Te Arapiki Ako
"Towards better teaching & learning"

Tony Smith

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Last updated 29 November 2012 15:35 by NZTecAdmin

View comments from Tony Smith, Senior Academic Staff Member at Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT), taken at the Symposium in Hamilton, July 2011.

Key content

Recognising the value of

  • contextualised numeracy and literacy teaching
  • getting information about students' literacy and numeracy levels from the Assessment Tool early in a course of study


Our experience is that we were doing too much for the students. We were hand feeding them all the information, all the handouts, doing everything for them, and this was stopping them from thinking for themselves and from being able to do it for themselves. So we decided to give them no handouts, to make them do everything for themselves, to deliver orally so everything they wanted to know or wanted to remember they had to write down. They had to write it down legibly so that they could understand it in the future. And we’ve noticed a big improvement in the legibility, the comprehension and their understanding of other people’s texts.

We used to have examples where we would calculate the height of a smokestack, or the size of a sail – and most of these kids had never been near the sea or interested in sailing or smokestacks. But if we could contextualise that problem into a workshop setting and say, "To work out this particular angle you need this particular process", then they would learn that process because they can see the value in it for themselves. So instead of teaching them what we wanted them to know, we’re now teaching them what they want to know, and that buy-in from the students is very important.

The assessment tool, when we first were told that we had to do this assessment tool, we thought, "God, that’s something else we've got to do – another two-hour block out of the beginning and out of the end of our course". We were quite annoyed, but it was one of those things that we had to do so we did it. When, however, we got the results we were really pleased because we teach a scaffolding technique – a scaffolded method of delivery – and for the first time using the assessment tool we knew where to start building our scaffolding. Previous to that it would take us three to four weeks to find out where each individual student was at. Now we can do it right at the beginning.

They’d given us the tool, told us how to use it, but we found other benefits – and those other benefits directly influence our relationship with our students. If you know exactly where the student is coming from then it makes it much easier to build that relationship.

If you’re going to start pointing or helping people to find where they want to go then you need to start contextualising some of the basic things that you teach them. You need to start contextualising the communication – their literacy skills – and you definitely need to contextualise the numeracy skills. To teach somebody algebra who doesn't need ever need to do algebra, you might be turning him off maths for life. Whereas if you can show him, "Look, there’s a definite need for this particular type of maths in the area you are aiming for", then that might just click a button and click a switch, and get him interested. If you mention trigonometry to anybody they’ll do a kind of eyeballs will roll up into the top of the head and they don’t want to know. But if you can show a student that, "You will definitely need to master this technique for working out angles because you’ll use it in a workshop situation", and then give them a project where he has to actually do that in a workshop situation – not sitting in a classroom, nice and quiet space with a calculator, but sitting down and working out in his head where the angles are – then if he can see the benefit he will buy into that, and he will master that technique.



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