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