Creating Student Goals and Describing Success

“Making Classroom Assessment Work”, Chapters 3 & 4

What do I want my students to learn? This is a question that Davies poses as she starts chapter 3 titled “Beginning with the End in Mind”. In Saskatchewan, we have it outlined in the curriculum specifically what our students should be learning. “Standards and learning outcomes provide both opportunity as well as a challenge.” (Davies, 25) With that being said, this chapter outlines the complications that arise when students don’t fit that model or on the same learning levels as their peers.

The first thing that came to mind when Davies discussed the different ranges of expertise each student would have when they enter your classroom was an EAL student. These students are absolutely going to be in your classroom at some point in your career. I would argue that it is even inevitable because of the increasing rate of immigrants to our melting pot of a country in all areas – the cities, rural schools, different provinces, etc. As a pre-service teacher without a lot of experience teaching EAL students, I wonder as I read this chapter if it is only my job as the teacher to implement routines and differentiate for these students, or are there teams of people to support me as a teacher and the students as learners? I worry about this in an English classroom because I would find it very difficult to teach English literature to someone who doesn’t actually speak the language.

Davies then goes into discuss the importance of syllabus’s, which I absolutely agree. I did not have a lot of syllabus’s in my classrooms as a high school student, but I very vividly remember in grade 12 when I took a creative writing class, my teacher wrote out a complete syllabus with the assignment descriptions, as well as the weekly plans (didn’t always go as planned, but had an idea of what each week would aim to look like) and I absolutely loved it. Obviously being a university student, I get tons of syllabus’s each semester, but I really appreciate the good ones and I will take bits and pieces from each one from what I found helpful. “[W]hen we know what we’re going to be doing, we mentally prepare ourselves and activate more of our brain by doing do. Once students know what they are supposed to be learning, they can self-monitor, make adjustments, and learn more.” (Davies, 26)

I found an interesting idea on page 29 when there is an example of where a teacher decided to design his syllabuses around each unit, so breaking it up so that it wasn’t so overwhelming. I can see how it can be valuable for your students. It breaks things up for them, so they aren’t seeing everything at once. Personally, I will write things in my agenda and will stress about them and try to get them done early on and will be anxious about it until I am done, but getting things done that in advance and worrying about them may not be a good thing. If the students can only see what needs to be worried about for that specific unit then it can make it less overwhelming for students as well as easier fro you as a teacher (especially as a new teacher) to create.

Leading into the next part of this chapter, Davies discusses not only having a detailed outline, but also lots of examples. I definitely agree because I love examples. I am such a visual learner and have a really hard time reading a description about something and then trying to do it without a visual. “If students don’t know what they are to learn and what it can look like, they are handicapped and their success is at risk.” (Davis 28) I still struggle with this issue, and recently have had some presentations and assignments where I had no visual and would have loved to actually see other people do it first so I had more of an idea of what is expected. Showing your students how you are planning on evaluating their work will also help the students understand what they did do and didn’t accomplish, and what they need to work on for next time. This will also back you up as a teacher by making it easier for you to grade your students because you can specifically point out what they didn’t accomplish if they ask you or if their parents want to know.

So with the last chapter being about how important describing assessment is, chapter 4 goes into detail about what success actually looks like. To me, this is a very complex notion as creating these assessment guidelines basically tells your students what they need to do and what a “good” assignment will look like. If we allow too much room for ambiguity, then we risk setting our students up for failure by not giving them enough guidance and going completely off path. Davies mentions that obviously excellence can be achieved in a variety of ways, but how will we as teacher create a description of what needs to be learned if every student will be learning different things at different levels? It seems very complex with no right answer.

Something that really caught my eye in this chapter was when evidence of learning was brought up. This is something that I really believe in as a teacher. If students can get grades in math for showing their work and completing the necessary steps to solving the equation, without coming up with the correct answer, then I believe as an English teacher my students should be allowed to show their process of work and also receive grades for it. I would try to implement this in my classroom by some practices I am actually doing myself this semester – building a portfolio which include drafts, writing prompts, and samples of class participation. It also helps break up a looming final exam or project because throughout the year they have collected samples of their work that shows their growth as a student.

Davies emphasizes the importance of collecting “good” samples throughout the years to show your students, however I feel as though this is somewhat problematic. What is considered a “good” sample? If you are able to have a wide range of different types of samples then maybe that would give the students a better idea of where they could go with the assignment. However if students are only shown a couple of past student samples and told that those are “good” samples, it could potentially hinder their creativity because they could assume that it the only way to complete the assignment. As a student who needed to see examples in order to get a vision of what I needed to do to complete the assignment, I agree that having examples for students to look at is so important, but I also think there needs to be careful consideration about what samples are chosen.

The notion of having the entire staff participate in finding samples of assignments from past students is interesting, however I don’t know how realistic that is. Would an entire staff get together to create a binder of samples that parent and students are free to look through that Davies mentions on page 42? I also find this to be somewhat problematic as what if you decide to change your assignments and outlines from year to year, which is most likely to happen. I think this is a great idea to explore; however I don’t know how successful it would be.

On page 39, Davies mentions the age-old debate very common and very touchy in education world. Should students be allowed to submit and resubmit assignment late, even up until a few days before final grades are determined? This issue is very overwhelming to me and I understand the debate from both sides, however I have never had my own classroom before therefore I am not completely sure how I will deal with that issue as a teacher. I think that if I give the option to ALL students to resubmit an assignment, then I would be okay with receiving the assignments late because I have given them that option, and if the students want to improve their grade then they have the option. I must have been unclear or failed as a teacher at some stage if many of my students were struggling with the specific assignment and would most likely feel as if it is necessary to their learning. I believe this is fair because all of the students are allowed to re-do it if they wish, and if they don’t feel the need to re-do it then that is their personal choice.

However, in regards to students handing assignments in late, I will have a penalty for each day it is late in my classroom. I understand that things come up in life and will hopefully be a very understanding teacher if something happens that means the assignment will not be completed on time, but I believe that time management is a very important life skill to have, and if I let my students have things in whenever they please I think that will hinder them greatly in life. For example, late assignments in university are absolutely not tolerated, and they don’t care if you still got it done or not – if its not in by the due date, most professors will not tolerate it. If you come to your job late or sometimes don’t show up when you are supposed to – that will not be tolerated, and will eventually result in losing your job. Time management and due dates is such a crucial skill in life that I think needs to be taught at a young age.

It is also not fair for students who hand their assignment in a week and a half late to get the same mark as a student who completed the same assignment but on the actual due date. I would never refuse to accept an assignment from my students, but I would want them to know that handing it in late will not get the same mark as if they handed it in early. As I said, this topic is very delicate in the education world, especially in the cases where school divisions have no zero policies set in place. I would be interested in hearing my fellow educators opinions on this topic!

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Let’s Get Moving: Exercise Linked to Learning

I have recently stumbled across a very interesting educational research named Dr. John Ratey, who is an avid believer that exercising and brainpower are undoubtedly connected. I thought this tied into our class this week because we had a presentation about inquiry projects presented to us by three physical education majors, and our class had tons of questions about how they would incorporate those projects into the their classroom. That got me thinking about how I could incorporate exercise into my English classrooms, as that seems as a challenge to me.

The reason I also find this topic so intriguing is because throughout high school I did not consider exercise important. He is the author of the book “Spark-The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain” and says that physical education turns our brains on. Dr. Ratey believes exercise optimizes the brain function in three different ways:

  1. Makes learners ready to learn, improves attention and decreases stress and anxiety levels and improves motivation
  2. Enriches the environment in brain with nutrients and neuro transmitters which make brain cells ready to learn
  3. Promotes growth of brain cells

Obviously no one (in my opinion) is going to argue that exercise is good for you – it is good for every single part of your body, your health, your skin, your mood and a great way to keep in shape. Weight gain can and will eventually take a toll on our brains. Dr. Ratey says an interview on The Agenda with Steve Paikin that it isn’t that children of this generation aren’t as intelligent; they just aren’t ready to learn because it is easier to not try. Why would someone come home and read literature when they could watch Netflix or play video games? I will be honest, in my spare time I would much rather watch my favorite shows or lay in bed and watch a movie over reading.

So how much and how could we apply this in schools? Dr. Ratey explains that it would be ideal to break up physical activity throughout the day because our brain changes so quickly and eventually it will wear off after awhile so doing one big chunk will be less effective. Forty-Five minutes of solid moderate physical activity would be ideal. Activities like hockey or games are just as useful – as long as the activity gets your heart rate up. Incorporating games or something your students want to do will be very helpful, however I would have been the student who would have rather just ran on the treadmill and that is perfectly fine too. He uses Finland as a model we should take into consideration. Finland is performing at the highest academic level, and Dr. Ratey believes that it could be explained because they are using physical movement in every one of their classes. They have hour-long classes and they only do 45 minutes of instruction or activities and then for the other 15 minutes they are doing exercise or play.

When is the best time of day? Dr. Ratey encourages physical activity to be done earlier in the day – the earlier the better is his opinion. Obviously this helps people and especially students wake up and get them moving and involved.

What really made me interested in this idea and what Dr. Ratey explains as his “ah-ha” moment, if you will, is a study of a school in Chicago; Naperville Central High. They created a fantastic physical education program, which took years and years in the making, however it basically eventually consisted of ALL students in physical activity for the full gym class EVERY day, incorporating different exercises and drills. For example, they took out the “game” or “sport” aspect out of the program for a while because they were seeing that the kids who needed the exercise were straying away from those activities and not trying and the children who didn’t need to exercise and were athletic took over and were scoring the highest. I would absolutely agree that this happens and agree with it. My Phys. Ed. classes from grade 7 – 12 were ALL sports and games based, and I hated it. I would actually just not go to class because every day we played dodge ball or floor hockey. Of course for the athletic kids who were playing these games in the gym at lunch hour or after school, but I had zero interest in those activities because I actually didn’t know how to play and didn’t feel comfortable playing with more athletic people.

This program caught Dr. Ratey’s attention because he heard there were zero obese children in this school after implementing the program for several years, which is an incredible thing if you think about our society and especially American’s statistics about obese children. However, what really made him excited about this was that he saw this school’s test scores for the TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics/Science). Every country takes these tests every 3 years, and this school division took this test as a country and scored #1 in the ENTIRE world for science and #6 in math.

Not only are students and teachers seeing academic results, but also amazing behavior results. I could go on and on about these statistics about physically active students and behavior versus those who are not active and their behavior issues, however in Dr. Ratey’s Ted Talk at Manhattan Beach he discusses in depth about the amazing results that he has experienced, which is perhaps a post for another week. It really interests me as my minor is inclusive education and the research Dr. Ratey has done with behavior students is really impressive.

How would I apply it as an English teacher? As an English teacher, I obviously cannot ensure or engage my students in 45 minutes of physical activity in my class. However, after reading Dr. Ratey’s findings, I strongly believe that there is a scientific and legitimate connection between exercise and the brain. Therefore I will be an advocate for ensuring that I would never take away their recesses/ breaks or gym periods from them as punishment. If someone needs a break and needs to taka a walk, I will be supportive of that. I will allow my students to have fidgets and tools to help them.

Resources:

John Ratey, M.D. http://www.johnratey.com

Sparking Life, Power Your Brain Through Exercise http://www.sparkinglife.org

TEDx Talks. “Run, Jump, Learn! How Exercise can Transform our Schools: John J.

Ratey, MD at TEDxManhattanBeach” YouTube. YouTube. 18 November 2012. Web. 21 January 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBSVZdTQmDs

The Agenda with Steve Paikin. “Dr. John Ratey on Exercise & Learning.” YouTube. YouTube. 11 November 2009. Web. 21 January 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5-kbfnCq6M

Differentiation in the Classroom

Differentiation was a main topic that we had talking about in our class on Thursday. This is a topic that really interests me as my minor is inclusive education, which is all about ensuring differentiation is available for all students who need it. One thing we did in class was look through an old lesson and re-write it to ensure we are adapting it to certain students needs. However I think its really hard to specifically adapt the lessons to each student because you never know what their needs will be until you get in the classroom with them and get to know your students. For example, when I was doing my pre-pre-internship, I had a boy who needed to eat whenever he felt hungry so he was great at self-regulating and would get up and eat whenever he needed without disrupting any of the other students or the class.

I was honestly quite surprised by this because I had kind of assumed that something like that would distract the class. Something that the interns said when they came to talk to us this week stood out to me that also made me realize that getting to know your students is crucial when it comes to differentiation in your classroom. One intern had said that they didn’t receive the student’s CUM files until a month or so in, and that he was really surprised when it said that one particular student was very aggressive and had huge behavioural issues because he got along extremely well. Reading that after getting to know his students was a good thing in that situation because it left any premature judgments behind and he focused solely on his behaviour with him in that classroom.

Differentiation is something that is necessary in all of our classrooms because every single student learns so incredibly different from the other. Figuring out what adaptations are needed and when to implement them is something that will become easier with experience and familiarity with your classroom and students.

Making Classroom Assessment Work: Chapters 1, 2, & 11

As we discussed in class last week, chapter 1 of “Making Classroom Assessment Work” by Anne Davies, starts out with discussing the differences between assessment and evaluation. I found this helpful because it can be misinterpreted a lot, especially for me as a pre-service teacher as I don’t have a lot of experience with assessment or evaluation. (Or I don’t feel like I do.) What I got from the first chapter is that assessment is so crucial in our classrooms and it is something that we should be doing constantly. “Assessment for learning in used to collect information that will inform the teacher’s next teaching steps and the student’s next learning steps.” (Davies, 2)

If we aren’t assessing our students constantly, how we will know where they stand? A student can tell us that they understand and are ready to move on, but without evidence of their learning, we need to be careful not to move ahead without knowing where they are in the learning process. However, evaluating the students too early may cause a roadblock in their learning. “…If we evaluate too early, we limit descriptive feedback and risk interrupting the learning. When we access during the learning and evaluate at the end of the learning, we give students time to practice and improve before we judge the evident.” (Davies, 3) If we evaluate a student too early on without knowing ahead of time where they stand, that is when the entire class does poorly on evaluations. If you are actively assessing your students prior to your evaluation then it will help you to see where and when students need more help and more practice in a particular area without moving on too quickly. It will also hopefully diminish the chance of your students not understanding the content resulting in a whole class failure, which in my opinion reflects the teacher’s teaching more than the learner’s learning.

So how do we as educators ensure our student is learning? Davies suggests actively involving your students in their own learning. For example, engaging your class in a discussion about what is expected from them will clarify any uncertainties and encourage sharing their questions and answers with each other. “When teachers talk about what is to be learned and why it is relevant to students’ lives…students begin to learn to understand what needs to be learned, and they have a chance to prepare to learn”. (Davies, 5) This gives the students a feeling of ownership and would maybe be more inclined to cater to their specific interests therefore making them more interested in their assignment if they have a say in what the assignment should look like.

Davies also points out in this chapter how important self-assessment is. It again is including your students in taking their learning into their own hands. “Self-assessment gives learners the opportunity to think about their thinking and their learning… called metacognition” (Davies, 11) She goes on to point out, “Students who are able to self-assess…are better able to monitor their own learning process.” (11) Allowing your students to assess themselves may lead to greater investment in their learning if they know they have to prove to themselves other than solely just the teacher. I think self-assessment is so important in our classrooms, but I also think that you need to be careful how you implement it. When I was in school and had to self-assess, I would always be nervous to give myself what grade I actually thought I deserved, I would always give myself the grade that the teacher would have given me if they were the ones solely assessing me. Reflecting on this now in my education journey, I was just trying to fit into the perfect student mould as I had formed in my head. As a result, I think it is important to let your students know they can give themselves the honest grade they think they deserve, as long as they have evidence to back it up. I would have been grateful to have a rubric or something to follow so I could have just checked off what I thought I was doing correctly instead of just giving myself the same grade I was used too. It is also important how you allow your students to self-assess.

As some of my classmates pointed out in our discussion during class, making your students call out their grade publicly in front of the entire class is going to make the students embarrassed. I would never give myself full marks in front of my entire class. Davies discusses on page 8 about perhaps having a private journal where you review your work privately, not publicly. Private writing may make your students more honest with themselves, therefore with you. Having them write down their thoughts on what they did well, but also things that they felt they need to work on in a private journal entry will help you as a teacher get a better understanding of where your student stands. They will most likely feel more comfortable talking about things they thought they did well at and also discussing things that they felt they needed help with or perhaps struggled with. And guess what- this is also a form of assessment for you as a teacher!! Providing your students with constructive and descriptive feedback will help them move forward with their learning.

Chapter 2 discusses building the foundation for assessment. On page 16, she talks about how crucial mistakes are for learning. I really appreciated that she included this because as a pre-service teacher, you won’t know what works for you and your students until you try! And with that, there are bound to be mistakes and failures. Davies puts it into a simple and informative sentence: “Learning involves taking risks and making mistakes, and then doing things differently as a result.” (16) Sometimes teachers are seen as people who are “higher” or “all-knowing” but it is important to let your students know that mistakes are okay and you will learn from them; it is a part of the process. “When teachers model making mistakes and fixing them, students learn to value their own mistakes as a source of information for their learning, and as feedback indicating what they need to do differently”. (Davies, 16) It is so important to let your students know that sometimes you don’t have all the answers. My grandfather was a teacher for 35 years and retired in 1984. Obviously so much in the education world has changed, but he recently gave me the advice to admit to your students when you don’t know the answer. We are humans, and if we don’t know the answer, promise to find the answer for them and follow through with it. This will build trust with your students. This part of teaching will never change.

Try to show your students that feedback is GOOD. They shouldn’t feel like failures if their work comes back with comments, this is meant for them to use and take with them so they can be even more successful in the future. Always be positive. As much work as it is for teachers, try to be so specific in your feedback. If there is tons of marks and lines on your paper but you don’t know what you need to work on or why those marks are on it, what use is that? I have a teacher now who will always hand back our assignment with sentences highlighted, and I don’t know what that means. There are also sometimes different colours highlighted in my peers work and we are all confused on if those colours mean anything. Are those highlighted sentences good? Are they bad? It is very confusing and I have no idea what it means or what I have to work on to improve my work.

To promote success in your students’ work, you should always try to show examples and explain what is expected of them in more than one way. All students are different learners, and I will not understand an assignment if I just read the description. I need to see and feel and look at what is expected of me. With so much importance on technology it is so easy to incorporate different ways of explaining of what is expected to your students. Davies suggests bringing in guests who are skilled in that area, watching videos or showing examples of past works. (20)

One thing that stood out to me in this chapter was “By not helping students to picture success, we jeopardize their learning.” (Davies, 20) It is not fair for us to expect our students to understand our expectations by just telling them what to do. I do not understand things by just reading, as I said before, so if we are setting out students up for failure if we don’t clarify out expectations.

In creating a classroom environment, it is important to integrate communication with the parents. This can be a really confusing part especially as a new teacher, because it is really tough talking to parents about their most prized possessions – their children. They created and birthed these people; they do not want to hear that they are not the most perfect angels on the planet. The only way of learning to do this will be by experience and help from other teachers. In one of our other ECS classes, our professor Katia explained an effective way she had found by communicating to parents. She said what she would sometimes do is call the parents ahead and let them know you are excited to have their child in your class and looking forward to your year together. I would definitely try to do this maybe even with a letter or email to let them know who you are and that you want to build a relationship with them. This is especially helpful for the future when you have to make those dreaded phone calls home to those same parents to tell them that their child is not completing assignments or acting out in class. Because you had already established a positive communication line this may make it easier on you in those difficult situation.

Davies talks about inviting parents and students to your classroom before the school year starts on page 21. I think this would be a great way to get to know each other, especially if it is your first year teaching. She also describes how you can set out learning goals together with your students, that way if your student is struggling to complete them then you and their parent already know what is expected and take more ownership in being involved. However, I am not tonally sure I am convinced that this will work in a secondary classroom because I have tried to do this in an English class when I was in grade 12 and it was not successful, in my experience. It never got brought up until parent-teacher interviews when we would fill out what we thought out progress was the day before the interviews and then during the interview we would talk about it to our parents and my teacher would just let me do the talking and he would agree or disagree. Perhaps a different approach would be more effective, but in my experience it didn’t apply to me.

Relationships are so important when you are a teacher with everyone – other teachers, students, parents, etc. Finding out as much information as you can about your students will be so helpful because as Davies points out, if you know your student has a specific talent then perhaps you can tailor their learning to that interest or hobby. Having strong relationships with your parents will make the lines of communication easier.

That transitions into chapter 11, which is all about learning with other professionals is integral to your continued growth as a teacher. One aspect of education that is evident to me throughout my educational experiences as a student and as a pre-service teacher is that keeping up to date with new technologies and ideas is crucial. If you aren’t willing to continue your learning than much of your teaching will eventually become unreliable and eventually somewhat useless. Davies suggests creating a group with fellow educators to help each other learn with exchanging their ideas and opinions. This would be a great way to encourage learning with colleagues. Although I do think that this could be difficult to organize because there are so many aspects to life – your actual classroom with marking and planning, children, sports, activities, just life in general. Professional Learning Communities is something I would have to do more research about, but this is a great way to find time to work with other teachers on my staff because it outlines exactly how teacher can work together. This would especially be so helpful in the English department! With that being said, part of being an educator is committing to be a life long learner who is always willing to collaborate and learn new aspects of the career.

Classroom Management

This week in our ECS350 class we discussed rules in the classroom, and how many and what rules are appropriate. It made me think of when I was in school, and what kind of rules I had in my classroom. Except for a few teachers in high school who had a “no food or drink” rule, I don’t remember having explicit rules in the classrooms.

As for myself when I am a teacher, I haven’t thoroughly thought about what kind of rules I will want to implement. I think that having one general rule that can apply to more than one situation would be good to have, such as “respect others”, or “treat those as you would want to be treated”. I think addressing your classroom at the beginning of the year with your expectations can be very beneficial to all.

My creative writing teacher in grade 12 was a young teacher and it was her first 3rd or 4th year of teaching. At the beginning of the year she told us she was going to treat us like adults and allow us to take our learning into our own hands and allow us to use her coffee pot for coffee and tea whenever we would like, but she also said that if we couldn’t handle the expectations that she had laid out for us, then she would have to take away some of the responsibilities. We all respected that, and I especially had a lot of respect for her, and realized that this was going to be a tough class that I would have to put effort into, but I ended up really enjoying it because she did treat us with respect because we did the same to her.

Although this isn’t necessarily about rules, my grandfather (who I call Gido) sent me a letter today, giving me advice on teaching. He was a teacher for 35 years, and I really value his advice. The letter he sent to me I will keep forever. It ties in with the theme of classroom management because some classroom management skills are age old – but are still used in classrooms today.

Me, my Gido and older sister
Me, my Gido and older sister

My Gido retired from teaching in 1984, so obviously there had been SO much change since he retired, but I think that some teaching advice is always applicable. He started by saying he could try to give me advice but he knows that actual experience is the best teacher, and I agree. The list of advice my Gido gave me was:

  1. Always be prepared and know what you want to accomplish on that particular day.
  2. Don’t be afraid to deviate from your intended lesson if an unexpected, useful teaching opportunity arises.
  3. Try to be in your classroom before the students arrive if at all possible
  4. If you don’t know the answer to some item that comes up, admit it and promise to find the answer and do it. This builds trust.
  5. A bulletin board in your room can be a useful communication item but keep it up to date.
  6. A “thought for the day” written on the blackboard can start the day with a short discussion. (Maybe from Shakespeare)
  7. Try to keep a sense of humor – kids love a happy face J.

I love that my Gido gave me this list of advice; I will always remember what he said. I think that a lot of these skills he mentioned above can still be really useful in our schools and will be implemented in my future classroom. I think my favorite piece of advice he gave me was the last one, where he said to always keep a sense of humor. I think so many of us take ourselves too seriously in many aspects in life, especially us as pre-interns. What I take away from that is that not every lesson is going to go how I want, not every student is going to respond how I want. There are going to be times when the stress of teaching is going to be so unbelievably overwhelming, but I think its important to take a step back and breathe and pick out all the positives.