Thursday, January 28, 2010

League Tables - My School website

As a teacher, you can imagine I have been asked numerous times what I think about the new 'My School' website. Well, here it is......

The idea of accountability for schools is one which I feel is a wonderful idea. It is imperative that schools are accountable for their performance and the achievement of their students. The information gained from such analysis should allow the government to allocate resources (people and money) to the schools most in need of the support. It allows them to perform underperforming schools and work towards increasing the achievement of these schools.

Does the My School website allow this to take place? Well, my main concerns are.......

1. The NAPLAN tests used for the website are a single test. Annually schools look through their results and identify numerous under or overperforming students. The way in which this test has traditionally been used by schools is to identify general trends and guide teaching towards addressing these areas of concern. To have schools labelled as over or under performing on the basis of 2 grades results on one test is not a true reflection of the schools achievements.

2. Already many tutored students spend a great deal of time preparing a pre written response to the writing aspect of NAPLAN. As they are not penalised for not writing to the topic listed in the test, they are free to use their pre written response to good effect. Do we really believe that once schools start losing enrollments and then staff due to poor results that they will not be tempted to 'Teach to the Test'? It has already been an established practice in America and England where schools that may be identified as high achievers through their single test rankings do not necessarily provide a sound and broad education to their students, instead they perform well on a narrow set of skills. As a result, the results will not necessarily reflect which schools present the best learning programs to their students, merely those which best prepare their students for a single test.

3. Parents have been encouraged to have 'rigorous debates' with their child's Principal if the results are not up to scratch. Although this may make the parents feel better, what does it achieve? Schools are very limited in the public system in their ability to move underperforming teachers out of the classroom to further develop their skills. Many parents may find that some Principals agree with their concerns, but are unable to make any major changes to address these issues.

4. Teachers who are highly effective within underperforming schools are not going to want to stick around to be labelled as a poor performing teacher because of the results of two grades within the school. As a result, you may see an exit of the very type of teacher underperforming schools need.

5. Parents will look at the most recent data. In the case of many schools I have looked at, this year's results are not something to be overly proud of. However, by looking at the previous year's data, a very different story is presented. Instead of performing under like schools in most areas, many school are well above like schools in all areas. This issue of higher and lower performing cohorts is one which schools have faced as a challenge for many years. Do we really want to label particular grades as the 'low achievers' and have parents take their children out of these grades even though they may be achieving wonderful results just because of their peers inability to achieve at the same level?

6. The only true indication of a schools ability to meet the learning needs of its students is to look at the 'value added' to the students. By the nature of particular populations, the students have lower achievement levels when they enter the school. In many schools, they work extremely hard to achieve the best learning outcomes for the students within the school. A school's ability to grow a student well beyond the levels of growth achieved in better performing schools goes unrecognised. There are many schools whose results appear wonderful at first glance. However, this is largely due to the fact that their student population is reflective of the community which they come from. They always have and always will be high achieving. However, a good look at the value added may present a completely different picture and show that many of these schools do not achieve the same growth as their 'poorer cousins' and merely allow these naturally more capable students to continue to achieve good results whilst never getting anywhere near the true potential these students could achieve if they had teachers with the innovative and dynamic teaching skills usually found in school in areas where teachers don;t go to retire.

As I said, I actually find the idea of accountability a wonderful one. However, until schools have the support to make real changes and are provided with resources based on need and not a formula I see the new My School initiative as doing nothing but unfairly labelling some schools achieving wonderful growth for their students whilst painting others in a glowing light even if they are actually not providing the best learning initiatives for their students.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Don't forget to have fun!

As we head back to school for another year it is easy to lose sight of what I believe is the most effective tool in the learning process for students.........FUN!

For me this video shows us what happens when you add a sense of fun to a menial and everyday task. The results speak for themselves. For me - that is the job of teachers and parents. Creating a environment where children learn academic or social skills without realising it because they are having fun along the way!

A key component of early education is hands on activities and manipulation of objects. This leads to the learning of social awareness, problem solving and social skills. It is important that we maintain this key element of learning and don't become focused on 'Chalk and Talk' learning where students are expected to sit, take note an regurgitate information for assessment purposes.

For effective learning to take place, students need to be deeply engaged in what they are doing. I can't think of a better way of making this happen than by maintaining a focus on learning through FUN within my classroom and at home with my own kids.

Hello World!

Hi everyone!

I decided that as I have been blogging for the last couple of years with my classes at school, it was time to launch into the wonderful world of blogging myself!
Of course the first battle for anyone who has ventured into this world is finding a name. Now, I am sure it is obvious to you all why someone would cal their blog 'Throw The Starfish'. No? Well it comes from a story which some of you may have heard of or read, but to me sums up what we should all be doing with our life and is especially pertinent to me as a teacher..........

One day a man was walking along a beach when he saw a figure in the distance who appeared to be dancing. As he drew nearer, he could see the man was not dancing but was gently picking up starfish from the beach and throwing them back into the sea.

"Why are you throwing starfish into the sea?"he asked.

"Because they have been washed ashore, the day is getting hot and if I do not throw them back hey will die," replied the dancer.

The man looked around him and saw that the beach went on for miles and miles an that there were many thousands of starfish along its length.

"But there are too many" he protested to the dancer "You can't possibly make a difference."

The dancer smile, picked up another starfish and gently tossed it beyond the waves back into the sea.

He turned to the man and said "I made a difference to that one."

The story has been summarised and presented in many different forms often with no reference to the author. It is believed to be paraphrased from "The Star Thrower" by Loren Eiseley 1907 - 1977.

Anyway, if you have stumbled across my blog please post a comment and share your thoughts - you don't have to agree - It's good to have a different opinion.......then people will talk about you!