Posts Tagged HSC

Slaves to the Grade

It’s that time of year. Teachers of Year 12 around Australia are scrambling to varying degrees to prepare students for final assessments and exams, which inevitably involves a whole lotta marking.

Of course, all teachers have to grade student work. And they are engaged in doing this all year. But nothing beats the pedal-to-the-metal feeling of marking Year 12 practice tasks in a last ditch effort to refine their examination responses.

In particular, nothing beats the hellish pressure that exists in states like NSW and Victoria where the HSC and VCE exams respectively loom over teachers and students alike. And out of all these teachers and students, I argue that subjects that are writing-intensive (e.g. English and History) have it the toughest; if you have a class of 25 for Year 12 and it’s coming up to an assessment, teachers in these subjects are spending their nights and weekends correcting pages and pages and pages of long form expositions.

Which can leave your eyes (and soul) feeling kinda like this:

bill crying blood

I was prompted to write this blog post after watching my friends Justin and Alex tweet about their marking yesterday:

twitter convo 24.08.2013 HSC marking

I’ve taught for the HSC three times and this slavish marking routine is the only part I do not miss…having said that, the jolly task I have now of marking as a university lecturer has involved marking binges that certainly rival the pain of HSC workload.

The question is – what can we do about it?

Is there anything we can do about it?

Some ideas that I threw out into the twittersphere yesterday seem promising, but without a class to try them on I’m at a loss, not sure if they would work. The ideas I bounced around with Justin and Alex were:

  1. Focussing on writing just the introduction, or a body paragraph. This would make the task smaller and more focussed for students, and more manageable to mark 25-30 of them.
  2. Setting a paragraph writing challenge. To address Justin’s problem of the student that only writes about ‘tone’, each week set a different language feature/form for students to write a paragraph on. By the end of the term they will have a bank of paragraphs on different elements.
  3. Gamify the writing process. This could be done by putting students in groups, getting every student to write a paragraph (or essay), then each group submits it’s best one (as judged by the students in the group) for marking. This means you only have to mark one essay/paragraph per group, not per student. Keep a chart of which group wins each week and award them a prize at the end of the unit. Change the groups around for each new unit.
  4. Peer assessment. This can only be used in a limited way, as students don’t have the capacity to grade work to a Year 12 standard. However you could use the ‘medals (feedback) and missions (feedforward)’ framework that Bianca draws on to give students a direction. I think the main benefit is that they read each other’s work and discuss their strengths, not that they actually give each other a ‘grade’.
  5. Find an authentic audience. Partnering up with another teacher/class would provide an avenue for students to share their work with another class on a platform such as a wiki. This would give students someone to perform for besides their own teacher, which could prove motivating. The teachers could also arrange to do a marking-swap, and grade each other’s student essays…this may get you writing less comments, marking more objectively (?) and just plain old provide a change of pace as you get to read a different set of handwriting!

I really hope these ideas are useful to someone out there.

If you have any other good ideas for getting feedback to students without going through so much of the eye-bleedingly painful million-essay marking process, I would LOVE to hear them!

Thanks to Justin and Alex for inspiring this post and helping me brainstorm ideas :)

 

Images: Cropped screen still from True Blood, Season 5; Screen shot of conversation on Twitter.com

Postscript: If you liked this post, you may also like the post Matt Esterman wrote today, ‘The home stretch for Year 12′. Looks like we all have Year 12 on the brain this weekend!

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Evaluating the HSC: An interview

Last year I was interviewed by Melissa Wilson, a Journalism student from the University of Newcastle, about my views on the Higher School Certificate (HSC).

Melissa was in contact again recently, and this prompted me to ask if I could reproduce the interview here on my blog. She kindly obliged, and so here it is!

I was careful to read back over my answers, to make sure I still felt the same way about these issues. I do. I wish I could say that things were vastly different up here in Queensland. They’re not. When a Queenslander tells you there is no external exam for Year 12 in their state, they’re misleading you at best. Here is a bit of information from the QSA website about the Queensland Core Skills (QCS) test:

Preparing for the test

The Common Curriculum Elements are generic skills that students work with across their subjects; therefore the real preparation for the test goes on all the time and in every subject. The QSA also makes available a variety of test preparation resources, including Retrospectives and past testpapers (see QCS Test publications and Retrospectives and MC response sheets). Most schools provide some focused preparation for the test.

Hmm, sounds familiar.

But, I digress…

Here are my responses to the interview by Melissa Wilson:

Interview answers for Melissa Wilson (University of Newcastle, 2011)
Interviewee: Kelli McGraw (Lecturer, QUT)

  • How do you feel about how the HSC is structured in 2011?

When I think about the HSC structure in 2011, the main things that leap to mind are the fact that studying English is mandatory, that half of the student assessment is based on a timetabled external examinations, and that a no more than of 30% of your school assessment is supposed to be ‘exam-type’. I think it’s really important for English to remain compulsory right up to the end of school, but I’d like to see more room for students to choose electives within the course, not just different levels i.e. Standard or Advanced English. At the moment I think the HSC is still structured in a way that is too rigid for students to feel like they have a lot of choice over their learning.

  • Many people say that the HSC is focused on teaching students a whole lot of information that isn’t exactly relevant to them later in life – but instead they just regurgitate it in an exam and then discard it – how do you feel about that statement?

Personally, I can think of countless things that I learned in my HSC year (1998). In those days the emphasis on exams was just as great, but I am often surprised by the things I remember from senior high school and have found a lot of what I learned to be very relevant in life. Having to finish ‘major works’ for Visual Art and Drama also taught me valuable lessons about project management and self-directed learning, which I didn’t get from participating in written exams, so in that sense I guess I was lucky to be an ‘art-sy’ student.
I think the real problem with exams is not that students have to cram ‘irrelevant’ information – I think that all learning can be made relevant, depending on what you choose to do in life. The problem I find is that the examination system has too much of an effect on what happens inside the classroom. The constant pressure to cover content is a strain on students and teachers, and even though school-based assessment is supposed to involve deep learning and reflection, many schools I know of set far more than 30% of their assessments in an exam style in order to condition students in preparation for the external exam. So I think there is a ‘hidden curriculum’ in the HSC, which can dilute learning experiences based on the official subject syllabuses.

  • And from this, what would you personally change about the HSC? 

I think that the only assessment that students should have to do under exam conditions is the Trial. If more student work was assessed through project work, or using collaborative group tasks, or using portfolios, I think that students would feel more connected to the learning, and be motivated to achieve. Even though the HSC now uses criteria-based assessment, students are acutely aware that the HSC places them in competition with one another as in-class assessment ranks still play a role in determining a student’s final subject results, and the year culminates for most students in receiving a ranked national placement through the UAI. With only about 30% of students moving from school to university after Year 12, it seems like we compromise a lot of educational values for the sake of a privileged minority.

  • How do you feel about the pressure and emotional stress that students endure throughout their HSC?

When I think about the stories that students have told me over the years – about how they feel inadequate, or like a failure in the face of HSC assessment tasks – it makes me really upset. I have seen a lot of students in Year 12 lose a lot of weight, with girls in particular showing signs of early and advanced eating disorders. Senior school is also a time when increased numbers of students pick up casual and part-time employment, in many cases out of a necessity to contribute to household finances. I think the HSC creates an environment where students are given too many adult responsibilities without being given the corresponding rights.

While schools play a vital role in developing students’ resilience and capacity for work, the emotional stress endured during the HSC year is too much, in my opinion. I read a study awhile back where Year 11 and 12 students reported symptoms of anxiety, depression and stress that fell outside the ‘normal’ range. We know that when this happens, students stop focussing on ‘mastering’ the material, instead focussing on performance; they stop believing in themselves, stop seeing the learning as a worthwhile goal, and switch to performance-oriented goals. Some of my own school friends took years to recover from the emotional damage of the HSC year, especially those whose final results didn’t meet expectations.

Good riddance to my English notes.

Good riddance to my English notes. Flickr image by Jean-Rene Vauzelle CC-BY-2.0

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Voices from Elsewhere…

I was recently directed to the Wheeler Centre website to take a look at the speeches and talks they had available to view and download.

Finding out about the Wheeler Centre was very interesting…did you know that Melbourne is one of UNESCO’s ‘Cities of Literature’? The Wheeler Centre was established to celebrate this:

Melbourne has a new kind of cultural institution. The Wheeler Centre – a centre dedicated to the discussion and practice of writing and ideas. Through a year-round programme of talks and lectures, readings and debates, we invite you to join the conversation.

Their slogan is ‘Books. Writing. Ideas.’

Isn’t that wonderful?

It wasn’t long before I found a resource that drew me straight in – I am a big fan of Nam Le’s collected short stories in The Boat and even set the book on our ETAQ Book Club list this year!

If you also like books, writing and ideas, please enjoy this 10 minute talk by Nam Le, on the theme ‘Voices from elsewhere’:

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Guest Post: ‘I Have A Dream that the HSC Will End’

  • Post to celebrate completion of my PhD: CHECK.
  • Post with an update on my upcoming conference papers: CHECK.

So…where to next?

As fate had it, this decision was made for me, with the arrival of a piece of student writing in my inbox.

The author of the piece is a recently graduated HSC student, one whom I had the pleasure of teaching year 8 English, and coaching for debating :)  This is him counting down the days until the end of his exams:

I invite you to read his work (below), which he has given me permission to reproduce (along with his picture) in this post.  Oriniginally published as a Facebook post on October 28th, it is a re-writing of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous I Have a Dream speech, which has been adapted to make a satirical commentary on the HSC.  It comes with a mild language warning (c’mon; it’s satire!), and is a brilliant example of a ‘textual intervention’.

I’m very proud to feature it here  as my first ‘guest post’!:

*****

I Have A Dream that the HSC Will End

By B. Wylie

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our state.

Two score years ago, an a*shole bureaucrat, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, created the Higher School Certificate. This momentous decree came as a great source of pain and suffering to millions of NSW students who were about to be seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a sorrowful dusk which signalled the beginning of their long night of academic captivity.

But fourty four years later, the student still is not free. Fourty four years later, the life of the student is still sadly crippled by the manacles of standardised testing and the chains of rankings. Fourty four years later, the student lives on a lonely island of studying in the midst of a vast ocean of facebook updates. Fourty four years later, the student is still languished in the rooms of NSW high schools and finds himself an exile in his own class. And so we’ve come here today to dramatise a shameful condition.

In a sense we’ve come to this facebook note to cash a check. Read the rest of this entry »

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The HSC again. and again.

In NSW yesterday Year 12 school leavers got their HSC results back.  And again, we reflect.

so-and-so got x amount of Band 6s this year…should I teach more like them?

my kids didn’t go as well as they had hoped…did I fail them?

there were some great successes at our school…what pressures will this bring next year?

The dizzying heights…the devastating lows.

I’m sure this post / these tweets should have some ‘IMHO’s peppered through them, but stuff it – the HSC is an evil device.

I’m so proud of every HSC student who got through the year, and was beyond excited for my ex-students who got the results they sought (I always will be).  Motivation, goals, mastery, achievement, I believe in them all.  But the HSC provides them too sparingly, for students and their teachers.

And now it’s time for recovery. again.

Congratulations one and all – bring on 2011…

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Good News Day

This front page made me smile so much yesterday I broke my usual rule and bought The Australian:

PRIVATE SCHOOLS’ FURY OVER MYSCHOOL WEBSITE

Turns out the poor buggers have found some inaccuracies in the way their finances are reported.  It makes it look like they are getting paid WAY too much money for the services they provide, or something totally unbelievable like that.

I say: suck it.  Where were you last year when NSW public school teachers and unions were the only ones out there willing to put their neck on the line to criticise the MySchool website?  Sitting quietly on their hands and calling us whingers, that’s where.

STATE REJECTS PM’s CURRICULUM AS SUBSTANDARD

Which state you ask?  Oh, that’d be NSW.  Again.  As far as I can see, the only state with the balls to take a stand against ACARA.  Again.

Now, I realise full well that teachers in every state and territory think that their curriculum is ‘the best’.  But that’s not what this is actually about.  This is not just about some east-coast superiority complex.  This is about (in the case of English, at least) the inadequacy of the curriculum on offer.

I love my new home in Queensland, but for sheer determination to kick against the pricks, I am proud to say ‘go the Blues!’  On National Curriculum issues, NSW is proving well and truly to be the big sister of Australia – she might not always be right, but at least she’s brave enough to fight for what she thinks is right (inaccurate newspaper reporting be damned).

SIDDLE BLOWS ENGLAND AWAY WITH HATTRICK

OK, so any real Australian knows that this was the only real story of the day.

If you don’t know what a hattrick in cricket is, it’s when a bowler gets three batsmen out in a row.  It’s very hard to do.  Since the start of the Ashes in 1877 there have only been eight other hattricks, making Siddle’s the ninth. And it was his birthday!

What a good news day!

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HSC English

For anyone wondering how Year 12 HSC students in NSW feel about high stakes external exams as a measure of their learning in English this year:

Sorry, I can’t confirm which school it came from…

(PS: Good luck studying for Paper 2 my dears!)

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