My interest in the idea of sharing pedagogical purposes comes directly with the contact I have had with the Project for Enhancing Effective Learning at Monash University in Australia. Now each of these teachers were very active in establishing learning agendas with their classes. The impact they were having was inspiring. Each classroom tool can have a purpose beyond delivering content, and this needs to be shared.
I suppose the purpose of this website is collate, crystalise and open dialogues about how to increase this within classrooms. As the quote from Carl Bereiter illustrates this classroom methodology can empower our students.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Finding Success in low achieving students . Challenging my own folk theories.

Probably inspired by reading Carl Bereiter, I have just spent several days pulling apart an apparent simple decision, asking myself why I would use a strategy with my students.The strategy in question is a tried and tested one, or so I thought. I used to do this and my recollections are all positive, and I believe it had an impact on not only student motivation but also their success.
All it involves is displaying the most successful students in the class after and test. Not, by their raw score but by how much they beat their targets by. Obviously a percentage target is useful. My expereinces of this with many classes, always in the first instance had one or two students meeting or exceeding their targets, with the number growing over subsequent tests and over the year ending up with one or two not on the list. I have always found that students are especially excited to find their results in this fashion and that students not minding this score displayed even if they missed their target. This was always done after a negotiation, and therefore I could rank the scores. I stopped using it when we ditched percentage targets in favour of a sub division of SAT levels.

So where does this dilema lie? It was a great strategy as my gut feeling tells me that it often found success for the weaker students in my class. I felt as though it leveled the playing field in terms of ability. It's more democratic right!? Everyone has a target based on the same data; CAT scores or KS2 aggregated scores in this case, it must be fair!? Therefore everyone can be succesful. But as I began to compile the class scores I began to notice (or at least imagined) a pattern. This may be a result of reading a lot by Carl Bereiter debunking the notions of Folk theories in education, that things work because they, on the surface can be made to appear that they work, but in reality they do not stand upto scrutiny. This has resulted in me questioning my pedagogical purpose of using this strategy.

The problem I have is two fold. Firstly, I am concerned that this strategy is more difficult for higher ability students to better their targets,as they have less room for manouvre, or so my folk theory tells me. I have reminded myself that this strategy is not primarily for them, and that they enjoy success in its purest form. The best marks and grades, as this graph of two of my classes bares out.More able students get better scores. Which prompts two thoughts why bother testing them if CAT scores are this reliable, and that the test I used is valid across the ability range.

The next thing I queried was why some well motivated students had not met or exceeded their targets. Part of our school review requires us to rate students responsibility for the learning; taking into account motivation, amount of on task behaviour and their ability to get unstuck. All learner qualities you may assume would impact on this kind of study. But not in my post-Bereiter world, the evidence suggest not with the two classes below showing a very slight regression in this respect.
So my less motivated and "lazier" students appear to be beating their targets more. Although it should be pointed out that their is a slight correlation between their responsibility for learning and overall success, but it's not as strong as I imagined. What on earth am I doing wrong with them? I'm not if I am not very good at teaching high ability, as my less motivated ones are progressing well? Do I need an alternative stategy to also motivate and challenge the more motivated? I am hoping that this strategy will motivate all.
Obviously this is what has stumped me. It may be that motivation has little impact on actual learning, it could be that these students are learning with what they are doing? It may be that the more able students are slightly penalised by this strategy? My gut folk theory is that it does. Indeed the next graph suggests an element of truth in these sentiments.

It could be something and nothing, after all it's not a strong correlation. But, what I have decided is that if this strategy works, I should see the recumbent motivated learner rise over the next few tests to create a positive correlation, and more importantly that I have more students celebrating as they have beaten their target. This situation pleases me now as I have a
testable hypothesis with an attached success criteria. I can begin to move away from my folk theory and find out something about how my students work.