Impact of a selected strategy to improve Geography results of bilingual students in an International school in Qatar

 

 

Introduction

 

The purpose of this study is to raise awareness amongst the international schools teaching community of the importance of addressing bilingualism of their students in a coherent and structured manner. “International schools are found in various parts of the world. They have been set up primarily to serve the educational needs of the children of those working outside their countries of origin” (Carder 2007). My experience of working in this type a school tells me that improved awareness amongst teachers would not only develop student’s self-esteem and belief in their ability but also raise their academic achievements. I found that even a simple explanation of how the second language is acquired and the importance of developing their mother tongue to help that happen, has a positive impact on students’ motivation and manage their expectations. This study will deal with “additive” bilingualism, “this is when the second language is learnt in addition to, and does not replace, the first language” (Carder 2007). Even those international schools, which use a very rigorous selection criteria to ensure that their students are capable of accessing the curriculum and produce good results find that there is a vast range of nationalities on their roll. According to Carder (2007), even if the students are very proficient in the English language, they still have “hidden” talents or abilities which could not be discovered through English alone.

 

This study aims to encourage teachers, students and parents not to underestimate the importance of a student’s mother tongue in the race for grades and levels. Cummings (2001) identified that “bilingual children perform better in school when the school effectively teaches the mother tongue and, where appropriate, develops literacy in that language“. It follows that bilingual students at international schools are likely to benefit from a structured approach in development of both languages within the curriculum. Calder (2007) reports positive results in Vienna International School where, amongst other strategies, subject content is delivered and assessed in both, First (L1) and Second (L2) languages.  Leaders and administrators who are at the moment reactive in their approach to multi-language situation in their schools and who view this diversity as a problem, might consider trying a proactive approach and adjusting their policies and school plans to reflect this.

 

In my experience, teaching in an international school makes every teacher a language teacher. Hence, such teachers would benefit from appropriate support and guidance in the form of professional development and on-going support from specialists and specialist departments. This study might also be of interest to parents who are choosing a school for their child and are considering how much support he or she will get with their learning.

 

The study is limited to one international school in Qatar which delivers the British curriculum and to a group of 25 year 9 boys over a short period of time. The strategies and methods will be adopted from the research done by British and American educators. For example,  Gregory & Burkman (2012) argue that the “key to closing the achievement gap” is the development of  a “high degree of literacy“. Citing Gregory & Kuzmich (2005a) they introduce a range of graphic organisers and writing frames to support “visual representation of thinking processes“. Calder (2007) and Cummings (2000) are in favour of using mother tongue and English in every lesson to ensure understanding and support the development of both languages. Cummings (2000) also suggests the framework for “contextual support and degree of cognitive involvement in language tasks and activities” which are vital for informed lesson planning. My  own experience in education is narrowed to mostly teaching in Britain, this may introduce  bias in my evaluation of the results.

 

Professional autobiography

 

I am currently working as a Geography teacher in one of the international schools in Qatar. Some of my views and feelings about teaching and local educational issues I put in a blog which I maintained since my arrival. It holds some of my impressions on how parents choose a school for their children; the issues of choosing IGCSE options in a School in a Middle Eastern country and ever present issues of teaching styles and homework. If interested, the blog can be accessed on: https://anitinerantpedagog.wordpress.com.

 

My teaching career started in 2000 in one of the inner-city schools in Newcastle Upon Tyne in the UK and I have been teaching for thirteen years. Whilst teaching in the UK I worked closely with Newcastle University to mentor ITT (Initial Teacher Training) students for both short and long-term teaching practice. At any given time, my classroom had either a small number of bilingual students or none at all. Strong Special Educational Needs (SEN) department had a range of programs to help newly arrived or existing bilingual students. As a teacher, I was aware of the needs of these students and planned my lessons accordingly.

 

In 2011 I moved to the Middle East and assumed a Head of Department role for Humanities in my current school. This was a completely new experience for me as the overwhelming majority of my students are now bilingual or “emergent” bilinguals (Garcia & Kleifgen 2010). Within a short time, I realised that great majority of students struggle with English -medium delivery of curriculum. Being a bilingual myself, I could strongly emphasise with the challenges they face. This prompted me to conduct present research.

 

Needs analysis

 

Qatar is small country in the Middle East which only recently started to use the wealth generated from their natural resources for the development of the economy, health care, infrastructure and education. In 2008, His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani approved the most important document, Qatar National Vision 2030, which is now shaping the country’s future. Education has been recognised as one of the pillars of building a successful and stable society. “Qatar more than doubling its education spending over the past five years to reach more than $6bn this year” (The Peninsula 2013).

 

Formal education, as it is known in the western world, is a relatively new development in Qatar. In 1948 the first official school for boys was established, followed by formal education of girls in 1957. Equal attendance in schools was achieved by 1970 (Gulf Times, 2012). The latest and most radical reform was introduced in 2002. It encouraged and supported the establishment of Independent schools which are now working under the guidance and supervision of the Supreme Educational Council (SEC). Their priority is an education of Qatari nationals and citizens (Qatar, Supreme Education Council, 2012). The Council also oversees the other types of schools, though, to my knowledge and experience, their involvement is rather superficial and lacks structure and consistency. Also there is no publicised national or local strategy from the SEC to address the needs of students with Special Educational Needs (SEN) or bilingual learners.

 

The first international schools were set up to cater for children of non-Arabic speaking expatriate workers. However today the situation has changed. Expatriates comprise the great majority of the population, about 87% (Jesse Solomon, 2012). Their children have limited choices of schooling in their mother tongue as the great majority of international schools in Qatar are English-speaking (Information available from Expatwoman.com/qatar). Considering that native English speakers account for less than 13.6% of the migrant population (Jesse Solomon, 2012), it is evident that some of the biggest challenges many such schools face are to do with English as an additional language.

 

Some international schools are solving these problems by using a highly selective entrance criteria, which is openly declared on their websites. Park House English Private School, for example, advertises on their website (2013) that, “good command of English” is essential and that “priority is given to first language English speakers”.   It is no surprise that the school results in IGCSE in 2012 are A*- C – 87% and A*-A – 36%.

 

Doha College has approximately 1600 students on the roll and also presents itself as a “selective entry  school”. It operates under the sponsorship of the British Embassy and delivers even greater results: A*-C – 89% and  A*-A- 54% (Doha College website, 2013). These are much higher than 2013 GCSE results in the UK, A*-C -68.1% and A*-A  – 21.3% (BBC News, 2013).

 

There are some schools, however, which accept students with a wide range of Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) – where spoken language is developed to operate within a given environment,  and  Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) (Cummings, 2012) where students have mastered academic language to various degrees of proficiency, and also with a variety of special educational needs. Al Khor International School is a good example. It is sponsored by two main gas companies in the country, and educates the children of their employees. This is the only school in the whole country that I can find, which has a large and well-structured English as Additional Language (EAL) department which is integrated in all subjects across the curriculum and develops individual support programmes for their students (Al Khor International School website).

 

I have lived in Qatar for over one and a half years and most of that time I have been teaching in my present school. It is an international school which operates a British Curriculum, and all the instruction is in English. The intake consists predominantly of children from Qatar and other Arab nations, others are from Indian, Pakistani, Spanish, Korean, English, Canadian and Australian backgrounds. As a result, for 88.4% of learners, English is a second language. It is also significant that 38.2% of the total student population are Qatar nationals (School statistics 2013).

 

According to my observations, one of the other important issues to consider is that Qatari Nationals, encouraged by the government which promotes the population increase through large families, are often having six, seven or eight children. Not all of the parents are well educated and there is an over-reliance on foreign-language speaking servants to bring up these children. As a result, the younger generation often lacks the support needed to learn their mother tongue and have only limited English language skills taught by adults with often mediocre skills themselves. In my school, 80 % of native Arabic speakers study Arabic and 20% attend ‘Easy’ Arabic (School Statistics, 2013). Cummings (2001) observed that “the level of development of children’s mother tongue is a strong predictor of their second language development” and it follows that these students have difficulty in achieving competence in English.

 

In my school, the curriculum has been ‘lifted’ from the UK and imbedded without any adaptation for the needs of the 88.4% of students who are bilingual. At the start of every year, the English department conducts the baseline tests. And every year they are faced with very challenging results (School statistics, 2013).  There is some EAL support as per the School Improvement Plan though it is provided for by an unqualified teacher. There is no department to coordinate the support for students and teachers in school on the issue, or professional development opportunities to raise the question of adapting teaching and assessment to the needs of majority of the learners.  In fact, the Plan clearly states that there is “One summative assessment method” (School Development Plan 2012-2015).

 

The EAL policy, written in 2011, is only followed in English lessons, and is conformed with to limited extent.  Consequently, the IGCE results for 2013 stand at 55% of A*-C including Math and English and at the top end, only 19% achieved A*-A (School statistics, 2013).

 

From the personal point of view, this study will allow for my deeper understanding of triggers and processes involved in teaching bilingual students. This will inform my own practice and also will support the professional development of other staff.  

 

My stay in this country is temporary. If and when I am to return to the UK, I am likely to face similar issues as, in 2011, OfSTED identified that pupils for whom English is an additional language were ‘making inadequate progress’ (NALDIC).

 

References:

 

Al Khor International School, 2013 [Internet]. Available at: http://akis.sch.qa/ [Accessed 25 November 2013].

 

BBC News, 2013. ‘GCSEs 2013: Top grades fall for second year in a row’, BBC News [Internet] 22 August. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-23783094 [Accessed 25 November 2013].

 

Carder, M. (2007) Bilingualism in International Schools: A Model for Enriching Language Education. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd.

 

Cummings, 2012. ‘Dr Jim Cummins explains the differences between BICS and CALP’. . Available at: http://vimeo.com/56112120 [Accessed 25 November 2013].

 

Cummings, J. (2001). ‘Bilingual Children’s Mother Tongue: Why is it important for education?’, SPROGFORUM, 19 [Internet]. Available from: http://www.fiplv.org/Issues/CumminsENG.pdf [Accessed 25 November 2013].

 

Cummings, J. (2000) Language, Power and Pedagogy: Bilingual Children in the Crossfire, Toronto, Multilingual Matters Ltd., Kindle edition

 

Doha College, 2013 [Internet]. Available at: http://www.dohacollege.com/ [Accessed 25 November 2013].

 

EXPATWOMAN.com, 2013  [Internet]. Available at: http://www.expatwoman.com/qatar/search.aspx [Accessed 25 November 2013].

 

Garcia, O. & Kleifgen, J.A. (2010) Educating Emergent Bilinguals: Policies, Programs, and Practices for English Language Learners. New York, Teachers College Press, Kindle edition.

 

Gregory, G.H. & Burkman, A (2012) Differentiated Literacy Strategies: Grades 7-12 for English Language Learners, London, Corwin, Kindle edition.

 

NALDIC news. ‘OfSTED requires teachers to meet bilingual learners’ needs’, NALDIC [Internet]. Available at: http://www.naldic.org.uk/eal-advocacy/eal-news-summary/131211 [Accessed 25 November 2013].

 

Park House English School, 2013 [Internet]. Available at: http://parkhouseschool.com/Home [Accessed 25 November 2013].

 

Qatar. Supreme Education Council (2012) , ‘ Education and Training Sector Strategy 2011-2016: Executive Summary’. Doha: Supreme Education Council. Available at: http://www.sec.gov.qa/En/about/Documents/Stratgy2012E.pdf [Accessed 25 November 2013].

 

Solomon, J 2012. ‘Qatar Migration Profile’ [Internet]. The American University in Cairo. Available at: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=5&ved=0CFAQFjAE&url=http%3A%2F%2Fcmrsdb.aucegypt.edu%2Findex.php%2Feng%2Fcontent%2Fdownload%2F1906%2F11330%2Ffile%2F12.Qatar%25202012.pdf&ei=Djh2UreYFcTLsgby_4GIBQ&usg=AFQjCNHiqwqlgH_Q-0ryKzRZR1MpHsiSPg&sig2=HXxNECcQ5m0pWGL5RUi52Q [Accessed 25 November 2013].

 

The Gulf Times 2012, ‘Celebrating Qatar’s rich history of education’, The Gulf Times  [Internet], 18 December 2012. Available from: http://www.gulf-times.com/opinion/189/details/335895/celebrating-qatar%E2%80%99s-rich-history-of-education http://www.gulf-times.com/opinion/189/details/335895/celebrating-qatar%E2%80%99s-rich-history-of-education [Accessed 25 November 2013].

 

The Peninsula 2013, ‘Qatar’s education spending among highest in the world’, The Peninsula, 16 August. Available from: http://thepeninsulaqatar.com/news/qatar/249047/qatar’s-education-spending-among-highest-in-the-world [Accessed 25 November 2013].

 

School Statistics are available on request from the author.

 

 

 

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Your Child’s Future (Who’s responsibility is it?)

I have often thought that teaching is like dancing… Sometimes you dance one-to-one, other times in a group. If everyone moves with the beat and in unison then the dance looks great. The more effort you put in to learning your moves and making sure you understand what is required from you, the better performance you end up with.

For most of my career I have taught in an inner city secondary school in the North East of England. When the term ‘inner city’ is mentioned in the UK, it evokes almost the same reaction from any listener – ‘not good’. I cannot agree that this assessment is necessarily true.

Certainly, it is a challenge to work in an environment where students come from so many different backgrounds. The entire spectrum is represented with quite a few students from severely disadvantaged families on one end to rather well-off, middle class, families on the other. The result is a school which is very diverse with abilities, standards and expectations of it’s students and their families.

From my perspective, my inner-city secondary school was a perfect place for personal and professional growth – it was not a place for staff who were poorly prepared, unmotivated and unwilling to make an effort. School’s dynamic environment kept every teacher ‘on their toes’ at all times. Tiring, it was, but it made us better teachers in the end.

I count myself lucky that our management tried to keep up with, or sometimes even ahead of, new developments in education. Better lessons meant better results, better behaviour and more motivated students. The emphasis was very much on our responsibilities as professionals to deliver the best possible performance which lead to best possible outcomes.

Most of the time our hard work payed off and sometimes it didn’t. Because, at the end of the day, it’s a dance… I can be prepared, have my lessons, questions, explanations and actions thought through and planned but I am not in it alone. At least twenty five (thirty  to thirty five in England) students are there with me in the same room. Are all of us following the beat I set up? Are they all trying their best? Are they taking responsibility for their own performance?

Teaching and learning is a shared responsibility. To do it successfully and achieve, students need expert guidance along the way but it is ultimately down to each and every individual to decide what set of rules and steps they follow. Of course, the support from the families is paramount. So the circle grows wider…

On a slightly different note, a few days ago my year 10 students had to confirm their options. I guess it works in more or less the same way in every Western curriculum; there are some compulsory subjects and  4 choices available to students. I was lucky enough to get an insight of the choosing process in my school here in Qatar. There were two things that influenced the outcome – the parent’s advice and the chosen career.

What has surprised me the most is that the choices still follow the pattern of Victorian Britain with Science and Maths dominating the board, followed by modern practical subjects such as Business Studies and Information and Communication Technology.

History was just holding on by its teeth and Art was quite an abandoned  issue.

It looks like a sensible choice at the first glance, after all, how can one go wrong here? But I was looking into the eyes of my students and often was seeing a bit of desperation. Not all of them are good at physics (not an easy one for the majority of us!) or some other academic subjects for that matter.

For some of them, creative and imaginative ones, there were options where they could excel but which which they did not take.

The question here is, “whose responsibility is it to advise our students?”

Everyone has an agenda: the parents want there kids to be successful, probably to be surpassed by their children mostly relying on their own experience of achievements, some teachers are really pushing for more able students to take their subjects and the children themselves  wanting to please. It is not easy to find an objective opinion in this matter.

The responsibility however lies with us, adults, to ensure that whatever they do in life, they enjoy. Imagine going to work for the next 50 years and counting hours to the end of the working day? Children need to explore a variety of opportunities and subjects in order to make an informed choice which would determine so many years of their lives. Can Science and Maths be the right answer all the time? Not for many. Today’s world is changing so rapidly that a huge range of other skills and abilities are in play. Wider understanding and transferable skills, the ability to be independent learners, highly adaptable to ever changing and different environments, dynamic and resourceful.  That’s what is needed. Now, which subjects can give these skills to your child?

In our children and the choices they make with our help, we are responsible for their shaping of our world. Now that is a huge responsibility!

You might like to watch this video regarding what Sir Ken Robinson has to say about this issue.

Schooling today (…or embracing a new country)

A few years ago I was on a training course. the course was set up by the British Council to help schools to develop international links and broaden their horizons and experiences in the most exciting way imaginable. Working with and supporting teachers in different countries.

At the course we had a key note speaker. He was a Chinese gentlemen who worked for many years in Western societies so he had a good understanding of both cultures and the ways that those cultures interact.

The main message of that speech was that “if we do not understand each other then we can become frightened or judgemental, or even hostile” and most of this conflict can be avoided and resolved if we take the time and effort to learn about each other and teach our students to do the same.

I wholeheartedly agreed with the speaker but have only truly experienced the same situation here, in Qatar.

Yesterday I was privileged to listen to and engaging and eye-opening talk by a lady called Dr Joud Shafiq. The talk was arranged by the school for all the new staff. It gave me some insight of schooling in Qatar which I would like to share here.

For a long time now I had been watching education in schools change and shape into something different and exciting from what I experienced at the start of my teaching career. Schooling is probably one of the few subjects in life on which almost everyone has an opinion which they would confidently share. Opinions are strong and often expressed passionately. This is understandable as one way or another we have all experienced and education and an education-system to some extent or other. We share a common experience.

A lot of us had a ‘second go’ through our children and if, like me, you have more then one, then several second-goes!

When I went to school (was it really thirty years ago?) there were two main sources of information – my teachers and books. It seemed to me that the teachers knew everything about everything and the textbooks were thick and heavy, tightly packed with information and lots of questions to make sure that that information could be recalled and recorded neatly. We relied heavily on the marks to tell us how we were doing. The fact that the marks were very subjective did not bother us then, there was no things like ‘success criteria’ to worry about!

Thirty years is a long time in modern society and the changes over that time can be profound. Shall I give some examples? In the past 30 years the Soviet Union has fallen apart and all the republics are now sovereign countries making own policies and recovering their identities. Here in Qatar, in the last thrity years the energy industries were nationalised and life changed dramatically for local people with a massive increase in wealth and opportunities coming their way.

So what has happened in education in the past thirty years? Education is no different, it moves forward, finds new ways to do things better or ways to do things differently as a result of research, understanding and insight. It does not only have new research to help but the new technology too.

Today a student does not need to wait until next school day to go and ask their teacher or look through pages and pages in textbooks, they can just login and get the answer! In fact, they will have thousands of answers, and they can choose the one more accessible for them.

In my classroom I use an electronic whiteboard for every lesson. It means that I spend less time on writing on the board and more time interacting with my students. I can show them maps, diagrams, moving images, educational clips. The possibilities are many and it is all there, at my fingertips, prepared in advance. As a teacher, I am now less dependant on a textbook and more engaged with students. I am not a story teller any more but a facilitator, making sure that the students learn through a variety of activities and experiences that were not available thirty years ago. Of course, this doesn’t  mean that books are now absolete but more that they have moved from their primary place to become just one of many teaching tools.

What worked for me, as a student, thirty years ago will not really work for the students now. Nor would the techniques and facts that I learnt at school prepare them for work in the modern work force.

Some things that parent might consider when chosing a school:

1) Are the classrooms designed solely for “chalk and talk” rather than a mix of modes of teaching where, as well as listening to traditional lectures, students can be intractively involved with video, computers, and other modern multi-media in the teaching process? (coloured chalk is not multi-media).

2) Is there a focus on interaction and involvement rather than writing down and copying material from a blackboard? (rote learning is 19th and early 20th century learning – great for preparing a child for the workforce in 1950 – not so hot today).

The skills which will be required for our children to succeed when they leave school can not be gained from recollection of material learned by rote and slavishly copying information from a blackboard. The young people of today need to be adaptable, have a range of skills which they can employ in different fields and most of all, be independent learners and thinkers.

That means that they must develop the skills to evaluate their own performance, to identify their own strengths and weaknesses, and to be able to enhance the first and find the ways to illuminate the second. All of this they must do for themselves!

Such independence is not easily achieved even in Western societies where individualism is a way of life. As a result of Dr Shafiq’s talk I understand now that individualism is not a naturally strong part of many cultures, most importantly in the current context, individualism is not a strong part of Qatari culture where decisions are made collectively and thus responsibility for the actions and decisions are borne collectively too.

So, for a child from a tightly knit family, where one is considered an integral part of that circle rather then a separate individual, the whole concept might look daunting and difficult to comprehend.

I now also understand that if the child does well at school, it is not just his or her achievement. The success is shared in the family and it honours the family. It is very important to support this and therefore I think that compromise is needed to address the preparation of the student to compete in a modern world while preserving the student’s ability to meet cutlural and social obligations.

I talked in my previous blog about homework and sacrificing quality to quantity. I still think that less but more meaningful and thoroughly marked pieces of work are better then one-a-week assignments which are focused on making up the numbers. Work where a child is given time to act on teacher’s advice and correct their mistakes or add missing information or details is a critical part of the learnign process. Work where a teacher has quality time to spend on marking it thus giving valuable and meaningful advice.

Of course students must know what level they are working at at any given time. But these marks cannot be given for each piece of homework or class work. An increase in the number of old-fashioned tests does not make for better students.

Parents have real power in decisions. If the focus is on quality, appropriate teaching and learning, competent staff and modern resources, then any student will have a chance of a first-class education.

Qatar Schooling (experiences of a newly arrived teacher)

Changing work places is always exciting, its a journey of expectations and hopes mixed with ‎anticipation, enthusiasm and a pinch of uncertainty.‎

So, there was I, leaving the shores of the foggy Albion (literally) and arriving to hot and ‎sunny Qatar to follow my husband on his great quest for a fulfilling and meaningful job. And ‎possibly mine too…‎

It is my understanding that majority of teachers in Qatar are recruited with the help of various ‎‎”specialist” recruitment companies and a Skype interview. Considering that choosing the ideal ‎person for a role is a two-way process, an applicant is at a clear disadvantage here as it is ‎almost impossible to get a ‘feel’ for your potential future employer by looking into your ‎computer screen and seeing some standard office furniture. ‎

I was lucky enough to be in Qatar for a few weeks during my application process so I got to ‎visit a few schools, did tours and talked to people who worked here.‎

Only a couple of schools stood out for me, and I was privileged to be offered a job by one of ‎them. What really attracted me (it could not have been the salary package for sure!) was the ‎school representative’s infectious enthusiasm and determination to go forward, to do better, ‎and the expressed desire to move in step with the latest pedagogical ideas and practices. I ‎could feel that my quite extensive experience as a classroom teacher in England would be ‎welcomed and my skills and knowledge would contribute to the drive for improvement and ‎excellence.‎

I spent quite a few days in summer thinking about ways to better the existing schemes of ‎work, putting some documents and resources together to ensure that when the kids come, I ‎would be ready…‎

One of the brilliant things at the start of each school year here is that the whole of the first ‎week is spent in preparation. I can understand why it is needed – some people got off the ‎plane only 2 days prior to that! Still, it’s a luxury to be able to gather one’s thoughts and place ‎various things in order.‎

So it was, that on my first day I was there, bright and early (for me anyway!), and after a ‎little confusion with buses, times and other stuff, the day got on its way. It was wondrous to ‎be surrounded by so many colleagues of different nationalities, experience and ages. It gave ‎me a buzz actually, I imagined myself a true ‘citizen of the world’; where else can this be felt?‎

If the reader remembers, it was change or a prospect of improvement which attracted me to ‎this particular school on a first place. Change can only take place if people upon whom it ‎depends are ready and happy to accept it and put energy into driving it. Today I understood ‎that here, as in any work place, change would not come easy. What might seem clear and ‎logical to me, would cause resentment and the desire to stick to ‘what we always did’ ‎approach in some minds.‎

Marking policy was on the departmental agenda, open for discussion. ‎

In my experience the old way of teaching and assessment where the teacher simply wrote ‎down a certain number or letter (giving a ‘mark”) and expected the student to understand ‎what the teacher actually meant by it was not effective. ‎

Ok, Jonny got 10 out of 15 for his homework today. He knows that he did better than Peter ‎but not as well as Ahmed who got 14. “The bigger the number is surely the better?” But…‎

  • What does this number tell Jonny in terms of his skills and knowledge? ‎
  • What did Jonny do right? ‎
  • What success criteria did he manage to fulfil; how can he move forward from here ‎and what does he need to do to get there?‎

There has been a lot of research done to see how students react to the feedback. The evidence ‎indicates that even if they get back marks (numbers or letters) supported by comments, the ‎majority (especially boys) do not even read the comments. The learning becomes more about ‎competition than progression. This is not to say that competition is a bad thing, but not ‎knowing how to improve is important!‎

Not only it is essential to give constructive feedback to students, but also it is vital to give ‎them time to follow on the advice given by teacher. ‎

Modern day teachers believe that improving one’s work leads to development of self-‎evaluating skills in students, their ability to follow the success criteria for the given piece of ‎work, and in future, to much higher skills of deriving the success criteria on their own. This is ‎an important step in ensuring that students develop into independent learners. This process ‎requires effort and time from both students and teachers but, if the objective of teaching is to ‎turn out better prepared, more complete students with the skills to continue to learn and ‎develop then the outcome is really worth it.‎

Alas at my new school, on the issue of marking policy, numbers prevailed and the status quo ‎is to continue. In a variety of ways, I might add. ‎

Firstly, it is so much easier to put a number down! ‘4’ for ‘Good’ (who can argue!). The kids ‎will compare the marks, the parents will see a big number (nearly ‘5’ – which is ‘Excellent’); ‎‎’next time do better’, ‘put more detail’ etc, etc, etc.‎

‎”What does ‘4’ actually mean?”‎

‎”What detail?”‎

‎”Better how?” ‎

‎”Can anyone show me?” ‎

‎”Can I practise?”‎

‎”No, no, no …. We always did it this way and everyone is happy. And parents demand more ‎homework.”‎

There is a prevailing myth in some places that more homework is better. This is absolutely ‎contradictory to all we have learnt as educators in the UK where today the focus in education ‎‎(and I daresay in industry) is on quality and quality rather than quantity, as this is what makes ‎for a competitive culture and economy.‎

However as the parents here have this old-fashioned idea that more homework is better it is ‎not surprising that, in this school, the teachers are sticking with numbers! ‎

Moreover, this focus on homework actually has the effect of reducing the efficacy of ‎teachers. The reason is simple: If one teacher has around 250 students, then assigning each ‎student homework each week results in 250 pieces of homework per week plus 250 work ‎books and assessments at the end of term. ‎

Let’s say the parents expect a teacher to spend 5 minutes reading, assessing and commenting ‎on each student’s homework each week and allow teachers five minutes per hour to catch ‎their breath. This implies that teachers will devote more than 22 hours per week to providing ‎even this modicum of guidance and individual support to students. ‎

‎”Well” you might say, “teachers will just have to work harder”.‎

And, you may be right. The reality? It is simply not possible for a teacher to physically cope ‎with marking and providing meaningful feedback on this quantity of material. ‎

A professional teacher today has a workload that includes planning lessons and courses, ‎making resources, face-to-face teaching, participating in meetings, meeting parents, dealing ‎with missing homework, managing student behaviour issues, report writing and data ‎handling. ‎

High quality is something we all strive for but it will remain an elusive ideal as long as this ‎industrial-age focus on quantity remains the norm.‎

Would it not be better to adopt an approach of ‘quality before quantity’ take time to mark ‎work, give constructive advice, make sure that it has been followed and understood?‎

I will finish this entry with a bit of advice, if I may…‎

If you are a parent, choosing a school for your child, there are questions you might want to ‎ask the school such as:‎

  • ‎* What is the homework schedule?‎
  • ‎* How is it marked?‎
  • ‎* What kind of advice is given to my child to ensure progression?‎
  • ‎* When and how will my child act on the advice?‎
  • ‎* How will the school help my child to develop self-evaluation skills?‎

To be continued…‎