I have done an analysis of the grades obtained by my three senior classes over the course of the year.
The Year 11s had some very pleasing results with 68% of all their credits being at Excellence and 29% at Merit.They wrote three external exams which I still believe is asking too much in three hours. Two exams in three hours seems far more realistic to me. I do believe that is why the excellence grades are diluted.
On analysis of my Year 12 students, it was clear that they improved as the year progressed.I attribute this to their growing confidence in their abilities. I discussed Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset with them and referred to this way of thinking in my teaching practice. They were also a class who preferred the casual layout of my classroom.
The year 12s wrote one exam with some mixed results. As most of them had got all the necessary credits throughout the year, the pressure was slightly less for the exams.
My year 13 class had success with getting through the standards, with 66% passing all internal standards with Achieved, and 30% getting to Merit. As this year level was my cohort, we already had established positive relationships. I believe that this goes a long way in promoting students’ confidence in their abilities.
Much the same as the year 12 class, the year 13 internal class had gained most of the available credits throughout the year.
From this analysis it seems evident that developing mini teaching as inquiry approaches is successful. This means that I am continuously refining my approach.
It’s not all about the grades. We’ve heard that often enough. So what is it all about? The ‘C’ students can potentially go further than the so called academic student. What I mean is, that student that has developed the soft skills: collaboration, connectedness, creativity. The skills that students are quietly picking up along the way when they are given the time and the confidence that they can work independently. So bring in the student with some learning needs.
This is the student that struggles with hand writing, but the iPad has helped him overcome this weakness. He has anomalies in that he is confident and anxious. Connected yet challenged. Interested yet disengaged.
I’ll get to my point.
The drama teacher at our school saw potential in this student to do the speech board exam. His confident side thought it was an awesome idea and he jumped onto Google and combined his love of history with his love of sport. These two combined, he quickly put a speech together based on the ’81 Springbok tour of New Zealand. This was based on what he was studying in history.
The day before the speech was due to be memorised and presented to the group the confident side disappeared. The anxieties were palpable. His verdict: “I can’t do this. I can’t memorise this speech!”
The English teacher in me kicked in. I’ve been teaching English for 25 years. I know what I’m talking about. As I was about to launch into the ” depend on me ” tactic, I saw another palpable change in this student.
I’ll get my iPad to read my speech to me!
And that’s exactly what he did. Quick as a flash he went to Settings. Accessibility. Voice over. And so for the next while he had the iPad read his speech to him over and over and over. This was his way of calming his nerves and getting the speech into his head, without having to read it himself. The work was authentically his, he just needed help reading the content.
I felt immense pride when I heard him the next day. Rehearsing the speech outside my classroom with the so called academic students.
The point of this post? Here we have a student who is challenged academically. But he has developed flexible thinking. He has developed problem solving and independence. He took a problem and he found a solution. Not an ‘A’ student but a fantastic ‘C’ student.
This is what my learning intentions and success criteria look like lately. I’m making them visually more specifically related to gathering, processing and applying. This opens up discussion about what and how they are learning.
And the next question is, are my students looking too comfortable? All the nanas in a row. Year 13s cranking out their theme studies.
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”
I was really interested to see the NCEA results for my level one class. I looked at the external results and compared them to my class from the previous year. The most obvious difference was the number of Excellences, with the 2014 group more than doubling the number. So there is a significant shift up when you look at the number of Achieved and Merit grades.
What was common between the two groups?
1. They were both extension classes with talented students
2. The texts I taught remained the same over the two years
3. The exams were largely the same
So why the jump in Excellence grades?
The biggest difference was that in 2014 all my students had devices, so I was able to confidently flip lessons when required. We could run with projects, knowing that we could share and collaborate because we were all connected. We also introduced blogging. My aim was to develop independent learning.
Now I know we shouldn’t get too hung up on grades, there’s more to teaching and learning. But it’s nice to see hard work paying off. Will this trend continue in 2015? Who knows, but I’m certainly excited to watch my students grow in confidence and independence.