In the last two months, I have attended a great deal of professional development events and it has definitely caused me to rethink my teaching practice. The professional development has had more of a technology in education focus, but on Monday of this past week, I attended a board wide professional development day centered on the Ontario Literacy Class. It is a class for students who have twice failed our provincial standardized literacy test, but who still want to graduate with their diploma. For many of the students in this class, it is their “ticket out” of school and thus, there is a lot riding on this course in Ontario secondary schools.

At the meeting, I was really impressed with my colleagues. Kim, our fearless leader, ( @KimMcGill ) has really been pushing us to think about what learning “looks like” and what our assessments should “look like.” Until this year, I hadn’t thought about learning and teaching as what it should look like, but Kim is helping to change my philosophy of teaching. It makes me think of my teaching as if my students were watching a tv show or movie. If I was to stand back and watch my classroom in motion, what would it look like and what would the actors and actresses being doing? It has really made me stop and conceptualize my classroom as visual rather than linear.

One of my other colleagues, Laurie, ( @laurcrai ) demonstrated some of the best teacher modeling I have seen in my career. She shared a lesson that she had created using Smart Board Notebook Software about how to teach students to express an opinion. She used brainstorming techniques so that the students would think about what an opinion is and how to express it, then followed it up with an interactive lesson where she and the students worked together to write an opinion as a group. What was really special about this activity is that Laurie engaged the students by using a topic relevant to their lives, had the students actively participate in the lesson, worked together as a group to help the class write, then had them go off and work on their own then carried out at least one conference with each student. It was a complete demonstration of the gradual release of responsibility model by Fisher and Frey which was really great to see in action!

The meeting then had me reflect back on my own practice. We were thinking about this model in terms of the OLC class, but what does it look like in my other classes? I then took this thought and applied it to my grade nine English class. I have a very techie group of grade nine students and even though we are doing a novel study right now, we spend almost the whole week in the computer lab. One of the tasks we have traditionally employed for this unit is a journal writing component. The students are to think like one of the characters in the novel and write journal entries as if they were that character or write a response to the character. Using the concept of teacher modeling and the gradual release of responsibility as motivation, I have been creating my own exemplars for the students. Also, instead of having my students “journal,” I gave it a 21st century spin and we are blogging. I also wanted the students to incorporate media by embedding or hyper-linking and modeled that in my exemplar. Finally, we have been discussing meaningful feedback as well, and so as a group, we criticized and praised my initial draft so the feedback you will see as comments on my exemplar have actually come from my students. You can view the exemplar here.

Since this is an on-going, evolving and reflective experience for me as a teacher, I would love any comments, suggestions, opinions, etc. Thanks!

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