Saturday, May 24, 2014

Life After NAPLAN

Having taught Year 2 last year and Year 3 this year, I feel that my work over the past two terms has been distracted by preparing students for NAPLAN. In my heart of hearts, I know this should not be the case - that teaching shouldn't be about preparing students to take four tests over one week. But at the same time, I want my students to feel confident as they sit down to the test, and to be able to show what they know. Also, with the pressures of the My School website and the newspaper league tables, I feel that my performance as a teacher is on parade, in the form of our results.

So, what did I do to prepare?
I ensured that I explicitly taught students how to write both Narrative and Exposition in Term 4 of last year and Term 1 of this year. I taught students to use paragraphs (with an introduction/orientation and conclusion/resolution), include interesting vocabulary, and edit their work for punctuation.

In Term 1 of this year, students went onto Mathletics and sat NAPLAN practice tests. I used the results data on the site to inform me of the areas of strength and weakness in my class. I used this information to focus firstly on improving the areas of weakness.

In the weeks prior to the test, I gave students a NAPLAN practice test for Numeracy. On completion students worked in small groups to mark their answers. Where there were inconsistent results in their group, I told students which was the correct answer and those with the correct answer explained to those with the incorrect answer. With common errors, I demonstrated to the whole class how the correct answer could be found.

I also gave students a practice Spelling and Vocabulary test which we marked together as a class. At this point, the practise was more about familiarity with the style of test than using the information to support learning.

How were the tests?
Generally, my students were quite happy working through the tests. There was no grumbling about them, and they were actually excited to be setting up their desks with barriers and following a set procedure. Some students even went home and told their parents that they enjoyed taking the tests.

Personally I found the Reading and Numeracy tests enjoyable, as did many of my students. My students love to read and the texts in the Reading test were interesting and varied. For me, the Numeracy test was filled with fun puzzles to solve.

I was happy with the writing task given that I feel my students are stronger with exposition writing than they are with narrative. As I wandered around the room, looking over shoulders, I felt that for the most part what I saw was a fairly accurate representation of what my students produce in a writing lesson.

I found the Spelling test frustrating, as I don't agree with this method for testing spelling. I also find that many of my students are still representing the sounds - but with the wrong grapheme. I always find spelling a frustrating thing to teach. As a child, I could just memorise the spelling of words, but as an adult, I realise that is not the case for everyone. I was hoping that THRASS would be the magic answer to that dilemma, but I'm not convinced. Maybe one day, I'll create the magic answer! Or realise there is no such thing! Or realise that it's part of our lives already in the form of spell check!

Is it all pointless?
When I look at the past two terms, I don't see it as wasted teaching, or pointless teaching. It definitely hasn't been ALL about NAPLAN. And really, there were some great teaching moments. My students really enjoy writing stories and they can confidently write an exposition to put forward a point of view.

It felt really good to be working on areas of Maths I knew my students needed rather than just blindly going through a set curriculum. I think that they learnt a lot from that process as well, as we went through the answers together and developed a much stronger understanding of the content.

Now that NAPLAN is over...
  • I can teach the other text types as they relate to the Inquiry unit that students are working on.
  • I can teach the other areas of Maths and return to a stronger focus on problem solving combining the use of manipulatives and mental strategies.
  • I feel as if a weight has been lifted off my shoulders as there is nothing more I can do about it now!
  • I feel free to be creative - to explore and to go with the flow of learning.
  • I am excited to experiment more with the iPads in the classroom.
  • I am keen to work more on applying thinking routines across curriculum areas.

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