This is probably the last thing you want to think about with the trials coming out your ears, but I was having a conversation with some colleagues and this came up. Okay, I know, you’re busy. File this for later. I’ll put it on my blog as well, just in case you lose it.
The problem relates to my own context in my old school. Although the Extension English results there have had their highs, they’ve also been inconsistent. So I asked this question: if I were to go back to my old school, what would I want this very professional, highly competent team to do to improve results in Extension?
Here’s the solution I came up with. Now it’s likely that you will disagree with me, or that you will think this has no relevance in your context, but I thought it was worth putting this out there.
I’ve attached a really quick piece of reading – it’s an example of the research that justifies this approach.
See what you think!
First of all, some context:
• Around 110 students across the Hunter do Extension 2 English in any year.
• Extension is not just for Band 6 students but it does require students to engage with higher level concepts and language.
• It also requires a particular mind-set from students: they have to have a love of critical and creative language and an ability to ‘set their own agenda’.
• Some students who elect to do Extension 1 will do so because it is the pre-requisite for Extension 2 – and they want to write! These students may require a more guided approach in Extension 1.
• (This school) has a very experienced staff that others in the Region turn to for advice. They are knowledgeable, professional and have strong, positive relationships with students.
• Improving results has been a part of our faculty plan for a long time! We have already undertaken a range of strategies to lift results and these have impacted on teacher expertise and results. It was only seven years ago that we were working to lift results into Band 5!
• However, all of the staff who have taught Extension agree that improvement is possible.
• With small cohorts, data is only an imprecise indicator
• It’s also important not to over-analyse data
• Across the region, data indicates that top band results are below state average. However, this is a challenge that we as professionals have the ability to meet.
• Other styles of analysis – particularly comparing Extension results with other subjects for individual students – suggests that some students have not performed as well in Extension as they may have wished.
• The conclusion that more of our students in Extension could do better than they have is a fair one.
Notes from the Marking Centre provide us with some guidance about the future.
Looking at, for example how we get students to ‘fluent integration of theory, contextual ideas, textual forms and features, and generic conventions’ could provide worthwhile directions for the future.
Looking for example at how we get students to ‘explicitly explain how they have manipulated form, features and structures of text in order to position audiences’ could be worthwhile.
Action Plan Part 1: Building expertise
• Presently a lot of the strategies that we have worked on have involved building our knowledge of the subject matter in Extension. There is obviously a continuing need to do this through ETA conferences and workshops, and other professional learning.
• Including other staff in professional learning about the teaching of Extension courses is also important. There are several faculty members who are more than capable but who have not yet had the opportunity to teach Extension.
• More detailed information and experience with the marking of Extension English is essential. The Hunter ETA’s Extension day is a starting point but we may also need to host a specialist SM or SOM for a day; the ETA’s ‘Inside HSC Marking’ day provides us with a model for this kind of course in our school. We could also invite other schools to attend if this were set up in the Hunter.
• A specific request from the Principal to the SED requesting the support of the 7-12 Literacy Co-ordinator in establishing such an event is recommended.
Action Plan Part 2: Building quality
Research suggests some other strategies that could be particularly effective in improving outcomes.
• Mandating ‘feed forward’ strategies in assessment tasks (in line with the research by Dinham) is one high gain strategy. Karen Yager’s experience and the research into the field show that spending time on ‘feed forward’ strategies is more likely than any other strategy to have a significant impact on results.
• Specifically, including in assessment tasks a consultation time, where a student can discuss the draft of their work with a teacher, may seem time-consuming but is likely to yield a larger improvement in quality than any amount of time spent on additional programming, for example.
• Higher expectations of Extension students could be embedded in the course. For example, a moodle or edmodo-driven writing program that required students to submit drafts of their writing every week in Year 11, building a portfolio of pieces, could be of particular value. Mandating commentary on the writing of others, establishing a community of writers who work together, could be the goal. The Year 11 writing assessment could then draw upon one piece from the student.
• Other suggestions about raising expectations should be canvassed with the attitude that we are helping students achieve their potential rather than just ‘making them work harder’ High expectations has to involve quality experiences, not just more handouts to read and summaries to make.
• The assumption here is that teaching the craft of writing is a particular skill. The activities included in a range of books on creative writing differ significantly from the later years literacy skills we build through critical writing activities.
• Interviewing prospective Extension students would be a way of establishing these high expectations and advising students of the suitability of the course.
• Establishing a ‘quality teacher round’ within English with the specific goal of improving Extension results should be considered. In short, this would involve teachers in the ‘round’ observing each other’s lessons and reflecting professionally about quality teaching. Establishing a team-based approach to Extension would require an investment of time, one that would need support from the TPL budget, but the research on this says that it will be more effective at improving outcomes than a whole range of other strategies.
Together, ‘feed forward’ strategies and quality teacher round strategies have the potential to lift student achievement. Karen Yager’s experience, where she lifted her school from zero to thirty Band 6’s, was based around these concepts. Yes, they would require an investment of time and TPL, but they seem to me to be the most likely way forward with this problem.