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.
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.
A few points, as well as variables, to consider:
- Blended and flipped learning, with the independence it fosters, is not having a negative effect on students.
- 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.
- Maybe the fact that they could type their essays resulted in better grades.
- 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.
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:
- Blended learning where all resources are online and can be accessed anywhere anytime. But with face-to-face reassurance, reinforcement and real time collaboration.
- 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.
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:
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.
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.
The teaching profession has for decades been seen as a moral activity, with teachers being publicly accountable. An individual teacher’s actions reflect directly on the profession and we have a moral obligation to have high ethical standards. This is because we are dealing with young, often vulnerable people.
But unlike years ago, the hierarchical structure of schools is flattening out. I come from a teaching background where, even as a staff member, I unquestioningly called my colleagues Mr and Mrs. It was only in New Zealand where I ever had the wild temerity to call my principal by her first name. The norm now is more shared authority and collaboration. The other thing that has changed is the nuclear family. Where sensitive subjects like relationships, health and sexual education were discussed at home, these topics are now up to teachers to deal with as part of the curriculum. This can potentially make teachers more vulnerable than ever before.
In addition, we have social media networks as an integral part of our lives. Opening these networks up in schools can obscure the natural boundaries which exist between teachers and students. Robin Thicke’s unfortunate and hugely controversial song Blurred Lines kept coming to mind as I contemplated this thought. Social media messages, even innocuous and innocent ones, are devoid of facial expressions, body language and tone. So, they can be blurred or misinterpreted. However, social media does have a place in education as it can facilitate effective communication.
The New Zealand Education Council’s Code Of Ethics for Certificated Teachers is simple and unambiguous. “Act the same way when using social media as you would face-to-face.”
You would think so. Not so for an ex-colleague. Some people seem to like the drama, and teacher X was one such person. Now it’s one thing to get involved in verbal banter, and perhaps even gossip. But when this spills over to social media the boundaries between professional and personal life can become blurred. In this scenario, the teacher found that a vulnerable student was reaching out with personal issues of an increasingly sensitive nature.
The correct thing to do would be to redirect the student to the appropriate support structures. For us that means alerting the dean, senior manager, nurse or councillors. We even have a team of youth workers who work alongside the councillors. Unfortunately, this teacher thought she would deal with the problem herself. Facebook was the medium and the messages were private, sent to the teacher’s inbox. What should be paramount in all our minds is that we are dealing with impressionable youngsters. And, that texts are never private. They can be forwarded, screenshotted and shared over and over.
Before long the situation spiralled out of the teacher’s control. She did not have the tools or strategies to deal with this situation. It came to the attention of her head of department and ultimately the principal. Teachers sign a Code of Conduct which includes cyber safety and responsible IT usage. It was deemed that this teacher had overstepped this code. A disciplinary hearing was held and a warning issued.
The incident was hugely unpleasant and totally avoidable. Our Code of Ethics is straightforward and simply worded to avoid misinterpretation:
- Teachers should be approachable, but they are the professionals. Maintain a professional distance.
- It is our professional responsibility to create an emotionally and physically safe and healthy learning environment.
- If it is inappropriate to say, it is inappropriate to text.
- Keep communication transparent and professional.
- Use common sense.
I advocate the use of social media. We extensively use Google Classroom and online communication is largely shared through this medium. But at the back of our minds we should always remember to sift our contact with students through an ethical filter.
The Code of Ethics isn’t “a set of rules that must be followed.” Rather it’s a “set of principles that should be applied to situations with careful reflection to make ethical decisions.”
When it comes to ethical dilemmas, if you hear alarm bells going off in your head, listen to them.
Connecticut’s Teacher Education and Mentoring Program.(2012) Ethical and Professional Dilemmas for Educator: Facilitator’s Guide. Retrieved from http://www.ctteam.org/df/resources/Module5_Manual.pdf
Education Council New Zealand. Retrieved from http://www.teachersandsocialmedia.co.nz/guidelines/commitment-learners
Hall, A. (2001) What ought I to do, all things considered? An approach to the exploration of ethical problems by teachers. http://www.educationalleaders.govt.nz/Culture/Developing-leaders/What-Ought-I-to-Do-All-Things-Considered-An-Approach-to-the-Exploration-of-Ethical-Problems-by-Teachers
This is the second year where I have expected students to access my work on line and be prepared for lessons. Most of the work has been at the ‘gathering’ stage and has been in the form of videos that I have made. This has been interspersed with PBL and student led lessons. All within the framework that I have set up. To make this easier for students to see the bigger picture, I have created iBooks of the year’s course work. The best spin off that I have found is more time to set up relationships with students. When they are working at their pace, I am able to work along side of them, guiding and coaching when necessary.
Here is a comparison of each internal over the last two years. I think it is fair to say that the new pedagogical approaches has not hindered their progress. Anecdotally I’d say that engagement was up. I was able to challenge them more. Students are forced out of their comfort zones when they are challenged to think, rather than passively absorb information. I was amazed at their tenacity and hard work this year. And finally, I have enjoyed this approach far more than droning on from the front of the class.
The first time I encountered student evaluations was when I started teaching in New Zealand. And I think they’re great. I’ve been teaching for over two decades and I love the affirmation I get from my students. And of course I pride myself on my approachable and affable demeanour. Don’t forget my valuable feed forward which is delivered in a constructive and positive way. Imagine my dismay when some of my students had the audacity to critisise me in their evaluation. Granted the harsh critisism was only from two responses, but still! It stung! They said, and I quote, “Miss needs to spend equal time with everyone, not just the loud ones.” Being gregarious myself, do I gravitate to the vocal students? Yes of course I do, for the following reasons:
1. We work in a digital 1:1 device world. Students do not depend exclusively on teachers. So when students are asking for our input, it affirms our place in the world. It’s a great feeling passing on knowledge right? Sometimes we do surpass Google.
2. In our ‘guide on the side’ role, we want to encourage independent learning, so hovering helicopter teachers are frowned upon. If students don’t need your input, don’t give it.
3. You can only ask “Do you guys need my help?” so many times. If they are on task and tinkering along, leave them alone.
But, why the comment that I did not give certain students enough encouragement and feed forward? So I came up with a plan and here is my reflection:
Every student has a voice and it needs to be heard. My plan was not technical, it was not complex. In fact it was simple and basic. I simply said to my students that, if they needed my input, they’d need to pop their names onto my whiteboard. I would stick strictly to the list on the board, no wavering to the squeaky wheels. At first I had about five names on the board. The next day the number of names doubled. By day three a colleague walked in and said: ” Wow you’re into double columns now!” I think there’s something about the fairness about the system that they liked. A parent contacted me and he reaffirmed what I thought, that the shy individual in the class felt as if he had been heard. Without having to put his hand up and say ” Miss, I need your help!” Which, ironically, by adding his name to the board, he was saying. I include photos in this post of students lining up to put their names on my board at lunchtime. Before class. I kid you not!
I recently received this email from one of my students with a creative writing submission:
“I have almost finished my story. Just working on the last sentence to relate to the burning of a fire, love and the beginning of my story. I need to finish it with the same metaphor. Any other changes you could recommend? I am second on the board for seeing you in class tomorrow so will hopefully have some more ideas by then! Thanks”
This is our department TAI. It’ll be interesting to see how the students respond to project based learning And mentoring and if their results do in fact improve.
Two questions that have been posed:
What does the driving question focus on?
It looks at mentoring and the need for time for students to develop their work. The driving question should help with their understanding of the judgements they are expected to make. So our driving questions should be broad and challenging. The work should require students to use technology well. There should be showcasing of student work on blogs. But they should also be peer teaching. The best form of peer teaching is when they choose who to teach and how to teach, rather than being paired up. My class has divided themselves into about eight groups. They have the same driving question but each group has a focus area to work on. I have encouraged them to follow, to some degree, the PEEL method in their response. How they gather and process the ideas in the focus groups is up to them. As is the way they present the information to the other groups. I will post their responses in the next few days. I have made myself available as a mentor and have advised certain parts of the text to focus in on. But at this stage they are working pretty independently which is ultimately the goal.
What does Ako mean to me?
Ako is looking at how students think and learn. It’s about having a common language of learning. It’s also about students knowing the process that they are undertaking. Gathering should not take up class time because we know we live in a connected world. We all have access to the work so why waste class time gathering if this can be done beforehand? That leaves us more time to do the processing and applying. Which will hopefully take care of the third part of the question which is: improve grades!
Ako needs to be revamped to align with technology use in the class. This is currently under review.