What is OTISA, anyway?

Have you tried out the OTISA online literacy resource yet?

We’ve designed OTISA – Online tutoring: improving student achievement – to support the Australian Curriculum in English.  This table shows what is covered by the resource and how it links to the AC.

In particular, we believe it provides excellent support for the teaching and learning of grammar.

We acknowledge that grammar is best taught and learned in the context of reading and writing, but we also believe that learning needs consolidation.

Which is what this resource provides.

Before each set of activities, students can read or listen to a brief revision of the main points. And the activities themselves are self-correcting, with explanations.  You could follow up on classroom work, for  example, by setting in-class or homework activities for students to confirm their understanding.  Importantly, your online access allows you to view how your students have performed, and will tell you whether or not learning has taken place. This information, of  course, will help you to decide on your next teaching steps with groups or individual students.

OTISA also provides focussed and concise professional learning for teachers.  If you would like to brush up on your grammar knowledge, and read practical suggestions related to the teaching of parts of grammar in context, you can do this quickly and easily. With your colleagues, you could use some of the suggestions as a basis for planning.

Available on subscription, OTISA provides students with access both at school and at home.

If you would like to explore the resource, please email info at otisa dot com dot au (email address written like this to avoid spam!)   to receive your one week trial teacher subscription.

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Parents and NAPLAN: how concerned should you be?

NAPLAN tests in literacy and numeracy will take place on May 14, 15 and 16 for all students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9.
Both before and after those dates the media will probably feature a fair few negative articles about the test, and you might even wonder whether you should withdraw your child from the testing process.
But how much should you worry?
Firstly, it’s important to understand the purpose of the NAPLAN tests.  They’re designed
• to measure whether Australian students are meeting the outcomes outlined in the Australian Curriculum,
• to provide information about the achievements of individual students so that schools can be specific about meeting their needs, and
• to provide schools and education departments with information about the effectiveness of their educational programs.

Of course you are most interested in the impact on your child, so what’s the deal with NAPLAN?

The important thing to recognise is that NAPLAN assessment is just one part of a school’s assessment program. In no way does it provide a comprehensive picture of your child’s achievement and progress, and nor does it try to. It can, however, provide useful information about aspects of your child’s literacy and numeracy progress which might need further support. Importantly, in analysing the data provided by the NAPLAN results, schools draw on their own more extensive knowledge of individual students as part of their evaluation.
You can be reassured about this because there are various reasons why a child might not ‘perform’ on the day. Perhaps he or she is overly anxious or not feeling well, for instance. For this reason, attaching too much significance to the results can be misleading.
Having said that, I would reiterate that the information derived from NAPLAN can be extremely useful, so how can you help your child to prepare?
• Reassure children, but only if they seem to need that reassurance. If you link NAPLAN with stress, then maybe this will actually create anxiety. You know your child best, and you will know whether or not they need reassurance.
• Play down the significance of the tests, emphasising that they are just one part of the school’s assessment program and explain why they are held.
• Remind children that the focus is on effort, on doing their best, rather than on worrying about results.
• On a practical note, make sure they get a good night’s sleep before the test and a good breakfast in the morning.
Teachers will have shared examples of NAPLAN tests so that children are familiar with them. They will probably have practised answering questions.
There are four individual tests. The first one tests children’s knowledge of language conventions (spelling, grammar and punctuation); the second one asks children to complete a piece of persuasive writing on a particular topic; the third one tests reading skills, and the final one tests numeracy. The specific skills that are being tested reflect the Australian Curriculum.
Otisa offers children the opportunity to practise the skills described in the Australian Curriculum.

Teaching activities to help students understand direct and indirect speech

These are activities designed to consolidate student understanding of the difference between direct and indirect speech.
• From a picture book or novel select an extract that contains both direct and indirect speech. Draw students’ attention to the use of inverted commas, or talking marks, as well as the use of other punctuation within the talking marks (for example, commas, full-stops, question marks and exclamation marks).
Then ask students to identify the actual words spoken by the character or characters and to use these to create a comic strip that shows what happens in the extract. (There are many software programs, such as Comic Creator, that will allow them to do this.)
• Select from a novel an extract in which there is a fair amount of indirect speech. Ask students to convert the indirect speech into a script. Pair students so that they can act out their script and check each other’s use of punctuation.
• Ask students to identify examples of reported speech in a newspaper or magazine interview and to give these to a peer whose task is to convert the reported speech into direct speech. For example, the reported speech might say:

  • The actor said she always enjoyed coming to Australia because of the warmth and sunshine.

When written in direct speech, the item might read:

  • The actor said, ‘’I always enjoy coming to Australian because of the warmth and sunshine.”

Another student could check the direct speech and provide feedback and a further activity might require students to write the questions that they think the interviewer might have asked.
• Students write a report of what was said in a role-played panel interview. Brainstorm the names of famous people, living or dead. Select six names to be on a panel and allot roles to selected students.
All students write questions that they would like to ask these people.
Each student in the audience selects a person on whom they will report, and as the role-play occurs, students take notes in order to be able to write a report of what was said. The report should contain at least two examples of reported speech (indirect speech) and two examples of direct speech. (You might consider videoing the interviews in case students need to view more than once.

The Punctuation element on http://www.otisa.com.au contains further online interactive student activities designed to consolidate an understanding of punctuation.

OTISA and Grammar

The approach to the teaching of grammar that we have adopted in this resource reflects a current pedagogical approach.

We start from the premise that the purpose of grammar is to facilitate effective communication with others.  For this reason, a knowledge of grammar rules on their own is not sufficient.  Rather, students need to know how the grammar looks and behaves in context and to understand the grammatical choices made by writers and the intended purpose and effect of those choices.

Moreover, if grammar is taught in the context of students’ own reading and writing, the learning is more likely to be both relevant and engaging.

However, we also need to be sure that students are assisted to transfer their learning from one context to another.

For this reason the OTISA resource offers opportunities for students to consolidate the learning that has occurred in their classroom, and then to apply it in other situations.  The instructional introductions that occur in each element are intended to remind students of their prior learning and to reinforce the metalanguage that becomes the basis of the dialogue between teachers and their students.

We are currently developing Professional Learning modules that explain the grammar basics for teachers and suggest ways in which these can be taught in context in the classroom. The modules will be ready for the 2013 school year.

OTISA and self-assessment

For teachers

You will be aware of the research that identifies student self-assessment as an important aspect of formative assessment. To be a successful learner, students need to know how they learn as well as what they learn.

We have structured OTISA so that your students have multiple opportunities to consider their learning and reflect on what they are doing.

As they complete each activity, if they have errors, students are asked to think about and reconsider their answers before checking the explanations.  This is a graduated process that first offers them the opportunity to go back and ‘have another go’ without any extra assistance.  Then they can choose to see which answers are correct before they make another attempt. As they make each decision, they are challenged to engage with the learning.

If you explain this process to your students you will be encouraging them to take responsibility for their own learning, a key ingredient for success.

At the end of each Taking it Further section, students are asked to rate their understanding of the element.  This rating is submitted to you, and can be used formatively by you. As part of your feedback to the students you might confirm their personal rating or question them about it.  Students who rate themselves too severely might need reassurance about their performance, while those who rate themselves too highly might need help in order to assess their performance more realistically. The performance summary to which you have access as part of the teacher reporting functionality could be useful here, and could be shared with students.

Students are also asked to identify aspects of the element that they don’t fully understand, and to consider where they might get assistance to improve their understanding.  This latter question is designed to encourage students to be active participants in the learning process.  You will encourage your students to value the process of self-assessment and to take it seriously when you comment, (via the electronic comment facility) on what students write in this section

OTISA and parents

We’re interested in all things educational, and if you’re reading this blog then you probably are, too.

Our first blogs will concentrate on telling you how to get the most out of your OTISA subscription.  (Check out the resource at http://www.otisa.com.au if you haven’t already.)

Subsequent blogs will bring you news from the world of education as well as classroom teaching tips and info for all those parents who are actively involved in their children’s learning.
If you’re a parent, here are some ways in which you can help your child use OTISA.

  • encourage your child to use the grid to select the element they want to learn about.  Make sure that they are the ones who choose, so that they are more engaged and interested.
  • when your child first begins to use OTISA, it would be helpful if you could be there while they read or listen to the Introduction screens.  This will give you the opportunity to make sure the child understands the instructional aspect before they start on the activities.
  • do a couple of the activities together.  (It may well be the case that your child shows you how it’s done, which is of course very good for their self-esteem.)
  • encourage your child to use the following process, which is designed to make them think about their answers and to fix the ones that are incorrect:
    a.  have a go at an activity
    b.  select How did I do?
    c.  If there are errors, go back and try again.  If there are no errors, read Check   the  Explanation.  It’s important to do this so that the learning is confirmed.  Getting correct answers doesn’t necessarily mean that understanding has occurred.
    d.  if there are still errors after a second attempt, select Which ones are correct?  This helps students to identify where they are wrong and to have a final go at getting the correct answer.
    f.  After this attempt, whether they still have errors or not, they select Check the Explanation.
    Because there are lots of activities of the same kind, students can always have more than one attempt at the learning.
  • if the child has difficulty with the activities, encourage them to go back to the Introduction and to listen to the instructional aspect.  You could also go through the Explanations with them.
  • use the resource frequently for short periods of time – say 10 minutes at a time – unless, of course, the child decides otherwise and wants to continue.

Using OTISA in the classroom – developing metalanguage

For teachers

If your students understand grammatical terms – that is, they understand the metalanguage – they are then better able to make a conscious decision to employ those grammatical features in their own writing to add depth and interest.

In addition, if students know and understand the metalanguage, you will be better able to provide them with feedback that is focussed and specific.  You could, for example, suggest that they might make their writing more engaging, or provide extra information, by adding noun groups.  This kind of feedback gives students something specific to work with.

OTISA can be of assistance to you in this regard in that it provides students with the opportunity to consolidate their understanding of the metalanguage.  As part of your feedback, if you think there is a need for students to revise understanding of the way in which a particular grammar feature ‘works’, then you can refer them directly to the relevant element and activities. (If you use the Teacher Reporting functionality, you can send students  an electronic message to this effect. This message will be available to them when  they next log in to OTISA.)