Friday, 17 May 2013

The Good, The Strange, The Fascinating...

We are all but finished with the heavily-emphasised [publicly] national tests for literacy and numeracy, with just a handful of 'catch ups' to be conducted later today for students that were absent earlier in the week.
It has all has gone relatively smoothly for our school, but there have been a few things that have stood out over the course of the week... 

The Good

Kids were calm, teachers were organised and staff helped eachother out, with front office staff helping to monitor which students would require 'catch up' tests due to being absent for one or more of the assessments, teachers helping eachother with the setting and resetting of classrooms, as well as staff being flexible with adjustments to normal timetables and routines.

The Strange

It is oft-quoted that greater variation exists from classroom to classroom within the same school, than it does when comparing schools with other schools... I think this notion of intra-school variation receives a turbo charge during NAPLAN Week!!
During the testing times this week, I would find myself walking through non-testing classrooms where furniture was arranged in a variety of ways to cater for a range of different learning preferences and purposes, where children and teachers were talking animatedly about what they were doing, working on a variety of tasks and generally enjoying themselves. I would then turn a corner and find myself in a classroom doing NAPLAN and find tables split up into individual islands, all facing the front of the room in linear rows, with students sitting and working by themselves in utter silence, with no assistance from peers, from their teachers, from any environmental print, technologies or other resources that the class next door was using furiously to help with their learning... Even more puzzling, these starkly-contrasting classrooms seemed to flourish back to life post-recess! Both the physical environment and the way students and teachers worked 'reverted' to active, hands-on, collaborative learning experiences, once the tests were completed each morning... 
Classroom One
Classroom Two

The Fascinating

The highlight of the week for me happened yesterday, when I was helping supervise [well I couldn't call it teaching... ] the numeracy test. As we neared the end of the test that sought to determine how much numeracy knowledge and skill students could demonstrate in 50 minutes [... ], I noticed one of our students making extensive notes all over a blank page that students had for working out. Curious at both the fast pace she was annotating at and the intensely focused look upon her face, I hovered over her shoulder and watched her work like this for probably three full minutes. 

This was the problem that she was attempting to solve:
Ten people share a prize of $8750.
They keep $850 each and give the rest to a charity. 
How much money in total do they give to the charity?
  • $7900
  • $790
  • $250
  • $25 
This was how she went about it [red annotations mine]:

  1. She wrote the beginning total to be shared in the centre of the page.
  2. She wrote the ten lots of 850 around the the central starting number, in a mind-map fashion.
  3. She subtracted 500 [all ten lots of 50] from the original starting number, leaving her with 8250.
  4. She individually subtracted ten lots of 800 [she'd already accounted for the extra 50s... ] from the remaining 8250, eventually calculating the answer of 250. 
Phew! Talk about laborious and painstaking!! 
However, despite her relatively inefficient method, she did get the correct answer!
More importantly for me though [and for her Maths teacher, who I caught up with afterwards to relay my observation], was that I had some useful information about this student's level of mathematical understanding and skill, which could then be used to teach the child a more efficient and effective strategy and, thus, improve the child's mathematical understanding and skill.
What made this information particularly useful, however, was that I had it almost immediately after the child's performance, putting us in a great position to address and improve the child's mathematical knowledge and skill in a very timely fashion.

This, of course, also highlighted one of the biggest and most obvious drawbacks of NAPLAN - yes, there is some good, useful information that teachers and schools receive from these tests, but we have to wait five months for it!! 
It would be impossible to predict what level of mathematical knowledge and skill the student that I observed will have in five months time... Unfortunately, however good the information we ultimately get is from these tests, its usefulness is quite significantly watered-down due to its sheer distance [time-wise] from the dates that the assessments were actually conducted... 

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