Posts Tagged NSWDET

How to inspire passion #edchat

Working from home has made it easier to participate in the weekly #edchat on Twitter – the topic today was how to discover student passion.

An interesting chat I had with @joe_bower and @monk51295 was about the use of grades in assessing student learning, and how they work to kill student passion.  Joe makes an excellent argument on his blog for abolishing grading – a form of assessment he believes is obsolete and archaic.  I couldn’t agree more.

Grading student work using reductive labels such as an A-E scale, or a mark out of 10 or 20, just doesn’t do the job that anyone wants it to.  Parents (well, most of them) seem to think they want this kind of measure, and yet when it comes to parent-teacher conference evening the first question I am usually asked is along the lines of “so, what does a ‘C’ mean?”

In NSW Australia it is now mandatory for schools to report to parents using an ‘easy to understand’, ‘jargon free’ A-E scale.  The purpose?  To allow teachers to report student academic achievements at any point in time using clear standards.  So, what does a ‘C’ mean?  Well, it means that the student’s achievement is sound; that they “have a sound knowledge and understanding of the main areas of content and has achieved an adequate level of competence in the processes and skills.”  (Parent: “so, what does ‘achieved an adequate level of competence’ mean??”…and here we are, back at square one…)

NSW schools have the option of using the grade labels (A-E), or they can use the corresponding descriptors:

  • A = ‘Outstanding’
  • B = ‘High’
  • C = ‘Sound’
  • D = ‘Basic’
  • E = ‘Limited’

I was absolutely dismayed when I started teaching at my school to find they had wholly and solely adopted the A-E grade system, even though the use of the letter grades wasn’t mandatory.  While I recognise that faux-descriptions like ‘High’ or ‘Basic’ aren’t much better, at least they are somewhat descriptive.  The ideological baggage alone attached to A-E grades is enough to poison parents’ understanding of student reports – using these terms in my experience transports parents right back into their own school experience, and instills an instictive kind of dread.  Parents who were ‘C’ students in school now apologise for their ‘average-ness’ in semester interviews.  And parents who were ‘A’ students seem puzzled that their spawn have not exhibited their genetically inherited excellence.

The problem with this is, as an English teacher, I truly believe that the way in which we engage with texts in todays classrooms is so much more complex than in the past, that comparing a ‘B’ grade from the 1970s to a ‘B’ grade in a NSW English classroom today is like comparing apples to oranges.  Yet it is this historical understanding of grades that we draw on when we offer them to parents as a ‘clear standard’.

In my teaching I have taken a pragmatic approach to grading student work, and I tend to use a combination of grading individual outcomes on a tick-a-box scale, following this with comments.  My faculty insists that I allocate a grade to any common assessment tasks, but for most assessments I can withhold this from students and just record it in my markbook.  Here is an example of the feedback sheet I use in our Year 7 Debating assessment task – syllabus outcomes are rephrased to connect with what students have learned to do, and an overall grade can easily be calculated by looking at which column got the bulk of the ticks:

debating task assessment marking criteria (download PDF – feel free to use!)

One thing I know I don’t do enough of is getting students to explicitly reflect on their progress, and this is something I worked on a lot last year.  In a post on his leadership blog @dan__rockwell explains that a sense of making progress is the greatest motivator of all.  Unlike grades (which act as ‘carrot and stick’ motivators), giving students a sense that they are making progress can really inspire them to learn and move forward.  A practice I would like to start in my classes is to give students the assessment feedback sheet at the start of the unit and get them to fill it in with what they would get before participating in the lessons.  They could then compare this to my eventual feedback (and/or their own self-assessment using the same sheet) to guage their progress.

It seems obvious to me that this is more valuable than knowing you got a ‘C’.

Joe suggests in his blog that when an organization has some policy or rule that simply desn’t allow you to always to the right thing, then professional acts of subversion are called upon.  Refusing to grade student work is one way of subverting the archaic A-E grade system in NSW.  Refusing to conduct NAPLAN exams this year in light of their use in the MySchool website would be another example (but I wonder how many of us will put our money where our mouths are on that one?)

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Super Teachers

Many of my teaching friends have criticised the move by the Department of Education and Training to introduce the new role of Highly Accomplished Teacher in NSW schools.

On face value I could see why: the potential to alienate teachers by only elevating a select few (an eventual total of 100 across the state) to the ranks of HAT is huge.  And the salary for these teachers – $98,000 – is higher than the salary for a KLA Head Teacher, and just under that of a Deputy Principal.  Weird.

However, as my school was once of the first to gain one of these positions, I am here to testify.

It’s easy to be upset and feel unappreciated because someone who used to sit next to you in the faculty staffroom is all of a sudden getting paid up to an extra 50% (and for a smaller teaching load at that!)  But you have to remember that these positions are different to that of an rank-and-file teacher.  Curriculum Head Teachers get paid more for doing less teaching too, but we are used to that – we understand that their role is different to ours.  And they sure do earn their crust; on days when HSC, School Certificate and NAPLAN data are released there is no way I would trade my job for theirs.  And as for sitting around in boring Executive meetings planning school targets and discussion policy issues…well, most teachers would rather not do that too.

Is the position of HAT any different?

Why shouldn’t someone get paid more for doing a harder job?

I suspect the issue is that many teachers currently don’t believe that the HAT role is very difficult.  But let’s consider what the HAT in my school is taking on as we blog:

  • Classroom observation and team teaching with beginning teachers, and later with each faculty in turn
  • Developing the resources and in-school PD for refining the literacy and numeracy focus across all KLAs
  • Establishing research partnerships with local universities (and later co-ordinating and leading the school side of the action research)
  • Liasing with university education faculties to build formal mentoring structures for the influx of pre-service teachers that our school will now enjoy
  • Leading the school in its new role as Centre for Excellence by building relationships with surrounding public schools to ensure the quality teaching practices that our school is refining are spread far and wide to benefit the wider community
  • And still teaching!  Albeit a much smaller load.

Sounds like schools just got someone in who can do the cool stuff that we teachers never get time to do. Aren’t you excited about having fellow teachers, rather than admintrators and bureacrats, helping you to develop your teaching quality?

Of course, the success of someone in this role will depend on whether they are the right person for the job.  But this is true of all promotions.  In my school the teacher who got the HAT role was an English teacher already in the school.  She was my mentor in my second year of teaching, and she is one of the warmest, most patient, most hard working, professional and reflective teachers could ever hope to meet.  You can read Luisa’s statement on why she teaches on our school leadership blog.

Personally, I am excited by the idea that there is a career in schools now that I can look forward to.  I have always wanted to be a teacher AND a researcher, but other than working crazy part-time roles in both, there was nothing on the horizon.

The other benefit of the HAT scheme is that teachers who love teaching in public schools and who are really, really good at it don’t have to end up lost to administration roles if they want to earn a higher salary.  I love teaching, and I am commited to teaching in public schools.  I don’t want to be a Principal.  Or a Deputy Principal.  I’m not even sure I want to be a Head Teacher.

But I sure would like to be a HAT 🙂

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NSW DET teachers and web2.0

Teachers in NSW public schools are invited to add a profile of themselves and share online resources with other teachers in a new wiki, NSW DET Staff 2.0 created by Sydney Region’s Stu Hasic.

What a great way for NSW teachers to find each other, network and share expertise.  I love the way that you can search the wiki for the tool you are trying to use (e.g. edublogs, ning, twitter) and find like-minded professionals who have used it before.  Networks like these are becoming increasingly important as we learn new pedagogies required to bring on the Digital Education Revolution in our classrooms.

Thanks for bringing us together Stu!

PLN Wordle (used on the staff wiki) by Cobannon – http://www.flickr.com/photos/cobannon/2983755525/

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