Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sharing is Caring

First week back at school after the quake, and the new morning timetable has been implemented. It’s going well, even though it’s rather tiring for both us host-school teachers and students getting up so early. New routines are always a bit weird at first, I guess. I am a bit reluctant to say, however, that it’s going well because I don’t want this situation to set a precedent. That is, the combining schools solution is not something that we want to aspire to. I think I said this in my last post and now I’m going to explain in more detail why.

1)      We are combining schools because it is an emergency situation. There are a number of combined schools functioning across Christchurch right now. If we don’t combine, then a large number of students will not have a school to attend. So, we are doing it because it is the only solution.

2)      By combining schools we are ultimately limiting resources for each individual student. Here’s how:

a)      Firstly, because the number of students has doubled on the premises, there is less contact time for students in classes  - classes are now 45 minutes instead of an hour. This means significantly less individual time with teachers for each and every student (not that there was lots of time for one-on-one anyway). So, we need to issue more homework to students. But homework, despite what some people think, is not nearly as valuable as being actively supervised by a trained professional. John Hattie, amongst many others, has done a lot of work around what has the most impact on learning. Being in and engaged in the classroom with a good teacher is vital. Homework…not so much.

b)      So, possibly/probably not as much learning will take place for students this year. This will affect their assessment results. And I’m not super concerned about this because I think that the focus on NCEA assessment results is rather over-zealous and at times superficial (I’m more of a “use assessment to guide learning” believer than a “lets get as many credits/qualifications as possible” believer). But still, many teachers, students and parents are/will be concerned about this impact this new structure will have on assessment.

c)      Because the two schools are running in morning and afternoon shifts, this limits the resources that each school can use for extra-curricular activities. And whilst I don’t think that extra-curricular activities are as important as the learning that takes place within class time, they are still very important. For many students it is what motivates them to come to school and participate. For many teachers it is too. And it’s where you build positive relationships with students “outside of the classroom.” I’ve definitely found in the past that being involved in extra-curricular activities has improved my relationships with certain challenging students.

3)      Teenagers’ brains aren’t at their best at 8am. Or 5pm. I mean, really, whose are? There will be variation between individuals as to what their optimal work time is, no doubt, but by beginning classes at 8am I don’t think we are getting the best from our teenage students’ brains. I can’t actually imagine teaching kids at 4 or 5pm in the afternoon, but that’s what teachers from the other school are doing. I’m definitely better at 8am than 5pm. Lucky me. Anyway, my point is that middle-of-the-day school (a.k.a. ‘normal school’) is definitely the best option.

4)      If we can afford to find middle-of-the-day school then we should. And we can. We are a developed, Western country and our government collects a fair amount in taxes. If need be, the government could collect more (from, say, the rich! Or rich businesses! Good idea methinks, ‘cos that’s who can afford it…even if the rich don’t agree). My biggest fear is that the MOE will think that it’s actually quite effective and potentially cheap to run this combined-school thingy. The current NZ government does not need to be any meaner to teachers and students that it already has been.

So, (I can’t not write a conclusion, even if it is brief and obvious and probably unnecessary) while the combined school situation appears to be working OK, so far, I would hate for anyone to think that it’s actually a good thing. ‘Cos it’s not.

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