What does it mean to “pursue academic excellence” in the context of a mathematics classroom?

In 2009 the Mathematics Domain will be making the “pursuit of academic excellence” a special focus for professional learning. Discussing what this means, and what it looks like in the classroom in terms of both student and teacher planning and actions, is critical to improving and celebrating student achievement, as well for increasing each teacher’s pedagogical repertoire.

For us to be truly influential in elevating student achievement as a learning domain, it is critical that individual mathematics teachers agree and understand what the “pursuit of academic excellence” looks like and feels like in the classroom. To accomplish this you are to post your response to the questions:

1. What does “pursuing academic excellence” mean for the teacher in terms of (i) actions in the classroom and (ii) of planning for units and individual lessons?
2. What does “pursuing academic excellence” mean for the student in terms of (i) actions and behaviours in the classroom, and (ii) in terms of actions outside of class time?

This discussion follows on from the professional learning sessions on direct instruction on September 1st and, very importantly, will link to the follow up that will occur on December 1st.

Expectation

1. By clicking on the “comment” link below, you should post your response to both of the above questions . (Please ensure you provide are detailed responses as, collectively, they will form the basis of your professional learning for next year. You may wish to first prepare your response in MSWord and when you satisfied cut and paste it in the comments section. Note: the first time you post to this blog you will not see it immediately. Your comment will be visible as soon as it is approved by the blog moderator.)

2. Once you have posted your response to the questions you should download the blog post evaluation rubric to first self-evaluate your blog post and then have one of your colleagues use the rubric to give you feedback on your response. (Download the blog evaluation rubric here.)

3. Select at least two of your colleagues comments and post a response to their blog post providing them with constructive feedback.

It is important that you complete this task by the next Maths meeting, on Nov 13th, so we can have a rich discussion based upon your professional responses to these questions.

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17 thoughts on “What does it mean to “pursue academic excellence” in the context of a mathematics classroom?

  1. 1. What does “pursuing academic excellence” mean for the teacher in terms of actions in the classroom of planning for units and individual lessons?
    To me, pursuing academic excellence means something slightly different in each of my classes. Each student has different abilities, strengths and weaknesses so their individual ‘excellence’ will differ greatly from another student. This year I teach two year 8 classes with abilities ranging over 8 year levels. At the beginning of the year, before I was aware of the extent of diversity in my classes, I was aiming for all of my students to achieve the year 8 level (where they ‘should’ be). Since getting to know my classes better, I have changed my approach to include all of my students at their level (or as close as I can get) so that each individual is able to achieve something every lesson. It has created a lot of extra work for me and I have used a lot of extra paper in the process.
    All of that aside. My pursuit of excellence means having all of my students engaged in their learning, not afraid to have a go and make a mistake, actually taking valuable lessons from their mistakes and helping each other. Planning is key, being prepared with examples, questions, timing and activity-blocking so that students are never allowed to become bored or disengaged.
    The lesson that I have learnt most strongly this year is to know my classes’ abilities so that I am able to plan to their needs.

    2. What does “pursuing academic excellence” mean for the student in terms of actions and behaviours in the classroom, and in terms of actions outside of class time?
    I don’t want to come across as cynical but in my VAST experience, so far, most students are very concerned with ‘getting it right’. They want the formula to get the answer and they want you to tell them what they ‘need to know’, “What’s the right answer, Miss?”
    I have come across a few delightful examples of students who actively seek excellence academically. I will base my response to this question on them. In the classroom: they participate in discussions, ask for help, help their friends when they can and they take risks. Students who pursue academic excellence take risks in class by having a go, sometimes getting it wrong and, sadly, being labelled as geeks/nerds/teacher’s pet in the process. Outside of class: they help each other with their homework, they do their homework – sometimes before it’s due, they take an interest in their schooling and in the world – maybe by watching documentaries or the news – and they often come to school with interesting questions.

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  2. ‘Jamie must pay closer attention in class and submit all his work so that he can realise his full potential!’ Have you seen such assertions in semester reports? It’s a handy line that we teachers can slip into a report. It looks good! Sounds good too! The problem is though, what does “realise his full potential” mean exactly? What precisely is young Jamie’s “potential”, especially his “full” one? Can we measure it like we can his pulse rate? Perhaps we can x-ray his brain to see if his “potential” neurones are “full” or not? I wonder if poor unfortunate Jamie awakes each morning aware that he lacks a “fullness of potential”. Moreover, does he have any idea at all of how to “realise” it? It would appear not as, according to his teacher, “realising” it has so far eluded the hapless Jamie!

    At the risk of belabouring the point, a more important question to ask of the teacher who would write such a comment is does he or she know how rescue poor, potential deprived Jamie from his fate? If he or she does, then why haven’t they done so already? If not, then how can young Jamie possibly be expected to know? OK, I’ll stop there and confess that it does irritate me when I see “realise his or her full potential” written in a report! In truth, this expression doesn’t mean anything, but it does suggest something. It suggests each student needs to be striving towards an identifiable goal (not a vague “full potential”). It implies that the teacher knows the student so well that they can clearly see this goal that the student could potentially reach. It also implies that the teacher knows how the student can achieve that goal and that they have structures and strategies in place to support the student to achieve it. All of this would be explicitly apparent in teacher’s lesson plans, tasks and assessments.

    So the teacher’s pursuit of academic excellence for his or her students would mean more than covering the course content. No matter how thoroughly or skilfully this might be done, no matter how “expert” the teacher maybe in their knowledge and understanding of the content, much more is needed to pursue academic excellence for our students. What else is needed?

    To pursue academic excellence means we need to know how each of our students learns. This isn’t difficult to do. Even something as simple as the online VARK survey will help us to identify the types of learners we have in our classes and alert us to the need to teach in different ways. ( see http://www.vark-learn.com/english/index.asp or for younger students http://www.therfieldschool.org.uk/_files/sen/vark.pdf ) I have my students do this survey at the start of the year. That way I know, and they know, how they can most effectively be instructed and learn. Student’s individual preferences for how they most effectively learn include instruction that is visual or aural or read/write or kinaesthetic or a multimodal combination. Students in the latter category will adjust to almost any teacher’s instruction methods. However, if a student is strongly visual and is sitting in a class listening to a teacher droning on and on, the instruction will not only be ineffectual in his case, but likely raise his frustration level to the point where his behaviour may deteriorate and he may give the teacher and/or his fellow students some grief! The teacher who is unaware of their student’s preferred learning styles risks limiting some student’s opportunities to learn. The study Successful Interventions – Middle Years Numeracy Research Project: 5-9 (Stage 2 ) p.49 (http://www.education.vic.gov.au/studentlearning/teachingresources/maths/mynr.htm) records student’s comments on what they found to be the greatest frustrations about maths lessons:

    “If you don’t know how to do it, makes you angry that you can’t do it, then I skip it or ask teacher or friend or just guess it” – Jason , Year 7
    “When I don’t understand, some of the texts … too much writing” – Liam, Year 7
    “Questions you don’t understand” – Annie, Year 7
    “The questions, the way they’re set out I can’t understand them” – Tim, Year 8
    “Teacher not explaining, not using method that is recognised, confusing” – Carl, Year 9
    “If I don’t understand what the teacher is talking about” – Vincent, Year 9

    While it is true that some students might understand if they just made more of an effort, the above comments all reflect a desire to learn. As teachers we have to get this. We have to do something about it in our instruction!

    To pursue academic excellence means we need to use pedagogies that cater to each of our student’s learning styles. This isn’t difficult to do, although it does take some thought. In mathematics, to represent for example the relation y=2x+1, we can just write it as such (for read/write students), we can talk about it (for aural students) or we can represent it visually as a graph or as a table. But wait there’s more! 🙂 Today we can use dynamic visuals using online learning objects such as those that can be downloaded through resource rich sites like Digilearn For example, one of the learning objects has students input phone plan data and then displays these inputs as linear graphs, thereby helping students to make a visual connection between a table of values and a graph, and finally connects to an algebraic representation as an equation. This touches a lot of learner types, not just one. These learning objects are powerful and easy to use. Here are some screen shots from this learning object.

    Screen Shot Phone Plan Intro | Screen Shot 1 | Screen Shot 2 | Screen Shot 3

    Digilearn is accessed using your edumail user name and password through the portal at the bottom of the page or https://www.eduweb.vic.gov.au/dlr ). Also The Learning Federation and BBC have many learning objects that can help you to teach and help students to learn. You just need to spend a little time looking. You will improve your teaching if you do!

    To pursue academic excellence means we need to give the mathematics that we are teaching skills within contexts that help students relate personally to the theory. This can be done through giving the mathematics a context. For example, teaching the skills within a context or theme. See Mathematics units Maths on Track (almost completed unit – see Maths on Track: What Makes for Success) and 1813: Destination Australia. (More units can be found at http://educate.intel.com/au/ProjectDesign/UnitPlans/ ) Teaching the skills through an activity also provides a context which allows students to relate to the skills being taught; it gives them purpose and mean for our students. Children in the Middle Years Numeracy Research project quoted earlier also said that they enjoyed being taught Maths when it involved:

    “Going outside, measuring, drawing, practical” – Breanna, Year 7
    “More games, everyone enjoying the lesson” – Liam, Year 7
    “Like it is now with groups” – Tim, Year 8
    “Enjoyable, not boring, not just sitting at a desk, activities” – Edward, Year 8
    “If it was fun, practical work, something with our hands, work it out that way” – Erin, Year 8
    “Make it more fun, more activities, instead of just board work.” – Marie, Year 9
    “Not so much stuff from texts, boring too hard to concentrate, more talking, explaining, questions that help us understand” – Carl, Year 9
    “Do stuff you don’t know, learning how to do things you don’t know, need a challenge, need a reason.”- Patrick, Year 9
    “Doing maths you actually need to use” – Leigh, Year 8

    Many examples and ideas to assist you in developing a project based lesson or unit can be found at the Intel Education Designing Effective Projects : Project-Based Units to Engage Students Website. Kambrya’s theme based units have made it easy for mathematics teachers to do this. For example, for the Year 8 Multicultural unit why not set a project in which students work with students from another country to gather data? Use the essential question of the unit as the title of the project so the students feel like they are doing an investigation in which they use the mathematics so that they are learning to respond to the question rather than being faced with topics such as “Statistics” or “Algebra” or “Graphs”, none of which are questions, but just skills sets. In isolation, skills set mean very little to our students. Give these skills a context! That is what the students quoted above are saying! The are really shouting at us. “Put some meaning into what you are wanting us to learn – into what you are teaching us!” This is what an effective mathematics teacher will do as much as they possibley can; and we can do it often.

    To pursue academic excellence means we need to use assessments throughout a unit so that students get regular feedback on their progress. To teach mathematics in a way that gives students the opportunity to achieve academic excellence means that:

    1. We must know what each student knows before we even start teaching a new unit. How else can we possibly know what it is that we need to be teaching, i.e. what it is that our students are capable of learning? What is the appropirate starting point? Some sort of check needs to be done to asses prior knowledge. This could be something that we devise. It could be as simple a KWHL, a brainstorming session, a test or even a PMI. Better still, we will the data from the previous year. This is the whole point of the Standards! The VELS progression point information on each student is critical for us at the start of the unit. (See http://vels.vcaa.vic.edu.au/assessment/progresspoints.html) We rely upon our students’ previous teachers providing accurate VELS data. If we do not do this well, accurately reporting progression points in student’s final reports, we are effectively sabotaging future teachers efforts at accurately targeting the learning needs of his or her class. Pretty serious eh? Do we think of it like that when we are writing up end of year reports? We should! This is where we absolutely MUST be both forward and backward thinking as regards assessing our students. We can do a lot of damage if we do not thoroughly understand the progression points and make sure we assess each student properly. School programs can fail because teachers act individually rather than as one part of an overall program of education. It is our professional responsibilty to understand this and get it right!

    It is not uncommon to hear teachers lamenting that their students do not know what they hoped they would know. However, this should not happen. The whole point of VELS is that we will know BEFORE WE EVEN SEE OUR STUDENTS FOR THE FIRST TIME what it is that they know and do not know. This is the starting point of our planning for academic excellence.

    2. We need to give students feedback on how they are going throughout the unit. It should not be that students are walking into a test or exam wondering what their performance is going to be. They should KNOW what it is likely to be from all the feedback they have been receiving throughout the unit. We can do this using many devices. This is where homework can be useful, not just as extra work, but work with a purpose. Giving feedback is a highly valuable purpose and an essential part of pursuing academic excellence. If the additional work load is of concern to you, then why not utilise the students themselves. Have them correct this work. These are not final assessments, but are designed to let them now how they are progressing through the unit in preparation for the final assessment, so peers and self assessments can appropriately be used here.

    Even easier will be VCAA On Demand Testing that will be available to Mathematics and English teachers in 2009. (http://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/prep10/aim/ondemand/index.html) According to the website, “This is an online resource for teachers to use when, where and how they choose. Tests are designed to link to curriculum and standards. Both general ability tests and topic-specific assessments are provided. It is a time-saving tool that can be administered to a single student and/or a whole class.” So this will be a powerful resource that we all can, and must, make good use of with all our students.

    3. We need students to understand what knowledge, skills and understandings are important to know in order to achieve excellence. Students need to know well in advance what the final assessment is to be about and what they need to do in order to prepare for it. As teachers, we need to do what we can to ensure that they have all the information that they need in order to be prepared for the final assessment, whatever form/s that may take. Be prepared to use alternative forms of assessments beside written tests. Students with poor reading skills may well understand the mathematics if we verbalise the questions, something you or I might not see if we only assess in one way. For example, have you ever considered using a podcast for students who have this issue? OK, well probably not, and not many teachers do, but the point of final assessments is for us to discern what the student knows against a set of predetermined standards. We have the Standards. That is what VELS are, so we do not have to go searching for Standards. Using the Standards is a part of us being professional. The question is, how are we going to effectively check each individual student’s level of understanding? How do we assess projects? Tests? Presentations?

    The Intel Education Assessing Projects: Using Assessment to Improve Teaching and Learning website provides some excellent and practical guidelines for developing and using different methods of assessment at all stages of a unit – for gauging prior knowledge, for providing feedback to the student (and for our own information) throughout the unit, and for the final assessment. (see http://www97.intel.com/en/AssessingProjects/AssessmentStrategies)
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    The above is by no means all that is involved in the teacher pursuing academic excellence for hsi or her students. In the classroom our students need to feel that they have our support and are listened to by us. They need to know that we care about their progress; that we know them and that we are aware of the particular pathways they are intersted in taking (particularly in the Later Years).

    Once again, quoting students from the MYNP report mentioned above, on p 48 students commented on how they feel if they perceive there to be a lack of support from their teachers:

    “It’s hard when I’ve got problems that I don’t know, like on a test, I can’t ask the teacher” – Warren, Year 7

    “When the teacher doesn’t explain it properly, the teacher just tells us what to do and then just says do it” – Peter, Year 7

    “When you don’t know the questions and the teacher is with someone else and your friends are too busy talking and you don’t know what you’re doing” – Amanda, Year 7

    “Something that I don’t understand, it makes it hard if the teacher explains it once and expects us to understand it, I’d like him to explain it to me personally” – Olivia, Year 9

    Do you spend a lot of what could be collaboration time talking to your peers about how your students cannot add fractions or do not know their tables? Would such discussions be productive or improve your teaching paractice? Will it lead to you delivering instruction that shows that you are pursuing academic excellence for your students? While we all have a gripe from time to time, probably you would not often waste valuable time doing this. Even so, why not look over some of the links above and do something different – Think Different! Teach Different! Much of our student’s pursuit of academnic excellence actually lies with us, their teachers!

    Thanks for listening! 🙂

    Other References:
    Highlights From the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study: TIMSS 2003 (downloadable report, while US orientated compares teaching in different countries including Australia. There are also downloadable video clips of classes here.)

    What does teaching look like around the world? (A 2006 study follow on from the TIMMSS study, comparing mathematics teaching in 7 countries including Australia)

    VELS Teaching and Learning Resources (Provide further advice on teaching and learning theory, principles and strategies for teachers working with the Victorian Essential Learning Standards sample units.)

    Principles of Learning and Teaching (PoLT) (Explains and discusses the six principles and their components with professional learning support materials including the PoLT online resource, data collection tools and case studies.)

    DEECD Student Learning (Important resource for teachers to ensure they are properly informed about what is being taught in the education system, how work is assessed, and the types of educational resources and programs available.)

    Victorian Education Channel (Abundant and relevant resources for teachers from planning to assessment to pedagogy to eLearning to … well lots of things. Have a look!)

    Mathematics Developmental Continuum P – 10 (Provides evidence based indicators of progress, linked to powerful teaching strategies, aligned to the progression points and the standards for the Mathematics Domain of the Victorian Essential Learning Standards.)

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  3. When I first walked into the hallowed halls of Kambrya College as a graduate teacher, I had some really nice ideas about what I wanted to accomplish as a teacher. I was a nerdy student at school, and LOVED studying mathematics, and as a teacher I knew that I possibly would not find too many students like myself, and perhaps most would be more like Billy Connolly (look him up on Youtube if you are not afraid of a shower of expletives!). Yet I was determined, that I would involve all of my students into some magical transmogrification from mathematical ‘noobs’ to the mathematical ‘leet’ (as mathematics teachers, you should all be conversant in hacker-talk? – that means newbies and the elite for you noobs!).

    But now, as a cynical and battle-weary practitioner, I know that not only is that goal unrealistic, but it’s also not appropriate for the majority of our students. My idea of what academic excellence meant was not reciprocated by the majority of the students I came across in my first year, or for that matter, most of their parents. What I did learn that year, in respect to this idea of academic excellence, I think is far more important educational idea in a constantly changing global and local environment where what was important “back in my day” (all of 10 years ago) is not so important, or relevant now.

    The phrase “academic excellence” conjures, in my mind, visions of Harvard graduates sipping sherry in a cloistered club room late at night talking up their individual successes and telling stories of the good ol’days (I don’t know why it does, but it does). However, this might not be the most appropriate or helpful image of what academic excellence means for us at Kambrya College. I often think, however, that many people, both teachers and students, have very lofty ideas of what academic excellence means to them and how that can be achieved, rather than having a real-world, concrete plan about what individuals and groups need to do to reach this goal.

    So what is academic excellence? Firstly, what do we mean by academic? Do we mean a high level of achievement in our educational careers? Traditionally, and still by many learning institutions, this is the widely held belief. The notion of academia is a lofty and sometimes isolated concept where thinking and learning takes place outside the reach of most members of the population. Is this a concept that will be relevant to the majority of our learners? When we say academic excellence, do we really just mean “excellence in learning”, no matter what that learning might be? I think this might be a more helpful way to think about this issue – what do we value as important for excellence in learning, both for teachers and students?

    Both as a student and a teacher, I found that there are aspects of excellence in student learning that are non-negotiables, in that without these aspects, meaningful and sustained learning cannot take place.
    Love your work: As mathematics teachers, we are constantly fighting an uphill battle against negative attitudes and perceptions about our subject. Students won’t love your subject area if you don’t! Put yourself out there … enjoy what you’re teaching, show enthusiasm for both your students and your subject matter, play with it and always find ways to make it fun. (I find that Cafepress is full of useful tools to help you show your inner nerd!) This also goes for students – they will never be as successful in mathematics if they do not enjoy the learning they are doing. Find out what makes it fun for them – whether you include learning games, contextualised learning activities, competitions, one-on-one time with your students, co-operative learning, investigations, anything they visibly enjoy and become engaged with. Encourage them to find ways to make their learning more enjoyable as well – find someone they work well with, a particular way they like presenting their work, or giving themselves rewards for their small successes.
    Know your students: There were not too many teachers in my education that took the time to get to know me – both as a student, and as a person. But those teachers who did still stand out in my mind as those who taught me my most important lessons – both as a student and a person. Use psychological inventories like the Learning Styles Inventory and the Multiple Intelligences Questionnaire to find out how they come to learn, and what they are good at learning (remember these are two completely different things!) Write your students a letter introducing yourself and ask them to reply to you to give you some further indication of what makes them tick, what they enjoy and what avenues you can take to make their learning more engaging and relevant. Students will go wherever you want them to go if they know you care about where they want to go and know why they are going there.

    But even more importantly than that, use your data to further flesh out your knowledge of where they are at as a learner. What do they know? What don’t they know? What can they do only with your help but not independently (go back and read your Vygotsky!) Are there patterns in the things that they don’t know? Are there patterns in the types of students who don’t know certain things? Your ongoing collection and review of your diagnostic data will make it infinitely easier to plan a teaching and learning sequence that meets the needs of your learners, both where they are now and where you need them to be. Use whole school initiatives like PAT-M and Online Adaptive testing (coming soon!) to guide your teaching, but also use every lesson as an opportunity to gather information on your students that will better allow you to set reasonable learning goals and follow them through. This will make your summative assessment – and your report writing – so much easier, as well as more meaningful!
    Know thyself: What sort of teacher are you anyway? Could you quickly summarise your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher? Could you say what your future professional development focus was, and why it was a focus? We spend so much time running around and thinking of 15 different things, that I think teachers can be the most guilty of neglecting themselves! Take some time to participate in the PoLT Component Mapping with a peer coach – this can be one of the most useful and fruitful professional learning experiences you can have, and can help you set clearly defined and measurable goals to help you guide your excellent learning adventure.
    Set goals for success: There is no point in getting in a car and hoping to get to your destination without knowing where you are going! What do you want your students to get out of your teaching? What do they need to get out of your teaching? What life skills do they need to develop? What are their goals and aspirations? What do your students see as being relevant and important to them? Use your diagnostic data to find out where the next logical step for your students is, and this will also help you get them there.
    Planning for success: Without knowing the plan for action, students and teachers are sailing a rogue ship through the perilous seas of learning. Our core business as teachers is to anticipate the journey that students will need to take in order to become successful. Part of knowing you students, on top of knowing where they are at any given time, is the steps you are going to put in place to help them achieve their goals for learning. Do you have detailed, rigorous and meaningful individual learning plans for your students, with measureable and discrete goals that give them something tangible to aim for? Are the students aware of the most efficient and logical steps to get where they need to go? Are they aware of how to assess their progress against their learning plan?
    Celebrate your successes: This is something we, and I know I, don’t do enough of. Any success, whether large or small, by one student or by all, by student or teacher, needs to be celebrated. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done! Pat them on the back for a job well done! We all work better when we know our work is appreciated and noticed by those we are working for and with, and when we feel like we are achieving something tangible. Have mini celebrations – set up rewards systems before you set up management systems – find ways to recognise the positives at every available opportunity!

    So what does this notion of “academic excellence” look like in a classroom? In a sentence, it can be seen when all members of the learning community feel like they are learning and developing in such a way to take them towards completing their short and long term goals. What do you think?

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  4. What does pursuing excellence means for teachers?

    To pursue excellence in the classroom one must look at their teaching. Our students have no chance of pursuing excellence if we do not model it ourselves. As a new teacher, im struggling with the idea that it may be a few years before I get there. I think I expected that I would start teaching and that I would be amazing, that every one of my classes would be exciting and fun. Now I know that it doesn’t magically happen and that it takes time. You need to settle in, get to know the students and the school and just generally survive your first year. Therefore this entry talks about what is and what I think should be.

    I think the hardest thing for a new teacher, especially in the later years is classroom management. You cannot attempt excellence when your kids are running around the room or have their feet on the tables. These behaviours put a dint in your fancy ideas and you find you use more of your time developing crowd control practices rather than pursuing excellence.

    But thankfully you reach a point (or at least I did) when it becomes easier and you finally settle them down. The most important thing at this stage is knowing your students. Knowing their personalities, triggers, background, learning styles and abilities. Once you know your students the pursuit of excellence is possible and its at this stage where you start to get those fancy ideas again.

    Once you understand your students you can begin to cater to individual and not just groups of individuals with similar learn styles or abilities. Now in a perfect world I would be catering for every individual student. However as a new teacher I must admit I’m still getting there. I know my students and I know what they’re capable of. All I can do is try and challenge them as much as possible and keep them moving forward academically regardless of what level they’re `at’. I believe every kid is capable of excellence but I believe it doesn’t have to be your typical A+. I think its all relative to where the students at and where they end up. All we can do is keep trying to strive for excellence in ourselves and hope our students improve from it.

    What does pursuing excellence means for students?

    I must admit I struggle with this question because the pursuit of student excellence is lacking in a decent percentage of our students. I know what it looks like and I could write a whole page on how students need to conduct themselves to achieve excellence but we all know what it is. However I feel its more valuable to talk about what our students do that prevent excellence form being achieved. I feel like the lack of work ethic (particularly in the late years) reduces the opportunity for excellence. I believe that student behaviour defies a great deal of the work we do towards excellence and that unless that changes nothing else will.

    I guess it’s not all gloomy though. Maybe I’m too fixated on my recent year 10 scores. In which case let me finish story about one of my year 7 students. I believe he embodies the pursuit of excellence. At the start of each term he challenged himself to increase his test scores by over 10%. He started at 50% in term one, to over 70% in term 3 and in each term he did just that, topping it off with a 73% on his Algebra test. This is a student who went from struggling to pass maths to one who confidently helps other students. He did this by always expecting better of himself and never giving up. I only wish I saw more of this in my later years class.

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  5. What does “pursuing academic excellence” mean for the teacher in terms of actions in the classroom and planning for units and individual lessons?

    To me encouraging students to understand the skills they are trying to learn “ in their own language” is important. They need to be able to learn it according to their preferred learning style and then be prepared to explore how it can be applied to real life situations. This means I really need to be aware of how each individual learns and try to encourage them to have a go at tasks where they can utilise their method of learning – be it verbal/aural/kinaesthetic, etc.. It does not just require planning of the variations in ways that a task can be completed by students, but also the ability to take students in groups perhaps of like learning styles and again encourage them to have a go and not be afraid to make mistakes.

    Also in order to get students to continue to pursue excellence, I feel they should receive regular feedback on their efforts, but also be encouraged to improve upon those efforts by submitting improvements on tasks and encouraging reflection on what they could have done better. This is all well and good given the time constraints and demands of the curriculum to attempt to “get” students up to the required levels. But we need to consider that for some students excellence may be achieved not necessarily at the benchmark standard and for others they definitely can strive to exceed that standard.

    What does “pursuing academic excellence” mean for the student in terms of actions and behaviours in the classroom and in terms of actions outside of class time?

    For the student I believe they want to be encouraged and informed regularly of how they are going according to the standards and compared to each other in some cases. But they also want to learn in ways that are appropriate to their style (which I have tried to give them the opportunity to discover). Many students develop a reluctance to try to achieve excellence within the classroom because of previous experiences in maths and because of the stigma attached to wanting to achieve. Some believe they have achieved to the level they need to “survive” into their futures, and won’t even attempt to explore or achieve further.

    Within the classroom students should be able to complete tasks knowing what levels are expected of them – and this may mean individual levels for each student that do push for them to achieve their best. The quality of work done and effort made on tasks should also be encouraged/rewarded. Students should be able to work with others at similar abilities or learning styles but then expect to complete tasks that prove their own competency.

    Outside of the class, students should be able to still have access to the resources needed for learning and I find more and more of them are doing this particularly when it comes to critical assessments like exams. That is they use online learning tools. I am guilty of not pursuing this harder this year. The nature of mathematics and a deeper understanding of the skills does require some reinforcement beyond class time. Students who don’t at least attempt to complete tasks set during class time for homework and review the skills learnt regularly, will struggle to retain those skills. Even if it has been learnt by the student in a way suited to their learning style. “If you don’t use it you lose it” – hence perhaps the need to continue to seek engaging real life problems for students to work on out of class and encourage them to analyse and evaluate their learning.

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  6. A true test of academic excellence is when students are able to apply rigourously knowledge learnt to unpredicatable real situations. The International Centre’s Rigour/Relevance Framework is worth having a look at as it can be used to help teachers to teach students to high rigour and high relevance. It is in an interesting document found at: http://www.leadered.com/pdf/Academic_Excellence.pdf ENJOY!!

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  7. What does “pursuing academic excellence” mean for the teacher in terms of actions in the classroom and planning for units and individual lessons?

    Pursuing academic excellence in the classroom means several different things to me. Firstly it relies on having a structured, well planned and organised classroom environment. Students must feel safe and willing to explore new ideas, without the threat of embarrassment for having a go and making a mistake.
    To pursue excellence it is essential that classroom control is maintained and expections of students behaviour and learning are made very clear. Lessons and units must be planned rigourously in order to engage students with all different types of learning strategies.

    Incorporating streaming and different levels of learning for different groups of students especially in the younger year levels will have a great effect on the pursuit of academic excellence. Students must not only be able to learn the skills they need, they must have a deeper understanding of when to apply these skills and why.

    What does “pursuing academic excellence” mean for the student in terms of actions and behaviours in the classroom and in terms of actions outside of class time?

    I feel the majority of students at Kambrya have a vastly different opinion on what academic excellence really is. Most students don’t strive to be the best they can be. They ask questions such as “what do i need to pass ?” or “why do I bother doing math? it’s boring”. I believe that many students have a negative attitude towards maths created from previous experiences, finding maths difficult and not getting enough support when most required leaves students bombing out and hoping for that pass mark.

    Now all that sounds a little negative, there is a positive side out there. Students who have not been dramitically influenced by poor past experiences need several things to show them that they are learning, consolidate their learning and give them that sense of achievement. These include: (hope we can do dot points)
    1.Receiving a range of formative and summative feedback on their work. At times when it is still fresh in their mind
    2. Being able to relate what they are learning to everyday situations
    3. Being able to have access to learning resources both from home and at school.
    4. Setting realistic short and long term goals concerning their achievement
    5. Celebrating achievement once a goal is reached
    6. Having the chance to consistently use what they have learnt

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  8. What does “pursuing academic excellence” mean for the teacher in terms of actions in the classroom and planning for units and individual lessons?

    According to me, “pursuing academic excellence” nothing but positive changes in the performance of the teacher in the everchanging world. Everything is changing at lightening speed except the traditional method of teaching. I strongly agree with the idea that our daily lesson has to be planned for different group of students within the class ( Slow, Medium and fast learners). Each lesson has to cater all types of learners (Visual, multimedia and hand on activities). The relevance of the lesson should be mentioned with suitable example from the daily life.

    A teacher has to explore all the possible resources for the highest performance in the class room. Every second has to go in planning the lesson to make it “Fun”, “relevant”,”activity oriented”and “use of 21st century technology to entertain the least motivated 22nd century teachers or Leaders”.
    I find it challenging but not impossible.

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  9. 1.What does “pursuing academic excellence” mean for the teacher in terms of actions in the classroom and planning for units and individual lessons?

    Pursuing academic excellence in the classroom means delivering all the required knowledge to the students in different ways (depending on students understanding and ability) by using different techniques and technologies available to the teacher.

    What does “pursuing academic excellence” mean for the student in terms of actions and behaviours in the classroom and in terms of actions outside of class time?

    Pursuing academic excellence inside the classroom means achieving all targets given by the teacher. Academic excellence shows the efficient and effective use of time and knowledge of the student. Being a responsible person (inside and outside the class) also an indication of academic excellence. Students with academic excellence would use their knowledge to achieve their targets in real life.

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  10. 1. What does “pursuing academic excellence” mean for the teacher in terms of actions in the classroom of planning for units and individual lessons?
    At the very outset let me make it clear that teachers pursuing excellence in the classroom is dependent on a willing group of students. The students who do what is expected of them makes achieving excellence a tad bit easier for the teacher. Every teacher wants to achieve the best in his class. Personally i believe that it is not just one or two principles in teaching that achieves the desired outcome. If a teacher is able to combine many principles of teaching he will then be able to prepare the student to apply himself/herself to real life situations. This should be our ultimate goal as a teacher.
    Teachers can achieved this by taking the following points into consideration.
    Teachers should discuss different points of view other than their own; explain clearly; being well prepared for questions and criticisms; explain major points and repeat; encourage class discussions; invite students to share experiences and knowledge; encourage constructive criticisms; relate to students; motivating students best work and encourage the weaker one’s; MAKE LEARNING INTERESTING – TRY DIFFERENT STYLES OF TEACHING; keep students informed of their progress.

    2.What does “pursuing academic excellence” mean for the student in terms of actions and behaviours in the classroom, and in terms of actions outside of class time?
    As teachers wanting to achieve excellence in the classroom we need to know our students strengths and weaknesses. We need to know our students prior knowledge so that we are able to plan an appropriate learning outcome and starting point for new sections. We need to assess our students and this is done in the form of a pre-test in year 8. This gives us a fair understanding of the students knowledge. The vels progression points can sometimes be misleading because some students are shown at year 8 level but when they are tested they are no way near that level. The students were taught the subject matter but cannot remember it for later years. Yet we stress on progression points.
    Students need to be assessed continuously so that we can maintain and enhance their learning when necessary. By doing this the students tend to have more confidence in their teachers and this could be a starting point in achieving excellence in learning.

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  11. From the teachers perspective excellence in Mathematics requires the teacher to approach the structures, tasks and activities used in their classroom in such a way as to enable the student to see emerging links between ideas. So many topic areas of mathematics have implications for other areas but students will fail to experience this unless the teacher provides opportunity for exploration, investigation and comparison.

    Doing this well means that students are drawn forward into new ways of thinking, lead by a teacher who hopefully can provide a bridge back to the familiar and a context which allows the student to understand where they are going. Fun should be included in this and I believe that it is a measure of the teacher’s mastery of the topic when they can have students enjoying and looking forward to their maths class.

    For students to become excellent the teacher must encourage an element of reflection within their class. The use of interesting, unusual and challenging tasks or investigations provides opportunities for students to try out their emerging competencies. They also get the chance to recognise weaknesses in their individual skill sets and should be given some time to practice and revisit activities they haven’t quite mastered.

    The excellent classroom is one where students discuss mathematics and are able to trade understandings. The teacher introduces the language for this discussion, sometimes linking to slang terms that are familiar to students in order to raise the quality of communication and encourage students to more precisely express themselves. In this classroom the teacher begins to hear their modelled language used amongst students as they go about tasks and accomplish goals.

    Finally I think the excellent teacher transfers confidence to students so that they can approach a problem with enough belief in themselves to last through to the breakthrough that we know always comes with persistence. The teacher models a spirit of perseverance and the students build their strengths to the point where they no longer need us – an independent mathematics student is born.

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  12. To be quite honest I’m very new to this game! As a graduate teacher I know I still have a lot to learn and I can’t wait to learn it from the people I work with every day. This is what I think but please talk to me or with me about it!!

    1. What does “pursuing academic excellence” mean for the teacher in terms of (i) actions in the classroom and (ii) of planning for units and individual lessons?
    i) Allowing for a working environment that promotes students individuality and that they able to excel with nothing stopping them.
    ii) Allowing for students to attempt enrichment and acceleration activities that are included in the unit. Allowing students to work at their individual pace, so they are able to work quicker in class if they wish.

    2. What does “pursuing academic excellence” mean for the student in terms of (i) actions and behaviours in the classroom, and (ii) in terms of actions outside of class time?
    i) They are able to feel confident that they can work in a positive environment and that they will not be ridiculed for their ability no matter what it is.
    ii) Students feel it necessary to do some form of study outside of the classroom after every class. That they use the time to reinforce knowledge learnt in class.

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  13. What does pursuing excellence means for teachers?

    For me it means linking the class room learning to the “real” life out of school. It explains and shows the students the link to their life experiences and the professional world. If they realise its usefulness, they will be more engaged. The curriculum should be presented in a way that is interesting and engaging. It should be built on the know how and they should get a choice were possible. The teacher should try creative approaches to maths teaching. PD’s by Charles Lovitt (and others) give you many ideas how to incorperate games, movement and other options for students.

    What does pursuing excellence means for students?

    A student should strive to achieve its best possible outcome. He/she needs enough confidence to try to solve all problems. It needs an inclusive classroom, were students are not afraid of temporary failure. It also means to be prepared to study/work at home. It requires self motivation, supported and encouraged by the teacher.

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  14. Firstly, excellence in teaching is to approach each child in a way that inspires them to learn. A child who wants to learn is over halfway towards the goal of improvement. What this looks like is very personal. It is not a one approach fits all. The teacher needs to take time to get to know the child. Academically as well as socially/personally. The relationship is so important as trust is based upon it. When, as a teacher, you ask a child to attempt something new, outside their comfort zone or “good for them” even though they will not like it, you need the child to have total faith in you. Saying you are a good Maths teacher means very little to the child, or other teachers.

    Once you have established this relationship and you know the child well (via testing, discussions, a variety of tasks and other activities) you then need to challenge and extend the child. Notice I do not say, “the class” as this is such an individual thing. Almost all of our teachers teach a common lesson to the entire class and then use “open ended activities” as a means to cater for individual differences. this can only go so far. Surely, each child should be working at their own level on content that is relevant and developing their knowledge further and a lot of the “rich tasks” we use are not rich at all. I was in a class the other day in which the teacher was using a rich task and they were required to speak to each child, individually, to help them develop that deeper understanding. They used excellent questioning techniques to draw out of them why the task was considered rich. This was fine for the 1st 6 students, however, time ran out and the other 18 students missed out on this process. We only have 4 minutes per child per class!!!

    So, what is, “striving for excellence” in Maths? Well I would say that a student moving through the various stages of learning is important. Committing basic facts and processes to memory is essential. Being able to confidently use equipment and ICT to express their understanding is needed. Being able to explain the processes and then apply it to a new or related example would be a part of it. When planning a lesson, the teacher needs to ask themselves, “Am I catering for these needs in this lesson?”

    How do you know if excellence is being approached/achieved? Pre test/post test comes to mind, however that is a very limited and misleading way to approach it. Students who have issues with taking tests do not have an opportunity to display knowledge gained. A teacher observing a student throughout a topic gets a “gut feeling” of a child’s understanding and development that is often more accurate than test results. A variety of assessment tasks is better, as each child then has an opportunity to display improvement in a manner that suits them. Unfortunately this is often inconvenient and does not suit the teacher’s teaching style and so the student must fit the teacher and not the other way around??? Students know how they are going. Next time you are about to give out a test, have the students sit down 1st and write down how they think they have improved, what new knowledge/skills they have gained and how they have improved as a Maths student, then have them do the test and see if their own impression matches what the test indicates. Reflection is impportant, but it should not stop their. We usually reflect at the end of a topic. Really, this is a general waste of time!!! They need to reflect at a time when they can change behaviour, not after the unit is over. They need to set new goals and actually work at achieving these, with the opportunity to modify them along the way. At the end, testing if they achieved their goals and questioning why/why not, is almost as important as testing what they have learnt on the topic.

    Finally, I feel that this knowledge newly gained will be totally wasted unless it is practised and applied to many new and vsaried situations. don’t say, “We have now finished Algebra.” as the student will cease to need it and will stop making links to new topics. These are tools that are added and kept for future use, not learnt and then stored away incase they may need them at some time in the future. Make a need for them regularly. Draw their attention to links between topics, refer back to common skills, and give credit to what they already know.

    PURSUING ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE is about;
    Relationships
    Moving through the stages of learning
    Being extended and inspired
    Reflecting and goal setting
    Making links and applying learnt knowledge/skills to unique situations

    And this applies to both the student and the teacher.

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  15. To pursue excellence in any matter we must have the passion for the things we are doing. From the teachers’ point of view, this is very crucial, for how are we to inculcate a culture of excellence and expect students to respond positively if we do not show the enthusiasm and commitment to the project. At the practical level, teachers must come to class prepared in terms of competency of the content matter and a detailed lesson plan with measurabe outcomes and expectations. A well thought out lesson plan with activities to engage students and tasks to challenge them to raise the bar in pursuit of excellence. Students must be made aware of the expectations right at the start and be made accountable for their learning. Pursuing excellence is an ongiong process and teachers should develop a good rapport with their students and be aware of their individual needs and concerns and also involve other teachers and parents to ensure all aspects of their learning are met or addressed.

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