Sunday, 21 February 2016

SPARK Innovative Teacher Day #1

This morning instead of heading to Tamaki College I caught the train to SPARK headquarters in Auckland's Central Business District for my first Spark Innovative Teacher day.

Our first activity 

The first order of business was for each of us to speak about the problem leading us to apply for the programme. However; we were banned from innovating! No solutions were to be spoken of! We could only try to identify the specific problem that learners in our class face.

It was difficult at first. Our instinct as teachers was to go straight from identifying a problem to hypothesizing a possible solution. We found the problems identified were often broad, such as "second language learners in my class are not performing as well as they should be," or "students in my class cannot communicate their learning needs."

Each of us faced five minutes of polite but relentless questioning, and eventually each of us managed to identify a specific problem we want to address this year. The problem second-language learners face became (more specifically) "Samoan-speaking English-as-second-language learners in my Year 5 and 6 class are not completing a year's worth of learning within a year, and are therefore continuing to fall further behind the New Zealand national mean for reading."

My reflection 

When I applied for this role last year my problem was more of a question; "how can I improve achievement in Year 13 Biology learners at a decile 1 secondary school?" and I came up with one possible solution; having all of my planning and activities on-line for learners to access any pace, any time, any place, to allow them to catch up on missed lessons or accelerate ahead of the class.

However, after a bit of prompting at today's meeting I identified the biggest problem my class is facing; most learners who take Biology at Year 13 at Tamaki College are hoping to have a career in the Health industry and require entrance to University the following year, and historically very few learners have managed to pass a) all internals and b) at least one external that they need to gain University Entrance (UE) in Biology.

Unlike the Primary School teachers in this group I couldn't hone in further on just one aspect that is specifically contributing to this problem. Primary teachers focussing on a writing problem could focus on (for example) learners' depth of narrative, punctuation, vocabulary, and could do so based on their classes e-asttle data, PAT scores, etc that differentiate the skills required for learners' achievement.

In Year 13 I can only hypothesize about the underlying causes of the problem with UE results. There are many possibilities, and they are varied. For example:

  • Attendance in class.
  • Direct access to the teacher. 
  • Quality of teaching.
  • Intrinsic motivation. 
  • Whanau/school connections. 
  • Context or relevance of the curriculum to students' lives, culture, or identities. 
  • Learning styles. 
  • Assessment style. 
  • Fear, nerves or lack of practice around exams. 
  • Self-efficacy, self-belief, or self-fulfilling prophecies.

The underlying cause of the historic Year 13 achievement problem could be any or (far more likely) a combination of these factors. For pragmatic reasons my inquiry will have to address just one of these possible factors, and I am slightly nervous about selecting the wrong one and effecting no major change for the precious futures of  the Year 13's I'm responsible for in 2016!

I am also aware of the possibility that at the end of the year the results of my inquiry will be "having visible planning and learning on-line appears to make no significant difference to the University Entrance of Year 13 biology students."

However; even a result of no significant change is still a result, and future innovative teachers could inquire into a different potential solution to the Year 13 UE challenge. That is the worst-case scenario though.

Hope for the year

I am hoping that whichever hypothesis I choose to test helps solve the historic problem facing my class, and  help them on their pathway into University and beyond!