not believe that they actually have a choice. Therefore they are not owning their learning and in turn developing independence. This quote resonated with what I’ve been thinking:

Having a sense of agency then, is fundamental.  Our well-being depends on it…Teacher’s conversations with children help the children build the bridges between action and consequence that develop their sense of agency.’(Johnston, 2004, p. 30).

Students are so used to being told what to do, and when to do it, that they have not developed that sense of independent thought. My mission, or rather my inquiry, will be to promote students’ flexibility, independence and therefore their agency.

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The students that I will base my TAI on are a class that have enjoyed success at school. For their first assessment, the results were: 20 Excellences, 5 Merits and 2 Achieved grades. They work hard, have high standards and meet deadlines. But they struggle to answer the fundamental questions demanded of them by our school’s Ako approach:

Through Ako Orewa, all students will be able to explain:

  • What they are learning and why?
  • What success looks like
  • How well they are doing
  • What their next steps are

The Leadership reworked  the focus for Ako Orewa in such a way that it emphasised student leading their own learning.

My method will be to regularly ask these four questions. I encourage them to peer assess, but if I’m honest, they still would rather I tell them how well they are doing, and what their next steps should be. That does not foster their independence. As Kath Murdock points out:  ‘If children know there is someone standing over them who has all the answers they are less inclined to want to find the answers for themselves.’ 

Through our Orewa Kāhui Ako work I have revisited the Learning Progressions Framework with its seven aspects to writing. This is what should have been covered in writing classes from years 1 through to 10. I shared this with my class as they are busy crafting their creative or formal writing. In my next lesson I will get them to identify these seven aspects in their peer’s work. This will help them with understanding the questions: How well they are doing and What their next steps are. Without relying on me telling them.

I designed this Padlet to help with these two questions: What they are learning and why? and What success looks like. I’ll have the quantitative data after the assessment is graded. But I’m just as interested in the qualitative data gained from asking the four Ako questions. This is something I’ll need to revisit regularly. Until it becomes a habit for the students to do themselves, without me prompting them.

My goal is to empower my students with the competencies required to actively control their learning, as stated in the New Zealand curriculum.

 

Posted in 04. Learning-focused culture, Personal TAI

Exam Results 2017: Reaching for Excellence

These results reflect the hard work and tenacity of a fantastic group of students. They link to my Teaching as Inquiry post but as that post was rather long, I have decided to analyse their results in a new post.

Although these students were enrolled in three external exams, I strongly suggested to both them and their parents that they do two of the three exams. A large proportion of the students followed this advice. This partly explains the high percentage of excellences for both the visual text exam and the unfamiliar exam.

overall

Looking at all the standards over the year, they achieved a remarkable set of results. 55% of all students in the class reached excellence for all their work. I think this is in part due to the atmosphere in the class. That they know that they have choice around how they work. That they take ownership of the level they work at. But also, that these students drive each other to do really well.

But the other aspect is the question of excellence grades: How do students get their work to excellence? Particularly intriguing in a subject like English where the marking can be very subjective.

My views are that some students are naturally good at the subject. No matter what teachers do, they will excel. But these students are, in my experience, a small minority. So how is it that 55% of all students in this class got excellence grades over the entire year? The answer is tenacity. We live in an instant society, where we expect instant gratification. So most students seem to believe that one draft is all it takes. These students do not get to excellence. Tenacity means that students are prepared to accept that the first draft is just that, a draft. And that the draft might go through a number of iterations and refinements before the final product is ready for submission.

The students in this class showed drive, determination and bucket loads of tenacity. And they can be justifiably proud of both their grades and the key competencies that they developed over the year.

 

 

Posted in 02. Professional learning, Personal TAI

Reflections on Orewa Kāhui Ako Conference 2018

There is nothing like a conference to invigorate you to start the year. This year we held our inaugural Orewa Kāhui Ako: Community of Learning Conference. It was attended by staff from all six schools in our community, with nearly 300 people taking part. Our keynote speaker was Derek Wenmoth who challenged thinking about the future of education. He was both provocative and stimulating, in both his address and his workshops based on deeper learning.

We then sent the delegates off to their workshops. There were 18 workshops in total, all run by teachers from the community. These ranged from specific curriculum areas, through to teaching and learning strategies. Some of the workshops targeted specific age groups, but most could be used and adapted to any age or curriculum area. Most workshops were run multiple times, with the goal being that we generate, promote and share practical ideas.

I ran a few workshops based on video creation, in particular I looked at the app called Clips. In fact, I was surprised to learn that I am the first ADE to run a workshop of this nature in New Zealand. But I know I am not the only one to be using and publishing material from Clips. You only need to follow the #Clips on Twitter to see how widely teachers are using it.

My promise to the delegates: They would be able to create a video that they could use in class, in under an hour. Besides the odd person who had not updated their device, the vast majority were able to do just that. The star of the one workshop was a self-proclaimed dinosaur when it comes to technology. She worked quietly and systematically, and produced a slick, fun and exciting video clip, in under an hour, which she happily showcased at the end.

The feeling in the workshops was largely one of excitement. The reason: the app is free, is accessible and easy to use. But overwhelmingly, the hurdle of the voice over is erased. Teachers can create lessons, use voice-to-text, then mute their voice if they wish. I believe that more teachers would create flipped lessons if they knew that they don’t have to appear on screen, and that they don’t have to listen to the sound of their own voice. And now they can.

I wanted to make it as easy as possible for the teachers in my workshop to get on with the task of creating their videos. So prior to the conference, I reflected on the pedagogical approaches that I have adopted over the last few years, in particular flipped video lessons, and blended learning. This has all culminated in a new online publication:

Link to Create Video Clips

Chapters include a guide to using the Clips app for the first time, a start up lesson, further lesson ideas with video resources as examples. I also included an end of year activity and some research from my literature review, as well as my Teaching as Inquiry report, all of which were based on flipped and blended learning.

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We had such fun putting this conference together. It forged relationships across the community and has given us insight into how the various year levels work. One other thing that I should mention is that we got Eat my Lunch- Buy one. Give one. to do the catering. It feels good, as you tuck into your lunch, to think that you are doing some good in the wider community. For every lunch we ordered, a needy child was being donated a free lunch.

 

Posted in 06. Teaching, Personal TAI

Teaching as Inquiry impacts my students

As we approach the end of the academic year, it is time to look at the overall data for my Year 11 class, generated through internal standards and the school exams. My hunch going into this TAI is that students should be provided with a variety of methods of instruction that suit a wide variety of working and learning styles. My main focus has been to further develop, tweak and adapt the blended and flipped approach which I started a while back. A flexible attitude helps, along with varied resources ranging from videos through to exemplars produced by my students, and a bit of everything in between. Students have been encouraged and cajoled into forging their own learning pathways.  I’m happy to say that we have been able to work on a multitude of tasks and activities all at once, and no one has run mad.

 

 

The latest craze in my class has been Design Thinking. It gives group work impetus, meaning and drives the learning forward. However, I digress, as that will form part of next year’s TAI.

Comparisons are odious, but necessary for my TAI. My basis is always my year 11 class as they are, year after year, pretty much made up of the same calibre of student and have an even gender split. As far as the internal results go, there is not much to pick between the 2016 class and the 2017 class. This year’s class did marginally better, gaining 69% of their internal credits at excellence level. I feel far more comfortable with them driving their own learning at their own pace. And I sense a greater independence from them too, like they expect to find answers and probe for questions in their groups, before turning to me. Ako Orewa asks for student agency and this is not achieved overnight. But my year 11s have displayed a remarkable ability to self manage and generate some brilliant pieces of work independently, and their grades attest to this.

 

2016                                                    2017

Next I analysed their school exams. Our school was part of the NCEA Digital Pilot exams. Not all my students did the digital exam, but a large portion did. So that does bring in a few variables compared to last year. On the whole the digital exams ran smoothly and I am pleased to say that NCEA sought feedback from the students, both before and after the exam.  Their results? Up on last year with 40% of the class attaining excellence grades, compared with 31% last year.

 

   2016                                                      2017               

A few points, as well as variables, to consider:

  1. Blended and flipped learning, with the independence it fosters, is not having a negative effect on students.
  2. I have stopped insisting that the videos be flipped out of class time. If their learning is to be ubiquitous, some of them will, and do, prepare before lessons, and others in the lesson. It generally depends on the amount of work from other subjects whether or not they want to buy time by pre-preparing work. Freedom to work their way is paramount.
  3. Maybe the fact that they could type their essays resulted in better grades.
  4. The digital exams were marked by external markers. Perhaps as a department we are stricter on our students than the external markers were?

A TAI was never designed to be scientific. My data has a number of variables. And I have not discussed all the spirals I have included over the year. But what is clear to me is that students need to be trusted to work independently, and work the way that suits them best. I have also advised my students to only do two of their three papers. With grades like these, who wouldn’t take advantage of the flexibility of NCEA? Hopefully in the years to come, externals will be optional.

 

Posted in 06. Teaching, Personal TAI

More data: Teaching as Inquiry: 2017

In my Mindlab studies, I did my literature review on blended learning with a specific focus on flipped lessons. So I am aware of the various definitions for both. For my TAI I have favoured the following definitions:

  1. Blended learning where all resources are online and can be accessed anywhere anytime. But with face-to-face reassurance, reinforcement and real time collaboration.
  2. Flipped learning: Depending on the students, I use the traditional video-before-class setup. But I also enjoy using the in-class flipping as the students might require those particular self-help videos as they work in class.

HUNCH: I believe that we should use a variety of methods of instruction to suit a wide variety of working and learning styles.

My resources are varied because I do not believe that there is one way that suits all. Take me for example. When I want to try out a new dish I often watch a Jamie Oliver video because they are quick, easy to follow, and can be listened to while I’m busy with something else. But there are also times when I like to read a recipe, online or even in magazines. Why would it be any different for our students? So I provide longer, dare I say it more boring videos like this one, where I unpick and unravel an exemplar. In video format you do it once, then they can access and rewind as they wish.

I also provide shorter more snappy videos like this one. These are more instructional and give the students next steps in a very quick format:

Then I load up slides, links to NCEA information and exemplars in written format. It sounds like a lot of work but, because it’s all digital, once it’s done, you only have to do it once. In this way I believe that I am giving my students every opportunity to master the work. And it’s not a one size fits all approach.

METHOD: Create independence by placing the onus on students to drive their own learning.

I have really pushed the idea of independence. I say things like: I am only one person with one view. Get your peers, your parents, other teachers to read over your work. It didn’t happen so much at the beginning of the year, but now that we’re comfortable with each other I can hear meaningful and critical conversations taking place. One boy prefers to email his dad for confirmation. A few years ago this might have intimidated me: shouldn’t I be the go-to person? But no I shouldn’t. Students should be encouraged to check their progress in a number of ways before it finally comes to me.

One of my boys is particularly critical, and quite frankly I think he likes to play devil’s advocate. But he became quite sort after as a critical friend. A classic quote came from another boy in my class. I was feeling particularly superfluous one day and possibly asked one too many times if anyone needed my help. He replied with:

We’re fine miss, we’re independent.

Great.

It takes some guts to hand the reins over and trust teenagers to get the work done, without lecturing them. Of course there are times when I stop the lot of them because they’re all missing something. We have a teachable moment, and then move on. The difference is that it’s a moment, not half an hour or even as we perhaps did in the past, an hour of me talking.

RESULTS: This is based on the year 11 text connections internal assessment.

This internal is a biggie as it spans three terms and four texts. Students can make the mistake of overwriting because they simply have so much to say. So it was a process of getting their ideas formulated, and then spending a good chunk of time editing, which is a skill in itself. No-one, and particularly teenagers, wants to delete their own creations. This is where peer evaluation was critical. The results were as follows, based on the marking from a committee of teachers as is the practice at our school:

grades

8 merits and 24 excellence grades. I was phenomenally proud of their efforts. And it was down to them. I give these students the freedom to work within a wide framework. But they need to put the effort in. They need to have the learning conversations. They need to  establish their learning goals. They need to work out what works best for them and take charge of their learning journey. But they also know that I will support them along the way. I make it very clear that the blended, flipped approach is the way we work. They simply have to get on board. Results like these makes me think that they certainly did.

 

Posted in 06. Teaching, Personal TAI

DATA: Teaching as Inquiry: 2017

I have enjoyed the blended approach to teaching and learning for some time now. But this year, due to the new and improved Ako Orewa approach, I am actively giving choice and agency over to the students. For the writing standard in year 11, we have moved away from doing both creative and formal writing. And, unlike last year, I never gave the option of doing both standards. What I did ask is for students to dig deep and find what they are passionate about. And write about that. Ten students chose to do the Creative Writing standard. Six of them boys. The rest chose to tackle Formal Writing.

Asking students to dig deep and find what they feel passionate about does force them to take ownership of their work. When you have a teenager saying: “I think I’m good at creative writing” it almost forces them to prove their point by getting on with it. And doing a good job of it. So unlike in previous years, I found that students very quickly came up with plans for their writing. I was prepared to workshop ideas, but instead, for the most part, simply listened to their good ideas and then told them to get on with it.

With the formal writing I found much the same thing. I had students writing about Tibet, New Caledonia and the migrant crisis in Europe. And it took them no longer than a lesson to come up with their topics. When I dug a little I found that they all had a deeply personal connection to the topic. So what we were able to work on was personal teenage voice. This took the work from good formal, factual writing to another level as it was infused with an authentic teenage flavour. With some encouragement, I found that they were adding details like the following:

I am Tibetan, and my grandma was in Tibet when China took over and was there when they were under China’s rule. My grandma fled Tibet through the Himalayas to India and had to leave all her possessions in her home. She said that the Chinese once came and took all the males and said that they would help them, and so this left all the woman and gathered them into a group. This is when she escaped and went through the Himalayas with her children and a small amount of food, as they left most of their livestock back where they used to live. Many children on the road died due to malnutrition and so, because they were weak, they either died from malnutrition or they died from illnesses and diseases such as chicken pox. Due to the shortage of food my grandma and the group she stayed with went to villages and ended up trading expensive jewellery for simple cups of rice or flour. And when they had traded all their jewellery and what else they had left, they had to beg for food from the villagers. (Year 11 Student)

But the real test is always when the grades are returned. We do not mark our own students’ work which really helps with moderation and equity across the standards. Suffice it to say I had some pleased students with the following grades:

I found these students to be independent, resilient and happy to rely on feedback from people other than myself. They shared their work with family members and peers for both critiquing and feedback.

And in this age of concern over boys’ writing, I am pleased to report that out of the 14 boys in the class, 11 got excellence.