Process versus Product

30 Apr

Disclaimer: I am looking to clarify my thinking. Feedback is appreciated.

Earlier this week we had our final Assessment and Evaluation team meeting at Cameron and I left the meeting feeling a bit perplexed. In my opinion, historically, teachers focus on having a “product” (ie test or project) to measure learning and in Growing Success as well as our WRDSB AER document, our assessment is supposed to be triangulated with conversations and observations. I think the conversations and observations are challenging for us on a whole as they are based more on anecdotal evidence rather than a mathematical calculation. In many of the professional development sessions I’ve been at over the last year, we have been discussing how it’s important to focus on the process and less on the finished product. This idea resounds with me as I feel this is where the majority of learning occurs and at the end of the day, I am more focused on the learning as opposed to grades. I want to see growth in my students. I want to see deeper critical thinking skills. I want to see confidence in abilities. I want to see love of learning. I think these ideals are achieved through the process.

Where I’m perplexed is that the feeling I walked away from the meeting with is that we need to focus on the products. I understand that it’s important to have students completing products (and the majority of students do) but to me, completion is a learning skill and not what we should be grading. My students do most of their work in class and I spend my class time working with them while they are at various different stages of their process. I give feedback along the way and most of them incorporate it fairly readily. With this model, what I find is that even though a student might not work until completion, I have observed skills along the way and will have evidence of their abilities. English is a skills based curriculum and I struggle with the idea that if a student doesn’t complete a task then their overall grade suffers. I am also cognizant that many other disciplines are very content heavy and I would love to learn if and how those areas can consider the process over the finished product.

I have also taken advantage of our GAFE accounts and each student has shared an English folder with me that they put all their work into which I check at various times of the week. With all the face to face conversations and asynchronous observations of writing, I have a really strong understanding of the abilities my students possess and I think it’s my duty to give them what their abilities dictate rather than what Markbook spits out after levels are inputted. This may sound like I don’t think it’s important to complete projects, and that is absolutely not true. I want students to complete their projects as I feel there are so many other benefits to finishing work (ie the feeling of completion, confidence, intrinsic motivation, etc.) and that hopefully, the rich task I assigned was more meaningful than just a means to a grade. My point is that I think we really need to be trusting our professional judgement and thinking about the real skills the students possess rather than if they can finish a project or ace a test.

In all honesty, I would love to see more of a focus on the process of learning (or metacognition in all four strands of the English curriculum) as well as on the triangulation of assessment data. Conversations and observations have so much to tell us about our students and I think we need to trust that anecdotal data can be as valid as a numeric calculation. I think it’s also important that we are as educators are working with the students and providing feedback along the way rather than just at the end of a project. I have seen the term “feed forward” on Twitter and I really feel that is how we should be thinking in terms of helping our students improve their skills.

As always, please feel free to push my thinking. In the words of Dean Shareski, “feedback is good.”

Grounding Myself

20 Apr

So tomorrow education here in Ontario is going to get messy. As a coping mechanism, I’m feeling the need to write a gratitude post.

I’m grateful for:

1. Our health care system here in Ontario – Cali, our youngest, has been diagnosed with epilepsy and with that comes tests, (EEG, MRI, with probably more in the coming months) specialist visits, and therapy sessions. We haven’t had to pay for any of this yet, but more importantly, we have experienced exceptional care from all the doctors, nurses, and office assistants. They know that this has been a difficult and scary time for our family and have treated us with empathy, kindness, and respect.

2. My daughter’s teacher and EA’s – Lexie, our oldest, is in junior kindergarten and was experiencing some issues with her peers. The teacher and EA’s listened to my concerns and took steps to eradicate the problem. It is obvious they care about the learning environment and want to ensure that every student feels safe and confident and I appreciate their efforts.

3. The warm and sunny weather we’ve had the last two weekends. This past winter was really long and I found that with the various stresses in my life, being able to be out in the warm sunshine helped rejuvenate my spirit.

4. My daughters and their goofiness. This week I have been serenaded by their renditions of Thinking Out Loud, Lost Stars, The Wheels on the Bus, Land of the Silver Birch, and of course, Jingle Bells. I’ve also had Lexie demonstrate her awesome dance moves in preparation for her recital as well as Cali throw her arms around my neck and say, “I wuve (love) you, Mommy.”

Even though I’m nervous for what the next few weeks will bring, I’m going to focus on both the literal and figurative rays of sunshine I have in my life.

My Colleagues Have Me Thinking…

11 Apr

The last few weeks I have had some fascinating conversations with my colleagues. I work with some really passionate and thoughtful educators and I’ve been musing about their ideas.

I work very closely with the special education department and one of the spec ed teachers made a comment over a month ago that still has me thinking. Here in WRDSB, we are really focusing on assessment and evaluation and this has caused much reflection and consideration of our current practices. In chatting with her, she suggested that with diagnostic-formative-summative in conjunction with the triangulation of data, that we should start considering the idea that formative pieces can be considered summative if they meet the success criteria and demonstrate the skills effectively. I hadn’t considered that angle and I’ve been reflecting. It makes sense to me especially in English as we are a skills based curriculum. I think where it can create some potential issues is that we still run an assessment model that focuses on the product or summative piece. In my opinion, we are still too concerned with the outcome of the task rather than focusing on and encouraging the learning that happens in the creation of a project. I also think this has the potential to be a hard sell to some colleagues as well as students and parents, but I think it is an important idea to consider especially since we are supposed to be considering observations and conversations when assessing student work.

At the end of the day today, I was chatting with one of our art teachers and he made a comment that also has me pondering. He suggested that English classes have the potential to be run more like art classes as both are skills based. He went on to discuss how many of his students are more concerned with the process of creating their art than with the grade they receive at the end. They focus on the expression and meaning they are attempting to exude and take pleasure in the learning. I love that the focus is on the process and journey as that is where the most important learning occurs in my opinion. I hope that I can learn more about how the art department approaches these ideas and bring them into my classroom as I’ve gotten push back about this style of thinking in a core subject area.

These are just two of many conversations I’ve been a part of lately and I love that I work in a building where these strong pedagogical conversations are taking place. It demonstrates to me, yet again, that I have found a place that supports and extends my thinking on best practices, and above all else, learning.

Can We Autocorrect Humanity?

30 Mar

Disclaimer: in my ENG 2DI class we are using the “Minds On” writing strategy and this is me modelling…

I love the digital world. I am not someone with a loud voice (literally) but I am someone who has a lot of ideas and the digital world is a place for me to share my thoughts. It’s also a place where I feel that people listen and whether they agree or disagree with my ideas, at least the dialogue is there. Prince EA in his video, “Can We Autocorrect Humanity?” really makes me consider these ideas.

Last week I wrote a post on my blog about the OSSLT and I had over 100 page views alone, which is 10 times the number I have on a daily basis. I also had numerous RT’s and others chiming in to say that I expressed their frustrations with the literacy test in a way that they couldn’t. So in this case I actually disagree with Prince EA because the majority of the people I connected with yesterday are outside of my school district and yet we all felt a similar frustration.

But I also agree with Prince EA. I love my phone and find it very addicting and find myself to be constantly checking in on what’s going on in the world around me. Sometimes I really have to try hard to put the phone away and connect with my children. And don’t get me wrong, I adore my children, but my work day doesn’t end at 2:25 because my students walk out of the classroom and yet I have to physically leave my building and work in order to pick my oldest up from school. Sure, I could stay up really late and work all hours of the night, but my body doesn’t function that way. I need the time in the evening to unwind and relax in order to get a solid night’s rest. And even then, at this point, I don’t feel like I’m getting that.

It’s a vicious cycle for me as I see the pros and cons of this digital revolution. I don’t think I would go as far as him and say that it’s “digital insanity” but I do agree that there’s an element of a “pagentry of vanity.” We are constantly on display right now (if you use social media) and so there’s a constant care that needs to be taken in this new and uncharted environment. In many cases, I think that in of itself, is overwhelming.

Creativity as the Power to Act

30 Mar

Disclaimer: we are using the “Minds On” strategy in my ENG 2DI class now and these are my thoughts as I model my thinking based on Matthew Taylor’s RSA Short video.

“Creativity as the power to act.” A very simple yet powerful statement. What I love about this idea is that it gives everyone the power to be a changemaker. I think about how we as adults treat children and teenagers and so many times instead of providing opportunities to take charge and solve issues, we swoop in and do it for them. I get it, it’s the parental instinct, and in many respects, the fear of letting our kids fail, but it’s so necessary for our younger generation. I feel like if we provided more opportunities for students to take control, we wouldn’t see the “helicopter parents”3 or the learned helplessness style student.

It makes me think of my oldest right now. She is really into helping out around the house. Sure it takes longer to have her do the vacuuming or she is more likely to spill the milk when pouring it on her cereal, but if I don’t let her be the one in charge of these details, I’m more likely to have her dependent on me for everything as she gets older.

I also really appreciated in the video how Matthew Taylor addresses the idea that employers and educators need to think differently about creative people versus tasks. I feel like our society loves labels and this was especially true for me growing up. My brother is an amazing musician and artist and for the whole time we lived at home, he was the “creative” one. I was athletic and “smart” (ie good at school) but very rarely “creative.” In fact, in many cases, it was a characteristic that my family members poked fun at. I could draw awesome stick people and goldfish and that is the extent of my “artistic” ability. It wasn’t until I got older and developed a love for photography, that I appreciated my creative talents or even felt I had any.

In terms of the classroom, this is especially true as creativity is an integral part of my pedagogy, but yet it makes many students uncomfortable because they don’t feel they are creative. They are good at the “game of school” and instead of realizing that creativity is more than art or music, they tend to shut down on me until I can talk one on one with them to show them that there is creativity inside each and every person. But I also think this is because creativity doesn’t seem to be valued by the education system. It doesn’t fit into our 20th century box and students know this so don’t feel confident in sharing their true creative selves because it could cost them grades.

It’s something I really try to change in my classroom and from what I’m seeing around me, in other classrooms too. I’m glad too because I definitely agree with Matthew Taylor that “all people have muscles of creativity” and the ability to be “change makers.” We just have to provide the opportunities.

Student Voice and Choice in EDLP

28 Mar

This semester two of my classes are part of an innovative project here in WRDSB called the English Digital Learning Project. The project is designed on the ideas of student voice and choice and collaboration. 

I love this model as it fits in with my pedagogical beliefs that we should be focusing on our students and their individual interests and even though some of my students felt a bit of apprehension and skepticism about this as “English” class. Now that we are almost half way through the course, I’ve had what I consider to be some major successes. 

At parents’ night this past Wednesday, I had the pleasure of talking to some of the parents from those classes and the comments were overwhelmingly supportive of our program. I had a number of parents tell me that their son or daughter was enjoying working in the blended environment and that they appreciated that cell phones could be used for educational purposes not just entertainment. I also heard comments that about students feeling more organized since all their work is digital and in one location.

The most amazing success, however, came in the form of a thank you from one set of parents. They explained how their child is really enjoying working digitally, but more importantly, is loving reading again. The student has also used reading as a means of connecting on a deeper level with the parents and I’m definitely excited that the student is loving reading, but I’m happier that the student has a closer relationship with the family because of reading. 

This is by no means a blog post to pat myself on the back. I really just wanted to express one of the unexpected and wonderful outcomes from teaching with this model.

#OSSLT 2015

26 Mar

So today is the yearly literacy test for grade 10 students in Ontario and as in the previous two years, I am again thinking about the effect this test has on my students. In my current timetable, I have three classes of grade 10’s so almost every one of my students is writing today and I can’t help but think about how this test goes against every aspect of my pedagogical beliefs.

An idea that I’ve really been trying to promote this semester is that the importance of that learning is not in the finished product, but rather in the journey to the end. We’ve spent much time working on skills related to the English curriculum which involved many opportunities to practice, get feedback, and redo, but the literacy test doesn’t allow for this model. Sure, I engaged in the preparation activities and spent some class time giving the students strategies to be successful on the literacy test, but for a test that determines if they can graduate or not, this model goes against the idea of formative and summative work which is how we are expected to teach here in Ontario.

Where is the feedback? Where is the focus on learning? When the results come out, all the students know is that if they don’t hear anything, it’s all good. How can they grow as “literate” individuals if they don’t get any feedback? Descriptive feedback is so important in our board and how can we in good faith offer this test without providing the opportunities to make mistakes and redo their work? (other than taking the test a full year later or taking the OLC course.) It really bothers me that we are being told to teach with this rich pedagogy in place but yet we turn around and have to administer this test every March.

It also bothers me that this is likely the last year that students will be writing a paper and pen test as next year the plan is to have it be available online. I feel for the students writing this year’s test as in school we don’t accept hand written summative tasks and yet that is the expectation with the literacy test (for most students).

Finally, I have the best interests of my students at heart and spend a lot of time thinking about how I can reach and help each individual student and this test is a one size fits all model. It takes away the personal connection and what I think is so important at the heart of education which is to encourage the growth mindset in all of our students. Tomorrow I will have some work to do to build the confidence (again) of some of my students as today will have been the most frustrating and demeaning day of the year. How is that good for education? It is mind boggling to me… Sigh.

Screenshot 2015-03-26 at 9.12.07 AM

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