Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Planning a Spiraled Course

This year I am embarking on a new journey - I am working at a different school and have more math in my schedule than I have had since my first year of teaching. As a part of that journey our MHF 4U (Advanced Functions) course team is taking a crack at "spiralling" the course.

Over the summer I spent some time laying out the course to begin to plan. I started with the skeleton Overarching Learning Goals (OLGs) that were created last year for math to come up with OLGs for the course (I wrote about these skeleton OLGs here) so that I would have already wrapped my head around the overall themes of the course.

Then I created a new document to start the actual planning. I pulled the overall expectations (OEs) for the course and the front matter of the math curriculum (math processes (MP)) into the chart by strand and then created a new column where I put in only key words (content & skills) from those OEs and MP. From those words I looked for common themes in the skills/content that I noticed and colour coded them.

Through this process I noticed a major theme in recognizing characteristics of functions and making connections between representations of functions (numerical, graphical, and algebraic). This seemed to be the backbone of a large portion of the course so it made sense to make this into a group of expectations - and cycle 1 was born.

Here are images of that document (they are a work in progress, evolving as we work our way through the course):

Creating the other cycles became largely about noticing the layers involved in the course. I wanted to build the remainder of the course by adding on layers of difficulty, which would allow us to revisit the same concepts. You may have noticed that the second cycle adds on algebraic techniques but is still focused on the same things introduced in cycle 1. This is the purpose of spiralling - students are able to see the same things over multiple exposures to better build their understanding of the material.

Studies are showing that the use of spiralling techniques will help with long-term retention for learners. It is not necessarily about improved results within a particular course, but will help with the foundations moving forward for longer-term success. My hope is that this type of pedagogy can also help with engagement and mindset for learning in the mathematics classroom.

The planning process was somewhat time consuming but was worthwhile for moving forward into the course as I knew what the purpose of the first cycle was and could see the long-term goals. The difficulty was not being able to co-plan with my course team (complicated by it being summer, going into a new school, etc). Now that we are a few weeks into the semester the team is more on the same page and is starting to be able to see the long term plan more easily.

One of the ideas we added to this plan was to have students start and maintain a portfolio where they would put information as it is learned organized by type of function. We are also going to do part of our final 30% as a conference with students - so students have been told that maintaining their portfolio is to aid them with this conference at the end of the semester. The possibilities are exciting.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Finished with the Status Quo

I am currently making my way through Starr Sackstein's Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to Go Gradeless in a Traditional Grades School. I will likely do a blog when I am finished and will include my takeaways in more detail but one of her lines has inspired me to bring up some provocative conversation.

As are many of you, I am tired of the argument "We have always done it this way." It may be true that there are some thing in our lives that can stay the same year after year and still be the most efficient way to do things but life changes, and often things need to change with it. Most of the stages of my life have come with pretty significant changes and I have also watched the world evolve - computers, internet, cell phones - and would be significantly behind in current knowledge if I had ignored those changes.

Of course, I have also watched the world fail to evolve (lack of change in carbon footprint despite the research and negative effects we are experiencing; decades long wars (in so many cases started by some misunderstanding and a failure to learn from history) that are sometimes ignored by the rest of the world; etc.

I can no longer watch education become something that does not change.

On page 28 Sackstein had me out loud proclaiming "Yes! This is the articulation I have been looking for!" when she said:
In the industrial era, schools were intended to train good workers, so students went to schools that prepared them to enter the work force. This model of education valued obedience, conformity, and rote learning.
We are no longer in the industrial evolution.

Of course, I will not pretend to believe that we do not need workers who can conform and follow specific steps to complete a task, but the majority of work that we need to prepare students for requires people who can be creative, who can think for themselves, and who can solve problems. This is the world I want to prepare my students for - I want them to find success in whatever passion or skill they find for themselves through the use of transferable, valuable skills (not rote learning they can look up on YouTube).

Hopefully my journey can help to bring along more teachers, students, parents, admin, and community members who want to see a change.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

SE2R Comments in Grade 9 Science

I have been distracted from blogging but am trying to catch up and am back to trying to deprivatize my practice more. And so, I am resolved to blog about my assessment practices (including failures and questions) and hope that I can spark conversation, collect some feedback, and crowd source some ideas. So I have one request - if you are reading these entries, please share them with someone else and/or comment at the bottom and join the conversation. :) The first entry from this series can be found here.

Our wonderful Instructional Coordinator, Assessment, Kristen Clarke, organized some assessment-related book chats on Twitter in the latter half of the school year. I was able to participate in two of them and helped moderate a third. One of the books we discussed was Mark Barnes' Assesssment 3.0: Throw Out Your Grade Book and Inspire Learning. Mark is the pioneer of the Teachers Throwing Out Grades movement in education (check out #TTOG on Twitter).

[We also discussed Rethinking Letter Grades (which inspired mot of my Overarching Learning Goal and Learning Map blog entries) and Myron Dueck's Grading Smarter Not Harder (which inspired this entry related to reformatting tests and using learning goals).]

Barnes' book is largely about his feedback process that allowed him to go gradeless in his classroom. By giving students an appropriate avenue to find out what they had done and could improve on the traditional need for grades virtually disappeared. Reading his book has inspired me to make further efforts to reach for the same goal - a classroom of students who want to learn and grow (not students who want to do what they think I want and get marks). I want to build a community of students with a growth mind set that, therefore, believe in themselves as a learner and can reflect appropriately on their own work and the work of others.

Barnes' feedback method is referred to as SE2R. This means that every time he gives feedback he follows this pattern (and thus, teaches his students to do the same):

  • Summarize (what has the student done to meet the requirements of the specific assignment)
  • Explain (what mastery of skill/learning is shown)
  • Redirect (indicate what lessons should be reviewed to master concepts/skills not yet mastered)
  • Resubmit (encourage student to review and rework and give directions for resubmission)

I tried to put these ideas into practice a couple of times in the following weeks to test them out. Here is what I tried and how I did it:

  1. I put a paragraph writing question onto Edmodo as an assignment for students to answer that I told them would be on the unit test. Students were told what the learning goals were and were told that this was a chance to answer the question and get feedback before the test.
  2. I was able to practice writing comments that followed the SE2R model. Here is an example of what I wrote
    • :
  3. I created a "comment bank" using the SE2R model and based on the learning map I had created for the course. I sometimes had to modify comments to make them better fit an individual student work, but in the end I saved myself time AND was able to be more consistent and focus on the important areas only.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

LGs vs SC vs Task Requirements

Discussing assessment in the education world often leads to more questions than answers and creates a lot of discourse. I have learned that the questions and disagreements are a necessary part of change and that we need to acknowledge and tackle them, not shy away from them. It is easy to feel defensive when our practices are questioned or challenged. It is easy to feel like we are being told that what we have been doing was wrong.

I have also learned that when someone asks "why" they are usually genuinely curious OR they are trying to get me to think about what I am doing. It has taught me to always ask myself why.

I have brought this up because one of the things that has come up a lot recently is the discussion of comparing learning goals (LGs), success criteria (SC), and task requirements. It can be easy to write a a statement that may not clearly fit into one category or the other. But it is also important to try to understand and recognize the difference.

Here is my understanding of each:

LGs are statements that describe what a student should know and do that is specific to a lesson or set of lessons. In Ontario this will often be based directly from the overall expectations of the curriculum.

SC describe what the learning will look or sound like when the student is meeting expectations. They should be based on agreed upon statements formed with a course team but when employed in class may often be co-constructed with the students.

Task requirements are things that a student is asked to do that does not fall under that course's expectations but are necessary to help the teacher focus on evaluating the learning without distraction. These can not be evaluated but a students may be asked to resubmit work when they are not used/followed.

I will be the first to admit that through my journey this year there are times where these things were misused or mixed up. This exploration has allowed me to gain a much better understanding of them and why they are important and have forced me to rethink the what, why and how of my classroom assessment.

Through my use of overarching learning goals, learning maps, learning goals, etc I am hopeful to be able to spend more time giving feedback in the future and less time giving grades. By continuing to build my assessment literacy I can continue to build my students assessment literacy.

My hopes for the future include students who...

  • take ownership of their learning
  • can self- and peer-assess
  • question what we do and why we do it (purposefully)
  • enjoy class more
  • focus on and prioritize learning not marks
and include my hopes to...
  • bring focus to all classroom tasks and evaluations
  • shorten written evaluations
  • grade less
  • discuss more
Comments and questions are welcome and encouraged. Use the comment feature below or connect with me on Twitter :) 

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Math Learning Map Journey

I have been distracted from blogging but am trying to catch up and am back to trying to deprivatize my practice more. And so, I am resolved to blog about my assessment practices (including failures and questions) and hope that I can spark conversation, collect some feedback, and crowd source some ideas. So I have one request - if you are reading these entries, please share them with someone else and/or comment at the bottom and join the conversation. :) The first entry from this series can be found here.

Today I am hoping to share the process and evolution of my experiences working toward a learning map for a math course. I think this is a specific journey worth deprivatizing because it has been a complicated one that involved a lot of lengthy discussions.

This entry requires you to know what an Overarching Learning Goal (OLG) is: I described it in an earlier entry as big ideas that are written as board spectrum learning goals that marry the "know" and "do" that we hope a student leaves a course with. I have discussed OLGs in a number of other entries since this one that can show you some of my journey through understanding and using them as well.

Starting in early 2015 I dove into OLGs and started working with a colleague to write some for a math course. At the time we were both teaching Gr 10 Academic ("Mathematical Principles") so we tried to tackle it. This was both of our first attempts at the process for any course so it was an exploration of the process itself and a discovery that every time we tried to do it we wanted to make different decisions. [One thing I would critique us on looking back was our neglect of the front matter of the curriculum].

Here is a look at the 2 different sets of OLGs we landed on in our two attempts.

In 2016 I had the opportunity to gather with some math and assessment colleagues from around the board to take a real look at designing OLGs and a Learning Map (LM). [I showed a sample LM for my Science course in this entry earlier if you would like some context] A LM takes the OLGs and describes what the learning should look like at each level. This map can then be used for many purposes.

Over the course of many discussions with colleagues at my school, one of our math resource teachers (@MashelleKaukab), and the above mentioned gathering we went through a process of unpacking the MFM 1P (Gr 9 Applied - Mathematical Foundations) course and the Math Processes (Ontario math curriculum front matter). It involved a lot of debate with well-reasoned points - and a lot of learning! Oh how our brains hurt at the end of that day!

Our team decided to create "skeleton" OLGs that focused on the processes that could then theoretically be used to finish OLGs for any course at any level (perhaps with rewording needed). Here is where we landed:

Our team left that meeting still feeling like things were a work in process but I am sharing our draft of our work hoping that you will contribute to the discussion by providing feedback. Please visit a copy of the document here.

The hope is that this map will become the foundation for every decision, evaluation and report completed for the course. The hope is that it will be the backbone of my backward design for my course.

Thank you for reading and for joining the discussion!
Happy summer!