Take Away Teaching – A Reflection on Intervention

creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by William M Ferriter: http://flickr.com/photos/plugusin/13092406743

The other day I was perusing Youtube, as one does, when I came upon a clip by Yeasayer. It was Take Away Show produced by La Blogotheque, a live performance recorded on the fly on the streets of France. Instead of the plethora of instruments that usually fill out their sound – guitars, drums, synthesisers, samplers – it was cut back to basics: voices, a few beer bottles and some simple woodwind. Although this was a step away from the original, it was interesting what remained. The melody, the rhythm, the form, the feel, the essential essence of the song. There was something raw, intimate and real about it that grabbed your attention.

This all got me thinking, imagine if education were like this. No schools, no classrooms, no fancy touchscreens, no scripts, just pop up installations, with a basic plan, at the point of need. Learning and support for the problem at hand. Similar to what Mel Cashen posed with her question, what if food vans were schools? Of course they are not and education seems inextricably linked to classrooms, but there is something in the question. Something about capturing the essence of learning. What is important right now in the context I am in. This thought of capturing the moment reminded me a little of what I have been doing with numeracy intervention this semester.

I started this year using Marian Smalls ‘Gap Closing’ program to support students flagged as struggling with numeracy. The basis of this was a diagnostic tool which then identified areas for growth. Once completed, students would work through various activities to fill in the gaps. Although the program works in theory, it was hampered in practise by two limitations: student absences and the time allocated. After one semester, students had only managed to work through an eighth of the program. In addition to this, they were becoming progressively restless and disengaged with the tasks. Something had to change.

After some reflection and feedback from the students, it was suggested that one of the issues was that what was occurring in intervention often had little connection with what was actually happening back in the classroom. They still felt like they were struggling. In addition to this, although the diagnostics provided areas for improvement, they did not encourage student self-reflection and empowerment within the process. I therefore decided to change tact and focused on creating an environment where students reflected on their learning as a group and worked together to identify problems and errors. For as John Hattie has suggested, one of the key reasons for success is that teachers know every lesson and every day where a student starts.

An issue with this change was that there were no pre-defined tasks. As I focused on the students who were present, this limited my ability of predictive planning. Instead I entered each session armed with a tub of random resources, paper, a whiteboard and my iPad. After beginning with a starter designed to get students engaged into learning and open to risk, I would then pose two questions in a T-chart: what have you learnt and what have you found difficult? Although I had a fair idea where the students were at, different classes were always at different stages, so ‘going off the planner’ was always difficult. After working together to brainstorm ideas, these ideas would then be organised into clear topics and students would place themselves based on their own point of need. For each topic I would come up with a learning intention and discuss who as a small group we would work through the problem.

Some groups would talk together and work on identifying what the problem actually was, others would grapple a task I had designated for them. More often than not though, we would reflect by actually recording our findings. Using Adobe Voice, students would verbalise their learning. For example, one week one group came up with different strategies for working out 24-hour time, while another week a group went through and defined the different angles. The powerful action in all of this was that these videos were then shared back to the class and celebrated on the big screen. Not only were they recognised by their peers, but their work was being celebrated. Not only was there a significant increase student engagement with numeracy, but they were also excited by learning. On a side, it is an important reminder that even one device in a room can make a different.

So what about you, have you ever run an intervention program? What did you do? How did you focus on each student each week? I would love to know, for together we are always made better.


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Collegiality Under Threat – AEU News Letter to the Editor

AEU News Vol 21, Issue 4, June 2014

Here is a copy of my letter to the editor printed in the latest edition of the AEU News, responding to the recent changes to the performance and development process …

I am a believer in lifelong learning and development, but I really question whether the recent changes to the performance and development process will achieve this? I worry that it will achieve the opposite if we don’t manage it locally. Instead of a climate of collegiate collaboration, this creates an aura of self-interest where ironically our prime focus is ourselves, rather than our students.

John Hattie suggests that the greatest point of influence on education is teachers and that our goal should be to help improve every teacher. Yet I wonder if a process with the spectre of fear hanging over it is going to achieve this? If we really want the best then schools need to foster an environment that not only challenges teachers, but also welcomes error and provides adequate feedback. In this scenario, teachers are able to passionately engage with their teaching based on the evidence at hand.

The problem is that a focus on pay means that we miss the point. Instead of saying ‘how can I be the best’, the focus is on ‘what do I need to do to achieve my next increment’. Our view then is of today, not tomorrow.

With a new system being implemented we have an opportunity to make this review process work for us.  We need to demand that the implementation be consulted on at our schools and that it support and advance the work we do, rather than let it be something that is done to us.

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New Year, New Beginnings

 
Sadly, one of the first things that teachers often do is get their class lists at the start of the new year and start critiquing it, looking at who they do and don’t have, making judgements about what the class will be like, long before the class has even had a chance to take shape. The question though is what impact does this have for students and their potential to prosper? I understand that it is important to be prepared, to know who is walking through the door, but when does being prepared come at the sack of the child? I believe that with the new year comes the opportunity to provide students with a new beginning, to start again, to break out of the mould.
Although it can be a good thing to have long term relationships with the students, reinforced through interactions in and out of the classroom, this can also sometimes be a constraint. In developing rapport, we often create an understanding of who the student is – sporty, reader, gamer, social and the list goes on. Added to this is a judgement of their academic credentials. This mould lays a foundation on which to develop conversations and personalise the learning experience. However, on the flip side of the coin – whether we mean to or not – these informal assessments have the potential to lock students down to a particular ideal.
 
Some times the worst thing we can do is hold onto our memories. As time passes, some parts are lost, others are emphasised, but more often than not, our memories becomes heavily tainted by nostalgia. Last year, we had a student at school in Year 9 who was awarded a regional leadership award. To my understanding, the recognition came from outside of the school and had little input from the school itself, other than that someone believed in the student enough to put his name forward for the program. Many were surprised, a lot spoke about the student they remembered being a lot different. However, what is important about this example is that it demonstrated what was possible when given a new opportunity. Clearly someone believed in him to put him forward for the program, but the shock confirmed that the it was not necessarily the consensus.
 
The reality is that holding onto the idea of the past does not always allow students to grow, to change and to mature. It can have a negative consequence, whether intended or not. However, this opportunity to start again is not only needed for students, it also exists for staff and colleagues.
 
In Episode 7 of the +TER Podcast on ‘Engagement’, John Goh spoke about the ‘default’ value that we all have as teachers. Formed during our training to become teachers, it lays the foundation for the way we teach. He suggested that the challenge is to make sure that we continually move away from that starting point. 
 
Associated with this, it is so important to allow colleagues (and ourselves) the opportunity to change and evolve. A part of this is actually supporting their development, not hindering it, a topic I have written about before. Really, unless we are willing to give others the opportunity once again to take up an initiative, to develop as professionals, then they will automatically fall back into the age old image we have of them, if that is the only reality that we allow for them.
 
I remember being told when I was at University to only stay at your first school for four years. The reason for this is that so often the new, fresh, green teacher, who is still finding their way, is not afforded the opportunity to blossom, to make mistakes and learn from them. In many respects, I think that this indulgence of simply moving schools is becoming a thing of the past and what really needs to change is how we respond to such situations.
 
In John Hattie’s Ted Talk on Why are so Many of our Teachers and Schools so Successful? One of the key reasons he provides for success is that teachers know every lesson and every day where a student starts. I feel that associated with this, we need to make sure that this knowledge is continually being re-modified and rebooted. Associated with this is goldilocks principle in the classroom, where the challenge provided is not too easy but also not too hard. For this to really happen, our knowledge of others (staff and students) needs to continually change, needs to be regularly reassessed, started afresh, and not simply built upon like building on the ruins of some old building.

 

How will you be providing teachers with a new opportunity to succeed where in the past they may have failed? How will you make sure that your knowledge and understanding of a student was not formed five years ago? What will you do to make sure that you are continually starting again?

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