It’s the little wins

Before starting teaching, I was told by a number of people in the profession that “It’s the little wins that makes teaching so special”; this is the reason why, as many have quoted to me, they love the job.  Today, I was fortunate enough to have two of them.

The first came towards the start of the day, during one of my more difficult classes.  In this class, I often feel like it is a battle to get some students to open their book, let alone complete the assigned work.  Homework completion is patchy at best.  The class is dominated by boys, and includes a well-intentioned but disruptive and easily distracted group of five.  At the end of today’s class, one of these boys came up to me to chat about the work currently being done.   Of his own accord, he told me that would like to be doing more textbook work, and in fact, would like me to set some more work for him to go on with at home.

The second moment of celebration came prior to the start of another class.  Chatting to the students outside the classroom, I asked them what they had learnt in yesterday’s class.  I had been out visiting another school for the day, so the lesson was taken by a casual relief teacher (CRT).  While the responses produced from some students was in no way worthy of celebration, two students stepped forward and handed me hand-written and signed notes.  In these, the students apologised for not completing the assigned work on stem-and-leaf plots (“pea pods or whatever they are”) from the previous day, as they – and the CRT – did not understand the activity.  Instead, as their notes explained, the two students went on with textbook work, Mathletics and maths games.

While there is still much I have to learn in this profession, these small wins have given me optimism that I’m stepping in the right direction.

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A little thing called NAPLAN

This week was NAPLAN.  For those who live in the world outside of nationwide standardised testing, NAPLAN is the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy. Australian students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 sat through 5 tests over 3 days.  According to the body that organises the testing, ACARA, “NAPLAN tests the sorts of skills that are essential for every child to progress through school and life, such as reading, writing, spelling and numeracy.”

Now, I must be up front in my belief about NAPLAN: I don’t hold it in particularly high regard.  While I understand its use in making broad comparisons across schools, states and school systems, due to the way it has developed the testing places unnecessary strain on individual students. Media hype has confused the purpose of NAPLAN, portraying it as a summative rather than formative assessment.  These tests are not ends in themselves; they should not be used to denigrate schools or to make claims about what some educators are failing to do for their students.  Rather, these tests should be used by states, schools and other educators to examine the learning that is taking place within their locus of control.

If a school finds that its students have excelled in a particular skill, then it should celebrate that success and be proud of what it is achieving.  If, on the other hand, results show that students have been broadly unable to apply another skill, then it is indicative of what more needs to be done, of an area of learning that may have been neglected.  But since learning does not end with NAPLAN, such results should only be used to provide direction in further teaching and learning, not to indicate failure.

What would be serious is if over time, the testing shows a school/state to be continually performing poorly on the same skills; that is to say, if they have not learned from prior mistakes. And that is what we should all pay attention to.