Tuesday, February 20, 2018

JALI Assessment As Learning Reflection

As many of you who have read one of my blog entries already will know, I am have been on a journey to improve my understanding and use of assessment in my teaching practices over the past few years. In semester 1 of this year I had the opportunity to participate in one of my school's "mini courses" offered for teachers. This one was lead by one of my colleagues and was to work on our use of assessment AS learning.

This is an area that I feel I have continued to struggle with but know that I need to tap into better. In order to survive in my quest (see recent post on this quest) for a feedback-focused math classroom I need to tap into the skills of my students to give themselves (and each other) effective feedback. Students deserve feedback, and getting them involved in the process engages them in the learning better, makes evaluation more transparent, and makes teacher workload a bit more manageable.

I was able to be exposed to some strategies I had not considered in my classroom before the JALI course and am now trying some new things in semester 2. My goals are for students to:
- engage in the learning map more regularly
- do more co-construction of criteria
- explicitly use criteria to give each other (and self) feedback on their work
- (and by extension) for students to better self-identify their needs

I am grateful for colleagues who are so willing to share their experiences and expertise with others and found sharing with the other course members was a reward in itself!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Reflecting on "Gradeless" Math - Modelling Life-Long Learning

This post can also be found on our team's TLLP blog.

As the title of this entry may suggest this entry is serving as a place to express my thoughts around how last semester went and the changes I am hoping to make. My desire is that this "public diary" will help me to be accountable to my goals, will inspire someone else to take a risk, and will model that we (teacher) practice what we preach - we are all learners.

What worked well that I will continue:

  • Having students engage in deconstructing curriculum (specifically the math processes and instructional language)
  • Making students reflect on their learning (often!)
  • Having a grounding document for evaluation (learning map with overarching learning goals)
    • evaluation is based in criteria
  • Having students analyze their evidence of learning to determine their grades (and conferencing about it)
  • Constructing success criteria with students
What I will strive to do better:
  • Engage in curriculum deconstruction more frequently (not just at the beginning of the course)
  • Doing more explicit instruction around reflection (how, when, why)
  • Helping students understand where they currently are (map was not ready until midterm last semester, students did not know how to use it or make meaning from it) so they can better match evidence of learning to the map and, therefore, determine a midterm and final term grade
  • Teaching students to self- and peer-assess and give appropriate, meaningful feedback
  • Spending time getting students to co-construct criteria for types of questions or tasks (and for daily topics)
  • Getting students to self-identify as needing help and committing to getting that help (perhaps with a simple Google form)
  • Collecting student feedback on my practices
What I will do differently:
  • Provide a copy of the completed learning map from the start of the course to each student
  • Engage students in the use of the map frequently
  • Scaffold student note-taking based on investigative learning (i.e. in the early stages I am publishing a "note outline" that asks prompting questions indicating that there is something they should take note of/think about
Future goals and desires (that are just not realistic right now):
  • Have a usable learning map for the other course(s) I am teaching 
  • Engage same-subject colleagues in work around assessment practices [we are engaging in some "department" professional learning time in the coming weeks that may help with this]
  • Be better at recording observation and conversation assessment data of student learning

Seeking "Gradeless" Sanity

This post can also be found on our team's TLLP blog.

It has been awhile since my last entry. Life and work got a little overwhelming, in retrospect. The midterm part of the semester contributed to that (you can read about it here) on top of having 3 straight days of PL/a conference to attend to and I was well behind where I would have liked to be in terms of giving feedback to student. Summative evaluations began to pile up, the essentials had to be prioritized and returned first. No matter what anybody tells you, 84 students is a lot.

But too often this number of students for a secondary educator is a normal reality. So we need to make this better. We need to find ways to meet student's needs, give them the feedback they need and deserve, and still come out sane on the other side. I wish I could tell you that this reflection was going to provide you with the magic answer. But...I don't have it...


I am determined to find a way. I am determined to figure out how to be able to leverage students to become effective self- and peer-assessors, despite having a curriculum that is loaded so heavily with content. There must be a way. I have spent time reading (and even talking to) Starr Sackstein and reading books about descriptive feedback. I have spent time talking to other educators, in various subjects, who are on a journey to better feedback (many of whom are on a journey to "gradeless" - or at least "grading less"). And I am sold - I have "drank the kool-aid" (as many have put it). I believe that what I am trying to do is good for kids - that it leads to improved learning and skill building, better self-confidence, ownership of learning, and is more likely to lead to growth mindset of life-long learning. What I am not able to find, is anyone who can help me find solutions that work in a content-based subject/curriculum. I believe that what I see now would make for some amazing learning in language classes. But I am still struggling to wrap my head around how it is possible to meet with provincial policy (i.e. cover the expectations of my course) and still be sane at the end of the school year.

Here is what I know:

1. Overarching learning goals and my learning map provide:
  • Focus for my course
  • Direction for students
  • Clear, transparent assessment & evaluation that is rooted in curriculum & policy
  • A third point for conversation around evaluation and reporting
  • Something tangible for students to deconstruct and make meaning from
  • A way for students to engage in self- and peer-assessment (descriptive feedback)
  • A way for students to self-evaluate (know where they are)
2. Overarching learning goals and my learning map do NOT (yet?) provide:
  • A way to help students see that sometimes the skills are hindered by the content knowledge (i.e. why they are meeting expectations in this area when studying trigonometry, but may not be when studying quadratic relations)
  • the ability to "spiral" material in a course that has curriculum strands that are not related in any obvious ways (but this is also something I could see working on in the future)
  • A way for students to give themselves and others feedback around individual content criteria needed (and honestly, I would love to de-emphasize this in my head as I honestly believe that mathematical thinking skills are the most important part)
  • An effective way to record evidence of learning so I can track student progress (I am finding recording to be much more time-consuming than in the past)
3. Giving descriptive feedback helps:
  • Students focus on learning
  • Teachers focus on what is the most important at the time
  • Students to identify potential next steps
  • Students improve their learning
  • Show students what you really value
4. Giving descriptive feedback takes:
  • Time (giving "out of" marks is definitely faster, but I still very much believe has little real value)
  • Effort
  • Additional thought
  • You to an uncomfortable place (so much cognitive dissonance!)
5. No matter how many times I am kicked down, I love what I do. And I will bounce back. I will accept my short-falls in the past, set goals for the future, and keep coming back for more.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Reflections on Midterm Conferences in "Gradeless" 9-10 Math

This post can also be found on our team's TLLP blog.

It has been an observation of mine that students are struggling to transfer the meta-cognition skills gained in other places into the math classroom. The ideas and structures I am putting onto their math learning seem to be very different than anything they have done in math before that they do not realize they have done it elsewhere. It has made for some interesting reflection on my part.

In continuing with my journey to explore student reflection I wanted to have students self-evaluate at midterm and conference with me to determine their report grade and report card comments. I set this up using an assignment on Google Classroom and had the sign up for a conference time-slot.

My grade 10s were given a reflection document that included a few things (outlined via images below).

Part 1: Identify pieces of evidence and start to identify criteria from the map that were evident in that evidence

Part 2: Highlight where evidence shows that they are for each criteria of each overarching learning goal in the course (the map is a partial map, only including the aspects relevant at this point in the course)

Part 3: Self-evaluate and reevaluate learning and next steps

When this was all said and done I opened this file when students came to me for their conference. Since I was finding that students were struggling with this process in math I ended up spending most of this time looking at their map with them and identifying areas where we disagreed so that we could discuss them. I recognize that I had not done the map justice (did not explain it well enough) and had already known that it would be difficult as it would be their first real exposure to it (I was only able to write the map myself the week before giving this assignment). Needless to say, I learned a lot - and had already planned to get a student focus-group together to help me reword the map more appropriately for students.

So next time I will:
- get students using the map earier
- rework it to use more student-friendly language
- model how to use the map
- have students evaluate using the map before midterm
- continue to build student reflection and self- & peer-assessment skills explicitly

The grade 9s I do not have a map for so I approached their reflection by having them fill in a chart while referencing the parts of the curriculum document that were relevant at this point. They were often able to identify specific expectations that they were doing well on and ones that they had to work on. What ended up lacking was them considering these expectations from a lens that expanded from just the "understand and use" - I need a way to make sure that the 9s consider the math processes as well in the future.

Overall students responded fairly positively during conferences when I pointed out things that had not considered that showed they were struggling with aspects of the course, but the discussions took a long time. The conferencing process was valuable, but I need to seek some ways to make it more manageable and to be away from facilitating student learning for less time.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Questions Coming From "Gradeless" Math

This post can also be found on our team's TLLP blog.

Going "gradeless" (using feedback-focused assessment) has brought about some great things with students, but often leads to more question than answers about my assessment practices. If you are reading this and have any ideas or suggestions I would love to hear from you!

Overarching Learning Goals & Learning Maps

I have started my year in grade 10 math with a set of learning goals and an incomplete learning map. I went into this process with an understanding that these documents will always be working documents. Changes will be needed depending on the group of students and changing needs of the course/society/etc. I am only 6 weeks into the semester and already envisioning the need for changes just based on pedagogy and assessment policy. Some of the reasons for this will be become more evidence in the topic below.

My learning map only has descriptors for level 3, which is partly by design.
1) I couldn't figure out how to describe the learning for 4 levels since I had not even tried using these goals for standards-based grading
2) I want student language to be used on the map so really need their voice to complete it
Hopefully I can get to a point soon where I have enough student evidence to show them that they can help me with that.

The Achievement Chart

I am grappling with the achievement chart in math - I am a fan of ensuring that we are assessing using all 4 categories (for those of you outside of Ontario those are Knowledge & Understanding, Application, Communication and Thinking) but I am struggling with the "descriptors" that Ontario uses to split them into 4 levels and even more grappling with what it means to have knowledge & understanding at a level 4 (exceeding expectations) when removed from thinking. I cannot get away from the idea that to show level 4 K&U you must also be showing T.

Manageable Feedback

This is the biggest question for me in out TLLP. How do I give students the feedback in math that they need and deserve in a manageable way? If I were to do all of what I think is beneficial I would literally not sleep. When everything is in place I will try to find ways to do it a bit more electronically so there is less hand writing to do, but the idea still baffles me in such a skill-based course (with the sheer volume of skills/understanding they need).

If anyone has any idea I would love to hear them. There is only so much that they can accomplish through self- and peer-feedback.

Managing Conferencing

I love doing interviews with kids about math. It is always an eye-opening look into what they actually understand (sometimes things they have not been able to articulate on paper and sometimes finding out just how much they are memorizing and not understanding). When I was teaching senior courses I usually found the time I needed to have these conferences, but I am having more trouble doing so with junior courses. It is a to harder to get them to be automonous for 3 days so that I can have the time needed.

Any ideas are welcome!