Quality V Quantity – HSC Exam practise

In preparing students for the HSC Examinations, their ability to write quality responses is crucial. Students can have an excellent understanding of the content but if they misread a question or are not able to address all aspects of a question clearly then this will impact on their results.

Most teachers therefore spend considerable time on HSC practise questions and my approach is to work on quality rather than quantity, particularly in the early stages of preparation.

Focusing on quality for me means that we can spend a whole lesson on a 3-5 mark question in breaking down the question, developing a response, marking / critiquing this response and then reattempting. Students will always be involved in marking these and providing feedback for each other before I collect these and mark them myself. Students will be expected to generate a top mark response before we move on.

This process of peer marking also involves a lot of scaffolding and specific instruction. We mark as a class and go step by step through what we are looking for. Eg: If a question asked students to evaluate then they would need to highlight or underline where they had made a judgement. If they cannot do this then it becomes clear they have not answered to question appropriately and addressed the key term. I find it useful to have a prepared answer to help with the marking process that we can all mark together and show key features of a response that we are looking for, particularly when students first begin marking responses.

After students have marked these I then look at these and can see which students have not only answered the questions well but provided good feedback for others showing they have a good understanding of the marking process (and more importantly those who have not understood and need further assistance). Students can just put their name at the bottom of a response to indicate they provided feedback for the response.

I will always start with relatively simple questions to build students understanding of structure before moving to more difficult questions. I also try to avoid setting students too many questions initially as this can effect the effort they put into the responses and also mean that I cannot provide the feedback required to improve the responses. If the responses are not up to scratch then they generally require a lot of feedback to improve and if this is not provided then students can be reinforcing bad habits and wasting their time and mine.

Once students have developed good technique and knowledge of what is required in a quality answer I find their responses require less feedback and it is more manageable to have them complete more practise questions. It is only at this stage that students would be encouraged to complete a higher quantity of responses.

As we get about 8-10 weeks out from the trials we are having an Exam practise lesson once a fortnight where we complete the peer marking and detailed analysis of questions and students are then given a few questions due the following week for homework.

While this may be seen by some as teaching to the test it is a reality of the system we work in and a responsibility of teachers to best prepare our students for these tests. Whether we like the HSC or not (I don’t so much) we have a responsibility to our students to help them prepare and I think that Exam practise is crucial in helping students achieve what they are capable of in the HSC.

PDHPE Conference

I attended the annual PDHPE Teachers Conference in Wollongong on Friday & Saturday. I found it to be a great event that was very well run and the quality of the keynotes and workshops was exceptional. I will go through and reflect on a few of the keynotes and other interesting things from the conference in more detail when I have time over the next week or so. My initial reactions to the conference though was that I have certainly still got plenty more to learn and it has motivated me to improve myself as a teacher.

It is a shame everyone from the faculty could not go as it would have been a great experience for everyone to attend and to hear all the same stuff together. We have plans to organise a broader network in the Campbelltown region across all sectors and I think this holds a lot of potential also. Great to catch up with a heap of old uni friends and lecturers also.

Quality assessment tasks

I was fortunate enough to be provided with a first class example of what can be done by colleagues at my school. A year 11 IST class organised a trivia night as an assessment task and raised money for the Childrens Hospital at Westmead. It was a hugely successful event with the students raising well over $8000. The aspect of the task that was so impressive for me was that it was such a relevant and practical task for students and it had ‘real world’ meaning. The students must feel very proud that they organised an event that raised such a substantial amount and it was such a practical way to demonstrate the skills and outcomes required by the course.

The task for me is an excellent example of the ‘assessment for learning’ model. The task also provided huge scope for learning above and beyond the outcomes for the task. The fact that it involved the wider school community and thus generated school spirit were wonderful aspects of the task. The focus on fundraising and raising money for the children’s hospital also strongly supports the catholic values of compassion and is a great way for students to experience this core value.
trivia night