Monday, 12 November 2018

End of year CoL Inquiry summary (Nov 2018)

1. Summarise the challenge of student learning you focused on in this inquiry.
I chose achievement objective #5 which is to “improve the achievement of students with additional needs in the learning areas of English/key competencies using language symbols and text”. I took this achievement challenge almost word for word but added “in a mainstream context” to create my inquiry focus. The other teachers who had focused on this inquiry had been Somerville teachers and I wanted to show that this is still an issue we face in mainstream classes (in a very different way, but both should be acknowledged).  

2. Describe how and why you first selected this challenge of student learning at the beginning of your inquiry.
I selected this inquiry because I knew I had some additional needs students in my class this year. Two had joined our school mid/late of last year and I had requested to keep them for 2018 as I knew I could make progress with them. I had another student who I have taught for 3 years (2016-2018) who has additional needs, who I felt I had not done enough for. I decided to focus on these three students within the context of my 27 students in a mainstream classroom as their needs are common in mainstream classrooms, but not all teachers know how to best deal with/foster their needs.

3. Describe the tools/measures/approaches you used to get a more detailed and accurate profile of students’ learning in relation to that challenge. Justify why you chose these approaches and tools.
At first I chose a learning goal AND a key competency to focus on for each student (I later changed this). I identified and analysed their current academic progress, what I had done/was currently doing to try and meet each students needs and set goals for where they should be/what they should be doing (non-academic goals) by the end of the year. Of course these goals included academic shift (specifically in reading) for all 3 students, but they had major goals that were key competency based as well. 
Things considered when setting goals were - current behaviours (desired and undesired), triggers/reasons for those behaviours, social norms for the boys age (10-11 years old) and what was realistic/achievement for one student who is Autistic. 

4. Summarise your key findings about the nature and extent of the student challenge i.e. using your baseline student data and evidence.
My analyse of the 3 boys I felt was sufficient for the challenge. I recognised very early on that the data I would be collecting would be very qualification, as their goals were very socially-orientated and therefore hard to document (e.g. being able to speak in front of a group). I initially didn’t/couldn’t think of ways to get quantitative data so therefore alter on, had nothing to compare to from Term 1. 
Upon reflection, having had all 3 students at least for 1 term in 2017 (if not longer), I felt I was not meeting ALL their needs. I had designed specific learning activities and goals for 2 of the students who had very low academic ability (for various reasons), but had not attempted to address their key competency/social needs. For the third student, his needs had changed drastically since last year so although nothing was done for him last year, it was not needed as much then. 

5. Describe the main hypotheses you developed about factors that might contribute to this problem of student learning (e.g. particular features of teaching or out of school practices that were not as effective as they might be).
As I did not have a specific tool to implement or programme to run, it was hard to define what I was actually doing. At first I had an academic goal AND a key competency focus for each student, meaning I was trying to DO and collect evidence for 6 things, every week. This became really hard and I wasn’t very successful. As I was feeling overwhelmed by what I was trying to do, in my early reflections I often talked about the boys behaviours rather than what I did, or actually talking about the teaching/learning aspect. Once I recognised that I wasn’t doing it right, and rejigged my inquiry plan a little, things became much clearer. I had one key competency focus for each student, and that was it. Instead of trying to focus on academic and key competency, I had to only focus on key competency, and the academic (hopefully) would rise on its own. 
The main idea behind this achievement challenge was that if students were better able to communicate (through the use of key competencies), their learning would improve. For my 3 students, their 3 challenges were different, but suited their individual needs specifically. 
Ryan - his identified key competency was managing self. Ryan never completed work, and quite often didn’t start it because he couldn’t manage his own time, resources, or work load. He struggled to be in the right place at the right time and was never on task. 
Kian - his was managing self as well, but more about staying on task and not distracting others than right/wrong place/time. He typically started things, could open up the work, but would never complete anything. His ongoing negative behaviours meant he missed out on opportunities within the school which frustrated him immensely. 
Paul - as an ESOL student, Paul usually did not actively participate in group or whole class activities. Although some would claim ‘he doesn’t understand’ what is going on, I felt that he could and his issue was more about confidence and being willing to try and take a risk. 

6. Explain why you hypothesised that these factors would contribute to the student learning problem. Give reasons and refer to professional readings, colleagues and experts you consulted etc.
I just felt that this was the one thing holding these boys back - if they could manage their behaviour they could get on with the learning. If they could participate more without feeling scared to share, he would learn from others more.

7. Explain how you tested your hypothesis about factors that might contribute to the problem of student learning e.g. observations of teaching, student voice about out of school practices
As a school we did student voice about our own teaching practices in Term 1. My results were very conflicting (I.e. the thing they identified I was really good at, was the same thing that I needed to work on). I reflected a lot and tried to observe my own teaching - how many times did I speak to these 3 boys? In positive or negative ways? What was the tone of what was said? How did I make them feel? What was the cause of their negative behaviour? Is there anything I did to cause it? 
At first I tried something simple like giving Paul specific tasks to do with a trusted friend, such as taking messages around the school. I wanted to give him confidence to speak to other adults in the school (apart from me). I would give him a very simple message such as “do you need more paint?” and he would go with his friend to ask different teachers. If he freaked out, the friends job was to remind him what to say, not say it for him. After a few days where he took different simple messages around, he began bringing back replies that he had memorised. The friends that went with him reported back on if he did speak/who it was and Paul reported back if it was scary/okay/good. This improved with time as he got more confident so I knew his key competency selection was accurate. 

8. Summarise your key findings about possible causes of the problem of student learning identified in the profiling phase i.e. present your baseline data and evidence about teaching and other factors that affect student learning
Again, very qualitative but causes of their learning issues depended on who they were, their needs, and what their goal was. 

9. Describe in detail the intervention you designed to address the student learning problem i.e. exactly what did you plan to change? Be specific about actions, timelines etc.
There was no specific programme or intervention as other people have. Each student had one key competency to focus on, and we tried out different tasks/tools/activities to try and build up that key competency in each student. Sometimes the action to be tried out lasted one day, one week, or sometimes intermittently (on and off) depending who the child was, what the action was, and how they reacted. Observations were noted weekly per student, and testing of two students (Kian and Paul) was done once or twice a term depending on needs. 

10. Explain in detail your theories about why that intervention would positively impact on the problem of student learning (i.e. explain the causal chain you theorised).
Students with additional needs, both in special schools and mainstream schools, often struggle with communication. In the mainstream environment, this can be made even more difficult by large class sizes, noise levels of those class sizes, as well as the ever heavy demands of the curriculum etc. For my three boys, I felt that if they could work on their one chosen key competency, they would be better able to navigate the classroom environment, hopefully being more settled and ready and able to learn. For each of the 3 students this looked different. For Ryan, who is autistic/add/odd, his KC goal was managing self. So was Kians, but for different reasons and in different ways. Ryan often got overwhelmed by the classroom environment and seldom completed any work (set tasks or free-choice tasks).His goal around Managing-self was more focused on him being able to set up his own day, pre-schedule brain breaks (or take these when he needed without interrupting the whole class), choose rewards that were fair, and make independent choices about his learning. For Kian, his managing self was more about staying on task, making good choices about where to sit and who to sit/work with, setting attainable academic goals for each day and him being able to see his own progress and have a positive self-efficacy. For Paul, he is ESOL and so didn’t contribute to class or group discussions. He had enough English to understand the gist of what was happening most of the time, and had friends to translate instructions/tasks into his first language to help him. I wanted him to be confident to share his ideas and speak in front of the class without fear of teasing. His goal, participating and contributing, started with things like taking notes to other teachers and asking adults questions. We built this up by always having a friend with him who could help him if he got stuck. Later, it changed to getting him to speak to a different buddy (different classmates everyday) in 1-1 situations, then either getting the buddy to share his ideas, or if he felt confident enough, him to share his buddies. We continued challenging him by getting himself and Kian to join a mixed-ability reading group (previously they had been their own reading group as they are both on the colour wheel). In this group, we read stories (usually level 3, or a high level 2) aloud so Kian and Paul could follow along and read what they could, but when they couldn’t, they could listen and still get the meaning of the story. They were expected to participate in the conversation about the text at the same level as the more capable readers, and after the first few times of being overwhelmed, could do so adequately. Ryan was involved in the same way with mixed-ability groups, however he took much longer to be an active part of the group discussion than the other two as he often wasn’t ready and able to deal with the social situation of a reading group at the particular time that the reading group was happening. 

11. Describe in detail the sources of information you drew on to design your intervention (e.g. readings, courses, people).
I did academic readings about autism, ADHD, ODD etc (blog post link - , got help from Donna ( and, and attended a workshop at the University of Auckland about learning differences (,, and I was also able to draw on expertise from junior teachers and TESSOL trained teachers to help me with Kian and Paul’s. 

12. Give specific examples of how you monitored the effectiveness of your intervention and made adaptations as you went along
 As previously stated, my ‘intervention’ as such was an ongoing, ever-changing process. It wasn’t one thing designed to be done over a whole year - or rather, yes each child’s key competency stayed the same, but the way to improve that key competency changed daily/weekly. One specific example of the ever-changing process was Ryan’s tent. I had read in the academic readings about autism that children found comfort in having a quiet, dark place to go where they could calm and re equalise. I recognised that this would be really beneficial for Ryan as when he is worked up, he often hides under tables and chairs, and makes forts out of them. I got a teepee type tent and set it up in the corner of the classroom. We talked about what it was for, we agreed on its purpose and how it would be used. It worked really well for the first two days and then on and after the third day, he began using it not for the purpose we had agreed it was for. I put it away, and explained why. It had stopped working. A few weeks later, he asked if he could get it out again and use it if he agreed to use it correctly etc. We did, and it worked. He took himself to the tent to calm down and as a reward when work had been completed. 
Another example is the ear muffs. Again, I had read in the readings that overstimulation, particularly with bright lights and loud noises can trigger stress in Autistic children. I bought him ear muffs, and again it worked very well for the first few times he wore them, and after a while he would wear them at inappropriate times or in an inappropriate way. As with the tent, I took them away. They were always physically in the classroom and in fact were in a place where he could see them, but he knew he wasn’t allowed to use them as a toy or at certain times. One day he randomly came and asked me if he could wear them to help him do his work, I agreed and gave them another chance. They worked well again. 
Often, and particularly with Ryan, the things I tried worked some days and not others, and we would try them again later or wait for him to be ready enough for it to work. Often the ‘thing’ we were trying out had to be adapted slightly as it wasn’t quite right. Sometimes they didn’t work at all, so were scrapped (such as Ryan’s visual timetable, which he used once and didn’t even follow). It was all part of the learning process. 

13. Summarise evidence about key changes in teaching and other factors that influence student learning.
The biggest change in myself was how I saw, spoke to and responded to Ryan. I really developed my understanding of Autism (and ADHD, ODD) and hence changed these things. As previously stated, I learnt not to say ‘no’. I had do hugely adapt my teaching programme, again differently for each student. Ryan’s adaptations included time, topic, choices, creativity, location, and reward. Paul’s adaptations were more learning based, and setting him up in situations with people he trusts to encourage him to talk. Kian’s again were more learning based, but also setting him up for success in as many small ways as possible. 

14. Summarise evidence about key shifts in the problem of student learning
Obviously I can talk about shift in the students learning levels, particularly reading, as the achievement challenge talked about English. For Paul this also includes his Oral language improvement. The biggest change for all the 3 students is their shift in their chosen key competency. Kian’s ability to manage himself and his own learning is HUGELY different. Paul’s confidence in talking in front of groups, participating in group conversations and whole class conversations is literally chalk-and-cheese compared to how he was in the beginning of the year. Ryan’s journey towards managing himself will be an ongoing journey, but he has made HUGE improvements. All 3 students have made huge shifts in their focussing key competency, but also in their reading level (particularly Kian and Paul). 

15. Write an overall evaluation of your intervention in terms of the causal chain you had theorised. i.e. To what extent was the intervention successful in changing factors such as teaching? To what extent were those changes in teaching effective in changing patterns of student learning?
I think the focus on key competencies was hugely successful, but there are many other factors to consider as well. For example, a lot of Paul’s success around his key competency (participating and contributing) was impacted by his level of known English words and confidence using them. Had I tried to push him in this way last year when he first arrived, it wouldn’t have worked at all. He had to be ready enough, confident enough to try, and have enough English to participate in the first place. As for Kian and Ryan, (managing self) they had to be in a place where they as individuals recognised that this was a need worth addressing. If I had just tried to change them on my own, nothing would have happened. They both needed to see for themselves why it was important and be willing to try the things I suggested. As I have said throughout all these questions, my inquiry was very complex and therefore hard to explain the causal chain. It was not as simple as I did x-therefore Y, sometimes things worked and sometimes they didn’t. It depended on many things including child readiness, mood, confidence, experience, time/place/context etc. 

16. Write a reflection on your own professional learning through this inquiry cycle
A major thing I have learnt to consider this year (that had previously not been as issue for me) is the appropriateness of the content of an inquiry, for the context it is being shared in. What I mean by that is that I found it incredibly difficult to share a lot of what happened for my students, particularly Ryan, due to privacy/confidentiality for himself, his family, other agencies involved etc. It made it very difficult to report what was actually happening for him, and some of the biggest changes for him I couldn’t talk about. If this inquiry was only being shared in-school, I could have shared slightly more information. However since it was cluster-wide and made public via my blog, I was limited by what I could say and what was appropriate to share. If I was to do a CoL inquiry again, I wouldn’t choose to do something as personal as this because this aspect made it very difficult. Having a group of students and doing something not as personal, such as a focus on reading or maths learning development, would have been easier to report on. 
I have learnt a lot about myself - I knew that I was ready and able to challenge myself to do academic readings, to try things out, to be prepared to fail, etc. I have learnt that children need to be ready for the inquiry, and be part of it. It is not something with ‘to’ them, rather ‘with’ them. 

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