I have decided to volunteer my time and become a tutor at the FunShine Homework Club. The FunShine Homework Club is an after school support program where students are able to seek help with assessments or just general homework tasks. Students who attend this session are mainly from schools within in the Sunshine area, such as: Marion College and Sunshine College and are students who have migrated from foreign countries; making English their second language. The volunteers are not assigned to an individual child as the tasks they bring in vary in subject type. Sometimes there are not enough volunteers to help students individually as there are more students in need of help than there are available tutors.
During the first two sessions, I noticed that the students struggled with their work due to language barriers but I was proud of them for persisting and having the courage to get some extra help outside of school. However, one girl stood out from all the rest to me. She stood out because the help she was getting from the homework club was the only help she had for one of her VCE subjects.
Zee* (student's name has been changed due to privacy reasons) migrated to Australia in December 2006 from Eritrea. Prior living in Eritrea, Zee lived in Sudan for two months. Zee's family left these countries because the government ordered that children will be used as soldiers. In Zee's country, students needed to be graded above a certain percentage in order for them to be allowed to study at a university level. If students were not ranked above this percentage, they would have no choice but to become soldiers. Zee also said that even if she did get accepted to go to university there are not much job opportunities in her county. She believes that in her country, you need to know people with authority to secure you a job so in the end her education would have been worthless even though she undertook a degree. Today university does not exist in her country. Zee's parents are separated, however she lives with her mum and has two sisters and a brother.
When Zee first came to Australia, she attended a language school. Zee feels that the language school teachers were much more supportive and caring towards her learning as compared to her teachers at Sunshine College. Zee also said that her teachers back in her home country were more devoted to students. Zee feels that her teachers in her home country were very passionate about their students' education very significant, as they were always willing to help students outside of class and even outside of school; even if they were not getting paid extra for their assistance. On the other hand, Zee feels that at her current school her education is not a teacher's main priority. She is not getting the assistance that she needs especially since the English language is new to her. Zee said that she is also struggling with her subjects because they were not taught her home country.
An example of poor assistance that Zee is getting at her school is in her accounting subject. Zee has described her teacher as being lazy, selfish and very unhelpful. He is unprofessional in the way that he teaches and also behaves in a disrespectful manner towards the students.
I first began to work with Zee when she asked for some assistance with her accounting work. "Ohâ€¦ accounting!" looking at Zee's folder, "I defiantly don't miss this, but lucky for you it was my top subject during my VCE!" Zee shyly smiled. I opened up Zee's accounting folder and was unfamiliar with the layout of her handout. I flicked through the sheets neatly bound by the folder. They all looked the same. Boring worksheets with empty accounting report tables and a nice big chunk of information at the top of each page. "I don't remember my workbook looking like this," I thought to myself silently. I noticed that some of the question required unit 3 knowledge. Zee hesitated "I don't understand this!" slapping both hands on the worksheets in front of us. "It's okay Zee, we'll go through your text book together and I'll explain everything as much as I can to you!" I exclaimed cheerfully with hope.
Zee put her head down and smirked. "Zee, what's wrong?" I asked concerned. "I don't have a text book," replied Zee. "That's okay Zee, I'm pretty forgetful myself. I always leave something at home when I go to uni," I said giggling. "No." Zee said looking up at me, her eyes filled with stress, "there is no accounting textbook," said Zee plainly. "But Zee, what do you mean there is no accounting textbook?!" I realised I spoke with an alarming tone so I quickly rephrased what I said more softly to not further distress Zee. "Why don't you have an accounting text book Zee?" Zee looked at me and sighed. "My teacher doesn't use one. We have complained before and he has asked the principal but he won't let us."
"That's okay Zee, I can try and find you my old VCE accounting text books. I'm sure your work is just challenging at the moment because your teacher is probably trying to teach your class using questions that involves using all the concepts you've learnt in this unit," I calmly explained to Zee. "My teacher, teaching in class?!" laughed Zee sarcastically. "He doesn't do anything but just sit in his chair!," Zee said furiously. "The only time he is not sitting on his chair is when he's putting the answers up on the board for us to copy. He gives us the final answer to each question and if we can't solve it he won't help us. The only thing we can ask him is if we can move onto the next worksheet ONLY if we got the answer right." I looked at Zee. I was mortified.
At first I did not know how to control my frustration. I sat in my seat staring blankly at Zee, and really felt sorry for her. So many thoughts were rushing through my mind, I just couldn't stop questioning this whole situationâ€¦ "Why doesn't the principal allow an accounting text book to be used"?- Has the subject previously used one but was found unbeneficial? "Why is this teacher so useless at teaching accounting?"- Is accounting not his major? "Why does the teacher keep using the same structured boring worksheets? - He can use more challenging material like case studies, which will help with examinations. "Do the students have access to other resources that can help them?"- does the school promote VCE exam help and VCE unit preparation programs to the students? "Zee is already struggling so much with this subject, it's only going to get harder next year." It was these constant thoughts that encouraged me to further investigate how Zee's teacher's lack of commitment is affecting her motivation to learn, the resources that he should be using and could use to help Zee and resources that I could promote to help Zee outside of our tutoring session.
According to the (Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, 2005) "VCE Accounting focuses on the financial recording, reporting and decision-making processes of a
small business. Students will study both theoretical and practical aspects of accounting."(p. 7). (VCAA 2005) expect that accounting "teachers must develop courses that include appropriate learning activities to enable students to develop the knowledge and skills identified in the outcome statements in each unit." (p. 31). Even though the (VCAA 2005) also stated that the "procedures for the assessment achievement levels in Units 1 and 2 are a matter of school decision" (p. 11), Zee's teacher and principal have comfortably chosen to solely rely on worksheets to asses students progress with their accounting knowledge. Weil, Oyelere, Yeoh & Firer (2001) reported that "recent accounting and finance education literature indicates a trend towards an increasing use of case studies" (p. 123). On the other hand, Xiao & Dyson (1999) believe that using just case studies is "an old fashioned teaching approach" to teach accounting (p. 345). However there is more evidence in the accounting education literature that explains why using case studies is a strategic tool in an accounting classroom.
A traditional commonly used teaching approach suggested by Yang (1998, cited in Xiao and Dyson, 1999) is "concentrating on passing knowledge on to students" (p.345). This statement describes the teaching strategy that Zee's teacher employs in his lesson. Zee's teacher is only passing on the final answers of each report, rather than explaining how he got to the final answer. Organising and summarising data is a crucial step of the accounting process and this is what Zee's teacher is not explaining. By initially omitting this procedure, this will further complicate how to understand and analyse the summarised data. Yang (1998, as cited in Xiao and Dyson, 1999) further elaborated on how passing knowledge to students affects students negatively as he believes that this approach "largely neglects the development of students' learning abilities and skills as there is not much interaction between teachers and students in the classroom" (p. 346). Interaction between students and teachers is vital and this is supported by Ramseden (1992, as cited in Sharma, 1996) who strongly argues that "student approaches to learning are influenced by the educational environment." (p. 129).
According to Sharma (1996), "several studies suggest that assessment methods and excessive course material have detrimental effects on a student's approach to learning." (p.129). In Zee's case, her teacher has already begun to introduce concepts taught in unit 3 of accounting and assesses them even though he should be focusing on unit 2 concepts. Sharma's study (1996) claims that assessing unnecessary content will encourage learning with memorising rather than using application of knowledge. Application of knowledge is a key skill that VCE students will need to use when they enter the profession. Sharma (1996) stated that some accounting and finance academics believe that students need to be able to apply their accounting principles and rules learnt in the classroom to the real world. According to Sharma (1996), the application of knowledge is mainly gained from reading and understanding examples in text books.
Walker (2001) believes that students who are embarking on a course of study to become a professional accountant would benefit mostly from the use of an accounting textbook. According to Walker (2001), "the basic understanding developed from a textbook will serve as a valuable base on which students can upon build upon their future professional studies." (p. 3). There is evidence to support Walker's belief which is supported by (South Western Cengage Learning, n.d), who interviewed more than 500 introductory accounting students about the usefulness of accounting textbooks. From the results of the interviews (South Western Cengage Learning, n.d), 99% of the students said that textbooks helped them succeed in their accounting class and 87% of students said that they considered the step-by-step examples the most important part of a text. Toerner's (2006), he believes that:
The extent to which a student will interact with a given type of textbook material is determined in part by the student's perception of the degree to which the material, if studied or otherwise acted on, will help the student achieve his or her learning goal. (p. 115)
After showing Zee a chapter of my year 11 accounting textbook on the internet, she was amazed at how well structured the book was written. Z. Teclai (personal communication, September 15, 2010) felt disadvantaged and said that "I wish I had an accounting textbook. I would always use it because looking at yours it's just so helpful. I feel like I'm missing out on a big thing and I feel that without it I'm not going to do well". What was most appealing to Zee was the idea of having the numbers in the question coloured. Zee said that because the numbers were coloured in this way in the question and also in the example of what the final answer should look like, she was able to make connections between different transactions that occur in businesses, where they belong in the different reports and why step by step. Zee was also impressed with how the textbook highlighted the main definitions of accounting terms. It is these terms which will help Zee apply her knowledge with short answer questions in her year 12 examinations.
Unfortunately, Zee does not have this resource available to her; however I suggested to Zee that she should attend VCE programs on her holidays. I believe that Zee will benefit from VCE programs because I found them very useful during my VCE, especially with the subjects I struggled in. The School for Excellence is an example of a VCE program, which runs specialised workshops and lectures. (The School For Excellence, 2009) believes that their service is beneficial because their "specialised workshops and lectures have consistently seen many of their students appear among the top 100 performers in the state". Neap is another VCE program which has been "carefully structured and timed to be of maximum benefit to students by assisting them in their learning and laying the foundation for them to achieve top marks in their exams". According to VCE programs (Neap, 2006; The School For Excellence, 2009) students will have access to the most experienced VCE teachers; some teachers include state reviewers, authors of current VCE textbooks and experienced writers and markers of exam papers. The programs also provide comprehensive notes that students can take home. I believe that these notes can act like a textbook to Zee because they include all the relevant outcomes expected for a unit of study. A Melbourne Girl's student who attended The School For Excellence VCE program specialised workshop and lecture seminars (The School for Excellence, 2009) said that "I learn more at TSFX than I do at school." (Past student comments section, comment 9). Since Zee's is not gaining any proper understanding of accounting from her teacher at Sunshine College, from my previous experience, I believe that Zee will largely benefit from the services provided from VCE programs.
Instead of using basic worksheets to assess a student's knowledge, Zee's teacher should consider employing the use of case studies in his classroom. Hassall, Lewis & Broadbent (1998, as cited in Weil 'et al', 2001) believe that an accounting student "should be able to evaluate, classify and organise information into a suitable format for the application of decision-making techniques." (p. 125). Therefore the use of using case studies is an appropriate tool to use in a classroom. This is supported by Weil 'et al' (2001) who believed that in accounting and finance subjects:
Case studies are considered to be valuable teaching tools because of the opportunity they present for mimicking real life practical problems and situations, enabling students to develop and/or improve upon a range of skills required for day-to-day business decisions. (p. 123).
However, Barkman (1998, as cited in Weil 'et al', 2001) claims that there is a "mixed student reaction on the use of cases; some students indicate appreciation at being exposed to real businesses, while others find the effort involved in completing the case too demanding."(p. 127). Zee on the other hand, believes that she will not find this method of assessment demanding. Zee said that she would "love it if my teacher used case studies because it will challenge me and I am not learning anything from the worksheets he is using now" (Z. Teclai, personal communication, September 15, 2010).
There is a great difference between Zee's teacher's teaching techniques and how accounting should be taught in VCE accounting teaching literature. From Zee's personal communication responses, my experience in accounting and from the literature, I am more than convinced that her teacher is unprofessional in the way he teaches the accounting subject. I believe that he is comfortable teaching this way because it best suits him rather than meeting the needs of the students in this class and meeting authority requirements. I believe that this is not fair on his students, like Zee, who really wants to progress and do well in her studies. Even though the principal does not allow a textbook to be used as a teaching resource, Zee's teacher should further look into this matter. I believe that being a teacher holds great responsibility and from Zee's case, I felt annoyed to hear about the way her teacher is casually ignoring his duty as a teacher and not trying his best to provide his students with external resources.
My aim was to find Zee beneficial resources to help her outside of the classroom and I have advised Zee of the external resources I used when I studied VCE accounting which helped me. Even though I had a fantastic teacher, I believe that Zee has the ability to learn this subject using external resources such as VCE programs which will in turn help her understand how to complete case studies which are tested in examinations.