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Devon Intermediate School, New Plymouth

by Jim Dickinson, Te Kauhua facilitator

Devon Intermediate is one of two Intermediate schools in New Plymouth. It is a decile 5 school, in which 30% of the 450 students identify as Māori. The school joined Te Kauhua because it was known that Māori students were not achieving the same level of academic performance as the rest of the school. Although this gap was a national trend, it was not seen as inevitable. A refusal to accept underachievement was the first paddle stroke of our Te Kauhua voyage.

In 2004, Te Kauhua professional development was fitted in around guided reading. To focus on improving Māori student achievement through teacher professional development, we first looked at current practice.

The importance of data

We knew that in our professional practice we were not using data to inform teaching practice. Data was mainly used to fill up data files, and rarely looked at again. Some tests provided little or no useful diagnostic information for teachers.

Student achievement data for reading and numeracy was collected, collated, analysed, then reviewed for:

  • schoolwide trends – to enable targeting of areas of need for resources, programme balance and professional development
  • class trends – to help teachers plan reading programmes specifically relevant to the needs of individuals in a class, and to group students for focused teaching
  • individual needs – a powerful level of review enabling teachers to identify the next learning step for each student.

One enjoyable aspect of using data was being able to measure achievements and celebrate success. The staff worked hard to make changes but, when they have evidence of student success and can see the fruits of their labours, all that extra work seems worthwhile. Students and whānau have also been able to see progress and celebrate individual student success.

At the end of 2004, average STAR reading stanine had increased from 4.5 to 5.5 for Māori students, that is, the average score shifted from 0.5 below 'national average' to 0.5 above 'national average' – a result described by the literacy advisor as 'fantastic'. We are on target to further improve those numbers this year. Although this result was not solely a consequence of using data better, data did play a significant role.

2004 was a steep but rewarding learning curve for Devon teachers, motivating us to broaden the range of data we collect into other curriculum areas, and to regularly elicit student and whānau opinion. The challenge now is to keep the levels of data manageable, and maintain the skills necessary to use the data we gather.

Whānau engagement

To increase whānau engagement, the staff was asked to begin making regular contact by making 'Good News' calls. We felt that for some whānau the only contacts they ever had with school were occasions where they heard negative feedback about their children. We intend to maintain a climate where talking to their child's teacher is a regular, and usually positive, occurrence for all our whānau.

Two rounds of parent/teacher/student (PTS) conferences are now held; with one written report at the end of the year (previously four written reports were sent home each year). The conferences are celebrations of the student's achievement, not an opportunity for teachers to discuss problems. A crèche facility, and transport to and from school are provided. Turnout has increased from 79% to 87%, and after each round of conferences parents are surveyed with a view to improving the process.

Another initiative has been to review the Devon teaching framework. Desired outcomes for students were identified, followed by asking teachers and whānau how they could support students to make this happen. This process is approaching its conclusion, needing only one more round of consultation with teachers, students and whānau.

Classroom practice

One purpose of the PTS conference is to give students greater control of and responsibility for their learning. Teachers now display and review with students the learning intentions and success criteria for each lesson. Students grasped the value of this very quickly and some busy teachers found themselves being reminded by students about learning intentions and success criteria if they had neglected/not had time to write them up. All students are also regularly setting and reviewing SMART goals.

A significant reduction in suspension and stand-down rates has been achieved, especially for Māori students. Reconciliation has become an essential part of the process, and whānau are involved much earlier. The staff underwent professional development to deal with students in a non-confrontational manner. This has resulted in less time out of class for students and better teacher/student relationships.

Sustainability

Action research methodology is becoming part of the school culture, with the goal of maintaining the momentum developed after the contract finishes at the end of this year. Teaching teams focus on one aspect of their teaching of reading, identify problem areas, develop possible solutions, implement those solutions and evaluate their outcomes. They then report back to the whole staff to 'cross pollinate' ideas and enable colleagues to copy the effective initiatives. Each team also meets fortnightly in professional learning circles to address the problems of individual students, share ideas and source relevant readings.

Action research is now being used to manage teacher workload, reduce classroom interruptions and raise the quality of bookwork. The action research cycle is being taught to students, who are using it to try to improve pedestrian access to the school and make decisions about playground equipment. A model is being developed where most of our future professional development is part of an action research project, in the belief that this will deliver more relevant professional development to better-motivated teachers.

By giving more official school support and recognition, the kapahaka group has been boosted to over 140 students who consistently show up to practice, confidently organise themselves for powhiri and performances, and also enter competitions.

When teachers accept that there is always room for improvement in their practice, they can achieve that improvement. When they refuse to accept student failure to learn, students will learn.

This is a list of the professional reading recommended for schools participating in 'Te Kauhua' Phase 2.

Professional readings used during 'Te Kauhua' Phase 2



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