Improving performance for lower and middle ability students

30 03 2010

How do we maintain our excellent results at the top end and push other students to achieve what they are capable of?

After some very impressive results in the 2009 HSC, data has indicated that an area for improvement is that of our lower and middle ability students. In doing this we would obviously like to maintain the achievement of our higher ability students. This raises some interesting questions and challenges in how to go about achieving this.

“HSC what makes a good teacher” provides some great reading around quality teaching in the HSC and while it  has been looked at before but is probably worth investigating again. Of the many great suggestions one that resonates with me is the need for the teacher to be an expert in the subject area or as the teachers commonly put it ‘you have to know your stuff’. In another article, he outlines one of the state’s top performing physics teachers relearns his course content each and every year before teaching to the students to ensure he is ready for all of their questions and can present the content as effectively as possible. I think knowing your stuff is only part of the puzzle though as you then have to be able to develop this understanding in your students.

The Albert Einstein quote – “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough” sums this up nicely. As teachers we should aim to be masters of ‘explanation’ and regardless of student ability, all can benefit from a simple explanation. Complex understanding can be built on a simple explanation but if students do not understand the basic concepts then it can be very difficult to develop that deeper understanding. This to me would be especially true for our middle and lower ability students.

Getting feedback from students to me would be crucial here as while we may feel we have given a simple explanation the only true guide to that can be our students. Providing regular opportunity for students to demonstrate their understanding and being able to provide appropriate feedback to help guide them is fundamental to ensuring our students understand our course content and achieve what they are capable of.

Having a strong understanding as a teacher, being able to explain our course simply and getting feedback to ensure our students do understand is a small piece of the puzzle and there is no simple answer to having students achieving at and above what they are capable of.

This post is meant as more of a discussion starter as opposed to a definitive guide to improving student performance and there are lots of variable and issues to consider here. Feel free to critique what is presented here and raise your own issues, questions, concerns and suggestions.

I do think we are far more likely to achieve our goal if we work together and share our experiences both within faculties and across the school community.

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