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.


Looking back in order to move forwards

Over the past week, I have spent a lesson with each of my classes setting goals for next term. At first thought, this may seem like a lot of time for the one task.  However, I am a strong believer in continuity: being able to reflect on what you have learnt, in order to plan for the next stages of your learning.

Goal setting, in this way, places emphasis on student responsibility for learning; as the teacher, it is my role to facilitate the learning, but the student’s job to make the most of the opportunities that are presented for them.  Spending some time reflecting and setting goals, enables the student to take ownership of their learning.

In each of my classes, students were given individual goal setting sheets.  On these, they noted down standardised test scores, reasons for why they have achieved certain results this term, what scores they would like to aim for next term and how they can get there.  While I am not the biggest fan of standardised tests, they provide a useful benchmark for students.  With this in mind, I have suggested to students that these tests are not always 100% accurate in indicating their true abilities.  The students themselves should know whether they are keeping up with the work or not.

Aside from setting individual goals, I see it as important to set class goals. Students should not just see themselves as individual learners, but as one of a cohort who are learning together.

Having shared goals enables the development of class cohesiveness and collaboration, and ideally will result in social facilitation – that is, where the presence of others, improves individual performance. Clearly what is required for this, is a class that is comfortable with one another and has a relationship that is built on mutual respect.

From each student, I collected a class goal then typed them up and popped them into wordle. Below is an example from one class:

For some classes, working towards a goal as a group will be easy, while for others this will not be the case.  Either way, the sort of improvement that can be gained from reflecting and thinking ahead, will take more than just the short school term that has now passed us by.

Where am I again?

While I have not intended for this blog to be a place where I write in-depth about my day-to-day experiences in the classroom, I was asked elsewhere to put this piece together, and thought I would also share it here…

Somehow I have already reached halfway through my first term of teaching. I am not exactly sure how I got here – somewhere in between yard duties, differentiated homework sheets, ‘cool’ days of 35 degrees and 85 of my own students, the last 4 weeks have passed me by.  If you asked me two years ago whether I would consider teaching, the answer would have been a resounding “no”.  To my own surprise however, I am finding the first stages of this new course in my life rather exhilarating.

A typical day goes like this: at 7.40am I walk out the door, arriving at school approximately 12.5 minutes later.  By the time morning briefing takes place at 8.50am, I have done the photocopying for my first 3 classes, said “good morning” to the ladies in the library and picked up the cables from them that I use to connect my laptop to the projector in my classroom.  I have also taken my books, sheets, whiteboard markers, daily planner and a stash of other supplies to my classroom, rearranged the room if necessary and set up the board ready for session 1.

As I don’t have a homegroup, I have a few minutes to breathe and read the news online before my first class begins.  Year 9 maths.  These students always arrive on time, ready to learn.  I know that I can push this class, after having discovered early on that they like to be challenged.  During this class, I am also generally able to walk around the room and have a chat to each student, spending longer with those who have missed a class or are behind.

Forty-eight minutes later, Year 9s walk out and Year 10s begin to appear.  Session 2 is always lively, and I generally start the lesson with some funk music playing while the students get their equipment out and begin doing some basic skills practice or revision.  While many of the students in this class will be going on to the Senior College down the road next year, with some already having plans to go on to university, there are a number of students who have stated that they intend to leave school at the end of the year.  As such, amongst these students, there is less motivation to learn abstract mathematical concepts and a greater appreciation instead for tangible and applied maths.  I generally find that session 2 is over before I felt it’s started, and as the students rush out to recess I am left realising that I only made it around to talk to a third of the students.

With no time to spare, I drop my materials from the first two classes on my desk and pick up the next pile of work ready for session 3: Year 7 maths.  By some miracle, I ended up with this class. On my first day, I was shocked by their immediate silence and since then have gotten used to the enthusiastic participation of students in class discussions and comments such as, “Great, we’ve finally got homework!”  The class is not without its challenges though: standardised testing recently indicated that the ability range of students in the class is between Year 4 and Year 9.  Unfortunately, at the school I am at, this is the norm.

At 12.08pm the bell goes for the end of session 3.  There ends the morning rush of classes and starts the tidying, marking and planning – a continuum from one day to the next that I have gladly found myself in.